Call to Worship
If you have made mistakes, we welcome you here today.
If you have hurt someone, we welcome you.
If you have profited unfairly, we welcome you.
If you have envied your neighbor, we welcome you.
If you struggle with your conscience, we welcome you.
If you feel broken, we welcome you.
If you are lost, we welcome you.
If you yearn for a home, we welcome you.
Ours is a faith of universal love. You are welcome here.
We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips that we lay on ourselves, the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds – never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.
— From “Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living” by Pema Chodron
We’re going to begin with a bit of audience participation. Please take a relaxed or a meditative position. Scan your body for any areas of tension and relax them. Clear your mind of your worries, your distractions. Bring your whole self into this sanctuary with you, and focus on the three words I’m about to say. I’d like you to take them in with an open, clear mind and notice how your mind and your emotions react to them. We’ll remain silent after I say those three words so you have time to reflect, and then I’ll ring the bell.
The three words I want you to hear are: You…are…perfect.
[Pause, followed by bell, followed by people sharing their reactions]
I’m going to return to these reactions, but first I’ll explain why I’ve decided to call you perfect. Many of you know that I have a long and eclectic history in Buddhism. I’ve read about Buddhism for more than 50 years and practiced more actively over the last 30 or so. It wasn’t until about five months ago, though, that I found a Buddhist tradition that feels like a great fit for me. It’s a Tibetan branch of Buddhism known as Dzogchen, as I understand it from my teacher, Lama Surya Das.
The word Dzogchen (spelled with a silent “D”) means “great perfection,” and the focus is that we are all perfect Buddhas. All we need to do is to let go of our struggles and accept the Buddha within.
But as we saw earlier, “perfect” and “perfection” are powerful words. They are all-or-nothing. You can’t be a little bit perfect, despite what the Founding Fathers said about a “more perfect union.” I think the words scare us in part because they remind us of our second-grade teacher. “Herbert turned in a perfect answer sheet.” We knew we couldn’t be Herbert. At least not all the time.
Or maybe it has to do with the concept of original sin, which dominates our Western culture.
And if I’m perfect already, what happens to my need to improve? I know I can make myself better than I am.
So, without any qualifications whatsoever as a Dzogchen Buddhist teacher, let me tell you how I see it. First, within us is a pure inner core, our Buddha Nature. That’s our ultimate perfection. You can think of it as a perfect mirror or crystal that gets smudged by the genes we inherit and the environment we develop in – in other words, our karma.
At every moment in time, there’s an ultimate perfection within us and a warts-and-all perfection on the outside, the product of the life we have lived and the influences of the world. We could not be other, and so we are perfect. But – and here’s an important “but” – at every moment in time we also have free will and can choose how to spend that moment. We can choose whether or not to be life-affirming in the next moment.
We are perfect, with room for improvement.
If we want to reach that perfect inner core, though, we have to start by accepting our warts-and-all perfection. The more time we spend rejecting who we are, the further we get from the Buddha within. The more time we spend accepting who we are, the closer we get to staying in what you might call the Buddha zone forever.
One question that usually comes up in discussing Dzogchen is, “What about Hitler? Or Pol Pot? Were they perfect?” I’d answer that with a question of my own: “What if they knew they were perfect and had nothing to prove? Would the world be a better place?”
Becoming a citizen of the blogosphere has introduced me to many interesting, thoughtful people, and some extraordinary ones. Catherine Richardson is a 24-year-old living in British Columbia with a great sense of humor and a loyal support system of family and friends. She was a science student and dance teacher until a rare chronic illness turned her life upside down. She suffers from a severe case of gastroparesis, one of those orphan diseases that are little understood.
People with gastroparesis look like anyone else we might see on the street except that they’re likely to be extremely thin. That’s because the muscles in their digestive tracts don’t work right, and what they consume by mouth may not make it through to provide nourishment. In Catherine’s case, she can consume nothing by mouth – even water.
So she is kept alive by TPN (total parenteral nutrition), liquid delivered through a tube in her chest that bypasses the digestive system. She writes a blog she calls Finding My Miracle, and she has given me permission to use her recent post, The Law of Long Weekends, in this sermon. Jenna will read it.
I’m going to tell you a story about my wild Friday night. It’s a long story and brevity is not a strength of mine but I’m going to do my best to keep it to the point. This might be a challenge, though, because to be honest, at this exact moment in time I’m not 100% sure what the point of this post is going to be, but perhaps I’ll figure it out along the way.
Let’s start with a little background. I don’t consider myself a superstitious person. I do, however, believe in what I call The Law of Long Weekends. I believe in it so much, apparently, that I felt capital letters were necessary. The Law of Long Weekends states that medical malfunctions arise right before or during a long weekend, when you can’t get hold of the people who would usually be able to help, and it will be an extra day or two before you can.
I’m sure you can all recall a time when something went wrong on a long weekend, a time when you said, “Ugh what terrible timing! Of course this is happening now.” But me? I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened and it’s at the point now that when something goes wrong in and around a long weekend I’m not even surprised.
