Thursday, 15 January 2015

Shock and Awe

Tumbled gemstone pebbles arp One of my Franciscan brothers in Québec, a friar named Henri, presented seminars on Christian practice to groups of Catholic seniors – of which he was one. He spoke on many topics, but his most popular lesson began with him silently passing out polished rocks purchased at the dollar store. He then read the opening verses of John 8 – the oft-quoted and roundly ignored Gospel passage wherein Jesus intervenes in the case of a convicted adulteress, subject under law to death by stoning. "He that is without sin among you," he says, "let him first cast a stone at her." From there Henri brought the teaching forward, pointing out at last that we all possess the Christ-like power of not-throwing.

Henri was a quiet-spoken man, with a gift for landing a point, and he quickly became famous across the province as « le gars qui fait le truc avec les cailloux » ("the guy who does that thing with the rocks"). His main point was that we all carry a rock through this life, and whereas throwing it is a mean and menial act, not-throwing it amounts to a kind of superpower; in a world where we have virtually no agency, we can always do this, to devastating effect. And no-one can stop us.

At the end of the seminar Henri sent everyone's stone home with them, as a reminder of their potential for violence, and their power to contradict it. (On a touching note, some attendees, aware that the Church in Québec is in financial distress, tried to give theirs back, so he could use it in another talk. Henri assured them the Church could still afford rocks, and they'd do greater service to keep it and remember why.)

Proof of Henri's impact came when he encountered former participants, often years later. Many told him they still had their rock, on their dresser, night stand, bathroom or kitchen counter, or dashboard. More than one reached into a purse or pocket and produced the very one; they'd carried it with them everywhere since that day.

I thought then, and I think still, that weaponising not-throwing is a remarkably Zen concept. And so I share it with you today. Indeed, I say we go Henri one better: let us each not-carry a proper Zen stoneless stone through this delusional world, and not-fling it with blockbusting shock and awe at the drop of a hat.

(Photo courtesy of Adrian Pingstone and Wikimedia Commons.)
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