Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, July 26, 2015
I just finished an online introductory course in Buddhism with Pema Chodron. You may ask why I am taking this. I have found that there are Buddhist meditative practices that can deepen the Christian practice of compassion and care for others. Some even believe that, during Jesus’ first 30 years when we know virtually nothing about what he did, he may have travelled east and studied Buddhism because some of his teachings resonate with Buddhist teachings. Whether or not this is true, I have learned more about my own Christian faith through interaction with other faith traditions, such as Buddhism. Today’s sermon will show you how our Christian faith can be strengthened as we read our own Bible alongside another faith’s teaching.
In my Buddhist course, I was surprised by one lesson that suggested we are to seek groundlessness. I always thought that everyone should try to be grounded, not groundless. To be grounded is to have one’s feet planted firmly on the ground, not to be easily swayed, to be stable and sensible. Is this not a good thing? Then I realized that it mattered what we were grounded in.
Some of us are grounded in fear—fear of personal safety, fear of loss, fear of the unknown. When we are grounded in fear, we minimize risk and limit ourselves to protective walls; we live in the “what ifs” of the future.
Some of us are grounded in resentment and regret, where we can’t let go of past hurts; we can’t forgive ourselves or others; we live in the “if onlys” of the past.
When we are rooted and grounded in fear, resentment or regret, our world becomes much smaller, our options narrow, our suffering increases. This is the type of ground that Buddhist teaching asks us to let go of, to be set free from. In its place, we are to center ourselves in loving kindness and compassion, where we teach ourselves to live in the present. Our world then begins to open up and our suffering decreases.
When I lay this Buddhist teaching beside our Christian scriptures that tell us to be rooted and grounded in love, I learn that we can best do this by being as fully present in the moment as possible. If I allow my thoughts to shift to worries or fear of the future, or to regrets or resentments of the past, I will be less rooted and grounded in love. Being able to be mindful, with all of my sense employed, to what is happening around and within me in the present might be the key to being rooted and grounded in love. Why? Because when I’m fully present to the moment, I find that my fears and worries, my regrets and resentment become smaller. I then have more space and capacity for understanding. Judgement changes to curiosity. I am more able to be rooted and grounded in love.
It is a choice. I can choose to remain grounded in fears and worries, regrets or resentments. Or, I can choose to be grounded in love. We’ve had a couple of powerful examples of this choice for love over the last few weeks.
The shooting in the South Carolina church brought an amazing example of how love can overcome fear. The church members did not call for angry demonstrations. Instead, they called for forgiveness of the young man who killed prominent, faith-filled members of the African American Church. Charlston could have erupted into race riots, but the families of those killed and the leaders of the church instead called for forgiveness and healing.
Maria Mitousis, the Winnipeg lawyer who lost a hand in a parcel bomb a couple of weeks ago, wrote, “This…will shape my future and impact all of you on some level. But take comfort in [what] we can control. Do not let thoughts of anger, fear or hate overcome you. I have not. In fact, from the moment I awoke after surgery I was filled with feelings of gratitude, love and support.”
I expect that Maria will face ups and downs as she heals, but she has made a choice, as we all can, not to be grounded in fear or anger or hate. She chooses, instead, to be grounded in love.
Let me give you another example on a more mundance level. I’m an organizer. I like planning and strategizing, thinking of the big picture and taking care of any details that need to fall into place for the plan to work. You have to anticipate problems—you have to listen to your fears, but there’s a fine line between wise preparation and fruitless worry. If I can be grounded in love, I will be more open to other possibilities; I will be more open to other peoples’ ideas; I will be more open to the chance that I could be wrong and this will allow me to be open to changes in my plan.
The other day I watched in awe as some very large trees bent in the wind. Trees, larger than I could embrace, deeply rooted with towering strength were able to bend in a gust of wind! This is the image of being rooted and grounded in love: not grounded and stuck in the intransigence of regret or resentment of the past; not grounded and fixed in the confining fears of the future, but grounded in the fluidity of love; open, in the moment, to new possibilities of healing and hope that come our way.
Listen to one final story of how the openness of love overcame the intransigence of resentment. Many of you will know the names Luciano Pavorotti and Placido Domingo, two famous tenors. There’s a third tenor, by the name of José Carreras, who has also achieved considerable fame. Domingo and Carreras are both from Spain, but they’re from two rival ethnic groups. José Carreras is Catalán and Placido Domingo is Madrileño. In 1984, they became enemies due to this political rivalry. They both stated in their contracts that each would not perform if the other was invited. Three years later, José was diagnosed with leukemia, a more formidable enemy than his political rival. He needed to travel to the U.S. once a month for bone marrow transplants and blood transfusions. Soon his finances were depleted, but he then discovered a foundation in Madrid that supported treatment for leukemia. Through this foundation he was able to continue his treatments, and he eventually recovered and was able to return to singing.
Upon his recovery, Carreras decided to join the foundation that literally saved his life. When he was reading the fine print of the bylaws, he discovered that the founder, leading contributor and president of the foundation was Domingo. Shortly after this discovery, at one of Domingo’s performances in Madrid, Carreras interrupted the event, went up and knelt at Domingo’s feet, asking for forgiveness and publicly thanking him. When asked later why he would support an enemy and a competitor, Domingo replied, “We cannot afford to lose a voice like that.”
We do have a choice. Do we choose to be grounded in the intransigence of regret or resentment; to be grounded in the confinement of fear? Or do we choose to be grounded in the openness of love? When we’re able to free ourselves from the prisons of past resentments or future fears, we may be amazed at the miracles of love that God can work through us. As Ephesians tells us, God is able, through the power of the Spirit and the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love at work in us, to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.
Winnipeg Free Press, July 17, 2015 http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/I-am-very-lucky-Mitousis-issues-first-direct-public-statement-316273921.html