We are being invited into a place where we move from an idea to an experience. The practice of covenant is paying attention—to ourselves, to each other and to the world. In our willingness to just be present, things happen. Our hearts can be touched in ways we can’t even anticipate. And the wonder is, it comes to us however we name or do not name that mysterious unity. It comes because we are willing to be present to what is.
This encounter may happen in a worship service. It might come to us when we’re teaching a class in religious education. It might come to us when we’re working at the food pantry or taking a sandwich down to someone who is hungry. It might come to us as we’re walking along the beach on an autumn day with a friend. It might come to us as we look at a freshly fallen leaf on the ground.
Pure presence. Just this. Just this.
However it happens, we find in that moment that the boundaries between our individual lives and the life of the world begin to dissolve. Small insight. Great one. We have many experiences over many years—smaller and larger insights, all coalescing over time into wisdom. What we discover is some great dynamic, like electricity leaping between us-as-individuals and us-as-part-of-something-larger. Not an idea—an experience, a body knowing, something that grows deeper over the years.
And, I suggest, finding this insight is worth a great deal. It brings a certain peace, knowing that even as we are a part, we are also the whole. This knowing can inform how we encounter each other and the world. It is the source of our ethics, our intuition that we need to work for each other and for this planet.
It’s that important. So, rather than just knowing that life teaches us and then waiting for that teaching to come, some of us take the bull by the horns and adopt a deliberate discipline of connection. We take on the disciplines of spirituality found in our way of covenant, in our covenant of presence, to push the river just a little.
Actually, some of us wade in the shallows, some of us swim out, and some of us throw ourselves into the depths. Each moment a practice of presence.
Whether and how you take this on as your practice—wading, swimming, or diving—is your choice. We have no compulsion on our way. Although, I need to point out, the clock ticks. And this work is the great work of being human.
James is also one of two Unitarian Universalist ministers to also be ordained a Soto Zen Buddhist priest. He is a guiding teacher with Boundless Way Zen and the resident priest and teacher at the Blue Cliff Zen Sangha, which meets at the UU Church of Long Beach, and which is scheduled to start a second group at the Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church in Costa Mesa this coming Spring.
James has written or contributed to a number of UU pamphlets, was for a long time an online columnist for the UU World and is the author or editor of five books. His most recent book is Field Notes from a Zen Life. His next book, the Language of Dragons, an introduction to Zen meditation is scheduled for September, 2018.