Not Picking and Choosing

Psalm 55

13 (12) For it was not an enemy who insulted me;
if it had been, I could have borne it.
It was not my adversary who treated me with scorn;
if it had been, I could have hidden myself.
14 (13) But it was you, a man of my own kind,
my companion, whom I knew well.

15 (14) We used to share our hearts with each other;
in the house of God we walked with the crowd.

Lamentations 2:1-9

Her gates have sunk into the ground;
he destroyed and broke their bars.

2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11

For if I cause you pain, who is left to make me happy except the people I have pained?

Mark 12:1-1

But the tenants said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!’

I started out only seeing verses that spoke literally to my current situation. They were an exact echo of my feelings. They told a story that was like my story. But then came the gospel reading. I remember reflecting on this passage from Mark once before, and wondering how those tenants could possibly have thought that if they killed the heir then the inheritance would default to them. Maybe they just thought that if there was no-one left to claim it, and ‘possession is nine tenths of the law,’ then they would be left alone and could carry on just as if it belonged to them.

Intuition tells me that if the other readings match my story so exactly, then the gospel has to be the ‘moral’ of the story. On the other hand, the koan we were working on in class last night was about ‘not picking and choosing’.

I realized that is exactly what I’ve instinctively been avoiding— choosing this over that; deciding according to assumptions; seeing the future in terms of expectations; seeing the present only as a pain to be escaped from; listening to my feelings as if they were giving me instructions. When I don’t do any of those things, I’m left with exactly nothing, which is just right.

For some reason, I also thought of tables being turned. I started turning things on their heads and experimenting with different perspectives. I remembered to see the stories I tell myself as nothing more than stories, and I tried some alternative stories on for size. Luckily, I remembered not to latch on to any particular story and convince myself that it was the ‘right’ story. I also remembered to come back to the facts, to return to reality, and practice balancing on the plain facts without drawing any conclusions, making any interpretations, or passing any judgments.

I know what happened and what is happening. I know that all of it is causing me pain that seems intolerable. I know that the person doing the things is not talking to me, so I have nothing to fall back on but the temptation to speculate about reasons, motivations, and agendas.

I have now finally come to a place in which I can see a clear picture of how not to speculate, but simply concentrate on keeping my balance, like a tightrope walker in a high wind. The only part that I keep on having trouble with is the way the wind snatches the breath right out of my lungs, and fills my eyes with tears.

It’s Holy Week, and since I didn’t finish this reflection on Wednesday morning, I have since participated in the service called Women of the Passion, last night. It is essentially the Stations of the Cross told from the perspective of the women in Jesus’s life. It is almost brutally moving, and I’ve never seen anyone get through it without crying. Me included.

I didn’t read the lectionary for today, because I wanted to finish this reflection. I keep thinking of phrases from last night, like the one about being able to drink from Jesus’s cup.

I used to think I understood the Passion, but now I’m not so sure. My Zen instincts are telling me to pay attention to the story, and then take a look at what the Passion would be all by itself, if there was no “story.” What if I don’t try to glean “meaning” from it? What if I stop looking for symbolism; stop following the trails of inference through the underbrush? What if the Passion is bigger and badder and more significant than any story that we could possibly tell?

What if the account of the Passion and Resurrection is the ultimate koan? What if it’s not a story at all, but a window into reality; a hole in the boat of my expectations; a mortal wound in the heart of my carefully constructed selfhood?

What then?

Here I am— not picking the nails;

not choosing whether or not to go inside the empty tomb;

not making up my mind to drink or not drink from anybody’s cup.

It’s a long way down, and the narrow wire hurts the bottoms of my feet,

but hey, there’s a damn good view from up here,

even if I have to squint against the wind.


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