All things for good - Part 1.
Flew to LA in August. Combined looking up mother's remaining sister in Anaheim with a silent retreat with Father Laurence in Thousand Oaks and personal retreat in Ojai. Braced myself for notorious southern California.
Grand visit with Aunt Mona Ray and son in their home of all these years. The following morning I was determined to find the mother Vineyard in Anaheim. Awesome place, clearly heeding the call to serve! Deeply touched by the sign language interpreter, the sort of thing I've miss from living on the coast once upon a time. Loved glimpsing fields and freeways from the sanctuary (no peaking at the world from Boise sanctuary). Music was familiar and meaningful; good to have hispanics on stage. The assistant pastor's talk touched me; the Nicene creed; plus Fairest Lord Jesus! All bases covered! Lunched with a vineyard old timer who filled me in on life in California. Interesting--never have church company for lunch in Boise, try as I have!
Aunt Mona Ray pointed me on north to World Community of Christian Meditation silent retreat. Not exactly silent. We were asked to sing along at the beginning of silent sessions! On campus, participants walked around with cell phones and walkmen, and of course, many read. Not like Buddhist retreats, though some of those are also permissive about reading.
Don't know what it was-- the relief of having found my way through Los Angeles in a rental car; the beauty of the rolling hills, palms, morning fog and new moon; the glorious stained glass of Samuelson chapel which I tried describing as oceanic blues with splashes of golds, drops of purples, faces hidden within it's clashing circles and lines; or the profound safety and acceptance I felt at the retreat... The bottom line was-- I couldn't stay awake during meditation sessions! Even ants nipping only woke me briefly. (Talk about moral dilemma--taking life during meditation!) Early or late in the day, I was out cold. Ach! Can I sleep like that at home? No! Days and nights I rested deeply. The only time I was awake, on the edge of my seat, was during Father Lawrence's excellent closing question and answer session and his earlier talk on acedia.
Ah, acedia, exactly... the tendency to give up, associated with boredom, weariness and despair. Leads to infidelity of practice. Father Laurence explained that remedies are patience, perseverance and community. Or, chant the psalms, then read St John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul to cheer yourself up, Father Laurence joked.
Onward for a couple nights at St. Joseph's center in Ojai. Bumbled north past the fine old mission and thrift shops of Ventura, to Ojai. Finally, the real silent retreat. Thought of my room as a former monk's cell. The handful of aging, quirky brothers left to manage the center delighted me. Brother Andre, bless him, spent time talking to this stranger about the center. The wisdom of someone so clear that hospitality is a calling was a gift to this traveler. Father Hugo's decor around the center was too wonderful for words. Bless him and the brothers!
Impossible to tell retirement residents from brothers and staff (and for that matter, visitors). We were all interchangeable. Brother Terrance, the most colorful Irish character I've ever met definitely held dual citizenship. Place of profound peace--hence the waiting list for assisted care. Despite the population of residents with dogs, like head Fr. Hugo's ancient hound, nights were silent.
The first morning I explored the chapel, now unlocked for the day. The day before I was in Calif. Lutheran University's awesome chapel; now a second breath taking place of worship, in orange groves ringed by Ojai hills. The simplicity of the brothers, the beauty of the country, images of Mary and Jesus, the intensity of negotiating new places, visiting estranged family, driving on packed highways-- combined to bring me to my knees in tears of relief and gratefulness, for the freedom to wander, for loving, lucid teachers, for people of faith and patience.
Later I walked around the buildings, still teary, admiring amazing art and decor, icons and relics. The spunky nurse who stumbled onto me asked that no win question--what's the matter? Couldn't explain that things were quite right! She meant well; so much for melancholy and reflection. Later we talked. How I admire the strength of spirit that comes from a life of service.
Before heading back to Burbank took a quick looked around at the historic spiritual mecca of Ojai--the Krishnamurti Foundation, Theosophical Society and Meditation Point. Mighty fine country; no wonder I've heard about it for years. Now Ojai's on my list of potential winter getaways.
All things for good - Part 2 - Dalai Lama visit
In September the Dalai Lama visited Idaho (Sun Valley)—can you believe it--the Dalai Lama "does" cowboy Idaho! My gut reaction upon hearing this last spring was: I wanna be at this backyard event. Followed by a quick: Allah willing.
Failed to get a ticket (free) through the Boise sanghas system run by a mysterious person I'd never met at any Buddhist event, while those who were friends-of-friends got 'em. Luckily river guide Mike acquired an extra ticket on my behalf. Put Sept 11 on the calendar and come that weekend, headed up to Stanley early. (Just in time to witness the last big fire and the first snow of the season…) A few days earlier I learned the children's event I'd “volunteered” ($28) to chaperone was heavy with volunteers; donated back my ticket in order not to drive down to Boise to return by bus the next morning!
A few weeks before the Dalai Lama's visit, while working in the church garden, a darling young mom asked if I was going to the women's retreat (the same weekend as the Dalai Lama event). Since I hold a high standard of truth around those I garden with, I paused, prayed and said I'd be hearing the Dalai Lama that weekend. Gulp. (An even higher truth might be that I didn't feel called to the women's retreat the way I felt to Sun Valley.) I can still see her widening blue eyes and hear her incredulous response, “But the Dalai Lama's going to hell; he doesn't know Jesus!”
