Tag Archives: Thich Nhat Hanh

Loving enemies, My Lai, New Zealand

Love your enemies.
Jesus

A day after the killing of almost 50 in mosques in New Zealand by a white terrorist, fifty- one years after the massacre of almost 350 civilians in My Lai, South Vietnam, by US troops, today’s Gospel reading (Mathew 5: 43-48) ought to challenge us.

How can we live as people of peace if we do not love even our enemies, as God showers rain and love on all of us?

The perfection of God is in love – and so we can be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, merciful as God is, if we too love our enemies and do good to them.

Perhaps the best commentary on this text comes from a poem by the Vietnamese Buddhist spiritual master and advocate for his people, Thich Nhat Hanh. The poem, “Condemnation,” was written before the My Lai massacre in 1968. The full text can be found here, but here are several verses which, in my mind, reflect the call of Jesus to love even those who hate us and do us harm. They are also a call to live that love in concrete.

Listen to this:
yesterday six Vietcong came through my village.
Because of this my village was bombed — completely destroyed.
Every soul was killed.

Here in the presence of the undisturbed stars,
in the invisible presence of all the people still alive on earth,
let me raise my voice to denounce this filthy war,
this murder of brothers by brothers!
I have question: Who pushed us into this killing of one another?
Whoever is listening, be my witness!
 I cannot accept this war.
 I never could, I never shall.
 I must say this a thousand times before I am killed.
 …
Men cannot be our enemies — even men called ‘Vietcong!’
If we kill men, what brothers will we have left?
With whom shall we live then?

The final words are at the heart of the love of enemies:
If we kill our sisters and brothers, with whom shall we live?

I wonder if we citizens of the United States must ponder these words of Jesus even more seriously. Have  we exported violence – not just by the killings in Viet Nam and other places throughout the world, not just by exporting arms to dictators in the Mid East and in the Americas, but by exporting hatred of the other, the stranger, the enemy?

DSC00689

Sculpture at Coventry Cathedral

The miracle of walking the earth

The miracle is to walk the earth.
Thich Nhat Hanh

 What does today’s Gospel, John 11: 1-45, have to do with a phrase from a Vietnamese Buddhist monk?

The Vigils reading for the day, from St. Augustine’s Homilies on John, gave me a hint.

Among all the miracles performed by our Lord Jesus, the resurrection of Lazarus holds a foremost place in preaching…. If all things were made by [the Lord Jesus], what wonder is it that one [Lazarus] was raised by him, when so many are daily brought into the world by his power? It is a greater deed to create people than to raise them again from the dead. Yet he chose both to create and to raise again…

The last of Jesus’ signs in John’s Gospel is the raising of Lazarus, his beloved friend. John calls them signs, not miracles. They point to something more.

We look for miracles – but the real miracle is the miracle of the life given to us by the Creator. We can walk on the earth with the Lord – as Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden of Eden.

But sin and death come into our lives and we walk in exile.

We need not only life, but resurrection.

The raising of Lazarus is a foretaste of that resurrection.

Lazarus died a second time, but presumably he died with the hope of new life, with the realization that death is not the final word.

After Lazarus emerged from the tomb, Jesus told the people, “Untie him and let him go.”

A footnote in La Biblia Latinoamericana notes that the word “untie” was used by the early church in regard to the forgiveness of sins.

So Jesus wants Lazarus to walk the earth, knowing that his sins are forgiven, that he is called to live in the present but in the newness of life.

But Jesus also points to the fullness of life that is revealed in Him, the risen Lord, who calls us to live forever in him, starting now.

The miracle is to walk the earth, as Jesus did, and so to begin to walk with him – beyond death.

 

Washing dishes

Today, in a Facebook note, Jim Forest wrote about an encounter he had with the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

Jim was left to wash the dishes and was a bit annoyed that he was missing a great conversation.

As Jim wrote:

 Somehow Nhat Hanh picked up on my irritation. Suddenly he was standing next to me. “Jim,” he asked, “what is the best way to wash the dishes?” I knew I was facing one of those very tricky Zen questions. I tried to think what would be a good Zen answer, but all I could come up with was, “You should wash the dishes to get them clean.” “No,” said Nhat Hanh. “You should wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” I’ve been mulling over that answer ever since — more than three decades of mulling. But what he said next was instantly helpful: “You should wash each dish as if it were the baby Jesus.”

When I first read about this in the 1970s, I was deeply moved, partly because I liked to wash dishes. When I was living in New York City, this was one of the ways to get warm in a cold apartment.

But I remember the joy I had at Thanksgiving when my family went to dinner with the family of Uncle Ed and Aunt Bernie. After a big meal, I would take over washing dishes in the kitchen.

Nhat Hanh’s advice to Jim is, in one way, a call to attentiveness, to “mindfulness,” to being present to the moment. It is not far removed from Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God in a Paris Carmelite kitchen in the seventeenth century.

But it is also a reminder of the value of manual labor.

Today is the feast of Saint Benedict, the founder of Western Monasticism.

After a time in Subiaco, outside Rome, first as a hermit then as the leader of several groups of monk-hermits, Benedict moved to Monte Cassino, where he wrote his rule for monks. “Ora et labora” – Pray and Work – is at the center of his rule for monks, which is really quite practical.

In chapter 35, he writes specifically about kitchen duties:

 The brethren should serve one another. Consequently, none will be excused from kitchen service unless they are sick or engaged in some important business of the monastery, for such service increases reward and fosters love. . . . Let all the rest serve one another in love.

Serving one another in love – with our hands and our hearts – is central, not only to Benedictine monks and nuns, but to all who seek to follow God.

And so today, when I wash dishes – in cold water with very little water pressure – I will try to be attentive to what I do and remember that I should wash each dish “as if it were the baby Jesus.”