I was with friends at a collegiate basketball game Thursday night when a woman came up to visit. The friend who had invited us introduced us to the woman, who sat down and stayed with us for a while. The normal social chatter continued until my friend asked the woman, “How are you?”
She paused for a moment, revealing to the others of us who didn’t know her that she’d recently been through a rough time. And then she smiled.
“I’m great,” she said. “I still have some things to work out, but I’m great.” It didn’t stop there. Beaming, she talked about how she’d been reading a series of books written by a Buddhist nun and how it had changed her life, how her perspective on things had changed and how she had realized just how much she’d lived focused only on the future and how she was working on being present with people she met and how excited she was about the next phase of her life, whatever that materialized to be.
This went on for several more minutes until someone called to her and she excused herself, going back to whatever it was she’d been doing before she’d stopped by.
Later that night, as I was lying in bed, I was thinking about the woman and I realized there was something bothering me. Her visit had left me unsettled, rather than inspired, as I might have expected. I knew it wasn’t a discomfort with Buddhism. I have read quite a bit about different facets of the Buddhist philosophy and I simply adore the Dalai Lama. His smile is so infectious and he never engages in the culture wars. His spirituality goes much deeper—when he’s invariably asked about the political and cultural “wars” of our time, he is thoughtful and respectful, but his message is always the same. Love. Kindness. Peace. All answers to the conflicts that plague us.
Rattling around in my head too was something a close friend of mine who is no longer with us said years ago in the midst of a dinner party I’d arranged—a group of women, all of whom I knew had different perspectives on religion and spirituality. If I remember right, there was a woman for whom I can find no real descriptive label, a free spirit for whom nature is affirming, a Jewish New Yorker turned New Thought, a Unitarian, a Roman Catholic nun who’d left the convent long before and become a teacher of the Course in Miracles before Marianne Williamson hit the scene, and my friend Alleyne, a Christian lay leader. At the time, I could only be described as a Christian agnostic—I hadn’t set foot in a church in years, though I’d been very involved in my early life.
There had been a raucous discussion over dinner, one I tried to record, but as one might imagine, no individual voices were particularly distinguishable. The cacophony had quieted down a bit and Alleyne, who’d been respectfully watching and listening the whole time, finally spoke. “I have to say I don’t disagree with anything I’ve heard here tonight,” she said. “But I’ve heard nothing new. I’ve found every truth you’ve described in what Jesus said.”
I slept fitfully, waking up once or twice to find myself still thinking about the woman, but went about the stuff of my day come Friday morning—After driving Jan to work, I headed on foot to the shop where my Jeep was being worked on, drove to the bank to take care of a little business and then came back home to start on the various projects I have at the moment. The woman was long out of my mind.
Until this morning, when I realized what it was that had left me somber.
I absolutely agree with my friend Alleyne. The New Testament, especially the Gospels, are chock full of stories about what Jesus said and did, stories that demonstrate virtually everything the women talked about that night. I could quote parables and sermons and conversations Jesus reportedly had that say to me exactly what the Dalai Lama also says. What’s going on in the world is an illusion. Only our attitudes need to change. The answer is focusing on…Love. Kindness. Peace.
So what’s the problem?
When was the last time you were at a basketball game and a regular person, not a priest or preacher, spontaneously started talking, with sparkling eyes, about how they’d been reading what Jesus said and it had changed their lives?
Not clergy and not in some church activity. At a basketball game. Spontaneously. With sparkling eyes.
Yeah, I thought so.
Lord, have mercy.