Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action rises by itself?
~Tao Te Ching
This week our community is coming to the end of its study of Wayne Muller’s book Sabbath. It has been interesting to hear the many insights people have had while reading this book and discussing it with others. Since this is probably my fifth reading of the book, I am so happy to have shared it. Clearly, I am still working on this sabbath thing because I find something completely new with each reading.
Which is why I find myself captivated with a reading from the Buddhist tradition…..in Holy Week, no less. This writing from the Tao comes at the end of a chapter entitled ‘Be Still and Know’. Maybe it was the ‘mud’ reference that grabbed me first given the amount of mud that has begun to appear near every walkway this week. But it was also the urging to ‘remain unmoving’ that sealed the deal for me. I also liked the idea of ‘your’ mud, ‘my’ mud because I know I certainly have a lot of it!
Mud, my mud, is all the stuff that keeps me from seeing clearly, keeps me struggling against this or that, and mostly against myself. Most often I push against this mud with every muscle in my body, lifting, hefting, pushing, prodding. Rarely, so rarely, do I have the patience to wait until the water clears itself. Now I don’t claim to know much about mud but I do remember enough from some science class to know that if mud is left alone, it will settle to the bottom and the water will clear itself. It might not become crystal clear but it will not be the consistency of darkness. This is the nature of both mud and water.
The purpose of this image in Muller’s book was to point out the wisdom of simply being present in a situation, with a person. Most of the time we need do very little in the face of struggle, grief, crisis, illness, even death. Our wisest action is often no action. To simply be present until the gifts within each person, each intention, make themselves known is most often what is called for. However, it takes a very disciplined and grounded person to choose this path.
On this Thursday of Holy Week, I am thinking about and preparing for our evening worship service in which we will read the scriptures that tell the story of Jesus’ meeting with those he called his disciples on the night before he was to go to certain death. These friends had traveled the long road to this moment in his life with him. It could have been a time of crisis, certainly of great grief and unimaginable fear. This was a time of it mud.
Instead of fighting against the mud, Jesus chose to be present, to practice patience and humility and to move little as the mud settled around them. He offered to wash the dust of the journey from his friend’s feet. He shared a sabbath meal with them. He blessed them and patiently watched them, in their extreme humanness, jockey for the best position.
What he didn’t do was push or panic or try preach a sermon they would always remember. Instead he practiced the presence of God which had guided him to this pivotal moment, waited for his mud to settle, the water to clear, unmoving.
It may not seem to us like this all led to the right action. But wisdom is often illusive for those of us still trying to stir up our mud.