Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Week of April 12, 2015

During these weeks and months I passed through the hardest schooling of my life, and though the discipline was not always easy for me to accept, I gradually came to see how much I was indebted to it. It destroyed the last traces of any preoccupation with myself and the fluctuations of my mood. "Do you now understand," the Master asked me one day after a particularly good shot, " what I mean by: 'It shoots , It hits'?" 
"I’m afraid I don’t understand anything any more at all, " I answered, "even the simplest things have got in a muddle. Is it 'I' who draws the bow, or is it the bow that draws me into the state of highest tension? Do 'I' hit the goal, or does the goal hit me? Is 'It' spiritual when seen by the eyes of the body, and corporeal when seen by the eyes of the spirit--or both or neither? Bow, arrow, goal and ego, all melt into one another, so that I can no longer separate them. And even the need to separate has gone. For as soon as I take the bow and shoot, everything becomes so clear and straightforward and so ridiculously simple. . . . " 

 "Now at last ", the Master broke in, 
 "The bowstring has cut right through you. "
Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel

The ancients called it wu wei.  "Non-doing" is probably a good translation.  This isn't laziness.  Rather, it's the doing of non-doing--maybe better put: "to do by non-doing."

How do "I" do something if it's not "I" doing it?  The answer isn't as foreign to you as you may think:

The cause of good works, we confess, is not our free will, but the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who dwells in our hearts by true faith, brings such works as God has prepared for us to walk in...For as soon as the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, whom God's chosen children receive by true faith, takes possession of the heart of any, so soon does he regenerate and renew him, so that he begins to hate what before he loved, and to love what he hated before...But the Spirit of God, who bears witness to our spirit that we are the sons of God, makes us resist filthy pleasures and groan in God's presence for deliverance from this bondage of corruption, and finally triumph over sin so that it does not reign in our mortal bodies...They do these things, not by their own power, but by the power of the Lord Jesus, apart from whom they can do nothing.
The Scots Confession, Ch.XIII, "The Cause of Good Works," PCUSA Book of Confessions

In most cultures, there's a spiritual understanding that the "I" is full of trickery, deceit, misconception, and emotional baggage.  This "I" is typically seen NOT to be self-contained but, rather, as a fountain spewing into existence the world we think we know we experience.  The "I" fights for its survival, for its comfort, and for its own sense of control.  The "I" does and thinks that he/she is the doer.  The "I" holds fast at the helm of thought simply by suggesting that subtracting "I" from the equation equals instant failure.  There's great power for "I" if, as the "I" would have us believe, without "I" nothing is done.

However, that is the opposite of wu wei.  Non-doing is doing.  Non-doing absolutely is NOT doing nothing.  In the beginning of this post, I quoted a very famous book, Zen in the Art of Archery.  Herringel recounts the story of his six-year journey of learning archery, three of which passed before his master ever allowed him to shoot at a target(!).  We call it "archery."  For those who aren't concerned with how great "I" can shoot but, rather, with experiencing the sacred in the way of the bow, as the bow seems almost to use them as much or more than they use the bow; for those, it's called Kyudo.  Upon reading this book, memories of where I've both experienced and observed wu wei (henceforth, we'll call it the flow) came to mind.

Did you ever see Over the Hedge?  Hammy is a super-hyper squirrel.  Never give him caffeine!  Well, in a pinch, his friends tossed him an energy drink.  He entered the flow

The flow happens in music.  One of my heroes growing up was Stevie Ray Vaughn.  This dude lived in the flow while on stage.  Watching him, it was as though something inside of me was being drawn out in some mystical way.  Very cool.

Sometimes, whole groups seem to enter into the flow together.  I remember flipping on the TV while rocking my youngest to sleep one night late.  Boise State and Oklahoma had been performing nothing short of sorcery on the grid iron to end up with no time on the clock, Oklahoma winning by one point, and Boise State left with the impossible task of scoring a 2-pt Conversion on a team that was not having it on that particular night.  The final play of the game was astounding!  With hearts wrenched and adrenaline overload, who would have dreamed of Boise State having the wherewithal to pull off the hardly-ever-used, oldest trick in the book: the Statue of Liberty play?

