The gift of a flower
Buddha’s teaching method was counter intuitive, to say the very least. More often than not, he didn’t even talk. He just sat there.
There is a well-known story about The Buddha sitting in a place with hundreds of people gathered around him. (Waiting for pearls of wisdom I suppose. That would make sense.) However, he just sat, and after a while those gathered started grumbling about how he was a fraud. Then he stood up and held out a flower. One of his disciples, Kashayapa, smiled. He understood. (Kashayapa became one of the forbearers of Zen Buddhism).
So that’s it?
He held out a flower?
That’s the moral to the story?
Please tell me there’s more…
On this late summer evening, I can tell you that for me on this day, with the well-being of my spirit well-fed, but drained and not ready for the weariness from travel and work, it may all depend upon a flower.
The languid canes of Tranquility (a David Austin English roses) reach for light, unstinting with a second blush of blooms. They are cupped–like mini halved cabbages–and on warm evenings, they carry the hypnotic scent of myrrh. I’ve known this story about the flower for many years… although I wasn’t planning to use it for a Sabbath Moment. I suppose because it’s interesting how we’re wired. We want tales that we can parse or figure out. Tales that in the end, resolve something, or at least provide a band aid. I get it. I know that when my world is rattled I want someone to make it right, or help it make sense.
In other words, “what’s the lesson here?” (In the New Testament, Jesus’ disciples were continually aggravated because he wouldn’t give them the Cliff Notes to understand his parables.)
But here’s the deal: all the while we are looking for the revelation, we miss the flower.
What does the flower represent?
Well, that’s just it. I don’t know.
Perhaps it’s the heart.
Or being present.
Or most likely, all of the above.
But I do know this to be true: when I require certainty (tidiness or resolution) it is easy to be drained, and I will most assuredly miss the moment, the sacred, the serendipitous, the delightful, and the unfeigned. Or, in the words of Paul Tournier, spend my entire life indefinitely preparing to live.
When I lead retreats about Sanctuary (the permission to pause, to do nothing), people get it. You know, the need to let our souls catch up with our bodies. And then they ask, “Can you please give us the specifics? I mean, if we’re going to sit still, what is the requisite list? Because if I’m going to slow down, I want to be good at it! In fact, I want to excel at Sabbath.”
And this temptation is not just confined to faith and religion. I read this exchange in one of my garden magazines.
Q. I’m considering converting my lawn to a wildflower meadow. Can you suggest any wildflowers and provide some pointers on how to grow and maintain wildflowers?
A. You might want to check with your local zoning regulations to make sure you are permitted to convert your lawn to a meadow before you go to the labor and expense. Many communities have restrictions as to how tall grass is permitted to grow.
Lord help us.
Who knew that creating a pageant of indiscriminate beauty required a committee vote. (Truth be told, sadly, such regulations can set up shop in our own heart, with their pestering “can’ts” and “shouldn’ts”.) And yet… there is something comforting about the regulations. It’s as if we don’t want the moment without an ability to appraise it. (Who knows where the world would be if we all had tall grass…)
When people visited my garden on Vashon, they asked for advice on their own backyard Shargri-las. Some are starting from scratch. Others are working with a garden they have had for years. Some have lots of space. Others have two or three whiskey barrels on their patio. (Like I do now.) “There’s always room for one more plant,” is my best advice, stealing from Oscar Wilde’s reflection, “nothing succeeds like excess.” Of course, once given the opportunity to dispense such acumen, I decide not to stop. The preacher in me is in full gear. “Besides,” I tell them, “Good taste is definitely overrated. Because you can’t really make a mistake in the garden. Honestly, if you don’t like the way something turns out, you can always move it. That’s part of the fun, and the wonder.” Which is about the time I usually spot some clump of an unnamed aster that has run amok, doing my best to resist the urge to start whacking at it with my spade.
Therein lies the temptation. As if we can ultimately “get it right” (whether it’s our garden or faith or prayer life or emotional well-being). Okay… we took the flower… are we done yet?
Or could it be that we are suffering from an excessive dose of self-consciousness? Feeling the glare of that third party in our heads demanding that we dance to one particular tune, or else. Some of us capitulate and dance. Some of us snap and kill the music, all the while looking over our shoulders just to see if they notice. It may be that we miss the point that our spiritual nature is enhanced precisely when, for these precious moments, we are able to shake that voice and find ourselves knee-deep in the colors, smells, and emotions of the day.
What does it mean to rest in beauty?
Not tidiness, beauty… the sacrament of the present moment?
It is a gentle reset button about what truly matters.
It’s not been easy for so many, tempests carrying discomfort and pain, and our expectations (plans) in disarray. And yet, is it possible? Maybe unexpected flowers inviting us and allowing for the sacrament of the present moment. Even in the midst.
And I wonder. Does it take disarray for us to pay attention?
This weekend I was with a delightful group gathered at Mary and Joseph Retreat Center (Rancho Palos Verdes, CA). We talked about a paradigm shift, from distraction, to the sacrament of the present moment. We celebrated moments, “flowers” inviting all of us, to be still and to know.
For our friends tonight in Louisiana, our hearts and prayers go out. Be safe.
Quote for your week… Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the little peanut they will give up their secrets, but I have found that when I silently commune with people they give up their secrets also—if you love them enough. George Washington Carver
SABBATH MOMENT BULLETIN BOARD
Today’s Photo Credit: “Good afternoon, Terry, I have been blessed by your Sabbath Moments and appreciate your spiritual sensitivity and openness. You are gracious to invite your readers to share photos with you. We have a bed of black-eyed Susans in our backyard that always fills me with joy when it is in fill bloom. This year the blossoms have been especially brilliant. The other day I noticed some interlopers in their midst and took a photo of the phlox among the Black-eyed Susans. Today, looking at that photo again, I noticed something I had missed earlier. On the other side of the frame from the phlox, there was a beautiful Monarch butterfly sitting on one of the Black-eyed Susans. I had been so focused on the interloping phlox that I nearly missed the real gift that was right in front of me. So, I cropped the photo to change its focus. There may be a sermon in there somewhere, and as a retired Methodist preacher, I may use it when I get my next chance in a pulpit. Blessings,” Richard Hibbert, Burlington, Vermont… Thank you Richard… Keep sending your photos… send to email@example.com
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In the mailbag…
–Good morning, Terry. I just finished listening to yesterday’s audible sabbath moment. It is a subject close to my heart for many reasons. When my husband and I were married, Just the Way You Are was the song we chose to dance to. And after 42 years we are still singing this song together. This version by Diana Krall has become my favorite rendition. I hope you enjoy it! Thanks for your daily insights. There is always much to ponder in them. Peace Be With You! Ruth
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Why We Dance…
to dance is to pray;
to pray is to heal;
to heal is to give;
to give is to live;
to live is to dance.
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
from To Bless the Space Between Us