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A WGREN Meditation for the Week of March 29, 2009
Because I am poor,
I pray for every living creature.
A Kiowa poem
Blessed are you poor:
for yours is the Kingdom of God.
My first reading of this Kiowa poem made my scalp tingle and sent shivers down my spine. I felt as though I had just been hit over the head with the proverbial Zen master's bamboo rod. I went back and read it over several more times. Although it was not written as a commentary on the verse from Luke, the poem provided a pathway leading me to a deep insight about the point of the beatitude. When we empty ourselves thoroughly and open ourselves to directly experiencing the world as it is, only then do we truly gain a solidarity with all living beings. We enter a sacred state of willing good to all our fellow creatures and this is prayer. Entering such a state brings a fundamental change in how we operate in the world. We become committed to actualizing good for all life. Participation in the sacred is a residing in blessedness. Change of heart within an experience of blessedness leads to a desire to realize that blessedness for every living creature. This is the essence of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not an organized religion. It is the entire sacred community which is acting to further the welfare of all creation. Hardly surprising is it then that the greatest exponent of radical poverty in the history of Christianity was also one of its greatest nature-mystics: Francis of Assisi. Everyone who shares his vision of voluntary poverty praying and working for the well-being of every living creature belongs to the Kingdom. May the Kingdom come!
Department of Mathematics
Ohio Northern University
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of March 22, 2009
What do we experience when we experience nature and what value does that experience have? The values we ascribe to nature are, to all intents and purposes, endless. Nature can have recreational value, economic value, ideological value, sentimental value, spiritual value and so on . . . The problem is that it seems that the value we ascribe to or impose upon nature determines the experience, rather than the reverse. So to see a forest as an economic asset means that economic considerations will influence and determine our experiences. This means that less valuable trees will receive less (or no) consideration, while more valuable trees will receive much more consideration, perhaps even certain protections. The same is true with all the other possible values that we impose upon nature.
The question that interests me though is whether it is possible to reverse this process? Is it possible to experience nature in a more basic or fundamental sense and then create or educe the value through that experience? There are philosophers who would argue that this is impossible, that all experience is value-laden, i.e., that we impose upon each experience certain structures, preconceptions and values. What determines these is the particular culture we live in. Thus there is no value-neutral experience.
There are however those who argue that 'pure' experiences are possible. That it is possible to open ourselves in such a manner that it becomes possible to experience what we might call 'otherness' at a deeper and more primitive level. There seems little doubt that we can do this with other human beings. It is also thought that this is possible with other animals as well. The question though is whether this is possible with nature - with trees, forest, mountains, rivers and other natural entities and processes?
There are other cultural and religious traditions where the idea that it is possible to 'become one' with nature is uncontroversial. In the Japanese Shinto tradition this experience even has a name - makoto no kokoro. The literal translation is 'heart of truth' and it describes the experience that there is an essential oneness between ourselves and the natural environment. Lest we consign such experience to foreign cultures and religions and thus dismiss its importance and value in our own lives, it is worthwhile to note that this experience has analogies and echoes even in the Medieval Christian mystical tradition. In the process whose ultimate end was union with the divine there was often a stage where the mystics experience a union with the natural world.
All this speculation has a practical point. Here is an experiment to, as it were, test the hypothesis (that should calm all the scientists out there). The sole experimental apparatus though is the imagination. Choose a tree, a stone, a river, even an entire forest or mountain and image what it is to be that tree, or stone, or river, or forest, or mountain. (This is an assignment that actors are often given.) To do this it is essential to begin to set aside all the preconceptions that govern our usual interactions with the natural environment. Calm the conscious mind and allow the imagination free reign and it is possible to push through those preconceptions. Will this result in the oneness with nature that underlies makoto no kokoro? No, I imagine the results will be much more modest, however with persistence there will be results. In the end all we have to lose are our prejudices and what we might well gain is an entire world.
Mark H. Dixon
Department of Philosophy & Religion
Ohio Northern University
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of March 15, 2009
Who Answers Prayers?
I pray to God who answers prayers - (funny word: "answers")
I think of things God would answer -
how to have peace of mind; how to change the oil; how to heal my child;
how to be humble; to have enemies get along;
how to get a Cadillac - and change the oil . . .
Maybe I could pray to an ant - who answers prayers - (funny word: "answers")
I think of things an ant would answer -
how to coordinate six legs; how to find things at a long distance (for an ant);
how to make a hill and not a mountain; how to "crash" a picnic";
how to share work together with others .
