Don’t light a lamp—there’s no oil in the house.
It’s a shame to want a light.
I have a way to bless poverty:
Just feel your way along the wall.
Blessed are the poor, for their's is the realm of God" Jesus
A few years ago, I took lessons in West African Drumming, learning songs from Ghana and other countries in the region. Learning these songs I was instructed in a rhythymic part which, when mixed with the other parts, would create polyrhythmic cross rhythms that together laid down the overall beat for the song (or something like that). Sometimes there would be words to the songs, other times not. The parts themselves had to be played very precisely so that all the parts would fit together as intended. With the improvised solos, it was another story.
With the solo there was no roadmap through the territory of the song. With the solo you were on your own to improvise as you are able within the structure laid down by the parts. With no pr0scribed part, the soloist is "in the dark" as to where to venture next. She feels her way through the piece.
This koan is like this. We move through our lives, adopt routines, get acquainted with folkways, mores and practices of our culture. We take on a world-view and fashion a self-image that fits well within our world-view. In other words, we play our part. That is, until we are called out to solo, to risk leaving the comforts of our neatly constructed life, to respond to life as it is, calling us. This is to leave home, or to follow the metaphor in the koan, to go dark - to forget what it is we know about life in the lamp's bright light and to feel our way our way along the wall, not-knowing where life will lead. This is scary. We go dark as illness comes, grief descends, and as our disappointments plague us. Or simply, sometimes, it just goes dark, the old ways no longer adequate for the twists and turns encountered along life's way. Here, sometimes, we lose hope. But, the koan suggests something else.
I have a way to bless poverty.
The poverty that is our life's experience need not defeat us. The koan suggests blessing. Sort of like Jesus' "blessed are the poor, for their's is the kingdom of heaven." There is a blessed way -- just feel your way along the wall.The dark has a texture its own, a support that leads us into life, into the next moment. This blessed way calls us forth, to feel our way as we experience life as it comes to us. Feeling our way along feels like a naked trust. as it can only be undertaken "in the dark," from a place of not-knowing. Our trust is naked as we trust the uncertain and unknown, noticing and receiving the offering that the darkness brings.