Okay, so my story starts at 3:45 yesterday afternoon when I felt something dripping down my chest. TPN. Friday afternoon leading into a long weekend? Check. I made several phone calls, but I’d been around the block before so I knew that anyone who could help me stopped answering the phone at 3:30. My TPN nurse, my doctor’s office, interventional radiology and ambulatory care at the local hospital.
Uhhh, now what?
I stopped my infusion, clamped the line, and got a ride down to Eagle Ridge Hospital, conveniently located less than 5 minutes from my house. Because I had been to their ER before with the same problem (last summer on the August long weekend, wouldn’t you know), I wasn’t confident that they would be able to help, but it was worth a try. I can barely manage one night without TPN, let alone three, so at the very least I needed someone to place a peripheral IV so I could run saline for a few days. Not ideal, but better than nothing.
After checking in at the ER and being triaged, I found myself sitting in the waiting room for a while getting a lot of strange looks from people who were probably wondering why I had scissors (actually a Kelly clamp) coming out of my chest. Scissors in Chest Girl. My superhero name.
Unfortunately, none of the nurses there felt comfortable fixing my line, and the one who could’ve had gone home, as had the PICC line nurses at Royal Columbian Hospital. 3:30 is apparently the magical going home time for everyone central line savvy. The doctor I saw said he would try, but he wasn’t entirely convinced it was actually leaking so he sent me home and told me if it was leaking again later then just to come back. I tried to protest but he wouldn’t budge.
Aye yai yai. Called my mom to pick me up. Went home. Started my TPN. And lo and behold it starts dripping all over the place. Who could have predicted that?
Back to the ER, this time hauling along my huge TPN backpack with my infusion running and TPN leaking all over. More strange looks from people as I sat there in the ER with an ever-growing wet patch on my shirt and smelling like TPN. Yuck. Forget Scissors in Chest Girl. Now I was Lactating Lady. My other superhero name…so basically I’m like a transformer or something.
It was pretty much the same scenario with a different doctor, except this one seemed to just get it more. He managed to get hold of an IV therapy nurse at Royal Columbian who was still there doing outpatient antibiotics and said he would fix my line. And so I called my mom to come get me, again, and we headed over to RCH where my line was thankfully repaired. Phew!
As an added bonus, by the time we got to RCH it was after 8:30pm and you only have to pay for street parking until 8:00, which means that I managed three ER visits in one day without paying to park! A win for Scissors in Chest Girl and Lactating Lady.
And that, my friends, is my story. Now for the point…hmm…
Well for one, I now have more evidence in support of the Law of Long Weekends and so I’m sure my Nobel Prize in medicine is on its way. And two, next time I’m bummed out about my boring Friday nights at home I’m going to recall this story and remember that home is better than the hospital.
Driving home last night I said to my mom that this doesn’t even seem strange to me anymore. I forget that going to the ER on a Friday night to fix a central line so that you can eat for the next three days is not a ‘normal life’ thing. She shared that sentiment, and then said that she wished this wasn’t ‘normal life’ for me.
Here is what I told her: this is just life with a central line, and life with a central line is better than no life at all.
There are a lot of things about my life that I didn’t and wouldn’t choose for myself. I didn’t choose my DNA. I didn’t choose illness and disability. I didn’t choose a life in which I don’t get to call the shots myself, a life that depends on the involvement of doctors and nurses. But I do choose Friday nights in the ER. I do choose to be Scissors in Chest Girl. I do choose to go to those doctors and nurses for help.
I choose these things because life with a central line is better than no life at all.
And I choose life.
Huh, I guess this story had a point after all.
I doubt that anyone will disagree with me when I say that Catherine Richardson, when she wrote those words on Canada’s Victoria Day weekend last week, was perfect.
Sure, she wished she could taste food and water again. Sure, she wished she didn’t depend on a contraption hooked up to a hole in her chest. Sure, she wished she could spend a lot less time in hospitals and doctors offices. Sure, she wished she could share dinners out with friends without anyone feeling awkward. Sure, she wished she could resume her active lifestyle. But at least for that moment last weekend, when she thought about what her mother had said, she accepted herself as she was. She was, and is, perfect.
Catherine is no Pollyanna. She has written other posts intended to give readers an understanding of her suffering. And she was perfect then, too. I’m sure that she has had moments of envy, of resentment, of anger. Each moment she has lived was the best she could make it. It was perfect. And she chose last weekend to express to her mother her self-acceptance. She is neither a Buddhist nor a Unitarian Universalist, but I’d say that recognizing her own perfection got her closer to what I’d call the Buddha within – or a state of grace.
Here’s the thing.
None of us can escape the limitations placed on us by our genes, our environment, our own actions, the actions of others, our karma. While I don’t believe in original sin, I do believe in a sort of original brokenness.
- We are all broken.
- We are all lost.
- We have all made mistakes.
- We have all profited unfairly.
- We have all envied others.
- We have all struggled with our conscience.
- We all yearn for a home.
- In other words, we are all perfect.
Please rise for hymn number 205, Amazing Grace.
My friends, I sincerely believe that we already have everything we need for spiritual wholeness. May we let go of our struggles and find it.
— Mel Pine (Urgyen Jigme)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine