It’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door.
Life’s Been Good
Joe Walsh (1978)
I’ve gone on retreat to a Franciscan retreat center near where we live. The retreat center is in a pecan grove. Pecans are a big crop around here. The center is very quiet and peaceful. Not many people around. I come across the lady who runs the office. She says they’re expecting me and she hands me a room key. She says she’s going to be out of her office all morning, and it seems that she’s about to leave me on my own. I tell her that I’ve never been here before. She takes me over to my room, and that seems to be the end of the orientation. I’m needing more and so I say, Is there anything you want to tell me not to do? She laughs and lays her hand on my shoulder – No, she says. As she walks away she says, Lunch is at twelve; there’s a path along the (irrigation) canal you can walk.
I put my bag in my room and set out for the canal. The canal must be many miles long. It has hand-operated gates at intervals that the farmers can use to flood their trees. I walk along the path next to the canal. Beautiful trees – little ones, great ones. Very quiet. Don’t see anyone.
The day is sunny and warm, as most days here are. I’m shuffling along the path trying to think about a question I’d intended to think about – Is faith deeper than knowledge? But my mind won’t get busy. It wants to be quiet. So I go along taking in the trees and the dusty path. After a while I turn and head back toward the center. Coming back takes me twice as long as going. I have to go slow to avoid hurting the ants who are at work in the path.
Is to live to harm?
The constant interchange brings beings in and out of being.
Does harm exist only in the mind?
I must try not to give rise to that experience in the mind of another.
In the morning I go looking for breakfast. I go into the kitchen where a woman with a kind face is at the stove.
Burrito for you? she asks.
She places two flour tortillas into her skillet and turns them once or twice as they warm. She puts some refried beans into the tortillas and puts some scrambled eggs with green chilies onto the beans. She warms it all for a few moments more then takes it from the skillet onto a white plate. She brings the plate over to a little table where I’m standing and sets it down on the table. There’s a bowl of grated cheese there. She puts a little cheese onto the beans and eggs. She then carefully rolls the beans and eggs and tortillas into a fine, warm cylinder. She lifts the plate with the burrito and hands it to me with a sweet smile.
De nada. (It’s nothing.)
I’ve learned that six priests live here, although I’ve only seen one man here dressed as a priest. Everyone looks the same; everyone moves at about the same speed. Everyone is friendly and offers a greeting. I never know whether I’m talking with a priest or one of the men working on the new friary.
If it is your job to approach God on behalf of man, or if it is your job to carefully fix a burrito and offer it to a stranger for his breakfast – what’s the difference.
If I can find a way to rest back in peace, abide in love and have a mind of good will toward all – what’s the difference.
Some tall wooden devices line the road coming in to the center at intervals of maybe fifty feet. From a car they’ve looked to me like solar-powered lighting for the road. Now that I’m on foot I can get a better look. They are crosses beneath gabled roofs and each with a relief carving of the face of Jesus. I figure out that they are the stations of the cross. Each one has a tile plaque giving the name of the station. The stations depict events along Jesus’ path carrying the cross from his condemnation to his crucifixion. There’s a station where he falls; a station where the woman Veronica wipes his face…
He made some choices that he had to have known would bring him trouble.
(Such is satya, the path of truth.)
Did he feel that he had been done harm? Perhaps a mind abiding in love does not know harm.
Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order, was known for his humility. He lived in poverty, considered all beings to be his brothers and sisters. He preached to birds, made a deal with a wolf.
I think about humility. If I want humility I have to be careful to not think about achieving it, if you know what I mean. I can’t go around thinking – Wow, look how humble I’ve gotten!
Do I understand you? Sometimes I have the nerve to say I do. But how far into your mind would I have to be to truly understand you?
In humility, would I even try to understand? Would it even come up? To what purpose?
Do I need to understand a sparrow before I can see her as my sister?
I might not be able to think my way out of this.
Maybe I should stop trying to perfect myself (a practice wherein I frequently find defeat), and instead try to perfect the way I treat others.
The ice is starting to feel kinda thin, so I’ll leave you with this…
The wise have taught that when our actions are selfless, it is not we who act. It is the divine acting through us. This can be called doing by not doing.
This might be a clue.