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Archive for March 30th, 2010

Great ( Holy) Tuesday, March 30, 2010

“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”

This day in the Easter cycle commemorates this parable about remaining attentive, vigilant, at the ready to receive the invitation to join in when that offer comes.

Recalling the parable, ten virgins awaited the Bridegroom of which only five were really well prepared when he arrived. The attentive five had procured what they needed by way of oil for their lamps. The other five were lax and put off doing so, and when word came of the Bridegroom’s approach, they begged the well-prepared five for some of their supply. The vigilant five denied them realizing that all of them had equal opportunity and resources to get ready. The “foolish” five then rushed to the market to buy the necessary oil, but the Bridegroom arrived before their return and so they were shut out. The five that had planned were ready and were received with open arms and enthusiasm. The other five were denied access. G-d favors the well prepared.

This is a story about “mindfulness,” a much used, if not abused, word in today’s lexicon. There are many moments in the Gospels ( and, indeed, in the Jewish scriptures overall) about the need to be watchful. It is also a story about the differences between false and true compassion. Doesn’t the Master’s rejection of the five “foolish” ones betray a lack of compassion on his part?

Not at all! He simply holds the lax five accountable; a lesson in “tough love.”  They failed to be ready, so he moved on. They squandered the time they had with trivialities. They allowed themselves to become distracted. Authentic compassion is not saccharine and undifferentiating. Quite the contrary, it respects each person enough to hold them accountable.

We are all accountable for what we say, do, and think. We must answer for who we really are. In facilitating executive leadership development sessions, there are those who invariably return late from a break or from lunch. Some argue that it is best and more gracious to wait for all to arrive. Others contend that at the appointed time, our session continues regardless of who isn’t yet in the room. I am an advocate of the latter over the former philosophy. Out of respect for those who are there on time, I begin on time. The stragglers simply have to catch up.

In these days of political spin-meisters and subterfuge, excuse making and deceptive speech and advertising, the art of lying has been elevated to a seemingly grand and noble art form. The gift of gab and salesmanship has taken a front seat, and quiet leadership, diplomacy, and inviolable integrity, a back seat. With but a very few refreshing examples of notable leaders who are working hard to be otherwise in a terribly dysfunctional system ( e.g., Barack Obama), the choir of demonizers, hate mongers, fear peddlers, and distractors are legion.

It would seem that telling a lie over and over, despite clear factual evidence to the contrary, is held equal to truth in the easily influenced minds of way too many. Whatever happened to accountability? Ignoble and disreputable behavior should result in penalty. In these days of rehab clinics for all things, taking a brief  time away in so-called “rehab” ( e.g., Tiger Woods and the sexual addiction rehab clinic), and all is forgiven. Remarkable, it seems, is the rate of rehabilitation among those with means.

Camouflage, gamesmanship, coercion, lobbying, advertising, bargaining and calling in favors, and buying votes does not a well prepared “virgin” make!

Today is a day for inner diagnosis. In fact, all of Easter week is a time for self-assessment, and this day is set aside as the one on which we test our integrity, our attentiveness to detail, our discipline, or the lack thereof, and the mindfulness with which we step through our daily round. It is a time to ask about whether we too are caught short and find ourselves rushing off to the store to buy some 11th hour oil as we’ve just heard of the Master’s approach. As usual, the best tests are not those that involve big things, but the small ones that betray our careless distractibility.

Yesterday, our gardener was scheduled to stop by the house to pick up the signed contract for his continued work with us over the upcoming growing season. I marked down that he would be stopping by and had the contact in hand when we spoke by phone of his intent to do so. Well, he came by  the house and my wife answered the door and then notified me that he was waiting. I then rushed around my office desperately looking for the contract that was nowhere to be found. Obviously, I mindlessly set it down somewhere meaning, no doubt, to put it out so it would be handy when he arrived.

In effect, when I spoke with the gardener, a very good and hard-working man who cares deeply about the fine work that he always does, a generous and gracious man, I was not really paying close attention. My mind was divided among several things. As a result, I embarrassed myself by not having the contract to give him. He was, as always, gracious and understanding. He laughed it off and said he would catch it two weeks from now when he stopped by to begin the Spring cleaning.

