Tuesday, May 20, 2008

non-attachment

There was once a part of me which loved mowing the lawn. It was such a zen kind of moment. The action of cutting the grass shorter proved my existence and that my presence had made a difference in the world, yet it was short-lived: within days the grass grew back and there was no way to tell I'd been there.

The same is true for house-cleaning, only the "re-growing" is our clutter which is proof positive that we exist. Cleaning the house, de-cluttering, sweeping, dusting, laundry--it all gives a powerful sense of satisfaction when it's done. "I was here and I made a difference. I have triumphed over the forces of chaos and filth." But of course it doesn't last. The house, like the universe, gradually succumbs to entropy.

I suppose this might be depressing to some--that no real change can be made--that the grass and the clutter continue to grow despite our best efforts. I am oddly comforted by the encroaching chaos--the world continues without me, the community I live in will exist after we leave, the faith community perseveres through clergy and lay changeover, the earth remakes itself with each passing moment. What we do is not permanent, and we'd do well to remember it. Our towers and committees will all eventually fall apart yet the spirit that animated them will not.

The prophet Qoheleth wrote "Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun." Again, some read this as depressing, but it rings so truly and beautifully in my ears. Only the moment is truly available to us--the past cannot be undone and the future is only a theory--it is only the olam, the eternal now, the depth of a single moment, that is where we live.

When I took ceramics in college, our professor--a gruff, hippie sort--spent a lot of time on "non-attachment." When you make a pot, he said, you pour your heart into it. You shape it with your hands, it's messy, it's beautiful, and you love it. And then you surrender it to the processes of drying, bisque firing, glazing, and re-firing and at any point along the way it could break. Your beautiful pot containing your heart could break and be worthless. So don't get too attached. Create with your hands and heart, invest fully in the moment of creation, then let it go.

2 comments:

Joe said...

I have to say that I think I disagree. I think that love (and especially Divine love)requires all three...the wisdom of the past, the power of the present, and the promise of the future. In fact I think that it is in and through our attachments that we are formed and made holy. Now there are obviosuly many things that we hold too tightly to, and some that we need to let go all together...but there are some things and people and truths and hopes that I belive I am called to hold onto no matter what...even at the risk of the deep pain of watching them be broken...because in our tradition, we know that nothing is outside of the reconcilling, redeeming, resurrecting power of the One who has loved us in the past, in this moment, and forever. Just MHO.

BTW...congrats on your big news! Tater is lucky. ;-)

Grace and Peace,
Joe

aliceatredeemer said...

You're totally right, Joe. Perhaps I should say that the past and present are very real and important but both difficult to grasp and un-affectable. If that's a word. What I mean is, the past is over and done with and, though it still affects everything we do, we can't do anything to change it. Let it go. And the future hasn't yet happened and, since anything can happen, we might keep the present moment open to whatever comes to us. In other words, don't cling to what we think we know but be open to the new experiences and then let them go when they're done.

My theology is rooted firmly in the Creation and in the Incarnation: things and people have huge divine worth. Absolutely we must attach ourselves to people and relationships and sometimes things, but it seems like we spend so much energy worried about losing them that we neglect enjoying them and being challenged by them now.