O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
O Antiphon, December 18
The very thought of theocracy has become in our time a terrifying prospect. We are more than aware of the dangers of those who claim the authority to know God’s ways sufficiently to attempt to create a state or a world order in accord with them. The problem is not the sovereignty of God but rather our human capacity to mistake our desire for power, control, and wealth as God’s will.
Thus, although the antiphon begins by addressing the “Leader of the House of Israel,” it does so in order to issue a plea to be rescued. As we look forward to God’s coming at Christmas and at the end of time, from what is it that we beg to be rescued? It is, in fact, from the very misery we cause in our arrogant ways of appropriating God’s power to ourselves. In our demands, personally, interpersonally and globally, that others submit to our visions and designs, in the horror we inflict on others out of our own fears and selfishness, we have made a mess of things.
Most of us recall experiences we had as children when we insisted on doing things that were beyond our capacity on our own without the help of others. Sometimes our parents or teachers would say to us, in utter frustration, “Okay, go ahead and do it your way!” More often than not, in such circumstances, we experienced the negative results of arrogating to ourselves competencies we did not yet possess. From our earliest years and throughout the stages of our lives, we are forever attempting to create theocracies, but the rulers of those theocracies are the gods that we take ourselves to be. This is true for the most fundamentalistic terrorist, the omniscient and omnipotent politician, the manipulative do-gooder, or the individual caught in his or her own particular mode of addiction. In many ways, the human race and each of us personally are always repeating the experience of “doing it ourselves” and then finding ourselves in a place where we are brought low and in need of being rescued.
These final days of Christmas preparation are filled with hyper-activity and excitement. Yet, as we all know too well, the mania of these days is often followed come Christmas day itself and the days that follow with feelings of disappointment, sadness, loneliness, and depression. Attempting to create meaning on our own leaves us the subjects of what Freud called “the vicissitudes of the ego.” As individuals and as a race, we human persons fall prey to the disaster and suffering of a self-encapsulated perspective. When inevitably falling prey to the effects of mistaking our own limited capacities for the power of the true God, we shall always find ourselves crying out “Come to rescue us with your mighty power.”
To pray today’s Antiphon from our heart is to express our deep and dire need for God. As when we were children, we’ve tried to do it our way and discovered that when we are too proud to be a humble and limited servant, seeking God’s way and the help of others, we “make a meson things.” Yet, the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation is that God, as a parent, will always come to us in the midst of our mess, if we but make space by recognizing and expressing our need to be rescued.
Misunderstanding is like a potato being washed in a big bamboo basket. When I was at my temple in Japan, we put potatoes in a bamboo basket and put the basket in a small creek. The water would run through the basket just like a mill, rolling the potatoes inside until they were very clean. That was an organic machine! Misunderstandings or mistakes are just potatoes in the big ocean. So accept mistakes exactly the same way you accept pleasure and happiness. A mistake is a mistake, so handle mistakes in twelve hours without mixing them up with happiness. But also put both the mistake and you in the realm of timelessness. Sooner or later a beautiful potato comes up. This is Buddha’s compassion.
Buddha is always sharing compassion with all sentient beings. Even though we stumble, stumbling is also in the same ocean. Even if we don’t have hope for the future and think our life is a mistake, still we are wandering in Buddha’s world. Dogen says that Buddha’s door is constantly open to everybody. So why don’t we live wholeheartedly, taking care of our everyday life, listening to Buddha’s teaching, constantly trying to follow the Buddha’s way. Then maybe we can make our potato clean in a shorter time. Everyday life is very important.
Dainin Katagiri, Each Moment Is the Universe, Chapter 19