As I meditate on this event today, I  must confess to being like one of the “foolish five” having allowed myself to get fragmented and lose focus and so make a commitment that I couldn’t keep. When I spoke with him on the phone, I was clearly NOT present!. This is a call to fresh action. I apologized for my lapse and I was sincere in that apology but what was also necessary was an immediate change in how I handle planning for meetings after such phone conversations. The only proper response is an accountable one which means one followed by demonstrable and reliable change. There is no excuse. He came out of his way and I wasted his time, and his time is no less important than mine.

This is the meaning of this day. To recalibrate our inner resources so that we are fully vigilant. To practice real, not theoretical zen, in being alive to the compelling NOW, and embrace the real and emergent over the anticipated and imagined.

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

– Matthew 25:1-13, King James Version

Final questions: Why ten virgins? Why not two, or four, or six ( three wise and three foolish)? The Bible in fact makes much of the number “10.” It recurs often. For example: the 10 plagues visited upon Egypt, Abraham’s 10 trials, completion of the Lord’s Prayer in 10 clauses, Noah’s completion of the Antidiluvian Age at the 10th generation from G-d, etc. The examples are many. Many commentators refer to the Biblical reference to “10” as symbolic of the perfect Divine Order.

The number ten completes a decade cycle and is a short-hand representation of all numbers. It is the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. The “10” Virgins are symbolic of the entire nation of Israel and the fundamental paradox of maintaining the sacred vigil vs losing heart, focus, and becoming lost on the narrow path of righteousness.

Why virgins and not mature women? Well, this seems more straightforward. The Bridegroom brings experience to innocence. There is more of a trembling expectation among the young and inexperienced, and a mix of intoxicating excitement and profound tension and apprehension about being all the other expects.

When one pictures the scene and recalls that time in life, it is easy to feel the rightness of the parable. To be distracted on the night of the Bridegroom’s arrival is truly a sinful condition. It suggests that the full import of this night and the transformative character of it compared to all others is unappreciated. The foolish virgins betray a lack of right and natural anticipation.

The characteristic enthusiasm of such a night would never permit even the possibility of being so blatantly ill prepared. Is the “Nation of Israel” keeping faith, eyes wide open on the truth, and seeking after true Knowledge, or is she seduced by matters of power, wealth, status, territoriality, gossip, and game-playing?

This day challenges us to answer this query personally.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Great ( Holy) Monday, March  29, 2010

Here in the Northeast, this day has been one of incessant rain and cold: a thoroughly raw and inhospitable day. While the first buds of Springtime have appeared and the forsythia are in partial bloom, it feels as if Springtime has been put on hold,  in stasis for a time. A sheet of dark clouds fills the sky.

I also discovered today that one of the large evergreen trees in our yard fell unnoticed into an adjacent one in a storm of several weeks ago. It is being supported by the other tree but can, with another windstorm, fall and destroy the fence and a shed that it now is just grazing. Other smaller evergreens also fell to earlier storms and the debris is abundant. The task of Spring cleaning will be time-consuming this year.

Inspecting the property for damage and assessing what needs priority attention was well-timed to today’s celebration of Holy Monday.

This is the day on which we recall both the life of Joseph, one whose loving heart made possible the care and nurture of a soter, and also the fruitless fig tree cursed by Jesus: a symbol of Pharisaic and official religious who are full of words but bear no fruit. This day is a time for meditation on who we are, striped of all the public and quasi-public masks. It is a day to contemplate authenticity and what it means to bring ourselves daily to the work of being found fruitful when the Bridegroom comes as Joseph surely was. We are invited by the Spirit to live joyfully and productively in the service of true compassion in the world.

We prepare today, at the opening of Holy Week, with reflection on where we are inauthentic, not truly ourselves, dishonest, uncaring and narcissistic. We are invited to inspect our inner “yard” to identify the priority debris that needs Spring cleaning.

So, the weather today is perfectly well-suited to its mystical import as I meditate upon my own shadow:

  • What fruit have I produced that radiates the Light of Christ?
  • What thoughts nourished such fruit, and what thoughts rob them of needed nutrients?
  • In examining my behavior within the last 24 hours,was I a vigilant steward of the essential teachings?
  • What distracted my vigilance?
  • How will my reflections today shape Holy Tuesday? How do I envision living tomorrow?

Troparion of the Bridegroom

Behold! The bridegroom approaches in the middle of the night,
And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching;
But unworthy he whom He shall find careless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul.
Be not overcome with sleep,
lest thou be given over to death and shut outside the kingdom.
But arise and cry:
Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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