Is there a simple way to explain it's my path to be at home with all religions? Buddhism is just another way to teach a moral code, the anthropologist/mythologist in me wanted to say. I guess I couldn't stay at church if I wasn't in denial, didn't have faith in a huge God and the teachings of Buddha, and believe in continual prayer!
How absolutely unbelievable this kind of thinking is to me! I kept “The Dalai Lama isn't here for himself, he's here to help others!” to myself. Is that The Difference—the DL is here to help (others), whereas Jesus came to save (others)? Is that the semantics we're killing each other over?
A blessing of camping in the snow was holing up in the car, finally reading Thich Nhat Hahn's Living Christ, Living Buddha. Along with other helpful insights about sangha dysfunction and uprooting of generations, I was especially affirmed by Nhat Hanh's understanding that every tradition provides a spiritual root. Since I feel no conflict about following both Buddhist and Christian teachings--even a bit of yogic tradition--I too must have two roots! (No comparison to the depth of Nhat Hahn's!) He wrote, "I have shared the Eucharist with Fr. Daniel Berrigan, and our worship became possible because of the sufferings we Vietnamese and Americans have shared over many years." Apparently both Buddhist and Christians were shocked by the statement. Loved his metaphor re: mixing religious traditions: “Fruit salad can be delicious".
I was delighted and blessed by the afternoon with the Dalai Lama in Ketchum--no comparison to the time I drove to Salt Lake. This time I could both hear and see His Holiness, although my ticket didn't permit me to sit up front with the friends of Boise Buddhists, who were right under his nose. Politics—ach! Who you know!
I was impressed by Kempthorne's succinct introduction; fascinated by sponsor Krill Sokoloff—he had a smile as big at the Dalai Lama's; and blessed by His Holiness’ beaming presence, simple thoughts and humor. The day was beautiful, if hot after the snow I'd just cowered through. A colorful backdrop hung behind the stage, which then had hills behind. Beautiful.
The crowd was well mannered, as modeled by volunteers and staff (run, I learned later, by the professional event managers used at the Salt Lake Olympics. When I returned to fetch the gray shirt I'd left behind--which ended up being left once and for all on an plane a couple weeks later--I was treated with unusual patience and civility, the hallmark of the whole event—compassion.)
Thank you, Buddha Mike for the Dalai Lama ticket. (That I thought we'd cross paths is a perfect example of delusion. Spirituality-wise, friendship's on my plate this year, but that's a ramble for another time.)
Trendy as Buddhism is, I was still curious about the huge turnout to see His Holiness. Outside of the Vietnamese community in Boise, there can't be more than a few dozen serious Buddhists in the Boise area—so, who were these hundreds of people? With Thich Nhat Hahn on my mind, I mentioned him to the neighbor I befriended for the 2 hour wait before the talk. She looked blank, then affirmed my hunch that most folks were just curious. As we rode the shuttle back to the parking lot we met a Tibetan from Portland. Good to meet one of the serious Buddhists from afar.
The Dalai Lama asked us to practice compassion, kindness and patience, to get a good night's sleep, and to spend time with our children. He spoke particularly firmly about the latter. Would it be considered judgment on his part to say that it is good or wise to spend time with our children? Americans don't do enough with their children he observed. As I see it, we need the Dalai Lama, a foreigner, a Buddhist, to remind us of simple truths! We can hear them in any spiritual tradition if we listen, which was the key that Karen Armstrong (below) stressed—we must listen to each other!
How can I not respect Buddhism, I ask defensively, when I hear the words and wisdom and sense the holiness and peace of the Dalai Lama? How can millions of “Christians” dismiss the Dalai Lama as bunk, or worse, evil-- when they've never stopped, looked or listened! Ach! I know holiness when I hear/see it. I can't call the Dalai Lama anything less than Holy. I will not evangelize, get in faces, but I will not say anything less of him or other faiths.
Three weekends later, my dear church sponsored a “creation” seminar a.k.a. Genesis lecture; euphemisms for anti evolution, fundamentalist lectures! I was taken back—hadn't we been going along ok under the leadership of a onetime biology teacher? A. Apparently not. As I worked at the recycle truck the Sunday morning the seminar was introduced, I overheard pastor say he was nervous. Afterwards I thought-- well he should be! Silly me thinking the Scopes trial was history in Idaho. No way. Alive and well—in my church! Practicing the golden rule and listening to both sides, made it through the service, though I wanted to leave. Name one fundamentalist who'd spend equal time listening to the Dalai Lama!
There's a manipulative technique I very much dislike which pushes for agreement with something “simple” (to which I often take exception) then leaps to the absurd. Grrr. The seminar presenter from down under was a pro. Watched heads nod enthusiastically. I totally missed what the presenter said about dinosaurs and apes, since I don't have a problem with those critters one way or another in the geological timetable, having been an enthusiastic paleontology student a one time.
Frankly I hadn't thought the vineyard was that conservative. Surely there were others who thought the seminar was out in… right field-- pastor's gonna hear ‘bout this! But the following Sunday it was as though the seminar never happened. Hmm. Was it tolerance from the congregation or naiveté on my part for thinking others might find the seminar...uhh... regressive.
Afterwards I remembered there's always a reason church leadership does things. What in the world was going on? Recruiting conservative young breeding families to get financially behind the Phase 3 nursery? Surely not!
(Speaking of families… I fantasize a bumper sticker that says, “My pastor drives a small car” or “My pastor has only 2 kids”, “…or only 1 dog”. Notable when other pastors have closer to a half dozen kids.)
