Worship Resource: Transfiguration Sunday, Year A
How marvelous! How wonderful! We gather in your presence, Holy God. We gather in this sanctuary space. We gather in our home spaces. We gather online here in Granby and around the world and in every place and every time you are there. Each cup of coffee, each snowflake, each fur baby, each floorboard, each thing shines with your light. Every smiling face, every salty tear, every broken heart, shines with your glory. Give us eyes to see, minds to perceive, and voices to praise you. Amen.
Gateless Gate 11: Land Interrogates Shrine Master
[Explanation: For over 20 years my spiritual practice has been Zen meditation. I am currently a member of Boundless Way Temple, Worcester, MA. I study koans under the instruction of David Rynick, Roshi. “Koan” comes from the ancient Chinese practice of law and simply means “case,” as in the record of a legal proceeding that points to the truth of the matter at hand. Koans are statements of proceedings usually in a monastery context, that point to truth. Another one of David’s students and I have taken up the practice of writing verses in response to some of the koans we study. My dharma name is “Setsusho.” Below is the koan. The koan translation from the original Chinese is by poet David Hinton. Rather than transliterate the character names, Hinton uses a literal translation of the Chinese characters: “Visitation-Land” a.k.a. Zhaozhou/Joshu. Confusing, but perhaps opening up more nuance of meaning. Following the koan is “Setsusho’s” response!]
Master Visitation-Land stopped at a shrine-master’s hut and called out: “Anyone there? Presence? Any Presence there?”
The shrine-master simply held up his fist.
“You can’t anchor a boat in water this shallow,” said Land. Then he left.
Later he returned to the shrine-master’s hut and again called out: “Anyone there? Presence? Any Presence there?”
Once more the shrine-master simply held up a fist.
“Ah you–you can offer up and steal away, put to death and bring to life,” said Land. Then he bowed reverently.
River pools below two boulders
Hermit swims long strokes
Against the current
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I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back I can see that my childhood was filled with stories of what I would now call “mystical experiences,” that is, encounters with God. I sat on mom’s lap as she read from my Children’s Story Bible about God’s search for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I remember illustrations of Abraham’s meeting with the three strangers under the Oaks of Mamre. I was fascinated and frightened by the mysterious angel who wrestled through the night with Jacob on the banks of the River Jabbok. Equally scary but in a different way was Moses’ encounter with God on Sinai. I remember the visions of the prophets: Isaiah’s throne; Ezekiel’s vision of wheels within wheels was something out of a Marvel comic book, and his vision of the valley of dry bones was spooky. Then there was Jesus’ vision of the Holy Spirit at his baptism. Peter, James, and John climb with Jesus to a mountaintop where Jesus is transfigured before their eyes. Paul encounters the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus. “Mystical” in the religious context has come to mean a direct experience of ultimate reality.
I don’t explicitly talk about mysticism very often because it’s famously difficult to do. God is, as the hymn says, “beyond all knowledge and all thought.” From a mystical standpoint, God is “unspeakable.” Simply saying the word “God” is already missing God. “God” is a placeholder for that which is by definition incomprehensible. Nevertheless, inadequate though it is, language is a tool we use to point toward a direct experience of–you pick your expression–God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Higher Power, the Divine, Ultimate Reality, Awakening, Buddha Nature, Allah, HaShem. The names are many.
Another reason I don’t explicitly talk about mysticism is the term carries with it all kinds of unhelpful baggage. People expect bright lights and heavenly voices and strange sensations. When these don’t manifest, they imagine either that it’s all just a bunch of hooey or that they are lacking the special whatever-it-is that one needs to have a mystical experience. Neither of these conclusions is true. It’s not a bunch of hooey. Have you ever had an “Aha” moment? Have you ever been moved to tears? These and other everyday experiences of “breakthrough” are what mystics consider “divine encounters.” And everyone has them or has the capacity to recognize them. So you are a mystic! Some breakthroughs are big and life-altering. More often they’re small and go unrecognized.
Church is a community gathered around the intention to recognize, name, and ever more deeply live out of these unspeakable mystical encounters.