In mid-June I attended the annual meeting of a Dharma teachers’ group that I have been involved with for over sixteen years. Our study theme this year was titled “Faith, Science, and Awakening.” I arrived late––on the second evening––and I had missed two sessions of presentation by the Buddhist scholar William Edelglass, the incoming Director of Education at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. I did get there in time for the second evening of updates from attenders, after which we entered our 9 p.m. – 9 a.m. period of silence. Having missed dinner, I went up to the dining room to get something to eat and met a woman named Mary who was getting tea. She began telling me what I had missed in the teachings that afternoon, then remembered that we were now in silence. At that point, she lowered her voice to a whisper and said, “We each were asked to write and then read a poem to the group. You should do this.” They had been given twenty minutes, she said, and she insisted that I take just that amount of time before going to bed to write a poem. Then tomorrow, I would read it to the group. At first, I was quite reluctant. A poem? “Yes,” she said, “a poem about faith”––which had been the topic of the sessions. But . . . “Yes,” she said. “Write the poem.” And so I did. And here it is.
A Gift from Mary
Mary invites me,
Challenges me, maybe,
To write a poem about faith.
And I think of David Whyte
His poem––held, maybe
Incorrectly––in my heart. He said:
“I want to write a poem about faith––
How the moon rises even in its own darkness.”
But for me it is about karuna, compassion.
I have faith in the energy, expressed and embodied
In the words, “We can do this.”
I said this to myself when I looked out the window
One morning in early November
Snow covering everything.
That was when my body was broken––
Pelvis in three places; three ribs; a collarbone––
And the fear of falling was so near.
I heard in me the voice, the words,
“We can do this,” and I smiled.
I have faith in joy.
I heard those words and felt that joy too,
When there was the quandary, the problem
Of getting my friend BJ out of the hospital,
Home to die in her own bed, her own home.
“We can do this” entered loud and clear
Into my heart
When I was feeling sad and hopeless in a car
In the parking lot
And she, with all of her strength ebbing, sat in a bed
In a system so hard to break.
“We can do this” changed everything.
It has that power.
So does metta––“I’m glad you are here,” it says.
And mudita whispers, “You are wonderful, and so am I.”
Upekkha saved me:
“My life can take care of itself,” it said––strongly––
even as I hesitated,
on the bike path
in the night
out beyond the range of cell phone coverage.
“My life can take care of itself,” it repeated.
“Okay,” I whispered.
I believe––I trust––I have faith, and off we go.
And now I know I also have faith in
Energy applied––“it takes practice.”
I have faith in that
And again, joy.
Increasingly I have faith in tranquility
In the gathering of heart and mind
Collectedness and equipoise.
I have faith
I have faith in knowing letting-go as an adjective
As a quality inherent in all conditioned things.
I have faith in impermanence: change, dispassion and cessation.
And I know that well-being follows me
Like my shadow
And I am grateful to Mary.
I had faith, it seems,
In her invitation, her telling me,
I read this poem aloud the next morning as our teacher group began its second full day of study with William. Speaking it helped me to settle wholeheartedly into the shared heart-mind of this wonderful set of spiritual friends. And now, I will invite you, tell you, challenge you to take no longer than twenty minutes sometime today, before going to bed, to write a poem––long, short, or in-between. (Apparently my poem was among the longest, with four lines being the shortest.) Write a poem that in some way speaks about something you trust, something you are already “placing your heart upon.” Then, the following day, read it aloud to a friend or a sitting group or a pet or the mirror or a flower. Consider the possibilities. The poem might be a dance or a song or a painting or twenty minutes of silence or . . . The listeners might be the robins who have built a nest above the garbage bins and who are bringing forth their third brood of the season.