Sunday, January 29, 2017

Going in Circles

Circular Labyrinth, near chapel, University of Maryland campus


Sometimes going in circles is a good thing. Maybe it just feels deja vu, really makes a spiral, or trues like Rilke’s path around a magnetic center:
I live my life in growing orbits
which move out over the things of the world.
Perhaps I can never achieve the last,
but that will be my attempt.

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.”

Translation by Robert Bly, Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, pp. 12-13
Take this week’s Good Stories class for example. We moved about the “Buried Treasure.” Wilson Hudson prefaces his account of the tale by saying he heard it told by a blind shepherd in western Jalisco, Mexico. Imagine a blind shepherd on the hillsides along the Pacific! Tending lambs beyond the edges of sight, trusting hidden knowledge. Maybe a deeper knowing is the only guide to the center.
Perhaps shaping, perfecting, takes many circles around a centering image, like a potter’s wheel. “Do you love me?” was asked Peter three times, moving the meaning deeper: “Shepherd my sheep” (Berean Study Bible, Jn 21: 15-17). The often memorized Psalm reminds us over and over, The Lord is my shepherd.
The “Buried Treasure” itself isn’t explicitly about herding sheep, but it is about hidden knowledge. One of the central characters is seen as a lazy man, and yet he’s the one able to stop the runaway horse that’s mounted by a spirit figure. We should realize presuming labels, like “lazy,” sometimes mirrors a different blindness. If our career circles God, the world’s labels have to be let go because status, possession, being liked, and all other desires of material existence mar the inner vision.
When the protagonist manifests true character in catching the horse, the spirit figure names a gift. It’s a double naming: 1) The person’s unique identity has been enacted and witnessed; in this case, destiny manifests by going in search of the spring (a “water of life” motif), next being met by the runaway horse (meeting with spirit), and then taking the risk of grabbing the horse’s bit to restore peace. 2) The spirit figure tells that this act, this manifestation of destiny, allows the gift to be revealed. In the story, the gift is called the “tatema” and that’s explained as a treasure than “can be found only by supernatural aid and that can be taken out of hiding only by the person to whom it is revealed” (p. 129, Wilson Hudson, Healer of Los Olmos). 
The rest of the story then illustrates the tatema as the person who lives by faith (“to whom God wishes to give, God gives, even if God has to push it in through the window”) receives the bounty, and the one who lives by the material vision sees only smelly mud, until gaining a final insight.
Of course, I'd rather identify only with the hero catching the runaway horse, but more frequently it's the small insight that waits daily at the edge of vision. That final spark of apprehension might be all we get. But let’s not dismiss the bit of insight. If it’s enough to turn our attention toward that magnetic center, then an imprisoning hypnotic spell might be broken. What a gift! 
Perhaps every spiritual tradition already offers the blessing, and it awaits a person’s capacity to gain sight of it. The psalmist promised it: still waters, restoration of soul, presence, home. Jesus says we’re given talents, to use or to bury. From the Islamic tradition, we’re connected with “a hidden treasure.” (For example, see commentary on Ibn Arabi and the hadith qudsî: http://www.ibnarabisociety.org/articles/addas1.html .) In the Kuan Yin story that we tell in Good Stories, the bodhisattva brings the gift of embodied compassion.

The mystifying circular phenomenon comes from such promises. A person manifests his or her unique gift, the talent, the indwelling spirit; and that actualization transforms, in a way, to God, the center of life, the hidden treasure.