Maybe I could pray to the breeze, the wind - who answers prayers - (funny
I think of things the wind would answer -
how to make other things bend before me; how to go a great distance invisibly;
how to make a "white cap"; how to bring an aroma, or new weather . . .
Maybe I could pray to a kangaroo - who answers prayers - (funny word:
I think of things a kangaroo would answer -
how to live "down (&) under"; how to balance with a tail;
how to have joy in hopping as an adult; how to carry love in a pouch . . .
Maybe I could pray to a dandelion - who answers prayers - (funny word:
I think of things a dandelion would answer -
how to be yellow bold; how to grow anywhere;
how to float to a new place of growth . . .
Can you, could you, would you . . .
Maybe I could pray to a . . . who answers prayers (funny word: "answers")
I think of things a . . . would answer . . .
Can you, could you, would you - Thank you.
Wayne Albertson, Pastor
Ada First United Methodist Church
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of March 8, 2009
The Buddha said, "Everything is changing. It arises and passes away." This is true, but when we need it; it's not much help to realize that all that is born must also die. For what we crave is another day with the beloved - another glance or caress. We long to hear the familiar voice again. To look at the world and realize that everything and everyone in it must perish, exponentially increases loss. However, it does establish that we are united in our susceptibility to suffering. We collectively share the burden of its pervasiveness. But it's not much help.
Why then do we so often turn our heads away when tears stream down our faces? Is it to spare others the raw site of our suffering? Do we attempt for their sakes to prevent the electric shock of empathy? If it is true, it's not much help. Yet it's also true that troubles shared, even compassionately, can't actually be halved.
Siddhartha Gautama's father, a raja of tremendous power, kept him sequestered within a palace. He was retained in a small world reflecting the greatest delight human ingenuity and persistence could build. All this work and subterfuge. Just to keep him from seeing the truths of old age, illness, and death. Even that only helped for awhile.
A life briefly bisects mine. Warm, soft fur and beautiful, tiny ears. When I first met you, your eyes weren't even open. Did you have time to hear the birds heralding a spring day? We worked to feed you, finding a tiny, curved syringe that wouldn't stretch the delicate skin of your mouth. We heated milk with colostrum. Patiently, drop by drop, your foster-mothers stretched their hearts to you and hoped.
Why were we made to love with its intense drive to preserve and protect? Although it helps, it's not sufficient to the tasks an indifferent world presents. For much of my life, I identified with Siddharta, drawn outside to the mysteries of life. But now that I have buried so many, I better understand his father. It's strange how even knowledge can't completely close the door of hope. Even when our desires for your happiness and prosperity are tainted by our own needs; we long to celebrate your flourishing. But we are inadequate. Suffering and death find you anyway. And these words I write, recalling the wonder of your fluttering heart and whispering breath preciously held in my cupped hands, aren't much help either.Kathleen M. Dixon
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of March 1, 2009
The Town Crier Calls at Dawn to Announce the Feast
All people awake, open your eyes, arise,
Become children of light, vigorous, active, sprightly.
Hasten Clouds from the four world quarters;
Come snow in plenty, that water may be abundant when summer comes;v Come ice, cover the fields that the planting may yield abundance,
Let all hearts be glad!
The knowing ones will assemble in four days;
They will encircle the village dancing and singing songs...
That moisture may come in abundance.
A Pueblo poem
from, American Indian Poetry
George W. Cronyn, editor
At the end of February we had a few warm days which melted most of the several feet of snow that covered the ground. Now we are back to temperatures that, while usual for this year, are running about twenty degrees colder than the long-term average. When we step outside we see only a dry, brown landscape and feel the cold wind like a slap in the face. Most people in town seem to be longing for winter to be over. But perhaps it would be better, if we, like the Pueblo in the poem above, pray for snow. Why on earth should we do that with only three weeks of the winter season left? It has much indeed to do with the earth and its ecology. Water from melted snow permeates the earth more gently than does that from heavy rains where upper levels of the ground quickly become saturated and most of the water runs off. There is time for snow-melt to percolate more thoroughly through the soil down to the aquifer. It is this percolating water which contributes most to the abundance of the summer crops in the fertile farmland in this area. Yes, winter still reigns. Let us be mindful of just how important wintry weather, especially snow, is for the life of the land. Let us renew within our spirits a sense of the beauty of the natural rhythm of the seasons. A friend once told me that the Pueblo believe four mountains, the "four world quarters," form the borders of their world, in which generations have stayed and within which they are always safe. For us the four seasons form the corners of our temporal homeland. Living mindfully within their cycle can help to keep us safe as we journey with the land through the years.Bill Fuller
Department of Mathematics
Ohio Northern University