Sunday, April 4, 2010


Well happy Easter, everyone!

Happy resurrection!

Happy Easter Bunny and chocolate!

In Christian lore, St. Paul is quoted, I believe, as saying, "Love God and do what you will." Or, even if I've got the line wrong, I still like it: "Love God and do what you will."

Sure, it's a sticky, tricky wicket, but still, "Love God and do what you will."

Last night, I went to have dinner with John and Kristina. John used to come here to practice zazen and he seems to have set up housekeeping with Kristina, a friendly, open single mom who teaches kids in a poor school district and has some 'issues' with the Maronite Christian church she was brought up in. It was a good dinner with plenty of conversation. At one point, Kristina was talking about the latest priest at the church her teenage son attends and to which various of her relatives were connected ... a self-important, short person whom parishioners are busy ousting.

And I found myself thinking and then saying that everyone creates his or her own church. Fifty or a hundred people may turn up for services under one roof -- or within one meditation hall -- and yet each of them must build a church of their own if they are honestly to "love God and do what you will."

From the Christian point of view, this self-anointed barn-raising process is out-of-bounds ... only the church as an institution has a bead on things and those who don't toe the mark are in for trouble. From a Buddhist point of view, any building of churches is in contravention of the fact that there is no self capable of building a church and, even if there were, church-building is a foolish and counter-productive pastime.

But each man or woman, from my point of view, enters the sanctuaries of his or her choosing. They take strength and guidance from the assembly. They may weep or laugh at the glory and the power of it all. It is human and touching ... and it is fraught with danger. But this is the human heart and when have the deepest longings of the heart ever shied from danger? So there is a place to go and instructions to follow and blessings to feel and curses to endure ... all beneath a single roof. In Buddhism, the power of the group, the sangha, is urged as a touchstone and a "gem."

But for every 100 people who enter into a physical sanctuary, there are 100 longings and 100 difficulties, and 100 ways to envision and construe "God." We are under the same roof and, as in life, we are alone. Experience cannot be shared even when we hope to or imagine we could share it under one roof. Despite this, still we enter the sanctuary of death and speak of "sharing" things. It may not yet be the precise truth, but it is a truth we long for ... to learn what it means to "love God," to find a way to "do what you will" without blemish. To enter the sanctuary or meditation hall is to limit, for the moment, what cannot be limited; to limit what in hopeful moments we say cannot be limited ... and yet remains limited ... and blemished with our uncertainties.

To enter the sanctuary is a choice -- a choice born of longing. It is to go, bit by bit, to our deaths. What is limitation if not our way of killing things, of stopping them, of holding tight to them, of believing in them with a ferocity that would do a protective mother proud? We enter the sanctuary and learn to hold on, when the fact is that what we long for requires us to let go. What is "God" is not letting go? What is "love" if not letting go. What is "enlightenment" if not letting go?

But in order to let go, first we must imagine we could hold on, that we could somehow "love God." A disciplined determination is required in order to hold on. A disciplined determination is required in order to let go. So we learn, within the sanctuaries of our choosing ... hold on, let go, be a Christian, be a Buddhist. Pick your sanctuary and then do not give up or give in: Build your church. Talk up a storm, if that seems to help, but build your church and do not pretend it is built before it is built.

Entering the sanctuaries of our lives, we learn to build our own churches. We go to our death in hopes of a resurrection that will leave us easy and at peace. We limit what cannot be limited in hopes of a limitless understanding and ease. It can all seem by turns to be elevated or ridiculous, but elevated or ridiculous are just more limitation, more death, more holding on while pretending to let go, more loving God before we have bothered to find out who God is.

In our sanctuaries, we are dying for protection and healing and comfort. And dying is what we do: That is the nature of sanctuaries.

But once the service is over, once the years of practice and protestations are past, once we step once more into a world from which we sought refuge, once the sanctuary is no longer necessary, once the church is built and we step outside ....

Then it is time to do what you will. Inside or outside the sanctuary, loving God or not loving God no longer matter when you have been resurrected. It is all beyond the minor matter of relief. It is just, well, OK, and if the music is playing, who would refrain from dancing?

This is a time for the Easter Bunny and the deliciousness of chocolate.

Happy Easter!

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