Two nights after the Sunday morning Creation Seminar sales pitch while the seminar was on it's final night), I drove down to BSU to hear religious scholar Karen Armstrong speak. Traffic was like a football game! Began “getting it”—the creation seminar must have been a backlash response to visits of the Dalai Lama and Karen Armstrong. Nothing like a good seminar to remind us God created the world in 7 days and we're not related to apes. The line waiting to get into the student union ballroom was like nothing I'd seen in Boise! Sonja Henie's tutu! Headed up front as soon as we got inside the huge room.
Karen Armstrong's timely mission to put religion in perspective makes her one of the most perfect job fits in the world. What a lucid speaker, clear mind and compassionate being!
Armstrong asserts fundamentalists believe their very existence is at stake. I sensed her audience that evening was looking to hear that fundamentalists are wrong, and they, those in the audience were “right”. We want so badly to hear that. We didn't. Unlike creationists, both Armstrong and the Dalai Lama (learned she moderated the clergy dialog) diplomatically avoided judgments that keep us from world peace.
I'm under no illusion about Armstrong's popularity. It too is a form of backlash. Her convent drop out history and profound understanding of fundamentalism attract anti-Catholic, anti Christian and the anti religious curious and hopeful. Trying to compare the whopping turnout to hear her with the fervor of the creation seminar would be like trying to compare apples and oranges to a lover of one, but not the other--entirely different events, yet with the common ground of needing to feel safe and right.
Absolutely, the polarization in religion is about fear. “They/we” are afraid of “others”.
The Dalai Lama is not afraid. I don't want to be afraid. I don't want to be afraid for what I believe; however, I am definitely uneasy about expressing my beliefs.
Nor do I don't want to be afraid to change the way I think, like the Dalai Lama mentioned. Willful as I am I hear the wisdom that we must be able to change! It's taught clearly in Buddhism. It's also taught occasionally as the upside down kingdom in Christianity. Same, same to me. Only takes one teaching, one practice that size to keep one busy forever!
All things for good - Part 3 - Lives changed in prison
Yet another highlight of this rather heavy spiritual season: my first volunteer appreciation evening at prison.
The chapel was decorated like a birthday party, or Easter, in greens and pinks! Classrooms had been converted to cheerful eating rooms, as had the library. The hallway was hung with hand made banners celebrating volunteers, including a covered mirror you were asked to peak under to see who was being appreciated!
Not only had the chapel been physically converted —I was overwhelmed to think how much had to be moved in and out—the regular prisoner/offender staff/helpers beamed from ear to ear, hustling around in their usual blue jean and shirt outfits, wearing hair nets, carrying trays of prison food, greeting us with undisguised enthusiasm and delight.
The LDS volunteers I knew made sure I met their wives. I waved at the motorcycle saviors. Recognized and spoke with Temple of Light volunteers. 20 plus year volunteer pastor Mike Trent talked with everyone, even a big hello to me. At dinner, I sat with an Hispanic American who'd learned Spanish in order to hold Bible study, which he has for 20 years; and a new Prison Fellowship volunteer and wife. Having missed lunch because Chan was closed I was delighted with PenDyn spaghetti. Wish I'd passed on the chocolate cake. Too much.
We moved to the main chapel for a program of testimonies and music, ably moderated by an inmate of 15 years. The motorcycles for Jesus team sat in the back row. Started to sit with Mormons but switched to Temple of Light when one of the men who comes to meditation showed up and went to sit with the “pagans and wiccans”. Who am I? None of the above! All of the above?
Learned inmates were invited based on program attendance; those who came to the program missed supper.
The program was a chance for the men in blue to thank volunteers for coming into prison. Thank us profusely they did. Mainly in terms of having Jesus in their lives now thanks to various ministers, but not always. A Wiccan and a Temple of Light rep told us how their lives had changed. Several inmates expressed appreciation for the diversity of volunteers. One went so far as to say he believes we all have the same God. Or was it Christ. Liked that a lot. Vote for that man!
Several men mentioned that volunteers are the only visitors they have. I could relate. That would be me if I were in prison. There but for grace.
Winced when the moderator said there was time (there really wasn't) for more testimonies knowing what a talker the fellow who comeS to meditation is. He was recognized, headed to the podium. I hoped not to be mentioned, but after thanking Temple of Light, he pointed to the “Buddhist lady” (in her bright green and black print dress). I was certain I heard snorts and guffaws from the bikers in back. I must enjoy the derision of being different; I could chose not to study Buddhism or, better yet, chose to scoff at those who study it. Instead I hang on the cross like Jesus--uhhh-- forgive them, they know not what they do.
Tom was articulate, but had to be given a time's up (not the only man unable to stop talking). Some of the testimonies were so perfect, unaffected, short and sweet, they could only have come straight from above, through grace. Very powerful.
The entire evening was “tasteful”, nothing lewd, off-color or inappropriate, unlike out in the world! I loved it.
The moderator, a good looking fellow, who stood straight, emceed excellently, even if he got the lineup out of order now and then. He told well short stories about long time volunteers. His wrap-up story however, was a perfect teaching story I'll not forget. Roughly: an unsophisticated group dines with Calvin Coolidge, doing everything just like the president, in order to appear acceptable. Right down to pouring coffee, cream and sugar into a saucer... for the cat.
