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Fall 2003 - Chop Suey and Phad Thai
The other night, after a particularly frustrating evening with the small sangha Iíve sat with fairly steadily for--could it be?--4 years, I opened Rick Fieldsí How the Swans Came to the Lake. Comforting to know ancient Buddhism, since crossing the ocean to the USA at the end of the 19th century, already has a successful and colorful story, full of contradictions and scandal. Closed the book when I came to a quote from teacher Sonam Kazi on page 324:
He had a great appreciation for other traditions... but like most Tibetans, he had absolutely no interest in mixing traditions, and he viewed the American predilection for eclecticism with some disdain. "You only end up," he said, ďwith a concoction like chop suey".
Amen, I thought, wincing particularly acutely because I never much cared for chop suey. Turned out the light.
Long before dawn my mind resumed wrestling. Thatís not the first time Iíve heard and recognized the wisdom of sticking to one path, one marriage, one major... Iím well aware I've stirred yoga, zen and more than one flavor of Christianity into a chop suey I call my spiritual path. It took Thomas Merton, say a decade or so to chose his path. Then he committed and stayed put. Didnít keep him from exploring other religions as the years went on; however he gave himself fully to one practice. Somewhere in his Asian Journals, compiled after his death, he wrote something like, "I'll die a Trappist". He knew who he was.
Will I die on my yoga mat, listening to the best of Christian rock while my sangha tries to figure out where to meet? Ach!
But Iím American, I want to wail! Weíre a young, immature melting pot! I've never stuck to anything (except my own stubborn idea of who I think I am)! I didnít grow up with strong spiritual path and community! I'm on the wrong planet! I can't find home and community, so I've explored and built my own out of of disperate(sp?) parts. Back in my Park Service daze we used to tell tourists a moose looks like it's been together by a committee! So my religion. I offer excuse after excuse for my spiritual chop suey, lack of discipline and commitment. Maybe I'll call it phad thai-- like that better than chop suey.
I personally don't feel the traditions I've mixed are incompatible--I see commonalities. But most everyone around me sees things differently. Not infrequently I have to listen to members of each of the communities I visit swipe at each other. Sometimes I sense no one's happy!
Recently I attended a workshop with my qigong teacher. He could be called a Jewish-Taoist- Native American- Phillipine shaman from the Bronx, I think he once put it. He's studied and been ordained in several cultures and traditions, received the teachings and blessings of elders and lineage holders. Although he honors all paths he seems to know who he is. When I study with him, he's a qigong master. When he teaches Native American classes, I understand he changes hats and draws from that tradition. How does he do it successfully? Is it because, after years of apprentice, practice and study, his life is stable? He's lived for years in the same small cabin in the same small community in the mountains. He's absolutely clear about The Truth.
Am I not also clear that Love is the question, answer, path, and my purpose? I love the truth of working with the body (and mind) in yoga and qigong, reminding us how to relax and tap into body intelligence and health. I also love the feeling of meeting, singing, praying and studying with a large spiritual community, which, at this time, happens to call itself spirit filled, evangelic Christian. I appreciate the encouragement and welcome to attend groups, classes, work parties and meals. I love Jesus' message to Love thy neighbor. I love being with people of faith who walk their talk in varying degrees. I can't wait for Sunday mornings!
I also love sitting in silent meditation, practicing mindfulness with a small group of folks who've been drawn to Buddhist study and practice (and, I'm tempted to add, repulsed by Christian). I love the Buddha's simple message to let go of desire in order to overcome suffering and the zen teaching to "just sit"! I love zen stories, practicing walking meditation, Buddhist visualizations.
Why aren't I more comfortable with my chop suey uhhh phad thai! Why does it seem like I can't find everything in "one place", at one meal, or heaven forbid, one shopping mall!!
If I gave up singing at church, being included at holidays, and the folks I'm slowly and painfully meeting, could I give more energy to the meditation sangha? Maybe sangha folks would be more comfortable with me if I didn't go to church, maybe they'd start including me in their holidays and social life? Would the yogis who don't like church be more comfortable with me? If I gave up meditation, yoga and eastern teachings, would I suddenly be ok with those Christians who turn away from me? Would the Christians who believe the bible condemns yoga, be relieved? It's enough to wake me in the middle of the night!
Do I have to chose?!!
After doing my best to express in writing my frustration with the meditation group skipping book discussion in order to hear how we should be more mindful, I realized that getting along with even fundamentalist Christians is a piece of cake compared to trying to get along with Idaho sangha!!! At least I know what fundamentalists believe and why. They make no bones about believing their way is the one and only right way. Just as I lull myself into Christianity, I read "As Christians, we are indeed blessed with believing in the only correct worldview." Horse feathers--is that really what that says! The article continues, "We know God's truth is the only way to make sense out of life and be free from the corruption that permeates the human race". I rather agree God's truth is the only way to make sense out of life, but Christians, the only folks with a clue? I think not. I appreciate how fundamentalists often wear their hearts on their sleeves. I hear their fear of others, shake my head at their belief in king sized devil.
I'm unclear what Idaho Buddhist practitioners believe, why, or their fears. Can only assume human nature. I know what the Buddha said, more or less (just as I have the drift about Jesus' teachings). But I feel I rarely get a glimpse into meditator hearts. Hence the lure of passionate Christianity, where tears happen. I'm spending this life time prying my heart open, learning to lift sternum, gentle thoughts, recognize the oneness of all--like the Namasté of yoga. I'm uncertain of Idaho Buddhist hearts.
New Thought teaches that God loves each and every one of us more than we can imagine; its respect for all paths resonates deep in my soul. Maybe New Thought is the rice noodles of my phad thai. The Buddha taught: all have Buddha nature; practice compassion and self knowing. Maybe Buddhism is the sauce I love, the peace and calm of acceptance of life and death. Perhaps chunks of tofu or meat represent different traditions of solid faith. My love of nature--a dash of Taoism--could be the freshly squeezed lime.
Perhaps it's just a numbers game--the United States is or was primarily Christian. In Boise I'm more likely to run into one of the 1200 folks (I'm just guessing) from church than the dozen from sangha. 100 times more chance I'll meet someone from church at the airport than sangha. Still, it may be more than that. I love prayer. To have Pam pray ferverently with me over our respective flights to opposite coasts last September was simply wonderful. I love prayer support, borrowing faith, whether it's Christian Science, Pentacostal or New Thought. Prayer changes night to day. And so can meditation! Maybe I'm just "better at" prayer and more likely to bump into a pray-er than a meditator!
Yum, yum, yum.
Be Still and Know God
July 2003 -- Spirit Filled Heat Wave
Most days my mind writes essays on the ultimate game in town (my opinion)--religion (not politics); I can wait no longer! Tonight thunder rolled and rain drummed as the service began at Calvary Chapel, further breaking the heat wave of the last few weeks. I dashed outside to smell and feel the rain, then returned to the service. We've waited over a month for rain.
Sometimes it's more than I can take--being "New Thought" in Idaho. Last night I attended a new (church) "home group" in the neighborhood. Almost walked out at the beginning, not only because I was old enough to be most folks' grandma--but because the youth were so fearfully fundamentalist. The first question to be discussed was whether nonbelievers could be saved! Who cares, I thought; only God knows that stuff. Why me! Still the sincerity of these kids captured my heart--where else can I be with folks learning to listen to the Lord and live right? Huh? Where else can I be with folks interested in more than the material world! (In the other room, the baby played by a mammoth TV.) I love singing with a guitar--Holiness is indeed what I need. And, Tolerance. Amen. Soon we discussed breaking paradigms. Now that's more like it.
No matter how much I continue to enjoy church and relax into Christianity, the polarity of hanging out with Jesus-is-the-only-way folks catches up with me from time to time.
Sometimes I wonder how in the world I came to believe as I do--honoring all religions. Imagine that--a girl from downstate Illinois curious about all religions. (Happens all the time, of course, although sometimes it doesn't seems like any one else in Idaho believes as I do! I've heard of folks, but haven't met 'em! Not in my neighborhood anyhow. Dear people but... I wouldn't wanna be black, for example.
Last week as I looked through an Illini Alumni News, noticed a letter to the editor alleging the vast majority of alumni would oppose including same sex commitment ceremonies with marriage announcements, because the Bible says so blah blah,. I rolled my eyes--oh, no, sounds like Idaho. However, turning back a page, a string of short letters from writers expressed support for the "University's 21st century attitude" of non-discrimination, reporting on love and commitment in any form. Period. No justification. I felt strangely at home. If those are midwestern values, then they're exactly mine. I'm not a particularly big fan of higher education--some of the most dysfunctional people I know, have the most degrees--but if education results in the simple clarity I was reading in those letters, maybe I should be more supportive. Nothing defensive about those love letters.
Just because the Unitarian campout organizer assigned me to the lesbian loop because I'm single, doesn't mean I gotta "take it personal". Gulp. "Are you lesbian", one man asked. "Wait and see", I said. I cudda said something about all the good looking dudes at my church--but I didn't wanna be defensive. We love labeling others, being Somebody, as Ram Dass puts it. But New Thought teaches we're all God's children; there is only One Power for good. I love it.
Maybe growing up across the street from Illinois College and attending plays "across town" at MacMurray College affected me more than I realized. Or maybe the Christian Scientists on the other side of the intersection, whom my folks considered peculiar, prayed for us. Even though I sometimes think I'm the most judgmental person on earth, on some level I have huge respect and curiosity for different ways of being. No accident I ended up taking anthropology classes--look at the possibilities, our readings said to me!
Recently one of the Vineyard men helped me clarify why I've stayed with the Vineyard so long in spite of the Only Jesus theology. Yup, Tri's "Spirit filled" wing of the church snagged me good. I've been looking for Holiness ever since I first sensed in the cathedral in the Zocalo of Mexico City, 1966.
Got up nerve to loan one of Mary Morrissey's New Thought talks to Bill--thinking, he hasn't attended real long, perhaps he's still open minded. Later he commented, "She didn't talk about Jesus, just God". Oops. Not good enough that Jesus is Mary's personal teacher. If a minister isn't flogging folks with Jesus talk, he ain't doing his job. Idaho must be in the Bible belt. God isn't enough for Christians here. It's Jesus or else!
As compelling as Pastor Bob was tonight, I still shake my head at the idea that Indians of India need Jesus. Seems to me we need to respect and learn from each other first. Come as you are--remember? Let us clean our own stables, no? The evening cooled further as I let off steam writing.
Love is Patient, Love is Kind
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