24 September 2008

still figuring out religion

It's my third week here as a chaplain at harborview. I'm still astounded by the beauty of their weapons, as l. cohen might say -- the bright lights and electronic equipment, the hundreds of calmly suffering patients, the intense amount of healing, the intense lack of healing.

I'm blown away by the size of the project, the hospital in general, the mission to serve -- about all else -- the inmates of the county jails and the indigent and the non-english speaking poor, and all the rest of us that the statue of liberty still welcomes (i think). This place is a long way down the red road from "small steps" and "one person at a time". You can't have machine that bring back people's breathing and electrical currents with that kind of change. I think. Maybe.

So that still says nothing about chaplaincy and this experience and that's probably because I feel too green to do anything. So instead I'm going to share some passages I've read in the past few weeks. Some offerings I shared with fellow chaplains and fellow patients, during prayers and reflections, ministries of presence and compassion. They all run together towards their true nature as one.

That's perhaps the only surety I have in all this -- that separation from our true nature, our true nation, what I can, in my little jargon, the "One Love" -- is illness. And in that sense we are not well -- perhaps joyously and aware -- we are separated from our true selves, we are sick, we are in a giant late capitalist hospital. It's with that understanding that I record the gospel raps of brothers in the psych ward and hold the hands of recovering crack addicts crying about our future. It's only that handspun cord that makes all the shaking and tears and prayer make sense and not jumble.

So there's that. Johnny Cash whistles in the background.

1) from Neruda's _Hands of Day_

From so many rough hands
descended the tool,
the wineglass,
even the famous curve
of the hip that then pursued
the whole woman with its design!

The hand that forms
the wineglass of the form,
it conveys the pregnancy of the barrel
and the lunar line of the bell.

I ask some mighty hands
to help me
change the profile of the planets:
triangular stars
the traveler needs:
constellations like cold dice
of square clarity:
those hands that extract
secret rivers fro Antofagasta
until the water rectifies
its avarice lost in the desert.

I want all the hands of men
to knead mountains
of bread and to gather
all the fish from the sea,
all the olives
from the olive tree,
all the love not yet wakened
and to leave a gift
in each of the hands
of the day.

2) from Wendell Berry's _The Unsettling of America_

Some prominent agricultural economists are still finidng it possible to pretend that the only issues involved are economic, but that possiblity is diminishing. I recently attended a meeting at which an agricultural economist argued that there is no essential difference between owning and renting a farm. A farmer stood up in the audience and replied: "Professor, I don't think our ancestors came to Ameirca in order to rent a farm."
'Nough said.
3) from Brother Lawrence in 1666
Having found in many books different methods of going to God, and divers practices of the spiritual life, I thought this woul serve rather to puzzle me than facilitate what I sought after, which was nothing but how to become wholly God's. This made me resovle to give the all for the all; so after having given myself wholly to God, that He might take away my sin, I renounced, for the love of Him, everthing that was not He, and I began to live as if there was none but He and I in the world. Sometimes I considered myself before Him as a poor criminal at the feet of his judge; at other times I beheld Him in my heart as my Father, as my God. I worshipped Him the oftenest that I could, keeping my mind in His holy presence, and recalling it as often as I found it wandered from Him. I found no small pain in this exercise, and yet I continued it, notwithstanding all the difficulties that occurred, without trobling or disquieting mself when my mind had wandered involuntarily. I made this my business as much all the day long as at the appointed times of prayer; for at all times, every hour, every minute, even in the height of my business, I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of God.
4) from some Advaita text, possibly Sankara, quoted by Ken Wilber
The world is illusory
Brahman alone is real
Brahman is the world
Not much explanation necessary, I think, but I'll step on that by pointing out I've come much further with Christianity understanding the talk of God in 3 as shorthand for the understanding so clearly present in 4; that is, that by considering ourselves in a universe that only includes me and god (atman and brahman) we are effectively considering everything we see, from the homeless woman in the hallway to a dysfunctional google calendar, to be god.
And it's worth nothing that the instructions on meditation are, well, exact. That's all we need, really, if we can follow it.
one love from the department of spiritual care,
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