Sunday's Gospel You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.' But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one. -Matthew 5:21-37
About This Week's Prompts for Meditation
Jesus brushes past the surface stuff (murder, adultery) to get to the tendrils of evil rooting within the heart. It isn't enough just to refrain from killing or from infidelity but to uncover the anger and lustful impulses that form into thoughts, desires, and then deeds. Purity of heart is called for.
I remember the time of my life and even the room where I read Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh. The monk's gentle wisdom came to mind while reading this week's Gospel. All three meditation prompts this week come from the same book.
When we don't know why a person behaves toward us with hostility and we merely react in confusion, a "knot" is formed in us (Meditation One). The root of anger is within ourselves and our lack of understanding (Meditation Two). But when we can see the cause and understand it, we can respond to the person causing us to be angry with compassion and detachment, understanding that person's suffering and behavior (Meditation Three).
And here's a quote with which to begin the short retreat. "I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight....I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence." -Thich Nhat Hanh
Hope you're feeling mellow, -Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Absence of Understanding
There is a term in Buddhist psychology that can be translated as “internal formations,” “fetters,” or “knots.” When we have a sensory input, depending on how we receive it, a knot may be tied in us. When someone speaks unkindly to us, if we understand the reason and do not take his or her words to heart, we will not feel irritated at all, and no knot will be tied. But if we do not understand why we were spoken to that way and we become irritated, a knot will be tied in us. The absence of clear understanding is the basis for every knot. …
Pillow-pounding may provide some relief, but it is not very long-lasting. In order to have real transformation, we have to deal with the roots of our anger - looking deeply into its causes. If we don't, the seeds of anger will grow again. If we practice mindful living, planting new, healthy, wholesome seeds, they will take care of our anger, and they may transform it without our asking them to do so.
-Thich Nhat Hanh Peace Is Every Step
Thoughts that are thought about become desires. Desires that are thought about become passions. Good thoughts become virtues. Bad thoughts become bad desires; bad passions or habits of action become sins. The passions are acted upon us when we consent, then the passions move from passive to active engagement.
...First thoughts beget second thoughts, which become intentions. Intentions constitute motivations and indicate where the heart resides. Motivation moves the will to decide and act on the thought. Decisions give voice to the choices we intend to act upon.
Attention to our thoughts reveals our intentions. Right deeds must be accompanied by the right reason, or the deed becomes wrong for us in that particular situation. Discernment is our ability to do the right deed with the right intention or motivation.
-Mary Margaret Funk Thoughts Matter: The Practice of the Spiritual Life
Through violence you may murder a murderer but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate. Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that.
-Martin Luther King Jr. 1929-1968 Source: Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community?
Cain and Abel, Lorenzo Ghiberti, 1425-52, Baptistry in Florence
Can and Abel, Lorenzo Ghiberti, 1425-52, Baptistry in Florence, detail
Meditation Two (Insight) The Roots of Anger
Anger is rooted in our lack of understanding of ourselves and of the causes, deep-seated as well as immediate, that brought about this unpleasant state of affairs. Anger is also rooted in desire, pride, agitation, and suspicion. The primary roots of our anger are in ourselves. Our environment and other people are only secondary. It is not difficult for us to accept the enormous damage brought about by a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or a flood. But when damage is caused by another person, we don't have much patience. We know that earthquakes and floods have causes, and we should see that the person who has precipitated our anger also has reasons, deep-seated and immediate, for what he has done.
-Thich Nhat Hanh Peace is Every Step
Meditation Three (Integration) Understanding
For instance, someone who speaks badly to us may have been spoken to in exactly the same way just the day before, or by his alcoholic father when he was a child. When we see and understand these kinds of causes, we can begin to be free from our anger. I am not saying that someone who viciously attacks us should not be disciplined. But what is most important is that we first take care of the seeds of negativity in ourselves. Then if someone needs to be helped or disciplined, we will do so out of compassion, not anger and retribution. If we genuinely try to understand the suffering of another person, we are more likely to act in a way that will help him overcome his suffering and confusion, and that will help all of us.
-Thich Nhat Hanh Peace is Every Step
The Last Word
Reconciliation is to understand both sides; to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side.
True love is made up of understanding.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Coming To Terms ... And Compost
If others can love me as I am, why can't I be gentle with myself? The violence of self- hatred makes the anger go in and then come out again in another form ...
A few years ago my best friend from grade school absolved me of all the hateful things I'd said or done to her over the years of our friendship as children. We'd recently found each other and later, on a long car trip, I confessed all the guilt I'd carried around with me since we were children. As I listed my painful memories of ways I remember hurting her, point by point. Jane replied with an alternate version, a memory lapse, or a comment; “Sisters always say stuff like that to each other and we were like sisters!” and, “From a childhood development point of view, I think what happened was...”. “I don't remember it that way at all. What I remember is...” Because of this experience I can imagine pure redemption. I'm forgiven and loved, just as I was, just as I am.
My mistakes are part of me, not only because I still cringe over the ways I've hurt people, but because I tend to learn from my guilt. (I say I tend to learn, because I try and don't always succeed.) So I love Thich Nhat Hanh's metaphor of the compost bin when he writes about anger.
It only takes a couple of weeks for a flower to decompose. When a good organic gardener looks into her compost, she can see that, and she does not feel sad or disgusted. Instead, she values the rotting material and does not discriminate against it. It takes only a few months for compost to give birth to flowers. We need the insight and non-dual vision of the organic gardener with regard to our anger. We need not be afraid of it or reject it. We know that anger can be a kind of compost, and that it is within its power to give birth to something beautiful. (Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step)
Can I really use my anger, my left-over negative energies, my faux pas, resentments, sins, mistakes, bad judgments, mix them with the refuse of whatever kindnesses I've unwittingly managed to cultivate and let them rot together in the soul's compost bin? And out of that mix, can I enrich the ground of my life's work and relationships with wisdom?
Yes! As much as I'd love to erase my misdeeds from my own memory and everyone else's, I'd prefer that energy to decompose, and, purified by internal heat, transform into something useful, and ultimately beautiful.