Tuesday, October 27, 2009

From Should to Will

Yesterday I was working on a piece about the sacrament of Baptism, studying a statement by Bishop Schori and reviewing the Baptismal Covenant, and I was reminded of a children's sermon I gave on the subject years ago.

The sermon was based on two pairs of boots: a lovely leather pair that had been permanently damaged by walking through a heavily salted snowy parking lot, and a pair of shiny green rubber rainboots. In my sermon I basically said that Baptism was a lot like getting a pair of rubber boots; kind of a guarantee that whatever messes we create in life can be washed off, and we can be restored to a kind of shiny original wholeness.

This morning I was reading about what Chogyam Trungpa, in his book Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior, calls Great Eastern Sun. Great Eastern Sun is a way of being in the world which assumes the innate goodness and purity of things, and "because we appreciate the world, we don't make a mess in it. We take care of our bodies, we take care of our minds, and we take care of our world. The world around us is regarded as very sacred, so we have to constantly serve our world and clean it up... our entire physical and psychological existence and the world that we know -- our sky, our earth, our houses, everything we have -- was and is originally clean. But then, we begin to smear the situation with our conflicting emotions. Still, fundamentally speaking, our existence is all good, and it is all launderable. That is what we mean by basic goodness: the pure ground that is always there, waiting to be cleaned by us. We can always return to that primordial ground."

In her statement on Baptism, Bishop Schori says that baptism is about death and rebirth; a washing away of old identities that is not limited to one place and time. "This water," she says, "is meant to roll on like a river of blessing, bringing peace to the warring and healing to the nations." And reading that, I see that as a people we Christians have a tendency to think Baptism ends with putting on the rubber boots; that it's all about us, and the fact that we are saved no matter what sins we commit. Because we know we're "launderable" --the mud will wash off -- we don't bother doing it on a daily basis, assuming we'll get around to it eventually -- maybe on our deathbeds?

We forget about the river of blessing; about the responsibilities we assume as part of that gift to carry it out into the world. We forget that baptism is meant to keep restoring and renewing us so that we can continually be working toward peace, righteousness and compassion. And without that understanding, we can get stuck in what Trungpa calls Setting Sun thinking: "you have a giant vision, which you can't consume, and you end up throwing most of it away... we just get rid of anything unpleasant...we forget about the leftovers or the greasy spoons and plates. We leave the job of cleaning up to somebody else."

It's almost as if, having been given the new boots, we no longer feel we need to take care of them. But that's really not the case. Ultimately Baptism needs to be about balance; it is a stepping out and a return, a determination to give and a willingness to restore and be restored. And thinking about this, I realize my own life has been out of balance lately; that there's been too much stepping out and not enough return. And what I mean by that is not what you might think, that I've been giving and giving and not taking the time to feed myself, but rather that I've been getting caught in these giant visions which I can't quite consume.

It's a bit like that old phrase: her eyes were too big for her stomach. I've taken on so many projects that I can't finish them all and I haven't time to clean up after myself. The Buddhists understand the importance of being present: of being aware and conscious of what we're doing as we're doing it. If we get too busy, if our plate is too full, we run into a couple of problems: we're not really THERE when we're trying to do our good works, whatever they may be, which means we're not giving anything our best efforts.

And the detritus, the leftovers of all those good works, has a way of piling up around us and getting in the way. In my rush to fill my time with the fun stuff, or the good stuff, I forget (or avoid) making time for the cleanup and restoration.

Which leaves me with a messy office, a messy kitchen, and a messy life -- all of which mean I'm not functioning at my optimal capacity. You could say it's all good, that it's all in the service of creativity or generosity, but the fact is every project has its leavings, and I should be tidying up as I go; washing the boots every day instead of waiting until they're so muddy that I'm leaving traces wherever I go.

Yes, I know, it's a "should." But so are all those promises we make when we renew our Baptismal Covenant: promises to avoid sin and repent; to engage in worship, communion, fellowship and education; to proclaim the Good News by word and example; to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to strive for justice and peace. Those are all things we should do. But that's not what we say when we recite the covenant. We don't say "I should." We say, "I will, with God's help."

Time to turn those "should"s into "will"s.


Joyce Wycoff said...

This is NOT what I would consider a messy office ... this is a place of creativity and contemplation! ;-)

Maureen said...

After uploading to my blog my most recent post, I'm glad I came here first to read the day's offerings.

"I will, with God's help."

Thank you.