December 21, 2022
Influenced by my recent experience of interreligious dialogue in Asia, I remember a popular zen story I first heard as a seminarian many years ago which Jennifer O’Sullivan, a Sati Yoga, also shared in her blog.
A senior and a novice monk were traveling through the countryside when they came upon a river. The river was swollen making it very difficult to pass. Standing at the edge of the river was a lovely, young woman in elegant clothes unsure of how to get across. She asked the monks for help.
The monks had taken a vow of celibacy that prevented them from making eye contact with women, much less touching them. But after barely a pause, the senior monk picked up the woman and carried her across. The novice monk was shocked and speechless. His elder had broken his vows! As the monks continued their journey hours passed and no one spoke until the younger monk could no longer contain himself.
“How could you carry that woman across the river when we aren’t even supposed to look at women?” he blurted out in frustration. The senior monk replied, “I set that woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
Advent is the time when we pray, reflect, and examine our life in view of the following:
How am I preparing for the coming of the Lord on the last day?
How can I meaningfully celebrate Christmas – Christ’s first coming to dwell among us to show us the way to the Father?
How am I becoming familiar and responsive to God’s presence and action in my life – God’s coming in grace – in every present moment?
Both the zen story and our Gospel today offer an important lesson this Advent season: the sacrament of the present moment. Understanding God’s will and living it well each present moment can certainly prepare us to meet the Lord when He comes either in the here and now or on the last day. It is also the best way to celebrate the birth of the “Word made flesh that dwelt among us”.
Someone observed that “Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.” These “two thieves” rob us of the grace of living in the present moment. Since the past and the future are beyond our control, we realize with St. Teresa of Avila: “To love you, Lord, I have only the present moment!”. We need therefore to grow in detachment like the senior monk in our story. More importantly, we need a contemplative attitude like Mary in our Gospel today. God is present in all human experiences. To have a contemplative attitude is to recognize and respond to God’s presence and actions every moment of our life. This requires mindfulness, awareness, attentiveness, focus, and slowing down to notice our interior movements and the beauty of God’s creation around us. It means taking a “long, loving look at the real” as Mary did which led her to see the need for her cousin Elizabeth for her service and so she went quickly to visit her. It made Elizabeth notice her “child leaped in her womb” upon Mary’s greeting. It moved Mary to sing her “Magnificat”.
The best way to live a healthy, happy, and holy life this Advent and for always is to live with great love in the present moment according to God’s will. So what else are you carrying that prevents you from living well in the present moment?
How are you being invited to say “Yes” to God’s will in this Advent season?