Interlude: Heyr himna smiður, performed by Schola Cantorum Reykjavicensis
I know it’s old news, but wow — the Cubs won the World Series! I expect a few of you watched at least some of the games. But did any of you watch the last game of the National League Championship Series, between the Dodgers and the Cubs, the one where the Cubs won the pennant, and right to play in that World Series? Can’t remember? Let me remind you. There was a particular at bat…
Joc Pederson, a Dodger, was at the plate, and Kyle Hendricks from the Cubs was pitching. The Cubs were in the lead for the series. If the Cubs won, they’d go to the World Series for the first time in 71 years. The Dodgers hadn’t been to the World series in 28 years, and if they won that night, they’d go on to a game 7 in the League Championship. This was a high stakes game. Pederson digs in in the batter box, ready to swing. Hendricks winds up to pitch, and boom! A rogue firework explodes somewhere behind center field. The noise spooked Pederson — he stepped out of the batter box calling time out, but it was too late. Hendricks’ pitch is good, and the umpire called the pitch a strike. Pederson ended up striking out.
Can you imagine? Even if you don’t give a hoot about baseball, I expect you can. When we settle in to meditate, we’re usually ensconced in a quiet place. We’re concentrating on our breath and our mantra. Like that explosion that spooked Pederson, a loud noise from outside can disrupt our concentration — a garbage truck, a siren going by, a phone ringing. We, like that batter, can find ourselves behind in the count, having to start over, to get back into the zone, back to our mantra, back to our breath.
And getting back in the zone can be difficult. Why does that group get to ignore the do-not-call list? Why does the gardener have to use such noisy equipment? Why does the garbage truck always come when I’m meditating? I really need to find a quieter place for this. Why can’t I just get up earlier before all this noise? And for me, those are the nicer thoughts. I don’t like loud noises. And I really don’t like being interrupted when I’m concentrating — whether it’s meditation, reading, or just balancing the checkbook.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Remember Jesus’ words? When asked which of the laws were the greatest, Jesus answered:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Matthew 22:37-39, King James version]
When we sit down to meditate, we’re all about that first commandment. For me, it’s one of the few times during my daily routine that I can point to, that’s “Love the Lord your God.” For me, meditation is hanging out with God, an act of love — it’s what I do, what we all do, with the people, or places, or things that we love. We want to be with them. For that short time of meditation, we dedicate all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength, to being with God.
But then, noise intrudes. Odds are good that the source of the loud noise is some kind of neighbor. So rather than stepping out of the batter’s box, allowing the noise to break the cycle of concentration, let’s remember the second commandment: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Here I am, breathing in and breathing out, immersed in this huge, serene space of God’s love. When the unexpected sound reaches my ears, I can extend that love out, so that it envelops the noisy neighbor. Surround them with God’s love, sending out a blessing rooted in my quiet place. Meditation is a lovely, quiet visit with God, but God is bigger than my little quiet space. Way bigger. I can share.
Paul Nitter tells us that Buddhism has two forms of meditation, metta and tonglen, that include this dimension of compassion. I think metta meditation sounds closest. Quoting Paul:
Usually translated as “loving kindness,” metta designates a love that is both hot and cold. It’s cold insofar as it is unconditional and unattached – it gushes as soon as the spigot is touched and it pours out without any bills to be paid. But it’s hot because it comes from the heart, with all the heart’s heat, and it embraces the loved one just as he or she is, beauty or beast. Buddhism actually believes that every single human heart is a reservoir of such metta, such loving kindness. Metta meditation is a means of opening that reservoir and assuring that its waters flow freely. [Knitter, Paul F.. Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian (p. 149). Oneworld Publications. Kindle Edition. ]
For me, that reservoir is the Holy Spirit within, connected to the God beyond. The noise can serve as a trigger to open that spigot of loving kindness, tapping into God’s love, sharing the peace with the noise-maker.
With practice, I’m finding this can work across time as well as space. When through the day, people do those things that I find irritating, I can remember to breathe, and reach back across space and time to reconnect with God, feel the Holy Spirit, and extend that inexhaustible love to that neighbor. In the checkout line, at the four-way stop, whenever I expect one thing, and experience something else, when I feel the noise of irritation rising within me, I can stop, and stay in the batter’s box, anchored in God’s love.
The World Series is over now, and the Cubs won it all. That single fateful firework back in the National League Championship Series didn’t really have an effect on the season’s outcome. Now it’s the off-season, and teams and players are getting ready for 2017, and another 162 games. Major League Baseball execs will be looking at updating some rules based on what happened in the 2016 games — there seem to be more rules every year.
I’m glad that as a Christian, I really only have to remember two rules:
- Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy soul and all thy mind and all thy strength.
- Love thy neighbor as thyself.
I appreciate how those commandments and meditation work in harmony. Together, they form a peaceful harbor for rest, and a sturdy vessel to sail in, as we venture forth into the world.
Delivered at Resurrection Catholic Church, December 3, 2016.