The Tears of Another

by Rev. Leslie Boies, M.A.

September 2007

The contemporary American poet, Mary Oliver, says, “There is only one question. How to love this world?”

Rev. Leslie Boies

I have found this to be a powerful question. A question that provides both sail and ballast on my journey across whatever uncharted waters I happen to find myself on. When I don’t know what to do, it provides me with a clear intention, if not always a clear direction.

While this question of Oliver’s has had a deep effect on me ever since I first heard it, I’ve found that since walking the path of interfaith, its ripples have spread even wider and deeper. For this is a question which allows for a vast array of answers, each answer suited to the particularities of the person responding—including that person’s culture and faith tradition.

The beauty of the question, for me, is that it assumes that, whatever our response, however we choose to walk in this world, our actions will be integrated with our heart. Thus it strikes me as the question with the greatest possibility for ensuring that our world stays vibrantly alive for the benefit of all beings.

Too much to put on one question? I don’t think so. Just saying it to myself makes me feel more grounded and spacious. Noticing how spacious it makes me feel, I started imagining throwing a dinner party where I’d invite people from every religion in the world to break bread together and dialogue around this question. “How do you choose to love the world?”  “And how do you choose to love the world?”

I envision the inquiry creating a container for lively, deep, interfaith discussion. At the end of the night, we would probably not go home having solved world peace, but we would go home having made new friends.

So how would I answer this question? I could probably answer it a few dozen different ways myself—for as Walt Whitman said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” But if I had to choose just one answer, I would probably say, “By taking care of things,” for this is what I was taught and what I practice as a Zen Buddhist, the particular faith tradition which is my root stock.

To tell you a bit more about what I mean by my response—While living at Zen Center I often heard, “Our way is the way of taking care of things.” Initially, I thought that this “taking care of things” could be rather rigid at times. There seemed to be so many prescribed ways of doing things!  Perhaps the most “extreme” of these is eating in the zendo with oriyoki—the set of eating bowls and utensils that nest neatly within each other and are wrapped in cloth. Eating a meal with oriyoki involves close to a hundred different discrete movements, each to be done in a specific sequence. My God! That’s more table etiquette than even my mother requires!

The first time I used oryoki was during a seven-day sesshin. And it was a disaster. No doubt I had the messiest oryoki set in the whole zendo that first meal—maybe even the first six meals. Rumpled napkin. Spoon clattering loudly to the zendo floor. But by the third day, I was in love with the practice. I saw that the “rules” were not rules at all, but rather a trellis which lovingly guided the tangled thoughts of my mind back to center. The instant my mind wandered off, it would become glaringly apparent just by looking at how I was eating, and I could bring myself back to the present moment.

By the end of the seven days, I was wrapping my set of bowls in their napkin as if I were swaddling baby Buddha himself. With more practice, I found this level of care and devotion spilling over to other activities—how I prepared a meal for the community, how I hoed potatoes in the field, how I tracked inventory in the book store.

This level of attention is, of course, the whole point. We love the world by taking care of it, wherever we may find ourselves.

I’d like to close by recounting an incident that Sue Monk Kidd describes in her book, Communion, Community, and Commonweal, an incident which I find striking in its simplicity and depth of compassion:

“Once when I was going through a difficult time, I began crying. My husband touched his finger to the tears winding down my face, then touched his wet finger to his own cheek. His gesture spoke volumes to me. It said, ‘Your tears run down my face, too. Your suffering aches inside my heart as well.’ ”

As interfaith ministers and practitioners, may we celebrate and cry and care for the world with others. May we wet our own faces with the tears of another—whether they be Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Moslem, or no faith at all.

Our world desperately needs this kind of love. As Wayne Teasdale says in The Mystic Heart, we do not need to be of one mind—but let us be of one heart.