What is the flow?  Is it some hypnotic state of brainwave-shifts from beta to alpha?  Is it a spiritual realm in which we enter either intentionally or by happenstance?  Does some force from the outside enter us and animate our doings?  What has any of this to do with church?

Everyone's selling something, so it's no surprise that marketeers are riding the wave of brain activity in hopes of selling those who must perform on a regular basis on an up-and-coming, science-backed secret.  Use their product to manipulate your brainwaves, then you can achieve what ancients worked their whole lives to achieve.  Sounds a bit ridiculous.  The good news, though, is that those outside the woo-woo ring are taking notice of this way, long recognized by people much more in tune with the universe than we.

Many Christians probably fear this talk of the flow and wu wei; so, we run away, flail, and grasp for the familiar.  Does any of this matter to the church?  On a fundamental level, there's no church without each person; and, within each person is precisely where the flow happens.  Thus, Jesus went straight to the person when addressing the flow (Matthew 15.18, Luke 12.22-32, Luke 17.20-21, Luke 17.33).  

As we approach Pentecost, we work our way towards what's deemed the birthday of the Church.  The flow was at work en masse as well, especially on that day of fiery tongues and rushing-water sounds (Acts 2).  Those who witnessed this party couldn't believe what the commoners were able to do.  These disciples weren't linguists, yet they spoke coherently in a variety of languages.  The whole book of Acts is an exhortation for the Church under Pagan pressures, written in hopes that Christians will believe they can do more than they currently think they can do, both individually and together, when they lose themselves and act out of somewhere besides the "I."

Jesus' mission on earth was clear: that the followers become like the master (John 14.10-12, Luke 6.40).  Jesus lived life in the flow, and he intended for his followers to do the same (John 14.4-7). The flow, as the masters tried to transmit to the world, does not only exist in times of great acts or amid intense exertions but, rather, is the way that always ways.  The flow is not a special way.  It is the actual way!  The masters of old transmitted this in a mysterious way, very much the way Jesus seemed to transmit himself to his disciples (Matthew 28.16-20, Luke 24.44-53, John 20.19-23).  

I'll end where we began--with another excerpt from Herringel's recollections of life in the way of the bow:

From then on the lessons assumed a new face. Contenting himself with a few practice shots, the Master went on to expound the " Great Doctrine " in relation to the art of archery, and to adapt it to the stage we had reached. Although he dealt in mysterious images and dark comparisons, the meagrest hints were sufficient for us to understand what it was about. He dwelt longest on the " artless art " which must be the goal of archery if it is to reach perfection. " He who can shoot with the horn of the hare and the hair of the tortoise, and can hit the centre without bow (horn) and arrow (hair), he alone is Master in the highest sense of the word--Master of the artless art. Indeed, he is the artless art itself and thus Master and No−Master in one. At this point archery, considered as the unmoved movement, the undanced dance, passes over into Zen. " 
 When I asked the Master how we could get on without him on our return to Europe, he said: 
 " Your question is already answered by the fact that I made you take a test. You have now reached a stage where teacher and pupil are no longer two persons, but one. You can separate from me any time you wish. Even if broad seas lie between us, I shall always be with you when you practise what you have learned. I need not ask you to keep up your regular practising, not to discontinue it on any pretext whatsoever, and to let no day go by without your performing the ceremony, even without bow and arrow, or at least without having breathed properly. I need not ask you because I know that you can never give up this spiritual archery. Do not ever write to me about it, but send me photographs from time to time so that I can see how you draw the bow. Then I shall know everything I need to know. 
 " I must only warn you of one thing. You have become a different person in the course of these years. For this is what the art of archery means: a profound and far−reaching contest of the archer with himself. Perhaps you have hardly noticed it yet, but you will feel it very strongly when you meet your friends and acquaintances again in your own country: things will no longer harmonize as before. You will see with other eyes and measure with other measures. It has happened to me too, and it happens to all who are touched by the spirit of this art. 
" In farewell, and yet not in farewell, the Master handed me his best bow. " When you shoot with this bow you will feel the spirit of the Master near you. Give it not into the hands of the curious! And when you have passed beyond it, do not lay it up in remembrance! Destroy it, so that nothing remains but a heap of ashes. "
Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herringel

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