It’s been a long time since my last post. The last couple of months have been emotionally draining for me, leaving me with little energy to do anything but the necessary. And I haven’t felt that zinging prod from God that would have made posting on here necessary.
In late March, I talked about my spiritual journey in front of my Meeting. I was planning to sit down the day after and write down as much as I could remember, but Monday turned to Tuesday turned to Wednesday… and suddenly, my memory of what I had actually said, how effortlessly it had flowed, had become hazy enough to give me an adequate excuse for continuing the procrastination. In this case, keeping my computer turned off on Sunday was an impediment to ministry; sometimes, we make rules for ourselves and become so obsessed with keeping them that we forget that God doesn’t follow our rules.
Still, I hope to work on that sometime soon. I did use an outline for the talk, but it needs to be fleshed out.
My sister, “Jamie”, was married on May 24th. This should have been a happy occasion, but there was so much drama and anxiety beforehand… It felt like every day was a new drama, a new worry, about whether the wedding should happen or not (as if anyone else but the couple had any say in that).
My husband threw another log onto the fire the week before the wedding by reminding me that her wedding was also to be a High Catholic Mass, which reminded me of my past discomfort with Communion and the decision about whether I should take it or not. At first, I was angry at him for reminding me: “I have enough to deal with right now without worrying about offending God!” And then I realized I’d already made my decision: No, I would not be taking Communion. I would find a discrete way of talking to the Priest beforehand (as the Matron of Honor, I would not have the normal opportunity of avoiding Communion by staying seated, as the Priest would be coming to me). And that was that. After years of struggling with whether to take Communion or not, the struggle was simply not there anymore. The moment of peace flooded me and gave me strength.
The day before her wedding was the culmination of the drama, as my sister lashed out at me. I don’t feel the need to tell the whole story here. But I was very hurt by what happened. I was to be the Matron of Honor for her wedding and felt like throwing in the towel and leaving her stranded on her wedding. Her actions deserved no less. No one who knew what had happened would have faulted me for bailing.
And yet… was that what I was being called to do? Was that what Jesus would have done? Was this the way to foster compassion, by returning hurt with hurt?
I retreated into solitude after the situation had ended (i.e., after my sister had left the house) and gave myself over to prayer and meditation. At first, I just focused on “om ma ni pad me hum”, until I could no longer feel my heart pounding in my veins. Then, I switched to the Prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
I knew what I had to do. I had to do my duties as Matron of Honor and be there for my sister. I also needed her to know that her behavior had hurt me deeply and was not acceptable. I had to love her, and I had to love myself.
I continued alternating between praying, listening for that still, small voice, and meditating. And as the difficulty of what I would have to do the next day washed over me, a thought rose up in me: “I need refuge for tomorrow.”
It sounds odd to say that God led me to my next actions, but He did. I felt a strong pull to finally take my Buddhist refuge and bodhisattva vows.
“I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha.
I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha.
I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha.”
“I vow to stay in this eternal cycle of samsara until all beings have achieved release from this cycle.
I vow to stay in this eternal cycle of samsara until all beings have achieved release from this cycle.
I vow to stay in this eternal cycle of samsara until all beings have acheived release from this cycle.”
And I did. When my sister called to apologize, I accepted it, but not without acknowledging how much she had hurt me. And at her wedding, I was supportive, loving, and did my best to honor her and her new husband. I took refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha.
And I am no less a Quaker for doing so. I find that so much of Quakerism and Buddhism is complementary. We Quakers have started using the term “right relationship”, “right action”. Right Action is also a Buddhist term. It is part of the Noble Eightfold Path: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. “The Heart of Buddha’s Teachings” by Thich Nhat Hanh does an excellent job of explaining these and their interconnectedness.
Point being: how can we have right relationship without Right Understanding? How can I truly follow the Quaker testimonies without Right Understanding and Right Intention?
Acknowledging the Buddhist in me allows me to be a better Quaker. And, for this, I owe gratitude to my sister, for hurting me enough to allow me to meditate and pray at the depth required to realize this.