Throughout the evening, I was in awe of the obvious—here is where The Men in our society are. Not only is the religious activities coordinator a very attractive, personable man, and the warden a savvy, sharp looking young fellow, many of the inmates are attractive and enormously talented. Of course, humans have those qualities. These men are not exceptions. Undoubtedly the men who work in the chapel and put on the evening are more “together” than most incarcerated. The point I'm trying to make is: our men are behind bars. A huge amount of energy is locked up. The enthusiasm with which the inmates put on the evening demonstrated how very much men need a purpose, a job.
That's one of the biggest lessons I've learned at church--how badly men need to do something that needs doing, which in turn makes them feel useful and needed, gives them identity; a spectacular win-win situation. I've seen men bloom when they have a project, or are put in leadership positions. The simplified way I see it, women have children and maybe husbands. Since men don't quite do that, they thrive on projects and challenges that are different. If they can't go out and kill an animal to feed the family, what can they do? Give ‘em a building to tear down, a roof to reroof. They need to be doing in order to know who they are.
Stewing in prison may or may not help. Prison helped the men we heard from that evening.
As we 60 or so volunteers piled back through the gates on the way out, ChiEShiNa and I agreed it's sure interesting who's friendly among the volunteers and who's not. He stays on the high ground also. We didn't ask how “real Christians” could be so unfriendly. Fr. Andrew commented how excellent the moderator was. Indeed.
How “Christians” have the energy, not to mention heart, to bad mouth the world religions is beyond me, when they are so busy dueling among themselves—Evangelists v Catholics v LDS v Christian Science v Religious Science v Nazarene v Pentecostal v traditional denominational v nondenominational, etc. Not to mention Jewish and Native American traditions.
Last year I asked to be removed from Prison Fellowship (PF) mailings after a staff person expressed his opinion that Christian Science wasn't Christian, and, for that matter, the vineyard is kind of borderline. PF does wonderful things in prison. They cashed my “unsaved" check.
It's one thing to be judged by God, but to be judged on God's behalf or to have one aspect of the body of Christ judge another is simply too much for me to support.
John O'Donohue simply says: Pray for all. Yes, yes. Pray.
Merton to the rescue
Yet another micro crisis built like a late afternoon cumulus cloud in a summer sky, from the same old stuff. I need to let it rain, write through it.
Thomas Merton is my inspiration this time. Holed up in the fly and bee bombarded gray REI dome tent last weekend and started The Intimate Merton: his life from his journals. Validating life through writing! Amen.
Among other things, I let yet another new “christian” offset me with his stock but Jesus is the only path to overcoming suffering. Get tired of keeping my passion for prison to myself; stuck out neck and mentioned how much I enjoy prison sangha (the light of my little life.) “You don't teach buddhism!” my friend exclaimed. “No way”, I responded truthfully, “I just facilitate the group a bit, make sure we sit, walk, read, discuss and pray so that everyone gets involved. I'm just there to love like Jesus said.” The more my friend suffers, the tighter he clings to his new party line, abandoning more of his life experience and wisdom, the best of who he is, becoming like a filleted fish, as Joseph Campbell calls it. Bless us.
I was startled the night before at prison sangha the men chose to read a section in Thich Nhat Hahn-- 5 ways to deal with anger. In my mind, Jesus smiled, beamed even. Afterwards the fellow who is spending time with “Christians” nodded enthusiastically, “Yup, that's mercy all right”. Sounded like mercy to me too, the advice that the sage is compassionate, no matter what actions, words or hard hearts s/he encounters.
Father Laurence says meditation is a cure for fundamentalism. Bless us our church for keeping folks busy. Not exactly so new folks don't sit still, hear or know the truth of oneness, though I sense that happens. But to get us away from our self centeredness. But too often we end up feeling smugly saved, thinking everyone else, no matter the denomination, is wrong, unsaved sinners, infidels, hell bound. How outrageous! Oh, the arrogance of “better than” which separates us from each other, from God! My beloved church! Luckily I know why I chose this imperfect church. I can't easily name any church or group of more than dozen that doesn't think they're right and everyone else is wrong! Jesus wept.
It boils down to how much energy does a group invest in criticizing and trying to convert others, worrying about others instead of accepting folks “as is”, then working to clean their own stable! I'm at the vineyard because leadership does a good job of finding the middle ground, tolerating the narrow spectrum of folks I currently fall into. My antenna is ever alert for tolerance and truth. (That's why controversial falun dafa's motto's on my car—Truthfulness, Benevolence, Forbearance!)
Or maybe it's the music. Yesterday visiting elder Randy Larsen explained how the vineyard music began by repeating simple lines. Yup, exactly what I appreciate; simple music brought me in, followed by a simple service in a plain building, and lucid, unpadded teaching. Something right about that (for me, nat). If I can't find Gregorian chant, this'll do.
For so long our church has opposed the two things that give me peace—nature and silence. Suddenly and recently we're starting to getting the family out into nature. Our new art gallery celebrating God's creation is breathtaking. Yes, yes, God's creation, Our responsibility!
As always I continue to overlay all sorts of micro interfaith adventures-- buddhist, christian, yogic, even LDS. Zen one morning, church the next. Mormons at 10am; Jesus evangelism at noon. So it goes for this monastic shudda beena. If I'm to practice sitting and breathing, then it's yoga, buddhism, or christian meditation outside my church. If I want good clear teaching, it's back to church, or a visiting teacher, likely in the zen tradition. If I want to be with a big group of friendly-ish folks, enjoy warm conversation and connection, church is my best bet aside from prison sangha.
