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12 July 2011

A Buffalo, A Ladder and Everybody's Longing

Among Native Americans they tell the story of a young man who was very sad. He was so sad that he refused to eat; he refused to sleep; he refused to do anything. He just sat there with a face that looked like it could have been cut out of a rock. The young man's family tried to cheer him up, but when all their efforts were to no avail, his father took him to the tribe's wise man and asked for help. 

The wise man said, "I will help you, young man. Just go into my tent and stay there for a while. Think about your mother. That should help. Feel free to stay for a whole day if necessary." After about an hour, the young man was seen leaving the tent. "It didn't help," he told the wise man. 

The wise man said, "Well, you go back into my tent, young man, and think about your father; perhaps that's what you need to do." The young man disappeared into the tent as he was told, but soon again left the tent, just a half hour later. "It didn't help," he said, "I don't feel any differently than before".

Then the wise man shook his head and said, "Then, let's try something different. Tell me who you really love the most in the whole wide world. Is there someone you really love?" The young man smiled and said, "Well, that's easy: it's my wonderful buffalo; I don't love anyone or anything more than him." 

The wise man said, "I see, well, go into my tent, and think of nothing but your beloved buffalo. Concentrate on your buffalo and see what happens." And that is what the young man did. He disappeared into the wise man's tent. An hour passed. Two hours passed. Three hours passed. He stayed in the tent all day. He stayed all night, and yet another day.  


When his son hadn't been heard from, the father came to the wise man and said, "Should we worry that something bad happened to him?" The wise man smiled and replied, "Actually, I know that something good has happened." He went to the entrance of his tent and called out to the young man inside, "Are you okay in there?" The answer came, "I am fine.  It's just that I can't come out." 

The young man's father heard that exchange and shouted, "Why can't you come out? It's disrespectful to ignore the wise man; it's disrespectful to ignore your own father!" And the young man replied, "I mean no disrespect. I would like to come, but my horns are in the way."

My story is about a young man who was depressed, and who was cured when he became one with his love, and one with everything there is. Such union was experienced by another young man as well, one named Jacob, who was also depressed.  As the old song has it:

As Jacob with travel was weary one day, At night, on a stone for a pillow, he lay; He saw in a vision a ladder so high That its foot was on earth, and its top in the sky. Hallelujah to Jesus, who died on the tree, And hath rais'd up a ladder of mercy for me 

Jacob has every reason to be "weary" -- he has deceived his father and stolen the birthright from his brother Esau. He is a fugitive. He is fearing Esau's revenge. Jacob is weary alright. He can't sleep. That's when he has his dream, his experience of union with the universe.

Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000): 
Unendlichkeit Ganz Nah (Infinity Up Close)

He dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and o the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place -- and I did not know it." (from Gen. 28)

There's something about Jacob's Ladder that captures our imagination; Jacob's Ladder touches a deep down longing we all have. It's about our longing for union, for relationship.

The young man found it in his buffalo; Jacob found it in his ladder dream; the painter Hundertwasser expressed it in the work above. In his letter to the Romans, Paul speaks of a deep yearning, a hunger, a hope that is there in the very life and body of the whole creation as it reaches out to come into relationship with God:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies ... (Romans 8:22-25). 

Take another look at the painting above, by Hundertwasser. Do you see symbols of your journey into the world, or do you see symbols of your inward journey? Do you see it like a child, where everything is an invitation to explore, or do you see it like a middle-aged person who longs for the day when everything is made anew once again? 

Above the bright yellow background I see something like the river of life in the form of a spiral. Depending on how you look, the river springs from the center of the picture, or perhaps it moves back there. And it's the four ladders that give depth to the picture; their black and yellow rungs connect everything with everything.

Perhaps you focus on how it would be to climb up from the center; or perhaps you see a well in the center and imagine making a daring jump straight into the middle of it. 

Do you focus on going inside yourself to find God, or do you like to find God in the messiness of everyday struggles?

No matter what you see in the painting, I invite you to get in touch with your deep longing, OUR deep longing, for being one with everything.  As the young man and his buffalo and Jacob and the Hundertwasser painting show, the union we long for doesn't have to be far far out in the future. Wherever you are while you are reading this, remember that God is never far away. "Surely the LORD is in this place -- and I did not know it."

The experience of being united with everything shows the way home -- home to the Source of All Life. When we are united with the Source, then we can be grounded, centered people.

Grounded and centered people, people who have come home, freely give of themselves what this broken world needs: creativity and love and compassion. "Surely the LORD is in this place -- and I did not know it."

Gen 28:10-19a (alternate Old Testament lesson for July 17)

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