The Minister's Weekly Message

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A Beginner's Mind

Welcome to our last week learning from Wayne Muller’s book Sabbath, Finding Rest and Delight.  Sabbath is an incubator for wisdom.  When we allow the rush and pressure of our days to fall away, even for a little while, we’re more able to perceive the essential of what lies before us.  Jesus said, “If the eye is simple and clear, the body will be full of light.  When we meditate, pray and are still, we refine our vision and sharpen our hearing.

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Sabbath is closing our eyes to our responsibility and busyness of life.  Sabbath is listening more carefully to the story that’s beneath the usual words and actions that flood our days so that we don’t miss the simple, quiet opportunities for shifting the pattern, for changing the story. 

When I stuttered, my speech was very choppy at times.  I would get to a word I didn’t think I could say, stop for a nano second searching for a word I knew I could say, and then I would continue.  Then I got the idea to read out loud on my own – I didn’t stutter when no one else was there – 20 minutes every day for about 6 months I did this - and the choppy speech pattern that had been there for so long began to change.  The pattern was shifting and my story was changing. 

There is a Taoist saying:  “To the mind that is still, the world surrenders.”  A day of rest, a moment of prayer or meditation, disrupts the pattern of fear and anxiety that infects our thinking, and allows us to be able to see the healing that is already present in the problem.  Then when we act, we do so with unshakable knowing that the Sabbath principle is at work even in this:  It is good.  Because even in suffering, there is grace, strength and wisdom.

Tao Te Ching:  Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?  Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”

Jesus’ most poignant prayer when he knew he was soon to die was simply this:  “Thy will be done.”  This is not defeat or resignation, but astonishing faith that there are spiritual forces that will bear him up, regardless of the outcome.  Often when we are striving for a particular outcome, we are not willing to be surprised by a healing of spirit, mind or body that we cannot imagine.

Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, spoke at Wayne’s ordination.  He said that the spiritual life was one of downward mobility.  Wayne writes,  “I was fresh out of seminary and had great feats to accomplish.  I was prepared to dedicate myself to the service of others.  Surely the honour and recognition to come would only be natural.”  But Henri had another picture for me.  Jesus insisted we do our work quietly, in secret.  “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”  Do not seek glory for yourself; the quiet reward is sweet.  Henri sold hundreds of thousands of books and often wrote about himself in his books.  But it was never to show his strengths, but rather to confess his weaknesses.  It made him human and accessible to those who worked quietly and tirelessly for their churches and communities. 

Jesus did not seek power or influence, but spent his time with unknown and disliked people.  As Mother Teresa reminded us, we do not do great things, only small things with great love.  Sabbath time reminds us it is not by our hand but by earth and spirit and grace that all things are done.  During Sabbath, we let things unfold without influence, see how the earth feeds us, and remember we are creator and recipient of creation through the grace of God. 

 “Let us remain as empty as possible so that God can fill us up.” – Mother Teresa

Being empty is not so much about what we do or say.  It’s about being a place where nothing of my own can get in another’s way when they are sharing their stories and their experiences.  How many times when someone has shared a story with us, even before they are finished we are telling them a story of our own.  Being empty is about listening.  I can always remember spending time with a young woman after service at Unity in Hamilton, just listening to her story.  Then her thanking me for the advice I had given her.   “The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand.  We listen to reply.”

At our best, we become Sabbath for one another.  We are the emptiness, the day of rest.  We become space so that our loved ones may find rest in us.  Not fixing, not harming, not acting.  Quietly empty, we become Sabbath where the sorrows of the world are safely poured and gently dissolve into the unfathomable immensity of rest and silence.”

“”This is not about me, not about them.  It is life making itself known in the silent Sabbath of things, yet unknown taking birth.”  It is not having to know what the future holds.  I don’t need to know ‘cause God knows.

An old Hasidic rabbi crosses the village square every morning on his way to the temple to pray.  One morning, a large Cossack soldier who happened to be in a vile mood, accosted him saying, “Hey, Rebby, where are you going?”  The rabbi said, “I don’t know.”  “What do you mean you don’t know?  Every morning for 15 years you’ve crossed the village square and gone to the temple to pray.  Who are you, telling me you don’t know?”  He grabbed the old rabbi by the coat and dragged him off to jail.  Just as he was about to push him into the cell, the rabbi turned to him saying:  “You see, I didn’t know.” 

Roshi calls this not knowing “beginner’s mind.” – “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities.  In the expert’s mind, there are few.”  Because often when we do not know the outcome, all things become possible.  Our best laid plans and goals can make us feel more confident or in control, but very often this is an illusion that is shattered by an unpredictable happening or experience.  Knowledge is power, they say…. but when we do not know, we feel powerless and afraid.

The truth emerges in the quiet.  I do not know where I am going.  I am on this highway with no end in sight.  “The wind blows where it will, and we hear the sound of it, but we cannot tell from whence it comes or whether it goes.  Such is the way of the spirit.  Sabbath invites endless beginnings.  We begin each day, each week, a beginner again and again.  Sabbath honours the quality of not knowing.  We let go of knowing what will happen next, and find the courage to wait for the teaching that has not yet emerged. 

"Leave your front door and your back door open. Allow your thoughts to come and go. Just don’t serve them tea." - Shunryu Suzuki 

The presumption of the Sabbath is that it is good, and the wisdom, courage and clarity we need are already embedded in creation.  The solution is already alive in the problem.

Sabbath time is set apart for remembering the holiness of life.  Our wealth arises from our capacity to bless and be blessed. We are not blessed because we are wealthy; we are wealthy because we take the time to bless.  Sabbath is for remembering the holiness of life.

When the people of Israel wandered in exile, hungry in the wilderness, God fed them with manna from heaven, but told them through Moses “to gather of it, each one of you, as much as you can eat.”  No one was to leave any of it till morning.  If anyone took more than they needed and kept it overnight, by morning it would breed worms.  This was to remind them that each day whatever was given would be enough.

Lynne Twist who has dedicated her life to eliminating world hunger says that the instant we know we have enough, dissatisfaction and desire melt away.  In the Hebrew tradition, prayers of pleading and asking are discouraged during Sabbath time.  They are to focus their heart not on what they need, but on what they have, because when we are trapped in seeking, nothing is enough.  We see only what is missing.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift.  The purpose of life is to give it away.”

A woman shared how she had devoted her whole life to spiritual seeking.  It had been fruitful in some ways, but she was getting older and wondered how much stamina she had left to continue her search.  “You have been a seeker for so long.  Why not become a finder?” Wayne said.  And suddenly, a laugh exploded from deep within her.  A finder!!  What a delight!!  She had always been so focused on the search, she had never taken to rejoice in the gift of finding. 

During our time focusing on this book, I hope that you have found a way to spend time in the Sabbath through rest and renewal in whatever way works for you, in the silence of meditation and prayer, sharing a meal with friends, a walk in the park.  For Sabbath is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true.   Let it be a time consecrated with our attention, our mindfulness, honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.”   Let it refresh our bodies and minds, restore our creativity, and regain our birthright of inner happiness.