The other weekend I got up and left a loud dinner gathering early. Outside the new moon hung below clouds just above the mountains. Even after all these years—60 this year--I'm still puzzled why I don't enjoy the usual popular activities (tv, parenting, movies, rock music, D&A.) Instead of meeting the group for Sunday breakfast, I wanted to be with people of faith. Looked for the nearest church with cars. Felt good to sit on the floor for the last part of what must have been a packed LDS service, to be with people who cared enough to gather together, to be reminded of the truth, to greet each other, including this stranger, warmly.
Young acquaintances try interest me in their worlds, careers, making money. They want me to work with children, help save the world, the environment; they want me to try products. (Older acquaintances try to interest me in medical procedures, myths of aging, long term care insurance!) As I start my 7th decade I'm clear my focus is inward, monastic, meditative. Turns out my life isn't about skiing and climbing mountains ‘til I drop as it is for many I've met along the way! Instead I've turned downstream to follow the cycle many Americans swim against. I don't need to be the best and strongest to be ok. But I do need peace of mind. Oh, I'll be more proactive about working muscles, having just read some Paul Grilley articles in yoga journal.
For serious Buddhist meditation, Friday evening prison continues to be my preferred sangha. If I have a choice of who to spend a couple of hours with locally, where I feel most comfortable, accepted, challenged and rewarded, the felons get my vote more often than not. Food's better the next morning at Control Freaks Anon/CFA (if only we openly addressed our unspoken common bond!) Recently awoke and realized recently CFA doesn't really want me offering to make a pot of green tea or bringing homemade goodies to their strong coffee/commercial muffin gatherings. How could I be so dense! First I butt in on a close and closed social circle; then I tried to change a menu that works, no matter how hands tremble.
Less eye contact and connection with CFA this year, and one harsh, out of the blue verbal attack when I tried to joke. Recently one of the group was brave enough to mention they'd already given out the dozen tickets to the Dalai Lama they requested. I was stunned—there aren't even that many of us at a get together! No wonder eyes avert. Bless us. Now, who's trying to swim upstream! That would be me. My Seattle buddy is right about the obvious—Idaho, not a good fit. Duh.
Of course I mentioned to prison sangha, during the anger discussion, I have by far the most anger towards my own family and local non-prison sangha, those with whom I most hope to practice transparency and honesty. Bless the felons for saying you're important to us, you should see the Dalai Lama.
They're quite right—I care a lot about meditation, enough to cross town Friday nights, to sit and walk for my own sake, and to encourage others to do so. I care about each one, which is why I ask about those who don't show up. Not to make them feel guilty—a hair trigger--but because I care. They are the community that supports me, along with each other. I want them to understand what a difference this makes.
There is more to the Dalai Lama ticket story. Although a sangha wife networked on my behalf, the Buddha supplied me with a ticket connection via the bigger Idaho sangha, not local.
I love, no need, the way buddhism unabashedly teaches about and practices death. Altho Christianity teaches love God with all your heart and mind and not to worry, I don't hear much about how to die, so I turn to buddhism for support living and dying well. Seems more practical. It's obvious to me most “Christians” are terrified of dying, may spend years undergoing medical treatment, hospitalization, etc. Buddhists seem better balanced in that arena I'm approaching. Where do I look for support during towards the end of my life? To teachers of the East. (Of course Jesus came out of the to East.) Not much interests me more than East West dialog.
I've been thinking about community in terms of the parade of teachers through Boise. One student, one teacher, one tiny sangha, each hoping to build a center for their own teacher/practice. More and more I realize each student with their teacher is yet another cry for understanding perfection and control issues. Bless each of us lone practitioners, “too good” to join an existing group. Ain't we a piece of work! No way am I jumping ship from my masters teachers Ken Cohen or Father Laurence! Outside these micro sanghas, thousands of Idahoans suddenly think they want to see the Dalai Lama!
Recently yet another martial arts teacher moved to the area, bringing his studies of the truth. Dialoging with him I saw how I'm looking for community, not teachers (teachers I've found). And, interestingly, prison is the most transparent community I know, where I get support.
One of the major sanghas in Boise is under stress, whether they admit it or not. I heard one of their visiting teachers challenge them to get back on track. I liked the way she concluded the popular teaching story of an abbot asking a neighboring “rabbi” how to bring his monastery back to life. She put it this way: “Treat each other like Buddha.” Simple, eh? (Christians tell the story as “Christ is among you”; Benedictines simply vow to “Treat everyone as Jesus.” I heard her loud and clear—treat others like Buddha. Yes!
Why don't we practice treating each other like Buddha? Why do we psychoanalyze marriages, discuss children and dogs, especially other peoples’, but not honor the buddha in each? Where's the practice group? Where's the local teacher?
This brings me to the peace I experienced at Ascension monastery. Nooo, not perfect of course; the monastery is dying slowly into something else as brothers die off, leave and aren't replaced. Nonetheless peace and acceptance touched me deeply, profoundly. No “us and thems”; just people practicing acceptance, watching language and thoughts. Treating each other like Buddha, Christ and Jesus. Nice.
Around that time I had my recurring wrong track dream. Sometimes it's a bus line, sometimes some sort of train, heading north usually. Can't seem to get across all the tracks to get to the line that takes me back south towards the center of the town where I should be. Yup. My life, in a nutshell: frustrated because I think I'm headed away from where I oughta be. Had some good times on the bus, met cool folks. Wrong way tho. So it seemed.
