church time

June 27th, 2019

Growing up I spent every Sunday morning in church. The Sundays were always the same although the church moved around a bit. At times, it was on a hill near a misty ocean, stuck in the summer hell of Texas, or in a double-wide trailer parked on the barren fringe of a brand-new suburb. I’d be a good girl during the rounds of mournful hymns and mumbled creeds until we got to the sermon when I’d go numb and cold. But then, before my stiff body could be lowered into its final resting place, the pastor would stand up and face me straight on, holding his arms out like the sun shattering death at dawn, and say these mysterious and melodious words of salvation.

May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace

***

Nowadays if I write you a letter I might go on a bit about the wet spring and the cloudy summer. I might mention the lemon crop or the jasmine bloom; recount the ailments of a dog or the antics of a cat. Unless you’ve asked me to tell you something or the other, my letters won’t be about anything in particular. They won’t say anything new and they won’t get there in a hurry, because I’m not in a hurry.

The other day a fellow sent me a very nice message by email.

Please write another book. TY

I can’t say I haven’t given it thought, but I haven’t given it much more than a thought. I replied to him asking which book he’d read that impressed him so. It does make me wonder. He said he’d read all of them and one of them five times. That’s easily four more times than I’ve read any of them. But even that kind of appreciation doesn’t budge me off my butt. It occurs to me now that I’m living on church time, and I feel like I could sit here forever.

***

A good friend sent me this link to an essay that sums up the sad state of our cultural creed, so to speak, the sick addiction of being “crazy busy.” I’ve read a few articles like that, and no doubt have scrawled a desperate message across these pages more than once: slow down! There are various “slow” movements afoot, but we have to be careful that we don’t turn “slow” into a pious virtue, a weapon or a magic wand. It’s deeper than a desire to have a better life, a less anxious mind, a healthier gut or a smarter kid. It’s spiritual.

On Tuesday I tried to put gas in my car. Rounding the corner to the filling station, I saw two or three cars lined up waiting, which in my town constitutes a jam. The front of one pump was opened to its insides. I couldn’t tell what was going on but I repeated my mantra of the moment, “another day” and drove home. I had the time and enough gas to make it.

Yesterday I went back to the station and the same thing was going on but there was only one car in front of me at the pump so I stuck it out. A really old fellow got out of his Honda and looked around like he was confused. Honestly, I wanted to go up and mercifully pump the gas for him. But he gradually shuffled over to the little convenience store and I thought oh my god he’s paying in advance with cash. And that took an eternity and when he came out he stopped and fussed with his money, trying to get the bills back in his wallet before doing anything else, which is what any reasonable person would do, but his hands shook and the money wouldn’t go in and I was boiling. You know then that he struggled with the gas cap, and then he pondered the front of the pump for who-knows-how-long and then I started to calculate how much gas he was going to put in, god forbid, and when it shut off pretty quick I figured that’s about what twenty dollars will buy you. But then I realized oh shit he’s going to have to get that gas cap back on and just like that it wouldn’t go and it wouldn’t go and it wouldn’t go. Eventually he got it on so that the little door to the compartment would shut and he got back in the front seat and I waited. It was eons before he started the car and shifted into drive.

That’s when I realized that I was on fire because something that I expected to take three minutes had taken all of six.

Who said I wasn’t crazy? Who said I wasn’t busy? Who said I was past all that? What’s the point of all my babble if it doesn’t keep me from cussing out my ninety-year-old neighbor for being ninety?

About then I found myself back in church hearing the lovely strains of the benediction. I suddenly knew it wasn’t really about God looking down and smiling at me, but me, looking up and smiling at God driving off in the Honda, with twenty dollars in his tank.

Photo by Josh Applegate

16 Comments »

  1. I love you, Maezen. Thank you.

    Comment by Amy — June 27, 2019 @ 10:27 am

  2. Hi Maezen,

    Thank you for your great post.

    Isn’t so nice to be human. lol. I was once told if you want to know how spiritual you are, spend a week with your family. I got it!

    Warm regards,
    Jimmy

    Comment by Jimmy Fox — June 27, 2019 @ 10:31 am

  3. So timely. Really. I just stepped away from a couple friends … explaining how impatient I am today. I do this every day, all of this nonsense, but today it is rubbing me all wrong. Not sure if I need church (as you call it) or a nap. Luckily, it’s the 59th Street Bridge Song that stepped in with the soundtrack for the day … and it’s like both at the same time. Feelin’ groovy.

