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Jack is single, in his mid-70s, and lives alone. He arrives on Fridays to clean the Friends (Quaker) Meetinghouse, where I go each morning with coffee and books in hand. I sit outside on the porch and enjoy a couple of hours or more in spiritual practices. Sometimes, I just sit and enjoy the view of Nature, sipping on coffee or a herbal drink.
Today, again, Jack arrived and, like usual, wanted to talk. With Jack, I think "wanted" is more "needed." It seems the need is shown in that Jack cannot stop talking. I sense that is how he is reaching out for communion, heart-with-heart. Jack listens some, but I do most of that. And, today, he got a small piece of candy out of his car and gave it to me. Also, he turned his classical music up after going inside to clean, so I could listen to it. He told me twice he had turned it up for me, wanting me to know he did that for me.
I could think Jack interrupts this treasured time at the Meetinghouse. There, I find a refuge, an oasis, a sanctuary of quiet. That was lost where I live, so I leave shortly after getting up mornings to find it elsewhere, until I find another place to live.
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I could take a stand and tell Jack I needed him to let me be, explaining enough is enough. I have chosen to enjoy this one morning weekly with Jack, to see it as a gift, the sharing as a spiritual practice. Years ago, I could not have welcomed the apparent interruption. So, we talk about varied subjects, joke around and laugh frequently, and genuinely enjoy being with each other.
I would not welcome this kind of apparent intrusion on the morning oasis time as a regular thing. But this one morning weekly - well, I have relaxed the borders of the time alone to open space for this precious human being to share with me, and I with him, in a time of sacramental presence. This time becomes prayer, for prayer becomes communion together. The words, laughter, candy, music - everything - being means to connection heart-with-heart. The ordinary ways of bridging the apparent separation is a non-institutionalized ritual.
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Interestingly, one of the vows I live is the "Sacrament of the Present Moment." This moment, here, is the time and place of supernal, yet ordinary, grace. I have gained more insight into this vow. Now, I see not only the moment as sacramental but whom I am with as sacramental. By opening up my being to Jack, I welcome him as a means of grace. I, likewise, am present for him to receive me as a sacrament. How would our relationships be altered by valuing togetherness as sacramental?
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I read, later in the day, from Ian Matthews, in The Impact of God. He writes of how John of the Cross portrays our "Yes" to the Divine. Matthews quotes John's "loving attentiveness." Here, prayer has shifted from words to presence. And, as with Jack, do we not all need - not just want - to receive loving attentiveness. We do not just need persons begrudgingly so-called to give us some of their time - no one has any time, anyway. We do not need merely transactional relationships but sharing that is communion. And when we provide loving attentiveness, which does not have to be sentimental, we receive the gift in return. The reception of the gift is in the giving of the gift. In giving, we cannot not receive.
Mutuality, spirit-with-spirit, is an expression of our innate interdependence. As Shunyru Suzuki says, in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, "We usually think that if something is not one, it is more than one; if it is not singular, it is plural." He continues, "But in actual experience, our life is not only plural, but also singular. Each one of us is both dependent and independent."
To walk the Way, we live with an apparent contradiction - being dependent and independent. The dualistic mind cannot fathom this unity. Yet, we can know by experience its truth. If I were not attending to my independence, I could not welcome Jack the way I do. I might push him away - rejection. I might hide from him - avoidance. I might become dependent on him - enmeshment.
Equanimity concerning Jack's visits, so the possibility of loving attentiveness, is possible due to my honoring time alone and connection with sacredness daily. In fidelity to our spiritual practice, we cultivate the capacity to fit in the gap between "I need you" and "I don't need you." Hence, we can be a welcoming presence to togetherness and apartness as two sides of one reality. Still, even this is wrongly stated, for we cannot not be with others.
Along the Way, we come to realize that when alone, we are not apart from others, for we are a part of them. We take the world into silence with us. How can we not? So, being with others, in physical proximity or not, is not a matter of choice but awareness. In the words of Thich Nhah Hanh, "We all belong to each other; we cannot cut reality into pieces" (At Home in the World).
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Now in the mid-afternoon, I sit with gratitude to my friend, Jack. When he comes to meet me, through him, I meet myself. I trust he feels the same way, even if the words he would use to speak of this sacramental mystery would be different from mine.
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*© Brian K. Wilcox, 2021
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book consists of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.