Archive | September, 2013

Who, me? No thanks!

22 Sep

The knock on the monastery door was loud and decisive.  When the old monk, the gatekeeper, opened the door he found standing before him a middle-aged man dressed in simple but neatly tailored attire.

“I desire to become a monk,” the man announced.  “I have renounced everything I own.  I’ve moved out of my home, my slaves are now the property of a new owner, all my clothes – even the formal robes I used to wear to state dinners – gone.  I am penniless and accept my poverty gladly.  I am ready to become a member of this community.”

“Life is not easy here, my friend,” the old man told him.  “I know, I know,” the inquirer replied, “but I have made a choice to serve the world from my poverty.”

The wise gatekeeper, himself a monk for thirty years, invited the man to pass through the gate, but to sit for a moment with him in the austere courtyard.

“You have made a choice to serve,” repeating the man’s own words.  “Yes, I am ready,” the visitor assured him.  “Very well, I will show you where to change and I will give you your first assignment.  When you have put on the monk’s robe, I want you to clean the latrines over there in the corner, taking care to scrub them carefully.  They haven’t been cleaned in a while so there is an urgent need.”

There was a  long silence as the newly arrived monk-to-be studied the old man’s face, then the latrines across the courtyard, then the man’s face again.  “Who, me?  You want me to scrub the latrines?  Isn’t that the work of those who take care of the monastery for us?  Surely you can make such an assignment to one of them.”

The old man’s three word response was wrapped in a soft, gentle smile.

“We are ‘them'”.

It has been said that there is a huge difference between the choice to serve and the choice to be a servant.  When I choose to serve, writes Richard Foster, I am still in charge.  I decide what’s worthy of our serving, whom I will serve, and a time that is most convenient.  But when I choose to be a servant, I give up the right to be in charge.  The choice to serve is often wedged into a list of important priorities.  Being a servant, though, is a style of living, a willingness to become both available and vulnerable.

To choose to serve.  To choose to be a servant.  It’s not an easy choice. 

Walking With A Friend

12 Sep

The beautiful words in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer offer comfort and consolation when they remind us that at the end of life “we shall see him who is my friend and not a stranger.”  The reference, of course, is to God, but I’d like to think about an alternative idea, one that might speak to our fear of death and the end of life.

Most of us have been taught by our culture that death is a specter lurking in the shadows until it can pounce upon its prey.  Death is to be feared, regarded as an enemy to be avoided.  But what if…as the spiritual guide John O’Donohue suggested…death is a silent friend and companion from the very beginning of life?  O’Donohue used to tell people that death doesn’t just show up at the end of life, because we all have a “secret friend” who has been beside us since we appeared on the planet.  And, in fact, from the first breath of air we draw, we are launched into an inevitable process of living toward dying.  It happens to us all, even to profound philosophers like Woody Allen who is reported to have said:  “I don’t mind dying.  I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  It happens, and we will be there.  But what if we’ve been walking all these years with a friend who has waited with us when we have gone through suffering, who has stood by while we healed from hurts, who has been faithful through our bumps and bruises…walking with us, always beside us, part of our deepest identity?

We all know there will come a time when the human body can’t continue the journey; that’s just the way our bodies are made.  The disease is too severe, the injury too profound, the body simply not strong enough to mend anymore.  And it is then that our “silent friend”, the companion who has walked all the way with us, the deepest part of our own nature, takes us by the hand.  It’s like walking with a lifelong companion, a trusted and caring friend, who has never abandoned me and won’t even now.

Name the companion what you will…God, Death, Life, Source…it’s up to you.  It’s just so good to know that, in that moment, we can link our arms, like old friends do, and simply walk on together.  The sting of death begins to disappear and in its place a song forms in our hearts.

Do you remember how this line ends?  “…surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and…”?


Haiku To You!

3 Sep

The last thing I ever imagined doing is writing Japanese Haiku.  I didn’t even know what it was until the other day when I stumbled upon the word and decided to explore its meaning.  So, inspired by the lovely vacation surroundings in Oregon, I took pen in hand.

Trust me.  Haiku is not easy.  But who thought this classical, ancient form of Japanese poetry would be simple?  Well, me, of course.

Haiku consists of three lines, each with a precise structure so that the final product has seventeen syllables and addresses some aspect of duality.  Impressed?  The key, according to those who really know, is the juxtaposition of opposites in a thought, like: up vs. down; beauty vs. ugliness; good vs. evil.  Things like that.  So, on the tranquil mountainside, amid all the glorious oak trees, I noticed the abundance of moss creeping up tree trunks and clinging to stately limbs.  I said to myself:  moss is a parasite and it will eventually damage the tree, so here is my duality:  good vs. bad; life vs. death.  Haiku, here I come!

Why do so many of us rush into new adventures ill prepared?  Why do Westerners, in particular, assume everything is quickly accomplished and easily done?  “It’s a snap,” we say and then set out to accomplish something for which we are poorly prepared or about which we are completely ignorant.  I’ve been known to call repairmen or plumbers to correct the mistakes I made after having attempted to repair a gadget or a widget that I knew nothing about.  The same principle applies to Haiku.

So, I resolve to be slow and diligent in my relationship with this ancient tradition.  Patience.  Study.  Practice.  More patience.  Humility.  A willingness to learn.  Acceptance of the reality that sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t.  These are wonderful ideas to bear in mind as one steps into the unknown.

And that same principle works pretty well, too, when applied to to the spiritual journey that so many of us pursue.

And, no, you cannot read my Haiku.