"Sitting on Level Ground"
- in my meditation garden -
My wife and I were having lunch in a local restaurant yesterday when a large group of people came in and sat at a long table that extended the length of the entire restaurant. We learned that this group often comes to lunch at that restaurant after attending a Sunday Morning Service at their church; yet, what was especially striking to me was not how large, but how incredibly diverse the group was. Sitting together at that one table were black, brown and white people, there were babes-in-arms as well as some elderly folks with walkers. Some people in the group were wearing designer clothes and others were dressed in old jeans. No one sat at the head of the table and there were no assigned seats - everyone sat at a place of equal dignity, visibly enjoying each other’s company.
My wife and I both remarked at how uplifting it was to see that display of beautiful diversity. We also remarked at how unusual it was to see such a display in everyday life.
In this desert valley where we live, I can drive a few short miles away from my house and pass by a gated community with million dollar mansions and lushly tended gardens and a few more miles beyond that, I can drive by migrant camps populated by farms workers who pick local crops and live in dilapidated shanties. It is always such a vivid reminder of the “have” and “have-nots” in our society.
The more I think about it, I suspect that many of those who “have” believe that they deserve more than those who “have-not.” Citizens feel they are entitled to “more” than immigrants or foreigners, rich people generally feel entitled to “more” in life than poor people, educated people feel they deserve “more” than those who never went to college. Many white people feel as if they deserve more than black or brown people, and lots of men believe they are entitled to “more” than women.
I suppose that this is why I was so struck yesterday by that long table with all those different people siting together at a place of equal respect. It was so counter–cultural and it was, for me, an icon of what spiritual-well being is all about.
When I examine some of the core wisdom of most of the major world religions, the idea that some people are better than others and deserve more than others is always seen as a toxin in the spiritual life. Jesus core message promoted the dignity of every human being. He taught that we all stand on level ground, we all sit at a place of equal respect at the table of life and no one deserves more than anyone else. Likewise, the Buddha taught his disciples to offer open-hearted respect to everyone and everything that has being and he warned his followers that craving for more and better is a poison for the soul. He said:
From craving is born grief.
From craving is born fear.
I am reminded of something I came across written by a retired Jesuit priest who wonderfully articulated the core of what it means to be a fully-alive human being:
We need conversion from the prevailing consciousness
that views reality in terms of separateness and hierarchy.
We need to end the worldview that structures reality
into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate
We human beings cannot be fully ourselves
without being in communion with all that exists.
When it comes to the banquet of life, there is no head table, we are all sitting together at a place of equal dignity and we will never find greater wisdom or a deeper peace until we can all live everyday lives that model and foster this reality.
As I think about it, I suppose I was so moved by the sight of those different people eating together at that one, long table yesterday because I was looking into the face of what Jesus called the “Kingdom of God.” I was looking at a picture of what it is like to be “fully ourselves.”