Thank you, Thomas Merton, for permission to live through writing.
Spring 2005 - Shift happens!
Multi - faithing in Idaho -- All About Me
Just emailed a web correspondent how the task of writing up adventures in Idaho religion becomes more and more daunting. Hiking the spiritual path is what I do these years-- attend church regularly, occasional retreats and meditations, both Christian and Buddhist; read about religion; listen to speakers and recordings with spiritual flavors; practice yoga; and work with chiropractor who believes spirituality is one leg of the triangle of health. I'm always at it, processing, re-learning, connecting dots.
This snowless winter I got help balancing East and West, via the wisdom of Joseph Campbell (much as last winter Laurence van der Post guided me through those murky waters). In the new year Monday evenings I joined a small group of unitarians watching/discussing the Mythos series, returning me to my anthropology roots. Back home I rewatched or just listened again. How I needed Campbell's reminder that myths and stories of all times, cultures and religions are stories filled with symbols! From American Indian tales to Scripture and Sutras to King Arthur, stories aren't literal, but stories! Of course not. Furthermore, no matter the origin, they're all remarkably the same! Campbell's wisdom, passion and humor were a balm for this frazzled mind always trying to reconcile opposites in a polarized world. As happens when I hear or sense deep truth, found myself profoundly touched, breathing more freely. What a relief!
One weekend I sat with one of the newest sanghas in the area when their L.A. teacher visited. The basement space was agreeable although I sure wanted to place something "interesting" in each of the window wells. The teacher didn't actually sit or walk with us much; individual counseling seemed to be his interest. My mind raged all day, never settling for a moment. It's true, I've always fought the idea of facing a wall, never knowing my neighbor, never connecting with anyone. Who needs it! Lunch too was silent. The clincher to the uneasy day was observing precision lunch procedures--everything arranged and cleaned with military precision. Zen, perhaps, but not for me--perfection and a teacher not sitting with students (enjoyed dharma talk). I enjoy experiencing teachers of all ilk who come to the area--discover gems. By late afternoon, I surrendered, and began jotting notes during the final meditation. I'd flunked; might as well make poetry of it. By then I'd decided, that although I don't feel energy in typical ways, it was clear the space and experience were wrong for me. (How others fared--I'll never know) :Leaping Lamas! Tons of Teachers! What a smorgasbord!The following morning I was happily back in church (christian), feeling much closer to that "dysfunctional" assortment, as we fondly refer to ourselves, than the strangers I'd just faced the wall with and felt so distant from.
Treasure Valley's raining rimpoches, seeping senseis!
Teachers and teachings ricochet from venue to venue.
We've tons of teachers, piles of priests, pastors and practitioners;
Mounds of monks and ministers; stacks of students.
Treasure Valley seethes with sisters, bubbles with brothers and bishops, feasts of fathers, elders too.
We even got obliging oblates!
Not many nuns though. nooooo
Sometime over winter I relaxed a notch about the worshiping business the Vineyard is based on. Realized my resistance to worshiping name rather than message, might be folly. What about the story of maharishi's diary containing nothing but the name of god, pages of nothing but ram, ram, ram???!!! What difference??
In the flood of teachers through Boise, I was recently delighted to hear mid east linguist, peace maker and Sufi master Neil Douglas-Klotz. Although one sometime "buddhist" said she was unimpressed (the same who never heard of Silent Spring), I was bowled over by the high ground Douglas-Klotz held with those who baited him to bash others, like fundamentalists. He didn't go there. I leaned closer, stunned at hearing the Truth that the way to peace is common ground (not criticism). My soul cheered wildly! Loved how he described ancestors before us, and future behind!
"My" church has been on quite a roll all winter. About February I happened to discover one of the winter gals in yoga attends "my" church. I was complaining that my church was wonderful, although drives me nuts, refusing to recycle. "Wait 'til next week", she said. Lo, the very next Sunday, the Vineyard began "Tending the Garden". Tri received about the 2nd standing ovation I recall. We went home with new green bumper stickers. I was stunned; pastor begged our forgiveness. That means me. Shift happens. Can accepting women and gays be far behind?
A few weeks later, I faced another wall. The teacher sat next to me, although she faced inward, to the courtyard. Maybe I should become a teacher so I can face the group! Ha. (Easier to visit prison where we now circle towards each other.) Her dharma talk encouraged us to keep sitting. Perfect. Per instructions, I sat very straight, inspired by her upright posture, focusing on breathing. Took the opportunity to explore just where in the world my right shoulder goes. Observed that its normal position restricts breathing on my right side. Very satisfying sitting and walking time. Love that slow walking, although it's never long enough for this body (except in prison). During lunch break, chatted with my neighbor I'd encouraged to attend, who was leaving for the day. When the sun went behind clouds, I lunched American style, in the car. Evidently the group I've hung around with for at least 5 years lunched together; I've given up being included.
Who are these serious dinners! Pre ceremony potluck
Tibetan calligraphy practice with Geshe Jamyang Tsultrim, Apr 17
The Pope had died that week. At the end of the day of zen sitting, felt drawn to dash off to mass at St Mary's. Slipped into the back row of the crowded church; new acquaintances from world community of christian meditation (WCCM) joined me. Lovely mass--children quiet enough to hear the excellent homily. The only mention of the Pope was when prayers were offered.
