Interlude: A Scottish Blessing, performed by Mystic Harmony, on the Kindle a Flame album

Sometimes, meditation can feel really good.  It’s an escape from noise and to-do lists and news and whatever problem-du-jour.  I can focus on my mantra and my breathing, and the rest of the world just fades away.   But as mentally and spiritually healing as that escape may be, as I’ve continued my practice, I’ve learned that meditation can be so much more.

Allow me to share a personal story.

On August 12, a girlfriend and I flew up to Seattle for three days of sight-seeing:  the Chihuly Glass & Garden, the Space Needle, an underground tour, the Infinity Mirrors exhibit, Pike’s Market, the Japanese garden, an Evensong church service, and a sea day out in the San Juan Islands.  History, art, nature, shopping, music– it was going to be great.  And it was.  And yet…

We arrived at our hotel early, and needed to make sure we had our tour tickets and vouchers before checking our bags at the front desk.  As we sorted through our bags,  the television was reporting the news out of Charlottesville.  White supremacists marching.  A woman protesting the march intentionally killed by a car.  And then, Trump’s press conference.  Now I’ll admit, hearing our president’s voice makes me uneasy, but my friend was interested, so we listened.  I was very happy to escape the hotel, and leave that television behind.

Later that day, I attended the Evensong service at a church near the hotel, planning to walk in their outdoor labyrinth afterwards.  It wasn’t the format I expected, but more disappointing was seeing a pair of young people setting up to play their Saturday night music in the labyrinth space.  No quiet escape here.

Sunday afternoon, I had to go back to the hotel to drop off my souvenirs from Pike’s Market, before taking another bus out to the Japanese garden.  As I waited at the bus stop to go to the hotel, I overheard a young woman explaining the problems with working as an intern at Microsoft.  I watched protesters carrying signs, running to catch their bus.  (Later my friend reported there had been a big demonstration downtown, complete with police in riot gear.) Another woman with mental health problems moved around at the bus stop, talking loudly to herself — or selves.  At one point she yelled close to my ear, so I moved off, but she continued to move and rant, unavoidable.  Finally my bus came, and I could escape back to my hotel.  

I was looking forward to my next destination, the Japanese Gardens, but it wasn’t the escape I’d hoped for, either.  The Seattle Japanese Garden is a lovely, large strolling garden, with a new view every few steps, but that afternoon, every few steps held a view of another group of people in the park.  The breeze in the tall Arboretum trees surrounding the park was no match for the sounds of laughter and talking around every turn.  I finally found a secluded spot, but the light was starting to fade.  I left the park, impressed with its beautiful design, but disappointed in my hope for a serene escape.

Seattle, to me, had become a lesson: you can’t just escape from everything.

Back home a few days later, I read what people were saying and doing in response to what had happened in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Now that I was paying attention, I started thinking:

  • I am from South Carolina, and clearly recall the scandalous report at a family reunion — two men in our family were members of the KKK after Reconstruction, and had fled to Texas to escape the law.
  • I am white.  I can’t escape that, either.
  • My girlfriend’s parents were in the Japanese internment camps during WWII, and my daughter’s friendships are not confined to one race or one religion.  The white supremacists — Nazis, KKK, whoever — would not approve of me or my daughter for the company we keep.

If I can’t escape these facts, what can I do?   Although I very much admire folks who march peacefully to protest injustice, I’m uncomfortable in crowds.  Fortunately, one black writer, Courtney Ariel, wrote a wonderful article of advice for people like me: “For Our White Friends Desiring to Be Allies. ”  The first piece of advice was this:  

Listen more; talk less. You don’t have to have something to say all of the time. You don’t have to post something on social media that points to how liberal/how aware/how cool/how good you are. You are lovely, human, and amazing. You have also had the microphone for most of the time, for a very long time, and it will be good to give the microphone to someone else who is living a different experience than your own.

Listen more; talk less.

Oh.  Right.  I’ve experienced when other people — online or in person — dominate the conversation.  But then, I know I’ve been that person, too.

Which brings us right back to meditation.  Every time we meditate, yes, we can escape and rejuvenate.  We can renew our spiritual relationship with God.  But also, we can practice listening, shutting down the chatter in our minds, that at any other time or place becomes speech or writing or action.  Meditation gives us practice in that difficult skill of making space and time to stop, to hear, to listen.  And right now, it seems more important than ever, to really listen.

Thank you this morning for listening to my story.  May our meditation practice help us to listen, and incline our ears to hear. [see Jeremiah 25:4]

Delivered at La Selva Beach Community Church, August 29, 2017.