Thursday, April 2, 2015

On Level Ground

"Walking the Way"
 -Outside the Desert Retreat House -

A few days ago I was in a local restaurant when a man at the table next to me decided he needed the waitress and he needed her "now," so he snapped his fingers at her: "Come here, honey, I need to talk with you." 

I was actually stunned at what this man did. I felt deeply for that young waitress so humiliated in front of the restaurant full of people. I somehow also felt "abused" over the arrogance of that man snapping his fingers, demanding to be waited on at his whim because he somehow felt himself so superior. The whole thing seemed so very out of balance for me- so "unnatural."

When I think about the core message of both Jesus as well as the Buddha, "humility" seems to lie at the center of their teachings. 

Jesus often talked about "humbling the exalted and exalting the humble," not because he hated rich and powerful people and loved the poor and weak, but because he understood that we find the greatest truth and deepest peace when we "level the playing of life," so that all are standing on equal ground- all in a place of dignity.  We act humbly not by treating ourselves with contempt but by realizing that none of us stands higher than the other, no one in a lower place, everyone in an equal place. 

The enlightened Buddha also came to understand the truth that we all belong to one another--each of us is web of relationship and so we must honor and respect every living/sentient being because we "are" every other living being.

The Christian monk and mystic, Thomas Merton, put it the way:

Pride makes us artificial and
humility makes us real.

I love that phrase - it so perfectly captures what it means to be "real, " what it means to live in a "real world." It is in our DNA, it is in our nature that we all belong to one another, we are indeed naturally interconnected. That's why I feel it was so unnatural to me when that arrogant man snapped his fingers and humiliated the poor waitress in that restaurant. When we treat one another as equals, with dignity and with respect,  we live in a "real" world and we become "real."

On the Christian calendar, today is "Holy Thursday- that day on which Jesus ate his "Last Supper" with his friends on the night before he was condemned and crucified. On this day many Christians throughout the world will gather together to celebrate that "Lord's Supper" by conducting sometimes elaborate ceremonies of sharing communion bread and wine in memory of Jesus. 

But according to the Gospel stories there was another very important thing that happened at that "Last Supper" besides Jesus breaking bread and giving wine to be shared in his memory. As the meal began, Jesus put on an apron and knelt in front of each of his disciples to wash their feet. 

In those days it was a common practice for servants and slaves to wash the feet of their master and his honored guests before they sat at the dinner table. Covered only by sandals, feet would get rather dirty, pretty smelly and grimy by the end of the day; and so before the evening meal, a faithful servant would stoop down, remove the sandals and wash the master's feet, cleaning up all the dirt and dust, getting them all fresh and ready to enjoy the meal to come 

At his last supper Jesus washed his disciples feet - it was an incredibly beautiful and "iconic" act.  He stoops down and humbles himself- he levels the ground between them - no one the master, no one the servant, all on equal ground. He then tells his friends that any who wish to be his followers should do likewise- wash each other's feet along the path in life.

On this "Holy Thursday" plenty of people around the globe will eat bread and drink wine in memory of Jesus;  but as I see it, an equal if not better way to remember Jesus might be to wash one another's feet, not just symbolically but realistically in everyday, real life. 

It seems to me that we might best remember Jesus by stooping down before one another,  removing the sandals from tired feet all dirty and grimy from a long hard journey and washing each other's feet -  that we all may be fresh and ready to walk together on the arduous trail of life. 

Of course you don't have to be a Christian to wash the feet of your fellow human beings - you just have to want to be "real."

Listen to my podcast: "Desert Wisdom"

1 comment:

  1. That is so true. Funny you should mention Merton as i just yesterday listened to a lecture on his life. The church I attended did include the washing of feet as part of the communion services. I liked the way your described the meaning of the act.