The next morning I was grateful to be back at 9am church. Rushed back to the dojo for llam Jukai ceremony for "Floating Cloud" aspirant. Jukai? (Don't ask.) With the guidance of the visiting saint-of-a-zen priest Layla, the former catholic/buddhist student notorious for not showing up for plans he sets up, took precept vows. It was a perfect Idaho happening witnessed by practitioners from several sanghas. Layla was impeccably calm, whispering instructions and motioning to rookie bell ringers/helpers. Highlights included: incense billowing out of control and rushed outside; at one point a cacophony of barking dogs (the true god worshipped by the majority of sangha folks) burst outside the door; and finally, sitting behind the initiate, I noticed with delight his toes were crossed! All was in order.
A super special gift this past fall-winter-spring has been Carol and Ray's (St Mark's parish) inspiration to bring Cora Jackson here from Seattle to rehearse and present her gospel Concert of the Cross in Boise. (Good thing--because the Poston/Johnson Gospel Workshop of America team didn't come to Boise this year). Once I experienced Cora in October, canceled conflicting plans on rehearsal weekends. I know gold when I feel it. Thank you, God. Remarkably, the Vineyard provided rehearsal and concert space. Final rehearsals were grueling (though a piece of cake compared to Dr Goodheart's kid's Christmas concert--never again!) Biggest regret--not able to simultaneously watch the performance, which included mimes and a signer who captured my heart, and sing in the choir! What a concert! Boise area singers were assisted by about 30 Seattle singers who came over for the final performances. How wonderful to sing praise at the top of one's lungs! (And manage not fall off the back row!) [Have you publicly taken Jesus as your savior, I'm asked!]
Bless Cora for letting those who show up sing her music. Boise's black community didn't participate. Cora directs those God sends, who appreciate her awesome gifts of harmonies and passionate spirit. She'll be rewarded in heaven for trying to make white folk sing from their toes. Give me the voices of black singers to listen to any day. I was grateful Cora didn't point this untrained voice to the door.
Concert of the Cross director Cora Jackson (by Marcia)
Heart of the Concert of the Cross--Seattle cast (by Marcia)
Sandra, 20 units of blood later, after the benefit concert for her
March 22nd, with Boise Vineyard singers Ruth and Pam
Didn't have to "Wish I was there"--Benefit Concert at St Paul's
(I was there, in purple, mouth open)
Just as I needed a Concert of the Cross recovery group, God extended our gospel season. The Concert of the Cross was not to be the end! Ray and Carol's vision of Unity in Community, continued to keep the choir together through the Boise hospitalization of Sandra, one of the Seattle participants. For a month we prayed, visited St Al's individually and sang as a group through her blood transfusions and treatments. Six weeks later Cora and a several Seattle S.T.A.N.D. members returned and led us in a benefit concert for Sandra, at St Paul's Baptist Church. Cherie Buckner blessed us with "His Eye is on the Sparrow". Two St Paul's pastors attended but the majority of their congregation still held back. If only they realized how we need and miss them! Such things God understands, not me. While folks rushed to meet families after the concert, I stood outside with Sandra's Seattle son and watched the full moon rise above the foothills behind downtown Boise, shining through light clouds. Later, a mighty warm wind blew across the valley for hours--scattering our joy?
I still wake up humming "Stand me up, turn me around, sit me down on solid ground, my Jesus!" One of my toughest winter lessons is breathing through my attachment/disappointment that none of my buddies who are friends of gospel music, came to any of these concerts, which were the light my winter. Call it ego, what you will, it was a harsh reality check.
Back to the Vineyard. As if greening wasn't enough, Tri continues to rock and roll. The cross remained on stage following Easter (not left over, like some of us thought). So much for the rebellious Jesus movement! The Blessing of Belonging headlined the Easter Sunday bulletin while I was off in Illinois. The next Sunday Tri said he felt it was time Boise Vineyard offered membership and announced a membership meeting the following Sunday evening! I yoyo-ed daily, finally picking up Bill Jackson's Radical Middle. Reading nightly I realized what a perfect fit the Vineyard is. In comparison to it's wild founders of its short history, my multi-faith path is mere peanuts. Chuckling as I recalled the Moonie's mass marriage, I signed the 1999 (to the best of my knowledge the year I began attending) membership page. A church that makes me laugh that hard, where it's safe to cry, that is willing to change, and beg forgiveness, is something I can't resist.
No matter that some have taken upon themselves to pray for my unsaved soul. That's fine. The unpleasantness of being heavily evangelized by Prison Fellowship and receiving thumbs down by church prison and jail ministry coordinators, faded quickly with a hysterical phone call from a bipolar friend. Thank you, God, for the reminder that I'm just one in a sea of struggling folks, unskillfully "practicing the presence", judged by some, judging others. After setting down the phone, I breathed gratefully, lighter, and set to praying (as if every thought weren't a prayer!). Garden variety might not be good enough for evangelists, maybe even not for Jesus, but I think that's between God and I. Don't wanna be in heaven with those who judge on God's behalf.
Confess I've done a bit of dredging the past months for possible conversion moments. Obviously haven't been struck by lightning. Maybe I was saved and forgot? There was the big moment of knowing while in the Mexico City cathedral. This didn't resurface until I met in Gloria Benish, about 1996, a teacher so led by and tender towards Jesus she's uncomfortable in churches. I was deeply touched by her love of Jesus. Recently, when I used my ordination card at jail (another story), I recalled that experience. Remember stepping over that line I never thought I'd cross, the sense of commitment I felt to get serious about ministering and healing, how I accepted the love of Jesus Gloria shared. No matter what the world thinks, Gloria said my Christ light is strong. I know she knows.
