The Inner History of a Day
No one knew the name of this day;
Born quietly from deepest night,
It hid its face in light,
Demanded nothing for itself,
Opened out to offer each of us
A field of brightness that traveled ahead,
Providing in time, ground to hold our footsteps
And the light of thought to show the way.
The mind of the day draws no attention;
It dwells within the silence with elegance
To create a space for all our words,
Drawing us to listen inward and outward.
We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.
Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.
So a the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And wisdom of the soul become one.
~ John O'Donohue ~
I go down to the edge of the sea.
How everything shines in the morning light.
The cusp of the whelk,
the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels,
moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred --
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.
It's like a schoolhouse of little words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself,
the jingle, the periwinkle,
the scallop full of moonlight.
Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.
~ Mary Oliver ~
The Worm’s Waking
This is how a human being can change:
there’s a worm addicted to eating grape leaves.
Suddenly, he wakes up,
call it grace, whatever, something
wakes him, and he’s no longer a worm.
He’s the entire vineyard,
and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,
a growing wisdom and joy that doesn’t need to devour.
Let us enter into a time of stillness now, turning our attention from the outer world to a soft, true, sense of being within. In this time, let us consider, through prayer, meditation, and reflection, our connections to one another, to the world, and to that which we know as holy.
The Dalai Lama is in New York visiting the United Nations. He approaches a hot dog vendor on the street and queues up behind customers asking for their hot dogs to be prepared with varying combinations of mustard, ketchup, onions, relish and sauerkraut. When the Dalai Lama reaches the vendor, he gives his order: "Make me one with everything."
The spiritual journey… it is the voyage of growth and transformation that takes us toward a more meaningful, purposeful, connected life.
Many will tell us they know the way to travel. They offer guide books and maps to the final destination. Are any of them right? Are all of them right? Some even offer to take us there – for a price. Gurus and priests, popes and Imams offer their commandments and prohibitions – recipes that rarely produce a dish that looks anything like the picture in the cookbook!
And we here are not much for rules and regulations, are we? We are suspicious of dogmatic certainty. We have come to this place – to this community – we have been attracted to this faith that insists on freedom and the validity of many paths because we recognise as we embark upon this journey, that we are all uncertain, not only of the route but also the desired destination of our searching.
The story continues:
The Dalai Lama gives the vendor a “20.” After a minute the vendor has not given him anything back, so he asks, "excuse me… where's my change"?
The answer: "Change must come from within."
In this community, we recognise that there is no one single path or single destination – that we must seek within and beyond us. We are blessed with the freedom and opportunity to explore many paths to find the way that is right for us at this particular juncture in our lives. And we can be comforted to know that, as we travel, we need not walk alone. No matter where our journeys take us, we have committed to accompany and support one another.
Throughout recorded history, inspired men and women have explored the spiritual dimensions of the world. Seeking more than rules and second-hand revelations, they have gone beyond the teachings handed down through their traditions and sought a personal encounter with ultimate reality.
The destination is a vision – not so much a place to arrive at as a way to travel – the journey itself transforms us. “A Walk” by Rainer Maria Rilke:
“My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance--
and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are…”
The spiritual journey is the realm, not of rational analysis and knowledge, but of ambiguity and contradiction. We can not contend with the spiritual unless we are prepared to settle into a comfortable relationship with mystery.
“We are grasped by what we cannot grasp”
“[it] changes us, even if we do not reach it”
And we are changed “into something…which…we already are”
In many languages and from a world of different places and contexts, the seekers of ultimate reality – the mystics of many traditions - have spoken of the journey and its destination.
The visions they have painted of spiritual attainment seem hugely different at first glance. Unity with God, escape from the endless cycle of rebirth, detachment from the world, deep connection to the world, or an experience of ones own nature itself as divine.
Our logical minds hear contradiction: detachment and connection to the world; escape and self-discovery; union with God and recognition of a divine human nature. Are these not different visions of the outcome of the spiritual journey?
A story from the Jewish tradition.
Young Rabbi Mendel used to climb into the mountains, alone, and stay for days at a time. Early one bright day, he sat against a rock, high in the mountains. He sang a prayer-song, loudly. When he paused, he heard the birds singing, too. He felt a great sense of joy.
Filled with the beauty of the day and a feeling of oneness with creation, he climbed even higher into the remote hills. Startled, he stopped his singing.
Ahead of him was a tiny cabin. Sitting in the doorway was an old man.
Rabbi Mendel felt instantly that there was a profound holiness to this man. His smile was wise and welcoming. He seemed to radiate a sense of well-being.
Rabbi Mendel said, "Shalom! Peace!"
The old man looked at him a moment, then smiled and spoke. Instead of the usual response to the greeting, he spoke the blessing someone says when seeing something beautiful in nature, or a beautiful person. He said, "Blessed be the One who created beauty in the world!"
Rabbi Mendel was puzzled. But the old man only smiled.
A moment later, he said, "I am Reb Yehuda. Come sit with me."
So began a new routine for Rabbi Mendel. Now, when he hiked into the mountains, he always visited Reb Yehuda, although he could not exactly say why it seemed so important to visit him.
As the two sat in Reb Yehuda's tiny doorway on a Sabbath afternoon, it seemed to Rabbi Mendel that Reb Yehuda's prayers had unseen effects in the world. Rabbi Mendel suspected very strongly that Reb Yehuda was a hidden saint - perhaps even one of the righteous on whom, according to Jewish tradition, the world's very existence depends.
