Recently I watched a deeply moving South African film called “Life Above All”. It had won Best International Film at the Sydney and Canberra Film Festivals in2010 and 2011. Its focus is a 12 year old girl Chandra, a hardworking, promising young student with a bright future, but her life changes dramatically when her baby sister unexpectedly dies. Heartbroken Chandra’s mother, Lillian, in turn becomes severely ill, leaving the young girl to take care of her two smaller siblings. When the small community of which they are a part irrationally turns on her and her family, Chandra sets out to face the deeply ingrained misunderstanding and prejudices surrounding AIDS.
Despite being ostracized by the community, Chandra stands her ground and continues doing what she believes is the right thing to do. That is caring for her 2 siblings and her mother with AIDS in the midst of a community which wants her mother as far away as possible. Her only other friend is another who is ostracized by the community because of becoming a child prostitute in order to survive after the death from AIDS of her 2 parents. This further alienates Chandra from the community.
Chandra is the Jesus figure throughout this powerfully moving and evocative film. She moves and acts from a place of deep wisdom and compassion despite enormous pressures to do otherwise. Although this is only a movie, it reflects the stories of so many thrust by life’s circumstances into impossible situations and forced to respond. No external law or commandment is there to force them to act, but something much bigger and expansive, inspires their every move. It is captured in the words of the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading. “For deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts.” In this deep place within each of us is a quiet wisdom that comes from being connected to the quiet stillness which is the great I AM, Breath of Life Yah-Weh, the name not to be named.
Hardships, Crises, Sickness, Marginalization, Isolation and having to stand alone as in the case of Chandra, can force us to the place of the Heart where deep wisdom resides. There are many ways to this place of the heart. For the prophets of the Old Testament, they were drawn to the desert, the wilderness place, where God could speak to their hearts, away from the distractions of life, and at the beginning of Lent we hear from the prophet Hosea, “That is why I am going to lure you and lead you out into the wilderness and speak to your heart.” (Hos 214)
We heard in the commentaries in the election results last night of how Labor has been exiled into the wilderness, in its massive defeat at the hands of the LNP. Maybe this will be an opportunity for Labor to reconnect with its heart to rediscover its deepest core values and visions. The heart, the very core of our being, where we are one with all, where there is no separation. It is the place of no ego. The place Jesus invites us to in today’s Gospel where the grain of wheat that must die in order to yield a rich harvest, the place of no self.
For many of us it is in the quiet space, the desert space that we connect on this deeper level of heart. Throughout Lent we have tried to emphasize and invite people to a quiet place, an empty place everyday, the place where the still small voice within can be heard.
Some of us have had the good fortune of making a day of silent retreating. A day to get out of our heads, our thinking, judging, planning mind into our lives, or as Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh says “Life is available only in the present moment. If you are distracted, if your mind is not there with your body, then you miss your appointment with life.”
Recently I have had the opportunity to go into Milperra School for refugees where the principal is Adele Rice. Adele invited me to teach some interested students how to meditate. There are about 10 students; most of them are Hazaran refugees from Afghanistan. Wonderful people, but one problem for me and the task set, was the barrier of language and communication.
Most of them have never meditated or even know much about it. The first two sessions I have struggled mainly because they didn’t understand why one would want to learn to meditate.
In my last session I was fortunate to have Abdul, a community worker in the school, who was able to translate for me. Now we have had the conversation around why we meditate, a new eagerness and enthusiasm is present among them, eager to learn and know more. A lot of it has to do with them not wanting to miss their appointment with life and eager to embrace life in that alert, awake state which a practice of meditation and mindfulness can generate.
I would like to finish with a story which speaks of acting from that deep heart space which can inspire our every action.
A wood carver called Ching had just finished work on a bell frame. Everyone who saw it marveled for it seemed to be the work of the spirits. When the emperor saw it, he asked, what sort of genius is yours that you could make such a thing? The woodcarver replied: “Sire, I am only a simple workman. I am not a genius… But there is one thing. When I am going to make a bell frame I meditate for 3 days to calm my mind. When I have meditated for 3 days I think no more about rewards or recognition. When I have meditated for 5 days I no longer think of praise or blame, skillfulness or awkwardness. When I have meditated for 7 days I suddenly forget my limbs, my body: no I forget my very self. I lose consciousness of the court and my surroundings. Only my skill remains .In that state I walk into the forest and examine each tree until I find one in which I see the bell-frame in all its perfection. Then my hands go to the task. Having set myself aside, nature meets nature in the work that is performed through me. This is no doubt the reason why everyone says that the finished product is the work of the spirits.”