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Meetingbrook Dogen & Francis Hermitage Update
May 2003

Theme: Gently, the Final Say


Just like this.

What do we hear when we listen for truth? Who has final say?

If one were to despair their country because of disbelief in its way of life, where would they go? If one no longer recognized those who say they represent you, where turn? If one feared rather than loved the institutions pledged to serve, how continue in their shadow?

The spirituality of redemptive violence put forth by any administration conducting a global war, nominally to extract terrorism and insert democracy, is antithetical to the spirituality of redemption embodied by the person in whose name the violence is done. A spiritual bait and switch, a scam selling faux-Christian battle plans disguising apocalyptic economic control in shiny wardrobe costume of democratic principles, a play to overcome non-like-us peoples, has begun and continues.

How can we ever lose interest in life?
Spring has come again
And cherry trees bloom in the mountains

 - Ryokan (1758-1831)(dailyzen)

Spring comes to soothe tired hearts. Words and ways of arrogance, dominance, and condescending certitude exhaust dwindling remnant trust.

In birth country many once great dreams strain in vacant eyes. Calculating souls use errant ambition to conquer, grab spoils, and disregard decency. 

If we conceive of God as somehow violent, however redemptive we imagine this violence to be, we will then conceive of the road to peace as also lying in violence.

Sadly that is often the case, within Christian and secular circles alike. We too often think of God as someone who will use violence to overthrow evil and bring about justice and peace. We conceive of God as a force for redemptive violence.

What is redemptive violence? It is what happens at the end of a movie, storybook, or song, when the hero finally beats up the bully who has been terrorizing everyone.

At Sunday Evening Practice we read this section from The Holy Longing, chapter “A Spirituality of Justice and Peacemaking” subsection ‘A Nonviolent God Who Underwrites Justice and Peace.’ It was Mother’s Day. Three of us sat with soup and bread, mothers gone beyond, and wondered, male and female, what mothering is desperately called for today.

            Finally, the story reaches its climax. The bully corners the hero, who now has no choice – either fight or die. The redemption takes place. The hero, pushed beyond the limit, takes off his jacket, calmly rolls up his sleeves, and beats the bully to death…and tears come to our eyes because now, finally, justice has been done. Evil has been crushed and goodness has been vindicated.
            We hardly stop to think that what has really happened is that goodness has now been more violent than evil. We fail to notice that our good hero began as Mother Teresa but ended as Rambo and Batman. We certainly fail to see that the ending of this redemptive story is radically opposite to the story of Jesus. When he, Jesus, was finally cornered and the choice was to fight or die (“If you are the son of God, come off that cross!”) he, unlike our mythical heroes, chose the latter.
            We must be careful, particularly in trying to create justice and peace, not to confuse the Christian story of redemption with the story of redemptive violence. We must try to bring about justice and peace as Jesus did, recognizing that the God whom Jesus called “Father” beats up no one.  (- Rolheiser)

In Conversations at the Prison a recent Friday a sentence emerged from variety of phrases spoken by inmates and guests. “It is a necessary offering of life. Take away intentional hostility and arrives homage, acceptance, and humility.” Hostility and violence breed hostility and violence. What is needed is absence of hostility. What is needed is the truth of reverence, acceptance, surrender, and walking humbly on this earth.

Prisons are places to contemplate the experience of what it means to be trapped by time and circumstance. There is much to contemplate in our contemporary culture, in and out of prison, that threatens fear and rejoices violence. The freedom of people to choose their own leaders and way of life is at risk everywhere. Dictators, terrorists, and errant administrations all force their will on peoples too powerless and heedless to resist.

Leaves refresh branches hiding houses
up high hill, only new life
surrounding light green solitude    (- wfh)

This is rainy day talk.

In the Gospels, Jesus is described as powerful, more powerful in fact than anyone the crowds ever encountered. However, the word that is used to describe Jesus’ power, exousia (in Greek) does not refer to the power of muscle, speed, or even extraordinary grace or brilliance. It refers to something for which in the English language, we have no easy translation.  What is exousia? What constitutes Jesus’ real power? What ultimately brings about justice and peace?

Daniel Berrigan provides a good answer to this question. He was once asked to give a talk at a university gathering. The topic was something to the effect of “God’s Presence in Today’s World.” His talk, I suspect, surprised a number of people in his audience, both in brevity and in content.           

He simply told the audience how he, working in a hospice for the terminally ill, goes each week to spend some time sitting by the bed of a young boy who is totally incapacitated, physically and mentally. The young boy can only lie there. He cannot speak or communicate with his body nor in any other way express to those who come into his room. He lies mute, helpless, by all outward appearance cut off from any possible communication. Berrigan then described how he goes regularly to sit by this boy’s bed to try to hear what he is saying in his silence and his helplessness.

After sharing this, Berrigan added a further point: The way this young man lies in our world, silent and helpless, is the way God lies in our world. To hear what God is saying we must learn to hear what this young boy is saying. ( - Rolheiser)

What is our practice?

The practice of true reality
Is simply to sit serenely
In silent introspection.
When you have fathomed this,
You cannot be turned around
By external causes and conditions.
This empty, wide-open mind
Is subtly and correctly
 - Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091–1157)(dailyzen)


To work for justice and peace in this world is not to move from being Mother Teresa to being Rambo or Batman. The God who undergirds justice and peace beats up no one and His or Her cause is not furthered when we do.
(-- quotes excerpted from pp185-188 of The Holy Longing, The Search for a Christian Spirituality, by Ronald Rolheiser, c.1999)

It has been a stark, long, cold, and desolate time. That’s what different people in Cape Breton said about the winter. That’s what many in Maine say about this past time and the uncertain path our country is marching down.

Buds emerge. Seeds crack open. Remaining patches of snow huddle in shaded places facing north. Something is ending.

What is?


To hear what God is saying we must learn to hear what this young boy is saying.

Truth, a Zen Master said, is just like this.

Our spirituality is to listen with holy longing.


Be still!


God never overpowers. God’s power in this world is never the power of a muscle, a speed, a physical attractiveness, a brilliance, or a grace which (as the contemporary expression has it) blows you away and makes you shout: “Yes! Yes! There is a God!” The world’s power tries to work that way. God’s power though is more muted, more helpless, more shamed, and more marginalized. But it lies at a deeper level, at the ultimate base of things, and will, in the end, gently have the final say. (- Rolheiser)

What is this?

If we ask, so must we listen and long.

Mother this; mother truth.

, Sando , Cesco , Mu-ge , and all who grace Meetingbrook,



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