Wednesday, January 13, 2010

hurry up and wait

(In a bit of a rush to post this, please excuse typos…)

Never be troubled by the time that is being taken,
even if it seems very long,
but when imperfections and obstructions come,
arise with the necessary steadfastness and zeal
and leave God do the rest.
(Sri Aurobindo)

12 jan, 2010

The little things I forget about being in India that rub off some of the romanticism: I sit pretty comfortably on the floor in half lotus by now, but back home never for this many hours in the day. So by the third or fourth day here muscles are aching that usually don't, in my middle back and especially around my knees and shins. There's also trying to negotiate sitting down with some dignity on the floor of the chapel in front of a crowd of people, slipping my feet under my dhoti without offering a view of my underwear, also, for instance. All that to say, yoga asana feels like a necessity in the morning for me here, not a luxury. I gotta stretch, and that reminds me of Swami Amaldas' advice early on: the whole point of the asana practice is remove the physical impediments that prevent us from sitting in meditation longer.

They asked me to preach again yesterday, which I was honored to do, espeically int he midst of such and august group of people that have gathered at this seminar, many of them, of course, monastics from around the world since this event is sponsored by MID--Monastic Inter-religious Dialogue. Last time I was at the monastery, Isaiah told me of a adage of Bruno, something like "Three things that are a waste of time: rain over the ocean, the moon during the day, and preaching to monks."

Anyway, yesterday of course we begin in earnest what's called ordinary time in the liturgical year, from the word "ordinal"; these are the weeks that get counted. We start couting time. I remember a reading an article once that was entitled, "There's nothing ordinary about ordinary time," but I'm not sure that's true. It has a pretty broad focus on themes like Jesus' mission and our discipleship. After all the color and light of Christmas and before we get to the heaviness and then jubilation of Easter, we're back to business as usual, counting time. So it's very interestring to note what readings the church picks to inaugurate this new season. It's especially appropriate that we heard the story of the calling of Simon and Andrew, James and John from the Gospel of Mark, called from their nets and their boats and their father to "fish for people instead." We pick up right where we left off, even last week, after John has been arrested and Jesus is totally on his own now. Does Jesus himself have a sense of new found urgency now that John has been arrested? The old law is past, the new is breaking in on us like the dawn from on high. Actually there's a sense of urgency and immediacy about the whole Gospel of Mark. We keep hearing words like "and then..." and "immediately..." like someone breathlessly telling a story: and then... and then... and then... And so with no lingering doubts, no thinking about it, Simon and Andrew drop their nets and follow, James and John leave their father and follow.

The guys at the formation house and I were talking abotu the gunas the other day that need to be kepty in balance through yoga--the fiery rajas that can tend toward passion and addiction, slow moving tamas that can tend toward laziness and depression, and lightsome sattwic that come when all is in balance. I like the rajasic urgency of the Gospel of Mark and of John the Baptist and the Gospel in general. We sometimes need that urgency, a little bit of rajas to get us out of our tamas, a little bit of fire to break the inertia of our lethargy.

But then what? We were always taught the kingdom of God is a matter of already and not yet. And the corollary to that in the spiritual life is "hurry up and wait." It's also interesting that we heard the story of Hannah the mother of Samuel again, the same story we heard just before Christmas. We're gonna hear the whole thing later in the week so we know that it has a happy ending, but for right now we are left with the childless mother, the barren womb which, all sexist implications aside, is a powerful archetype for the Jewish scriptures: Sarah the mother of Isaac, the mother of Samson, how often the childless wife gets mentioned in the psalms and the prophets. Aside from parents or those called to be parents, for me the childless mother can also serve as a symbol of the barrenness even of the spiritual life, or our spiritual itinerary. There is the fire and the urgency of the initial call, the rush to leave behind home and family and dreams of the spiritual heights on Mount Kailash, but then in reality the whole of it can be a lot more mundane and feel as if we are giving birth to nothing, that our marriage to the Lord has been barren. So we get warned about that with this reading, and we are ultimately going to be given hope from the rest of the story which we will hear. But a part of us may just be sick and tired of hearing about it or having given up hope of ever experiencing growth in the spiritual life. That's the tamas.

I read this little passage in Aurobindo the other day that speaks to this and gave me a breath of patience and consolation:

Never be troubled by the time that is being taken, even if it seems very long, but when imperfections and obstructions come, arise by apramatta, dheeva, and have the utsaaha, ("... the necessary steadfastness and zeal of the sadhaka) and leave God do the rest. Time is necessary. It is a tremendous work being done in you, the alteration of your whole human anture into a divine nature, the crowding of centuries of evolution into a few years. You ought not grudge the time.

A friend of mine told me that he used to get up every day and say, "Is today the day, Lord? Is today the day you're going ot shatter my blindness, break through my deafness?" I want to add that favortie themse of mine, that time for us is also a sacrament which God uses for our salvation and liberation, our moksha.

There's one more little thing I want to mention, and that's gratitude. In ashtanga yoga my favorite of the yamas, the controls, is santosha--a sense of contentment with what we have, with who we are, not comparing or contrasting or longing for more, but a firm resolve to let our roots sink deep into the soil--the humus¬¬¬--of humility and gratitude. In the closing lines of the storywe heard from Samuel Hannah's husband Elkanah says to her in the midst of her lamenting her barreness, "Why are you weeping? Am I not enough for you?" That also gets conveyed in the psalm that we sang in response to the reading, which is the eucharistic psalm par excellence: "How can I repay the Lord for all the good done for me? The only thing I can do is take this cup into my hands and call on his name."

So I guess the trick is to try to combine all of these three things in right proportion, enough rajas to rekindle a sense of urgency, enough tamas for a sense of patience, knowing that this is a long slow process, and in the midst of it, some sattvic gratitude--santosha and offer our thanks for what is being done in us slowly, by the grace of God.