One day, when Rabbi Mendel had been coming to see Reb Yehuda for nearly two years, Reb Yehuda said, "I have something for you." The old man held out a satin pillow, finely worked in black and gold.
Rabbi Mendel said, "But this is YOUR pillow. It is the one thing of value you have!"
Reb Yehuda insisted however
Impulsively, Rabbi Mendel asked, "Are there others who do what you do?"
Reb Yehuda was silent a long time. At last, he said, "There will be others." He closed his eyes and said again, "There will be others."
The next time Rabbi Mendel climbed the mountain, he slept the first night under a sheltering rock. The next morning he rose early and sat on the ground, puzzling over the pillow from Reb Yehuda, which he held on his lap. He had spent many hours trying to understand its symbolism, to no avail.
One side of the square pillow was made of gold-colored silk. In its center was an unusual button, made of black stone. It was carved to look almost like a mountain, with ridges and gullies flowing from its central peak.
The pillow's other side was made of black silk. In its center was a gold button, the perfect inverse of the stone button. It looked like a deep, round, ridged valley. It almost looked as though one of the buttons had been made by being stamped with the other.
Rabbi Mendel began to climb higher, to visit Reb Yehuda.
Something was wrong. Just ahead, he noticed that a tract of land had been blackened by fire. The devastation spread far ahead of him, in the direction of Reb Yehuda's cabin.
Running now, he came to the remains of Reb Yehuda's hut. He called out for the old man, but there was no answer. At last, he found Reb Yehuda's charred body.
For many days, Rabbi Mendel mourned by himself. At last, he walked off, in search of another natural clearing with a view of the valley. When he found one, he began to drag stones together, to build a cabin for himself.
His anxiety was as overwhelming as his grief. He knew without question that he must continue the mystical work of Reb Yehuda. But what was it? What was he to do? He thought, "If I don't do the work he did, I feel sure that harm will come to the world. But I don't know what I am to do!" He spent his days and nights in agitation, struggling to understand.
Then, one day, he heard someone singing. He looked out the doorway of his little cabin. Coming up the narrow trail in the woods was a young man. He climbed happily up the mountain, singing a prayer-song as he walked. The mountain birds sang along with him.
For a moment, Rabbi Mendel felt the young man's joy. He remembered what it had been like, the first time he had come up the mountain to Reb Yehuda. Then, remembering Reb Yehuda's death, Rabbi Mendel felt, once again, the burden of his responsibility.
Sitting now in the doorway, watching the young man approach, Rabbi Mendel's hands were on the buttons of the pillow, playing with them, tugging them in opposite directions. In a flash, he became aware of something his fingers had known all along: the buttons were connected by a thread that passed through the center of the pillow. An invisible thread.
Rabbi Mendel felt like shouting and like crying, all at once. Finally, he understood the job that Reb Yehuda had done, and that was now his. The job was not for him to be serious. Certainly not to be morose. The job was to be joyful...to be a button of golden joy that connects the bright world, like a thread, to the world of stone. He was overcome with joy.
And so, Rabbi Mendel began his new job: to be just as he was.
The young man looked up, startled to see someone in the mountains above him. He said, "Shalom!"
Rabbi Mendel looked at the young man's bright, miraculous face. He replied, "Blessed be the One who created beauty in the world." He saw the young man's puzzled look. But all Rabbi Mendel could do was to smile.
The world and all things in it are held by a unity we can not fully grasp – a oneness that we limit the moment we begin to name and describe and systematize. Whatever words we use – God, nirvana, satori, moksha, Samadhi or something else entirely – we may see that the goal of our searching is in a profound and universal connectedness. It is a matter of, as John Donahue tells us, “transforming our broken fragments into an eternal continuity that keeps us.”
The journey is about wholeness. It is found in reading the apparently broken fragments at Mary Oliver’s sea shore as one whole story. It is the worm that becomes one with the orchard.
Thomas Merton, a 20th century Catholic monk and mystic, wrote in his poem “Hagia Sophia”:
“There is in all visible things…a hidden wholeness.” The mystic senses and lives into a deeper invisible connection that lies behind the ordinary things of life and beyond rationality.
Wholeness speaks to us profoundly and powerfully, but not literally. As a word, it allows and suggests the many ways in which connection and communion can be real. It speaks of personal healing, of the uniting force of love, of peace, and of a deeper, abiding unity among all things.
There can be no practical creed or code around wholeness. There can be no dogmatic system, no simple recipe for discovering its hidden threads – no litany that will make it appear like a spider’s web bejeweled with the morning’s dew.
We must seek wholeness each in our own way. Our own individual and collective aspirations would have us seek wholeness in every manner of which we are able – wholeness within us, among us, and beyond us. Wholeness with all that is: the everyday, the ordinary, the plain, as well as the sacred and divine.
The Sufi mystic Hafiz writes of a conversation in which God insists: 'I am made whole by your life. Each soul, each soul completes me.'
Wholeness with the divine is wholeness among all. There can be no separation.
Wholeness can not be divided – it is deeply and intrinsically relational. We can not be whole as individuals without a wholeness of humanity. Humankind can not be whole, without a wholeness of all beings. A wholeness of all beings can not be without the least of them also being fully whole in itself.
From Galway Kinnell: “my broken arms heal themselves around you.”
Wholeness is found and created relationally – not apart, but together. It is in our breaking and healing and in our coming together. It is in our compassion, our every small effort to understand, and it is in our love.
Let us join together to create the whole and to be made whole.
So may it be with you.