Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday Meditation

Good Friday

For earthworms, spring and robins bring death.
For cautious robins, death does not exist.
For young human children, death is astonishing news.

Years later, spring and robins arrive.
We are not surprised when the earthworms die,
not surprised when the robins run from us.

But death, now, is the absence of news,
abrupt and extraordinary in its silence.

In 1980, in a beginning painting class at the Fairhaven College of Western Washington University, I painted "Recurring Dream" in watercolor.  It was the first painting that I sold.  A neighbor close to me in age and born in Scotland, bought it, had it framed, and put it in a place of honor in his home. The poem was written in 2006 when I was 56 years old.

After coming across this article in the past few weeks, I've given much thought to the statistical breakdown of the Syrian refugees who have entered the United States as of November 2015:

Muslims -- 2098
Christians -- 53

and the remaining 33:

Yazidis -- 1
Jehovah's Witnesses -- 8
Baha'i -- 2
Zoroastrians -- 6
Other religions -- 6
No religion -- 7
Atheists -- 3

I wonder if Buddhism is considered an "other religion" or "no religion." I wonder if any of the refugees are Buddhist.  

Understanding that part of the process for Syrians being admitted to the United States is to identify themselves with a category that defines their belief system led me to wonder if, in order to leave everything behind and accept an uncertain future with a very real risk of death, a person would need to believe in something, and that it wouldn't necessarily fall into a category on the State Department Refugee Processing list.  Belief in a principle perhaps.  For example, "I never know what good will come from my focused efforts, but I do know what will come from not trying."

If I were a Syrian refugee, I would have to check "No religion." I would do that only because there would be no other option for me.  Still, it wouldn't sit well with me because it seems to imply no beliefs at all, not even the sustaining beliefs of an atheist.  How could I leave Syria without having some sort of belief system to sustain me?

At the Catholic hospital where I used to work, the patient intake forms had a category of "Undecided" under the heading of religion.  I like that someone suggested that as an option, but I couldn't check that one either.  I have decided not to affiliate myself with any religion or spiritual tradition, but to be open and willing to listen to the profound insights of those who do affiliate themselves, including atheists and agnostics.

A dear friend of mine who died peacefully as an atheist in early 80s said that there was "something" that she couldn't define that she had experienced and come to believe in.  She had lived in anguish for years after the death of her oldest son in a climbing accident in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State.  Her son had been climbing with his younger brother and had slipped and fallen to his death.  His body was never found.  Sometime around 1997, my friend had an experience that she didn't define as religious but which she came to believe was real and true.  She knew that she was not alone and was able to find the peace that had eluded her for so long.  She was sustained by what she called "something."

I had an experience like that, too, in 1987.  I believe in "something."  It is not an "other religion."  It is not "no religion."

What is it?  Good question.  I don't know for sure.

That "something" might be the principle of the power of love and forgiveness or the principle expressed in what Anne Frank wrote:

"In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again."

On the Good Friday in 2006, when I wrote my poem, I was struck for the first time by the conviction that Jesus had really lived and really died.  That he was dead.  Using a meditation technique I had learned, where one explores an idea visually and allows it to unfold, I pictured myself sitting in meditation in Jesus' tomb, contemplating his lifeless body, waiting to see if there was the resurrection that is promised by Christianity.  It seems to me that this technique is Jungian in nature, involving allowing a thought to lead one to unexpected places in the unconscious.  In the meditation, I sat there until Easter morning and witnessed the fact that Jesus did not rise from the dead.  There was a peaceful silence in which I was allowed to grieve, not as a Christian, but as a human being facing the death of someone who believed in the power of love and forgiveness and taught those principles during his short life.  He didn't have to rise from the dead to make a lasting impression on me.  In the meditation, the finality of his death gave me permission to enter a grief journey which eventually confirmed my belief in "something." 

Is that a religion? Or something else?  

So many of the words that are attributed to Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, sound to me like Zen koans.  One of Jesus' koans is:  

"Who do you think I am?"

To my ears, Jesus is saying, "It's up to you to decide." 

John Lennon decided this:

"Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary.  It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

John Lennon also said:

"I'm not anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-religion."

On that Good Friday in 2006, because of an heartfelt experience in meditation -- not a theory, not a borrowed belief -- I decided that, for me, Jesus was someone who lived and taught about the power of love and forgiveness and then died an agonizing death in the company of two other equally suffering men.  As is the case with so many human beings throughout history, Jesus did not die without suffering.  I knew then that if my death involved suffering, I would not be suffering alone. I decided that Jesus, as I understood him through experience, left me with a peaceful silence in which I could grieve and know that I was not alone in my grief and also know that my grief would eventually heal me.  

In 2000, I wrote this poem which seems now to be a harbinger of the poem I wrote on Good Friday in 2006:

Evolution of Forgiveness

In this silence
I am looking for relief,
trusting grief,
loving the child never conceived,
loving all the shattered children
who dared not trust, love or grieve,
loving the silent holy night,
the wild blue sky of day,
the courage of redwood trees,
the beloved ocean, 
still mirroring our wild hearts,
calling to us:
Trust your grief.


Colette said...

Thank you for this. Reading it was just what I needed this morning.

The Solitary Walker said...

This is an extraordinarily beautiful, directly honest (as always) and significant post, Amanda. I would just like to recognise that here. I cannot write further — words have dried with me at the moment, as I am experiencing a very difficult and painful period in my life. But I do see the possibility of the end of grief, and the necessity, inevitability and, actually, the positivity of suffering. Thank you for this post, and, indeed, for your blog as a whole.

The Solitary Walker said...

Loved your recent 'up to me', 'frightened' post, too, by the way...

am said...

Colette -- Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment. Good to know that it spoke to you.

Robert -- Thank you for your ongoing presence here. Sorry to hear that you are going through a rough time in your life and that it has affected your ability to write. Sending good energy to you.