This Sunday was the story of the Buddha and the Mustard Seed. In this story a mother brings her sick child to the Buddha to be healed, but the child is not sick, it has died. The Buddha tells the mother he can make a special medicine if she can find a rare ingredient, which is a mustard seed from a house where no one has been sad or experienced loss. She cannot find one in the end, but finds she is not alone. What she has discovered in her searching are companions, compassion and community. It has perhaps expanded the limitation of her vision into something more broad and more connected.
In worship, we heard more on the theme of sacrifice and I was moved by the Worship Associate’s sharing of a story in which he and several friends sang together at the memorial service of another of their companions. He said that during the service they were all sad, weeping, upset. When it came time to sing however, they regained their composure in service to the music, to the healing presence of the hymn they sang, to their voices joined together, their breath joined as one. They became something larger than themselves for a bit in service to the family and to the memory of their friend.
During class, one of the children surprised me by saying if she were in the story, she would be the child. As I wondered with her, surprised, I asked why she would be the child and she said that she wanted to be dead. This surprised me even more and I asked her to say more. “If I was dead”, she said, “Then I wouldn’t have to get up and do so many things in the morning”. Then came the laughter from all of us and several more children wishing they could get out of unpleasant activities by being dead.
This exchange has stuck with me this week. In this child’s mind maybe death was understood as a more peaceful or desirable option than getting out the door in the morning and I admit that when I have been in the midst of great difficulty and discomfort myself, I have wished for some kind of way to get out of it. I haven’t wished for death per se, but knowing the answer I am waiting for to get me out of ambiguity has been a deep desire, or the frustration at having to rest yet again because I’m ill and simply want to be out of my bed and operating with agency and purpose. Sometimes I try to rush ahead to that space of knowing or the illusion of health by ignoring or pushing away reality as it is. This is never good as it simply contributes to assumptions and misunderstandings and then shame about not thinking things out carefully enough or prolonged illness as I push through the signals my body is sending.
For this child, I wonder what she feels as her sleep is interrupted in the morning. What is it like for her to have to get clothes on right now, or keep eating or hurry and get her shoes so we won’t be late. I wonder what the morning would look like if she could go with her own body’s wisdom and her own timeline. What would it look like for her to wake up and discover in some way that being in this discomfort is a place for compassion and community, that she is not alone.
I wonder what the morning would look like if I as a parent could do a better job of setting aside my anxiety of “being late” and missing the bus in order to be a bit more present and a bit more compassionate. Not only to my children who all too often hear me remind them several times in a morning to pack their bags, eat their breakfast, get their shoes on so that we can be out the door on time, but to myself. What will happen, after all, if we are late or if we miss the bus? I am very fortunate to not be on a tight morning schedule and yet, I still hurry us along. What would it look like to be really with myself and with my kids as we move through the morning, while still aiming to have them on the bus to school when it comes? How do I want to be even in the midst of timelines and demands? And what does this look like at church where I want to model love and belonging. Is it more ok to be compassionate in my preparation if I’m coming to church? Can I trust that however I show up, I’m not alone, I’m in community?
I can say that some of my deepest feelings of belonging at church have come when I have arrived late with my child yelling about how he doesn’t want to go and church is useless. I have chosen to escort him in as he resists, doing my best to comfort myself in my embarrassment and in my struggling attempts to be present and compassionate with him in his protests. I have not been met with judgement, but with knowing looks, with compassion and with encouragement because we’ve been there, and we’re trying, and sometimes it’s really hard for everyone’s needs to be met. In those moments where there is no pretending everything is ok, the sense of being enfolded in community is palpable, vulnerable and almost overwhelmingly intimate. I am trying to come to the place where I can experience that sense of community and open myself up regularly without the level of crisis that usually prompts it to happen unbidden. I continue to practice church. How am I present with compassion for myself and others? How do I lend myself to the larger sense that none of us are alone, in our joy or our discomfort? How do I create this beloved community with you and in the world so my vision is more broad and more connected?