21st Century Spirituality

Arrested by an Iris

Bearded irises erupted in our front yard, proclaiming with royal brilliance spring's arrival. Every time I start to walk past them, awe stops me. I am arrested by beauty. I pause, admire, and am grateful. What if more and more could have the same effect? What if gratitude were available virtually every moment, everywhere? What if my aperture for gratitude expanded to include washing machines, pears, sidewalks and black-capped chickadees?

I'm starting to notice how many "things" support me every day. Socks and sandwiches, cats and carburetors, ivies and eyeglasses. From the simplest convenience to superfluous joy-boosters like the iris, my entire life is sustained and defined by grace.

What if I basked in God-essence exuding from an aeonium's buttery bloom outside my window? What if even the paper towel became worthy of my adoration? What if I acknowledged my office chair for its support and the mouse for its skillful guidance of the cursor? What if I thanked my cuddling pajamas?

Buddhists talk about interdependent arising; no one thing exists in and of itself. Everything is an interdependent web of interconnected causes. Each gives and receives in ever-expanding ripples of overlapping reciprocity.

The enlightened eye sees through the nebulous border where one thing begins and another ends.

What if the division between the pear tree and me totally dissolved? What if the separation between you and me was seen for the illusion it is?

How would life change if midst genuine pain, frustration, injustice, and uncertainty, we embraced with a full heart every tidbit of grace, revered every thread of the interconnected web of all Being?

Would we able to bear such all-infusing gratitude? Can our hearts hold that much sacred joy? Let's find out.

Kwan Yin's Mudra: What Our Country Needs Now


In our garden is a statue of Kwan Yin, the feminine Buddhist embodiment of compassion and love-kindness. Her hands form a mudra, a spiritually-symbolic gesture. It is this gesture that hints at how we can have an appropriate, sustained response to what is happening in our country.

Her right hand is held up, palm facing outward, as a clear and firm boundary. To me, this is the hand of justice, resistance, of a loving "NO" to that which must be challenged.

Her left hand is at her side, palm facing out, as a welcome invitation, a "YES". This is the hand of outreach to those with whom we do not agree, yet whose humanity we affirm, and whom we seek to understand, and perhaps someday even reconcile.

Kwan Yin is able to hold these paradoxical signs because she is grounded, her feet connected to the earth. What keeps you grounded, rooted, connected with a Source larger than yourself?

Kwan Yin embodies loving-kindness. This is the essence of grounded spirituality and constructive spiritual activism. More than a warm fuzzy, this is the sacred love that is our truest identity, residing at the core of all our personal paradoxes.

Rooted in that loving-kindness, we can say both "NO" to injustice and "YES" to dialog with those with whom we disagree. We can pursue a compassionate understanding of those whose actions we must, in all good conscience, oppose.

Only with such a paradoxical practice can we hope to liberate everyone, oppressor and oppressed. And, of course, most of us are both oppressor and oppressed. We have all, in some way, intentionally or unintentionally, been part of the problem: white privilege, fossil fuels, retirement money in morally-compromised corporations, etc. Loving-kindness holds compassion for the oppressed, the oppressor, and for ourselves.

Loving-kindness ignites hopeful hearts that can hold paradoxes. By grounding in loving-kindness and holding this paradox, we might eventually fulfill the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his final Christmas sermon in 1967:

“I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we'll still love you. But be assured that we'll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’"