Many years ago, to help myself not only to understand intellectually my faith, but to embody my faith, I took a very interesting class with a woman teacher in the Bay Area, Wendy Palmer. The class was called: “Aikido as Spiritual Practice.” I learned many things about myself in that class – takes a good teacher to offer that! – and one in particular has stayed with me through the years. The point of the practice was to stay self-contained, to not be thrown off by an attack. The first time I practiced the movement, my very tiny teacher stood about 6 feet in front of me holding a very big stick above her head. (No kidding). When she quickly brought the stick straight down in front of her, I pivoted, and in doing so, I turned to face the way she was facing, my arms out around her body, and me, still on my feet!
I loved this practice, for what it taught me about myself. I learned that I needed to stay focused on my own path to stay on my feet. I learned not to look my opponent – in this case, my teacher – in the eye. That would engage her as my enemy. That would mean I would use my energy to figure out what she was going to do. Then, I would wobble, lose my balance, lose my own ground. Instead, I looked beyond her as she stood across from me; I looked beyond her, toward my vision, my path, my purpose. I kept my eyes on the path I meant to take. In doing this, I embraced her energy, I protected her with my body, I saw things from her point of view, and I stayed firmly planted on my feet. I didn’t see her, then, as enemy, but as an encounter on my path: part of the journey.
Every year at Lent I think of what I learned as I practiced Aikido. In my imagination, I engage with the Gospel story: I see Jesus, going out to teach, to heal, to feed the hungry – his sight focused, always, on Jerusalem. To me, Jerusalem is a character in the Gospel account of Jesus’ ministry. Jerusalem looms ahead- always. Jesus is firmly rooted on the path he is taking. The disciples, his companions on the journey, don’t get it. They are worried about things: “how do we feed all these people?” they ask. At every turn, they get flustered, confused.
When we start on the path – the path that is our True Self – we are like the disciples. We are engaged in a dual with the ego. We are afraid. What if I let go? What will happen to me? How can I trust? How can I do it? That inner battle holds sway over us, makes us afraid.
And when the ego holds sway over us, it holds us hostage. We are bound to it. We listen to what it tells us. We are afraid.
There is a freedom, real freedom, to choose to walk the path that is yours. There is a freedom in choosing that other way. There is a freedom, inner freedom, and powerful, that sustains you, no matter what happens. You stay on your feet. You keep to the path. You encounter the people, the events, the happenings that you need to make the journey.
You stay on your feet.
And, today, we continue to pray with and for the people of Ukraine, the people of Russia, the world.