WHEN YOU MEET THE BUDDHA ON THE ROAD TO THE RESTAURANT

A central suggestion arising at the end of my first novel, which then shapes my new one, What’s Left, is that her father will be crucial in guiding the family in its embrace of Buddhist practice. Even if I cast that as spirituality rather than religion, it’s a big challenge.

In the course of multiple revisions, this was greatly toned down and redirected.

While Cassia’s concerned with more fully defining who her father was, the novel’s primary focus is on her. Here’s some background that’s much fainter in the final version:

Where had he come from, what prompted his interests, what were his pet peeves, what made him truly angry or truly delighted?

To make this little more concrete:

Some people contend my Baba was a lama. Not the camel-like pack animal from the Andes but a Tibetan Buddhist born in a humble city along the Mississippi, of all places. After college in Indiana and a broken heart, he looped into Dharma by way of, well, a hippie farm where Thea Nita also lived. And then he found refuge in something like a monastery. And then he magically returned here. You thought a monk couldn’t get married? Technically, no, though we’re dealing with an American twist in the mechanics of reincarnation. Or so they’ve told me.

In the end, much less of the responsibility falls on him. Rather, he helps establish an institute having a resident teacher, Rinpoche, who becomes his colleague.

~*~

For Cassia’s father, religion is a way of engaging life more fully. He might even say it is liberation from the tangles of daily life.

Let’s open our range of focus a bit wider.

Where do you go or what do you do to be free? Can you describe the feeling?

~*~

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers.
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AND HAVE A GOOD DAY?

In the early days of Friends, they’d often greet each other with the question, “How does Truth prosper among you?” Not “How are you doing?” or even “Good morning.”

Strikes modern ears as puzzling, even problematic, beginning with that verb prosper, which we tend to consider along financial terms rather than thrive or even proliferate. Equally unfamiliar is the idea of Truth being active – alive – rather than static and unchanging.

To further thicken the plot, consider their linkage of Truth and Christ, so the question also asks, “How is Christ alive among you?”

How would you answer that!

~*~

For more along these lines, take a look at Religion Turned Upside Down.

 

NOT ALONE BY A LONG SHOT

When the name Jnana was bestowed on me back in 1972, it was soon expanded to Jnana-Devanandashram – or Jnana-Dev, in a diminutive.

Apart from recognizing my unique character and giving it focus, the name also linked me to a major saint and at least one mythical spirit in India’s past.

Prominent among them was Jnanadev, born in 1275 and described – I love this – as a mystic poet and slave of love. His Jnaneshwari is considered the second most-important commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Alas, he died at age 21.

Now I see there’s another of our own time who’s a musician who performs with Tibetan monks.

That’s before we get to Facebook, with its host of entries, or the Jnana Yoga displays. As for Jnana alone in a Google search? There are millions, thanks to those software engineers from India.

Still, let me guess, I’m the only one you know. Am I wrong?

UNCOVERING THE PLACE OF STRUGGLE

In his Pendle Hill pamphlet last year, Marking the Quaker Path: Seven Key Words Plus One, Robert Griswold opens with the term “condition,” which initially seems familiar enough. Quakers often remark to a comment, “This speaks to my condition,” or even “the Friend speaks my mind,” conveying a sense of unity and affirmation.

Griswold, though, gives the concept a darker twist, noting that a meaningful spiritual journey requires seeing ourselves in our places of failure and weakness rather than a state of “being in charge,” as we so often do. Think of Anne Lamott’s “three essential prayers” — Help, Thanks, and Wow — and admit a long personal list invoking the first.

I would extend that awareness of condition not just to ourselves individually but to our families and circles of faith and then the wider society. I’d say there’s great need everywhere.

This, then, leads to the subsequent steps where we turn to the Holy One and our kindred spirits for direction and growth.

Curiously, condition is not a word I find used widely in either Scripture or early Quaker literature – not directly, that is – but it does fit the situation of many people as they set out in faith as recorded in both.

Could it be that in many of our religious circles, we’ve been running away from this very difficult but essential challenge? We go to worship looking for rest and renewal, not more turmoil and suffering.

O, Lord, give us strength!

~*~

More of my own reflections on alternative Christianity are found at Religion Turned Upside Down.

WHY HAVE THE YOUTH GONE?

Quakers are not alone in this regard, but what we’ve been enduring is that no matter how much effort we put into raising our children within the faith community, they disappear somewhere in their junior high years. For decades, we’ve been hoping they’d reappear as they started raising their own families, but we’re seeing little of that, and again, we’re not alone.

It’s all too easy to blame competition with Sunday morning soccer leagues and the like, although we might also argue that the values the kids learn in their athletic competition more closely fit those of the larger, secular society than those they are taught in religious settings. Rabbi Michael Lerner makes an extended argument in his 2006 The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, as he contends that too often our children see all too clearly the dichotomy between what we say we believe in faith and what we actually do in a dog-eat-dog marketplace. It’s a harsh criticism. No wonder religion is losing.

As I gaze around our mostly graying worshiping circle, I wonder just where the young adults are today – not just within religious communities, but just about everywhere I venture. Maybe they’re all hidden away working multiple 24/7 jobs trying to make ends meet. I don’t envy them the economic scene they’re contending with.

But I also wonder about the message they carry about faith itself. If the teaching among youths growing up “under the care” of Quaker Meeting has been to build a hopeful, optimistic foundation of values, how do we help them survive the brutal struggles they’ll encounter in the wider world? How do we instill an awareness of the importance of religious community and shared discipline in maintaining a drive toward a more loving and just society?

Perhaps we’ve been too comfortable in our safe, middle-class, largely professional upbringings and neighborhoods and expectation of college and career.

In my own thinking, I keep returning to the concept of the two seeds, one of Christ and the other, call it what you wish – the point is, we face not just “that of God within each person” and its potential, but also a counter element to challenge. It was a line of thinking at the time the Quaker movement erupted in Britain. Think of the parable of the wheat and the tares.

Contending with the two may be what’s been missing in our teaching and example.

~*~

More of my own reflections on alternative Christianity are found at Religion Turned Upside Down.

RAISING THE STAKES

The kids raise a valid point when they notice how much we teach them about Quakers back then – but what about now?

Yes, what about NOW!

We need to get our act more together and acknowledge many of the remarkable ways we continue to witness today, usually in individual callings that deserve more support from the rest of us. So maybe the kids’ question can help us better focus on our greater purpose.

I’d like us to proclaim more of the courageous work of Friends internationally, too – I can think of examples in Cuba and Kenya in our own time.

Not all of the action involves peace and forgiveness issues, either.

Consider, too, two points from a visit to an Evangelical Friends Church on the other end of the Quaker spectrum from my own Meeting:

“Is Jesus Christ going to be exalted and praised?”

Her shocked look haunts me, considering the big Quaker gathering where I’m headed. I think, Yes, but in ways you wouldn’t recognize.

Also, humbly, as another realizes from one difficult exchange with a customer at her business previously that week: “I may be the only Jesus they’ll see.”

Now we’re talking business.

~*~

For similar thoughts, check out Religion Turned Upside Down.