Jesus and the Buddha and a Flood

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost  |  Luke 14:25-33

“None of you can be my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions,” said Jesus. That doesn’t sound promising for any of us who have anything, or who aspire to have anything.

WaterLillies1It’s a problem of attachment. At least that’s what the Buddha and Jesus tell us. It’s only by letting go of our hold on things that things release their hold on us. It’s only by letting go of others that we find our true self, find the part of us that is part of all that is.

There is nothing new here. We know that holding onto things is at best a distraction, an attempt at self protection, like Linus holding onto his blanket. At worst, it’s us blinding ourselves, putting out our own eyes to keep from seeing the truth that all things pass, including us.

It is that last point that drives our obsession with things. Holding onto our belongings makes us think we are going nowhere, like a drowning man holding onto a rock in a river because he believes the current will drown him before it carries him to shore. In a river, that may be true. In life, there is no shore. The current is everything.

We hold onto stuff. Houses. Cars. Clothes. Money. We hold onto people as though they were things, things we own rather than people we know.WaterLillies2

This week a hurricane is tracking toward the Carolinas where I live. It is not a big hurricane, and it is not the first one we have seen here. Storms seem to love the way the Carolinas jut out into the Atlantic.

Some years ago, another storm came through eastern Carolina. It was not powerful, but it brought rain, too much rain, so much that after the storm passed we watched the flood waters rise and flow all around us. There was no stopping it. In a few hours our homes were gone. All manner of things that we had thought important were either washed away or covered with flood water. When the flood receded, the things we had tried to hold onto were left covered in reeking silt.

It was a lesson in attachment.

This week I watched my daughter walk into a new school for her first day of class in a new grade. I watched her until she was inside the building, surrounded by dozens of other students. Though I could not keep from watching her the whole way, she did not look back, and I was proud of her confidence and her strength. I love her as much as I am able to love anything or anyone, but she is not mine, not a possession. No matter how much I love her or she loves me, she remains herself, and I remain myself.

WaterLillies4Herself. Myself. Even those words are misleading, making me think that I own me. It isn’t true. I can make some choices for myself, choose how I respond to the world around me and to the thoughts and feelings within me, but I do not own myself. I did not make me, and I am part of everything that streams around me.

Anything we can hold onto can be lost. The good news is that nothing that matters can be held.

If we touch the face of someone we love, it is not the face we love but the soul within. Our faces change with time, become scarred with our injuries, wrinkled by our years, brightened by our joy. We touch either other’s faces as though to keep them from changing, but we cannot. We hold hands, hold each other’s faces, but only God can hold the soul within.

Water Lillies
Water Lillies