    Comment by Bonnie Rae — June 27, 2019 @ 10:52 am

  4. Perfect. Because imperfect. Patience. Because impatience. Love you, Maezen.

    Comment by Connie — June 27, 2019 @ 11:55 am

  5. Those last two sentences…truth!🙌🏽

    Comment by Jane — June 27, 2019 @ 1:22 pm

  6. More (or less) raised as a Lutheran, and with my only smattering of church-going now being Episcopalian, those achingly beautiful and familiar words always bring me to tears. Buddhanature or Christ, we find it in ourselves and our neighbor, including the 90 year old at the gas station.

    Comment by Laura — June 27, 2019 @ 4:25 pm

  7. If I may, i would love to see a book from you about the state of our country and our role within it, and how Zen practice comes into play. You have something to say. You’ve been one of the only Buddhist teachers, that I’ve read or listened to, to speak up about the insanity and cruelty. This was a week I hoped you’d speak up again. I’ve listened to two dharma talks by others and nothing about the children in our (lack of) care. Similar to churches all over the country – nothing – when really, in my opinion, now is the time they must speak up. Though I understand the priority of our personal practice as base from which to act (and mine is sorely lacking), I would love for you and others to at least associate that with with what you see in our world, or mention the “for what” – for ourselves alone? Not for infants whose young mothers in our camps do not have enough water to breast feed?

    Comment by Eleanor — June 28, 2019 @ 2:10 am

  8. He is my future. I’m afraid.

    All the cussing, impatience and judgement I’ve given is looming out there like a tsunami to wash over me by the next youngsters because it’s what I’ve taught them to do.
    Why was it (and is still) too hard to just be the grace and peace?
    It would feel better to know that is what is yet to come.

    (P.S. As an afterthought, maybe this,of which you write, is why the act of pumping gas is becoming obsolete)

    Comment by MJ — June 28, 2019 @ 2:17 am

  9. Can I just say, I’m joining you in that pew. Head bowed. Grateful for your company. Thank you for this one.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — June 28, 2019 @ 2:53 am

  10. Very nice. Thank you, Karen. Reminds me of a poem I heard Marie Howe read once, navigating a supermarket.

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/01/14/the-star-market

    I hope all is well.
    Bobby

    Comment by Bobby — June 28, 2019 @ 9:26 am

  11. You must be my doppelgänger or soul twin. What is this unholy fury that burns me so? Momma Zen is my Eat, Pray, Love map for stressed out moms. In my case for an overwhelmed special needs mom who wanted to be an artist AND a mom. Your book is so right on and compassion rich. I’m encouraged to allow my ego a seat at the table but not my rice.

    Comment by Maryrose Smyth — June 28, 2019 @ 3:34 pm

  12. Wonderful. May we all, one by one, come to this moment of grace.

    Comment by Jo Ann — June 28, 2019 @ 8:01 pm

  13. I agonized each second of the long hours spent pumping gas. I was actually in a hurry myself but I saw you could use a refresher. God

    Comment by Bill — June 29, 2019 @ 8:43 am

  14. Thank you, dear Maezen.

    As I meet my Dad in his new form, aged 91, changing rapidly before my eyes each time I set them on him, and witness my sister losing patience with him, I notice how easy it is to be influenced by the anger and frustration of others.

    Anger and frustration rubs off on us, and vice versa. But thankfully, so do kindness, compassion and love.

    Love and deepest bows,
    Andō

    Comment by Andō — June 30, 2019 @ 6:37 am

  15. Dear Maezen,
    It has been my practice to spend time most mornings reading a random page or or two from Paradise in Plain Sight. Although I have read the book through many times, it continues to be a profound source of inspiration and wisdom…The book I would want if stranded on a desert island. The words bring comfort and encourage presence and at times reveal truths about myself I have never told. It is a treasure of insight and hope.

    Thank you for your teaching. Namaste
    Rosemary

    Comment by Rosemary Nelson — July 2, 2019 @ 4:05 am

  16. Yes, we are all stuck at the gas pump, in so many ways, and we meet many versions of the old man everyday. When we venture out of our retirement community from time to time, we are met with swarms of cars and drivers, mostly in a hurry to get somewhere or get back from somewhere. They all seem in such a hurry to get where we are, now able to go slow. Places to go and to leave are everywhere, as well the pavement to get there. How could anyone love this, love them, the fast moving ones. Your love for the “Old Man” is touching, challenging us to love Him as well as the lady in the SUV towering above us as she weaves in her lane, as if a drunken driver, but, alas, looking over, we see she is only positioning her phone, connecting with her world, at our expense.

    Comment by Larry Misiak — July 2, 2019 @ 7:17 am

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