Saturday, June 12, 2004

Transcendental Etude VIII

What had she been doing in church all these Sundays ?

She'd felt a bit like Alice through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole.

She gazed out of the window of her study at the bright, beautiful morning. Sabbath morning. She could not bring herself, she knew now, to continue her shaky little experiment in looking to her own tradition. What good was looking to her own tradition if she found herself translating it all into something else ? The beatitudes were not the heart sutra, even though poverty of spirit, meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness and purity of heart could be construed as types of emptiness. And the kingdom of heaven could be painfully reconstructed into Buddha mind, but the metaphor was distractingly geometric and monarchical.

What good is "the body of Christ" as an ontological metaphor if it only includes the baptized ? The most powerful image of the body of Christ that she'd seen lately was in Resnais' Night and Fog , which contains the famous, terrible film footage taken after the liberation of the Nazi death camps: emaciated cadavers being thrown into mass graves. The wildly splayed limbs of the heaps of bodies had reminded her of crucifixion. Political suffering. Evil institutionalized. Affliction meted out by cadres of the rich and powerful, organized into structures of force. Were the six million Jewish dead not part of the afflicted, God-infused Body ?

She thought of the squirrel that had languished for two days in her neighbor's rooftop trap. Her husband had left the neighbor a note, and the next morning the cage was gone. But where was the squirrel ? She'd seen the neighbor, after he'd bagged his first unwelcome guest , headed into his back yard with loaded cage in one hand, rake in the other. She could only imagine the poor thing's fate. Was it not part of the afflicted, God-infused Body ?

Many would answer with full, faith-filled conviction: No. And no. No Jews or squirrels (or divorcees or gays or Buddhists or users of the Pill) are allowed in the Kingdom. True, there are other, more liberal quarters of the Kingdom that all of the above can, if not fully inhabit, at least provisionally visit.

But, still, if a religion is going to account for the existence of and the fuction of and the meaning of something as massive and overwhelming and beyond-understanding as Being Itself -- the Source and Foundation of the Universe and all other Universes, consciousness, space and time and beyond -- how can it exclude anything ?

Why church, anyway ?

Was it a question of a life-long hermit coming in from the cold ? Sangha-envy ? The wish for a teacher, someone who could show her a thing or two about emerging from darkness and confusion ?

She looked up at her bookcase. Next to a blurred and curling picture of Dorothy Day, she'd taped this, a Zen Gatha:

I beg to urge everyone:
life and death is a grave matter;
all things pass quickly away.
Each of you must be completely alert;
never neglectful, never indulgent.

And, on the side of her computer monitor, faded and barely legible, a fortune from a cookie:

The stars appear every night in the sky.
All is well.

Dogen. Julian of Norwich. Merton. Dorothy Day. Cookies, weeds, the river. The world is full of wisdom, teachers, paths. She'd find hers. She'd made a good start.

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