Thursday, March 24, 2011

your answers and mine

This morning, as a means of finding out if it were still hot, I stuck my finger in the cup of coffee I had poured. The warmth came up softly around my finger. Nothing held back. Completely informative. No trickery or camouflage. No ulterior motive. No correction or agreement. Ask and answer -- easy as pie.

And as much as I dislike sweeping and smarmy metaphors and similes, I could not help but think it: Isn't this a bit like spiritual life, answering precisely the question asked, irrespective of whose finger, whose question, goes to work? Gentle and direct and no fine print.

In Hinduism, there is the story of the tinker who came into a small village and set up his vat in the town square. There he invited one and all to bring their cloth and he would dye it for them. The first woman in line offered her cloth and asked that it be dyed red. Into the vat the cloth went and out it came -- red. The next man wanted green. Into the same vat that had produced a beautiful red went the cloth ... and came out green. And so it went -- villager after villager, color after color, each wish perfectly granted. Finally, there was just one man remaining. He handed over his cloth and said, "I would like mine to be the color of what is in the vat."

Questions and answers, questions and answers ... time after time out of time immemorial. But what is the answer where there is no question? At first, spiritual endeavor seems to answer myriad questions. It responds to the purest of heart and it responds to the dimwit Kansas church members standing outside the funeral of some recently-killed soldier with placards saying things like, "God Hates Fags" (their argument seems to be that wars are God's punishment for the abandoning of 'moral' values). Red cloth, green cloth, pure heart, conflicted heart -- the answers are there for the finding. But when the answers are found or imposed? Well, duck and cover!

But plumbing the depths a little, investigating the answers that come along and reassure, where does it lead? Deeper and deeper into someone else's answers. Deeper and deeper into your own answers. Deeper and deeper and deeper because answers do not achieve the assured footing anyone might rightly hope for. They simply do not hold water. Yes, answers assuage and provide comfort and encourage but what happens when a determined effort leads to a place without footing, a place without answers?

I'm not trying to upend anyone's apple cart here. Temples and texts and soaring spires ... raucous and distasteful rallies outside the graveyard. Who doesn't long for answers along the way -- pointers and consolations and warmth where the cold is fierce? But ALSO ... what is the color in the vat? What is the time where questions and answers slip away? What is it like to be here? Is it really all that scary since being here is inescapable in the first place? You've survived before, why not now?

Yesterday, I got an email filled with pictures and nostrums -- the cartoon "Peanuts" philosophy of life. And its punchline read, "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken." Sounds like good advice to me.

The coffee was warm.

Any questions?

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