"Cool Refreshment in the Heat"
On his way home after his recent trip to Korea, Pope Francis conducted an informal news conference with reporters on the plane returning to Rome. I was particularly struck by the way one newspaper characterized what the pope had to say:
Talking to reporters, Pope Francis lightheartedly gave himself two or three more years left to live but he didn't rule out retiring before that time.
I found a statement like this coming from a pope to be remarkably refreshing, and I especially enjoyed the way the pope's remarks were described as being "lighthearted." After all, if anyone would want to cling onto life it would be a pope, the "supreme pontiff," a man of enormous power who literally "rules" over the spiritual lives of more than a billion people. One might expect that the pope would want to protect and hold onto all this for as long as he possibly could. But on board that plane he "lightheartedly" said that he would probably be dead in a few years or maybe he might retire, who knows?
As I see it, "lightheartedness" is at the very core of any spiritual journey.
The Buddha taught that "clinging and craving" were primary causes of our suffering in this world. Life is "impermanent." When you devote yourself to clinging to, clutching onto and protecting that which is fleeting and "impermanent," you will inevitably be disappointed and frustrated. And when you spend your days always in pursuit of something more, bigger, better -- more money, more prestige, more power, you will never find a deeper peace.
Jesus taught something very similar when he told his disciples:
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink
or about your body, what you will wear.
See how the flowers of the field grow.
They do not labor or spin yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory
was not clothed like one of these.
So do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Several years ago I attended the ordination of a friend of mine who was being "elevated" to the role of a bishop of the church. The congregation was filled with dignitaries - men and women of high and noble rank, bishops all bedecked in purple robes, priests in flowing garments, all sitting in a designated place of honor in the church. It was a very solemn occasion and serous business was being conducted.
I clearly remember the sermon from that ordination ceremony.The preacher looked out over that solemn assembly and then he looked directly at my friend who was being consecrated as a bishop and said, "I only have one piece of advice for you, but if you listen to me you will be a lot happier in your life as a bishop: Don't take yourself too seriously! Wear your vestments lightly!"
I have never forgotten that one line of advice. It may in fact be the motto for any one who walks on any spiritual path, whether they wear vestments or not. We are all called to wear our gamments lightly as we walk along the wilderness path of life - all of us called to travel simply, without clinging to anything or craving for more in this ever-so-brief time in this impermanent world.
Regardless of how old or how young any of us are, in the larger scope of things, each of us can say that we have only a "few more years left before we die and maybe we will retire before then, who knows?"
Don't take yourself too seriously! Wear your vestments lightly!