Beginning Again...and Again
This Wednesday we will take up another Jesus koan, "True Greatness, Like a Child"
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
There is an old koan that goes, "If you turn things around, you are like the Buddha." You could also say, "If you turn things around, you are like Jesus." Jesus was always turning things around when he taught. Take the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the peacemakers, the poor, those who grieve, etc.... We might protest Jesus' view asking ourselves where is the blessing in poverty, or grief. This seems upside down, not correct, 180 degrees different from what we'd expect. And in his "True Greatness, Like a Child" koan he does it again.
When we think of spiritual maturity, as we look to others for spiritual greatness, we imagine someone who "knows" something, who possesses some secret knowledge of how this all comes together. This is certainly what the disciples had in mind when asking about greatness. How do we discern spiritual greatness? They must have been thinking -- the one with special powers, the one able to heal, or the one who knows the right way to pray, perhaps the mind readers, the telepaths. And we will often look at it this way. Those of us with spiritual inclinations are on the lookout for those who can teach us something. Good enough, but let's watch Jesus turn things upside down. He shows them a child saying,
...unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Ka---boom! Everything you thought is in question. For adults mastery is often seen as an additive process. The more we learn, the more information we have, the more we are able to accomplish the more masterful we are seen to be. And, to be sure, this is important. You wouldn't want your brain surgeon to operate if this was her or his first operation, your airline pilot to fly with only 5 hours of training. This mastery of information is helpful in many arenas. However, as we consider spirituality,Jesus, like spiritual teachers before and since, turns our ideas concerning spiritual attainment around. To turn things around means to move from the mastery of knowing into the realm of not knowing. It is to move from certainty into uncertainty, from the expected into surprise. All told we move from mastery into trust. One of the most influential Buddhist texts of the 20th Century is Shunryu Suzuiki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Often quoted from this book is the simple phrase,
"In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”
This one statement captures the essence of Jesus' Little Child koan. For the child everything is new, filled with wonder and possibility. There is a trust of experience, of life's unfolding. As we grow in trust of things unseen, unknown and surprising we become like little children embracing life as it comes to us. It is just here that we find the freedom of life which Jesus called the 'Kingdom of God." I look forward to seeing everyone this Wednesday. Best, David