Every Monday morning when I awaken from my dreamless sleep I do so with ideas already formed or at least forming as to what I wish to explore and create in worship for the coming Sunday. It seems my part in the creative interchange is lessening. For the whole of last Sunday I was being fed by every interaction right throughout the day. It began with the first conversation I had when I arrived at Urmston and one or two I had at the end of worship. It continued as I arrived at Altrincham, through Aled’s comments about the Bodhisattva as he delivered the reading I’d given him and other conversations I had as we shared tea and biscuits. It continued as I interacted with a rich tapestry of people throughout the day and into the night. Last Sunday was one of those beautifully rich and deep days, when I just felt spoken to all day long. It brought to mind the following by Robert Walsh
Every time I engaged with someone that day I found myself smiling as it seemed everyone was touching that place deep in the soul of me…Just beautiful…
After leading worship I attended a friend’s son’s Christening. Well actually I attended the reception afterwards at “The Yard” in Alderly Edge, what a beautiful venue. As I arrived I was chatting with folk who asked me about an element of the service that had caused them to pause and feel a little uncomfortable. It was held at a local Anglican Church and during it those participating were asked “Do you renounce Satan and all his works and all his empty promises?”. I was asked what I thought of this and what I thought of Satan. I was asked “do you believe in Satan?” Good golly how do you answer that? Well I said I don’t believe in a being by that name. That said I don’t believe in a personified God either, God as a kind of super person. I then went on to say that perhaps this tempter this questioner that is given many names is really that other silent voice that we hear that separates us from one another and from our better selves and of course that power that is Greater than all and yet present in each, that I name God.
The conversation beautifully reminded me of the blessings and the curses of my work. I do get to engage in the most fascinating conversations, but also I am rarely allowed to just shake off my shoes and have a laugh. This is partly my own fault, due to the curses of the old homiletic consciousness. I left smiling at so much of what I had experienced with the many friends old and new that I get to share my life with.
The following day “Ash Wednesday”, for Christians, marks the beginning of 40 days of fasting and self-sacrifice that lead up to Easter, the day of re-birth re-newal and new beginnings.
In the account found in Matthews Gospel, Jesus is “led by the spirit” into the wilderness, a place of transformation and temptation. He is taken to the pinnacle of the temple and to the top of a high mountain. Here he is offered the world, but rejects the allure of an easier showier more obvious path. Instead he chooses the road less travelled, the heroes path. He is tempted by “Satan” but resists the temptation.
During their own times in the wilderness the great sages found their answers. Through taking the road less travelled, the hard road, the difficult road, the answers came to them. They discovered the knowledge they needed to impact positively on their people in their time and place. They returned with wisdom to share.
This is the spiritual life in its essence. It is often the hardest most difficult path and it can certainly appear to be the loneliest, one filled with temptations. That said it is the one where the answers are usually found.
The great sages pointed to the “Way” in which salvation or liberation could be attained for each and every one of us. Now of course they weren’t exactly the same but there were certainly parallels in which the “Way” could be trod. They each carried with them wisdom which they did not want to keep selfishly for themselves they wanted to pass on to all of us, so that we could each create the “kin-dom” of God within our own lives and communities. For the wisdom is pretty meaningless unless you give it away.
According to Borg they both pointed to new ways of seeing life, they both wanted to radically change the perception of those they came into contact with. Christian imagery talks about once being blind and now being able to see, about scales falling from eyes of new truths being revealed of being released from old prejudices and pride. While Buddhism talks of enlightenment which means to see differently.
They both taught transformation. In Buddhism this is seen as a liberation from suffering through learning to let go instead of grasping at everything. While Jesus turned around the perceived wisdom of the day through his aphorism such as those who empty themselves will be exalted, and those who exalt themselves will be emptied; those who make themselves last will be first, and the first last. He also claimed that the Christian concept of taking up your cross and the dying of self were similar to the Buddhist concept of letting go. That they were both about being born to a new way of being.
He highlighted that compassion was at the core of both teachings. Stating that this is the way of a Bodhisattva and that this is what Paul has called “Love” the primary fruit of the spirit and the greatest of all spiritual gifts. In fact Borg claimed that “…one might even say that becoming a bodhisattva is the goal of the fully developed Christian life."
In my last blogspot You are the Light of the World I wrote of how we all fall short of what we can be, that we lose our way, that we forget what we can be at the best of times, that we are distracted or tempted away from the path of enlightenment and spiritual freedom, often by self-seeking voices, in the hustle and bustle of our daily living.
Well I believe it begins by making space for vision. It means perhaps by creating a sense of wilderness in our own lives. We need wilderness, a time to get lost perhaps in order to discover the wisdom that is available to us all and then to return renewed and refreshed so we can offer something to our world. As Marcel Proust said “We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves after a journey through the wilderness, which no one else can make for us.”