A huge gift this year has been arrival of Benedictine oblate Paula, a practitioner of World Community of Christian Meditation (WCCM). We met by divine accident. As a seeker after inner peace--buddhist, christian, yoga--I was thrilled. In January, right here in river city, a small group began sitting twice a month at St Mary's parish. With it's simple guidelines for meditation and purpose of world peace, WCCM seems the perfect answer to a prayer.
A month later, the Boise Catholic diocese and Idaho Episcopal diocese brought London based WCCM head, Father Laurence Freeman to Boise. Paula included us new "meditators" in his evening with clergy. Heaven on earth to hear Father Laurence's simple words, simple explanations that I've begun reading in founder/mentor John Main's books. Later we learned he asked Paula to be coordinator for U.S.A!
Recently, weeding in the church garden with the usual small Saturday a.m. crew--they weed, I talk--I laughed heartily when one of the women declared that (my) single, pet/child free life was "All about Me". (As if multiply and subdue wasn't an outrageous manifestation of "do it My Way"! I rolled my eyes!!) Without being under authority to love one another, we couldn't survive. We've got to love ourselves and each other, before we can offer love to others, Tri reminded us, when he put the "You'll be Loved" back on the church bumper sticker last fall. So we practice. He loves us, "his" church so much, I/we can't stay away. Tri's Revolutionary Leadership just came out! Who better!
There's a teaching story Alan Cohen tells about a Buddhist monk agreeing to accept Jesus. When pressed to give up Buddha, he refused, saying I've got two saviors, you have only one! Could it be? I need 'em all. How could I have survived so long without the grace of many!
Garden expansion, April 2005. Vineyard back hoes David and Matt
God so loves the World
Winter 2004-5 - Church notes - Helmets! not Hats!
I'm endlessly fascinated, entertained and fed in the religious arena. Yesterday, Saturday morning meditation and brunch reconvened after being on break much of this year. After sitting, a major discussion subject was the film "Napoleon Dynamite". The host shook his head, confessing how painful the movie had been for him. I agreed, laughing at his honesty. I thought the film cast was on drugs, but somehow made it to the end.
This morning I met Paula for early mass across town; she was to be a reader. We both wore green wide wale corduroy. Though I was enjoying the priest's homily that Christmas wasn't really over Dec. 27th (after all it'd begun in early October), I was curious to look around at the church and congregation. An oriental man with arms crossed, glared straight ahead and dozed; the woman with him appeared somewhat interested in the service; the young man with them--perhaps the only English speaker?--looked as though he was listening.
Suddenly behind them I saw-- Napoleon Dynamite! Honest. It was too good to be true! How I wished yesterday's group could see this! There was a gangly, long faced teen with a dramatic pile of hair, mouth open, staring unmoving. Just like Napoleon D! I looked at mom and nodded--mother and son for sure. Drifted back to the priest.
People don't know what they miss not going to church. They think they do, but I say, they have no idea!
The talk was good--from Christmas, to the history of winter baptism--see why Paula chose the parish. Yearned to give my copy of Christian Yoga to the priest, urge him to practice good posture. He's too young to stoop like an ancient man! I was keen to talk about the service and her church, but Paula had business to discuss with the priest. I left them laughing and went on to the Vineyard for late service.
Sure dislike "jumping up and down" during mainstream services. Adapted quickly to the simplicity of our nondenominational service--stand to sing awhile, sit and listen awhile, end standing; and of course, music I'm able to sing along with. After watching catholic communion, I hoped perhaps it was communion Sunday at the Vineyard.
I was in luck. Sang along to easy songs Kathleen Norris calls ditties (as opposed to traditional, heavy hymns she knows and loves. I'd probably like 'em too, if I knew 'em). We served ourselves the "elements", vineyard style, from cafe tables; returned to seats, to stand or sit, our choice. Good enough. What I'll remember from the sermon was Tri saying independence and codependence are both a result of lack of trust. Another timely obvious truth hit home. Amen.
Feel a little guilty enjoying this so very gray, snowless winter so much! It's the perfect excuse to hole up--read, write and reflect. Fits me to a "t". Time to ponder favorite subjects: like the meaning of life. This winter the Hemphills have been discovered by a military historian of dad's flight group. I've been reading flight logs and diaries of WWII pilots who knew a man I didn't. I've been deeply moved by the past, especially in light of the war in Iraq.
Since reading Rolheiser's Holy Longing, haven't been able to get the phrase holy wronging out of mind. Time to start a prison page of volunteer adventures, subtitle it Holy Wronging and see what evolves. Never know where words will take me and end up! Everyone knows "the church" done wrong. Maybe I can tie the phrase in with Friday night live at medium security.
Recently read a quote from Annie Dillard's Teaching a Stone to Talk suggesting that what we need in church is not ladies' straw hats and velvet hats, but crash helmets and life preservers! Couldn't agree more: a serious seeker would do well to wear a safety helmet, psychic anyhow!! Did Dillard mention seat belts? They'd be good too. Religion's not for the faint of heart! (And I didn't even see The Passion! Life will go on without it.)
"Buckle up, granny" -- from Ursula le Guin's "Space Crone"
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