"During his visit in a nearby city, the Rabbi of a small Russian town saw an old man come to the Great Maggid of the city and ask him to impose penance on him for his sins. "Go home," said the maggid. "Write all your sins down on a slip of paper and bring it to me." When the man brought him the list, he merely glanced at it. Then he said, "Go home. All is well." But later, the Rabbi observed that the Maggid read the list and laughted at every line. This annoyed him. How could anyone laugh at sins!
For years he could not forget the incident, till once he heard someone quote a saying of the great teacher, the Baal Shem: "It is well-known that no one commits a sin unless the spirit of folly possesses him. But what does the sage do if a fool comes to him? He laughs at all this folly, and while he laughs, a breath of gentleness is wafted through the world. What was rigid thaws, and what was a burden becomes light. " The Rabbi reflected. In his soul he said: "Now I understand the laughter of the Holy Maggid."
"What was rigid thaws, and what was a burden becomes light."
As we enter the New Year, it is customary to think about new habits that we might adopt. Wait – let me guess – several of you are planning to start a diet this year. A few are planning to get more exercise. The most compassionate among you might be thinking about giving more money or time for good causes, or perhaps simply committing to be more thoughtful and understanding with everyone you know.
There’s not a bad resolution in the bunch, and I’ll bet that if you are the resolution-making sort, you have several more very worthwhile plans in mind.
The New Year is a time where those of us who have at least a fragment of hope in our hearts see that the possibility of change is always before us – and so we take stock at times like this and set our direction toward change and growth and progress and justice and love.
The passage of a year is one revolution of the earth around our source of energy and light – the Sun. And though our choice of days to start a year may be arbitrary, the dance between a planet and its life giving star seems a fitting measure for change.
Before we go too far with our resolutions, let’s consider the story of a seeker who visited a Zen Buddhist master to learn about enlightenment. The master served tea and, as the seeker’s cup filled, the master – seemingly oblivious - continued to pour and pour, so that the tea spilled everywhere.
At last – impatient - the seeker exclaimed "Stop! It is full to overflowing. No more will go in!" The master replied, "Like this cup, your mind is already full. How can I teach you unless you first empty your cup?”
Most of us carry something with us that prevents us from moving forward freely in our journeys toward a greater connection and joy.
Let's leave behind,
the things that do not matter.
And we'll turn our lives,
to a more important chapter.*
What are you carrying?
Is there something you have done or failed to do over the past year that haunts you and pulls you back?
Is there an anger that anchors you to the past? The doorway into a joyous future is wide enough to admit you, but not with the additional bulk of such great and heavy burdens.
Is there a fear that has held you back? - that keeps you immobile and timidly hesitant from advancing through the passageway toward a life lived fully and lovingly.
Why do we hold on to such burdens?
They can feel inseparable from us – as though releasing our anger or guilt or fear will be catastrophic – that we will be exposed to great danger without our fear or that our dark sides will take over us without holding tenaciously to our sense of guilt or shame. And our anger… holding on to anger – said the Buddha – is like holding a hot coal with the intent to throw it at someone. We are the ones to get burned. Letting go of anger can make the hurt feel more real or make us feel powerless, but there is that burning in the hand to contend with.
The great Maggid looked at the list of deep, dark sins and he laughed. “What was rigid thaws and what was a burden becomes light.”
Can we laugh at the burdens we have carried for so long? Laugh and let them thaw and lighten. Laugh so that we can be freed to move forward toward a more joyful destination?
I’d like you to take a moment now to write on the slip of paper you found on your seat this morning. Write one or more of the burdens that you want to put down as you move into your future. No one but you will see what you have written.
In a minute or two, we’ll begin singing “return again.” While we’re singing, you are invited to come up one by one and burn that slip of paper – turning solid material into vapour, energy and ash – as unsubstantial as can be. And as you do, why not laugh. Maybe a little chuckle is all you can manage, but give it a shot.
“while you laugh “a breath of gentleness is wafted through the world. What was rigid thaws, and what was a burden becomes light.”
May the flame we now kindle release us from the burdens that restrict
May its heat thaw what is rigid
May it make the heavy light
*from Piglet's Song, in The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff)