Easter is over, guests gone, laundry done, leftovers tossed. Return to routine, a check of the calendar to see what’s next. A let down, really. And then I have to think again. I don’t believe the Easter story included a “back to business as usual” message. The disciples had just been through the worst experience possible with their friend and the dreams he brought, and, as our Rector said in his Easter sermon, they weren’t thinking “resurrection” when word came to them that the tomb was empty. They were experiencing desolation, fear, shock, anxiety, anger. An empty tomb created disbelief, a tinge of hope, confusion, the need to regroup, reassess, wonder, talk, wait…. Time was required to process this disaster, taken in small steps, to perceive not only what had taken place, but what they were supposed to do about it. Their lives had been changed, and the trajectory of world history altered, but how much was it possible to really comprehend then or now?
I’m not likely to change my life, and definitely won’t change anything in the world. But I’d like to stay open to new possibilities along with a return to routine. My small steps have to be taken within the world I know and see, and happily digital photography offers me a route to a more receptive mind. Imagining a spring poppy again and again through simple filters (new eyes) is a lifeline to unveiling the renewable, creative energy that permeates our world, as it seems to do endlessly with humor and beauty. I can see “resurrection” every day in small things, no matter how slowly comprehension evolves as to what it all might mean.
It feels good. Windows that shine, wool sweaters banished, diminished clutter, lighter weight. Lots of ways to change pace and focus and move into a fresh season. But without a spring cleaning of my mind, I know I’ll quickly lose touch with that positive shift.
The week between Palm Sunday and Easter is a great time for me to sink into mind cleansing. Even without the theological substance that my tradition offers me to savor, a narrative that begins with a spirit lifting parade, only to cascade swiftly into realities wrought by the complexities of power and powerlessness, and narrow perspective compounded by betrayals, is a cautionary tale for all matters of humanity. I don’t need to look far to find similar stories in the framework of current culture to remind me that we are connected as flawed beings far beyond the boundaries of time and place.
And we are told there is much more to the Easter story, profound to the edges of belief. Whether one considers the narrative historical or hybrid myth does not concern me at all. Gifts of love and hope are freely offered; values to enhance a meaningful life in a complex world are provided: justice, non-violence, forgiveness, compassion, care for the earth and one another. I don’t have to understand, defend, or try to convince; all I have to do is shift for a time beyond self-interest, sit in stillness, and welcome the peace that comes with having chosen to listen. The opportunity to cleanse my mind is not seasonal, but the miraculous beauty of spring invites me to open my eyes, and walk my path with a more hopeful, grace-filled heart.
In keeping with the idiomatic expression about flocking birds, I imposed a quote by John Locke (1632-1704) on a photograph of a painted bird house. In general, birds seem fairly content to follow their leader without judgment. I suppose that makes sense for most species.
The ruined wall is in Cuba, Kierkegaard lived in the early 1800s, and truth remains elusive.
I’m referring to George Washington, of course. A photograph I took several years ago at a gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico seemed to me a good host for the powerful sentiment written by our first President. I can only hope that the same celestial spark is alive and well among those who work on our behalf in the city honored with his name.
I’m generally good at being polite, and when I think about it, being grateful as well. I’m certainly thankful for family, friends, good health, and my home. But some time ago I heard about Naikan Reflection, and remembered that it offered a somewhat different approach to thinking about gratitude.
In looking for a definition of naikan, I found the todoinstitute.org. The site explains that a Japanese Buddhist, Yoshimoto Ishin, developed a meditation method he felt would be accessible, and named it Naikan, a Japanese word for introspection. While any meditation practice requires understanding that I don’t presume to represent here, I found Naikan’s suggested reflection questions useful:
What did I receive from others today?
What did I give to others today?
What troubles and difficulties did I cause today?
It doesn’t take much time before sleep to ask myself these questions. When I really think about the details of my day, I find I have always been given courtesies and considerations that didn’t get my full attention, and had pleasurable moments I didn’t fully savor. Am I thoughtful and generous to others? Maybe not so much. Did I cause harm or hurt feelings? I hope not, but perhaps I was distracted, inattentive, careless in a response. You get it.
I am usually aware of and thankful for big things; paying attention to smaller ones broadens my gratitude scope. This Thanksgiving week and beyond, I’m going to try to think small.
I took a walk with a friend this week, among old pecan trees, and the Gospel passage our priest spoke about on Sunday came into mind. It’s a tale about Zacchaeus the tax collector, described as a short man, who climbs a tree in order to see Jesus over the crowd. (Luke 19:1-10; Jesus sees him, calls him down and stays at his house; there are additional details to the story that offer other fruitful opportunities for interpretation.)
It occurred to me that I have been up a tree (in a metaphoric sense) as an escape, and not as a place from which to see more clearly. Sitting in a removed space offers a good opportunity for rest and reflection, but life is conducted for the most part on the ground. I’ll come back down one of these days.
Humans and words are not in control. There is sanctuary in ordinary things and a theology in nature. At present I’m taking advantage of my back yard, where today I am shown what a grace-filled letting go can look like.