The Holy Sanctuary of the Supermarket

“We can train ourselves to walk with reverence. Wherever we walk, whether it’s the railway station or the supermarket, we are walking on the earth and so we are in a holy sanctuary. If we remember to walk like that, we can be nourished and find solidity with each step.”        

Thich Nhat Hanh, “Shambhala Sun,”August 6, 2012

Thich Nhat Hanh, teacher and social activist, advises his students to sit in meditation for 20 minutes at a time, no longer. This meditation does not bring us to other realms of experience, but to the world as it is around us right now. Whether we are sitting or walking, meditation helps us realize we are in a “holy sanctuary”  no matter where we are.

Sister Tri Hai, a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, was arrested in Vietnam while working for peace. He says, she “practiced walking meditation in her prison cell. It was very small—after seven steps she had to turn around and come back. Sitting and walking mindfully gave her space inside. She taught other prisoners in her cell how to sit and how to breathe so they would suffer less. They were in a cold cell, but through their walking meditation, they were grounded in the solid beauty of the earth.”

Prayer is simply creating space so we can consciously step into the very place we are. In fact, the ground under our feet is the only place we can meet God.  Rummaging over the past, wishing, pondering the future… these thoughts crowd out God. The mind needs to open, drop theological rumination, doubts. These thoughts will not go very far away; we can turn to them any time we want. Meditation teaches us to be open, to experience what is freely given, to meet God without mediation.

“When [Dorothy] tried to pray on her knees, arguments against prayer and religion overwhelmed her thoughts, but whenever she set out walking – no matter what the direction, the purpose, the hour, the distance or the weather – the debate was stilled and she found it impossible not to pray.”

All is Grace, Jim Forest p. 77

In The Long Loneliness, Dorothy describes her time living on Statin Island. She says, “I found myself praying, praying with thanksgiving, praying with open eyes while I watched the workers on the beach and the sunset, and listened to the sound of the waves and the scream of snowy gulls.”

Theresa of Avila is famous for her, sometimes cranky, conversations with God. I suspect these must be a nice break from all the rote, sentimental words that find their way to heaven. She spent her life clearing out “The Interior Castle,” finding her way to the inner-most room where God lives.

Prayer is simply cleaning up the living room to have room for your guest. Or just stuffing all the detritus into a closet for a while.

After a walk, Dorothy says, …on the trip back I neither prayed [with words] nor thought but was filled with exultation.”

Dorothy Day and Thich Nhat Hanh are leaders who embody the “open to Presence” that is the foundation of their work for justice and peace.

The Depression, The Recession, The Poor

“It is the people who matter, not the masses.”  (The Long Loneliness)

Looking back, it seems easier to see which people were poor during the Great Depression than to see them today. They were people you see in black & white.

whoo caliing poor pix

Then, papers printed pictures of “Hooverville” camps, shanty towns with houses made of cardboard, scrap lumber, tin, whatever the people could find. People evicted from their homes built them across the country. They were clearly poor.a seattle hoovertown

 

 

A Hooverville, Seattle 1933

 

Poverty-In-America-Photo-by-Karen-Apricot-300x225

 

 

Poverty 2013

      (picture by Karen Apricot)

 

 

The soup lines went down the street and around the corner.

1933                                                                    2013

soup line 1933soup kitchen line 2013 pix

 

The Great Depression was so long ago. The Great Recession is still with most of us. People live in inadequate houses, stand in line for meals today as then. But our image of poverty has changed. People look  more destitute in back and white photography. In the 21st century, an improbable number of U.S. citizens blame poverty on people who are poor. Unsavory politicians claim that race, low I.Q., laziness are to blame. Democrats are to blame, Republicans are to blame, Obamacare is to blame, Roosevelt is to blame, Reagan is to blame.

In the 1920’s – 30’s, radicals discussed which ideology might lead to a more just society. Socialism, communism, anarchism? Dorothy was not as interested as her co-workers in theory.

“It is the people who matter, not the masses.”        (The Long Loneliness)

People use the New Testament as justification for all kinds of political agendas, not noticing that the New Testament does not talk about political agendas.

Dorothy’s outrage at poverty and the crushing of civil rights combined with an insight about the connection each of us has to each other …to each person as brother and sister. She saw God in each person. She focused on the person in front of her.

The debate continues. What is our country’s best direction?

However, the question, “Who are you calling poor?” is easy to answer. The person in front of you, down the street, in the other country, who needs food, housing, warm clothes.

That has not changed.

Prayer, Justice, and the Scales of Justice

“So long as we talk and argue and busy ourselves on the plane of this world, evil seems the stronger. ….The thing is to enter on another plane, to find that fourth dimension which represents the kingdom of the Spirit…. – Henri de Lubac, quoted by Dorothy Day, Catholic Worker, 1978

Injustice is easy to see. When black men are targeted, when rape is dismissed as a prank, when gays are murdered, when families struggle for food and shelter, we see injustice in the flesh.

lady_justice_w_scalesBut what is justice? Is it simply the absence of injustice? Revenge is a kind of justice; it is the desire to rebalance the scales. The image of Justice is a woman with a blindfold holding a scale.  When one man murders another, the world is thrown out of balance. By killing the murderer, some think, the world regains its balance. The forces have been equalized again. The family of the victim, the community can be satisfied. The value of the death penalty is not as a deterrent to murder; it is the restoring of balance from chaos.

Then along comes Jesus. “You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.”

We’re being told to keep the scale unbalanced. We are being told not to attempt to purge evil by killing. He’s talking about another kind of justice.

What does this justice look like? smell like? feel like? An abstraction like justice or hope or love, stays uselessly abstract until we give it form.

“The legal battle against segregation is won, but the community battle continues.” Dorothy Day The Catholic Worker, November 1956

On December 12, 2014, friends and neighbors stood in the cold in Greenfield to declare the obvious truth that black lives matter.

Afterwards, thirty people came together in the Upper Room at church to celebrate Our Lady Of Guadalupe, or Tonantzin, the Mother. The 12th is her “birthday.”

In December 1531 at the hill of Tepeyac, Mexico, Mama Lupe appeared to the First Nation peoples. She spoke to the peasant, Cuauhtlatoatzin, (Juan Diego), in his original language, Nahuatl. She demanded that the Spanish conquerors build a church on the place where people had come for centuries to honor her as Tonantzin, the Mother. Cuauhtaltoatzin, a devout Catholic, repeatedly brought her demand to the Spanish authorities until, after she miraculously spread roses at their feet, they relented.

And so a Presence of Love and Protection appeared on the hill, in a country where people lived under the oppression of an occupying army.

In celebration, we placed images of Mama Lupe on a table with roses and candles. We lit candles to bring together all who call for justice: for parents of slain young men, for black children, for racism’s end. We prayed, sang, listened. We called down justice to live among us.

Praying gives justice voice. When evil seems overwhelming, sounds and images springing from the creation of ceremony can crystalize peace and freedom, allowing us to hear and touch it, and each other. And give sustenance to action.