Monday, October 11, 2010

Dukkha Du Jour

What do 10 lepers on the side of the road
have to do with us in Carson City today?
If we take the story an inch deeper and a foot wider,
this story is precisely about you and me.

10 lepers cried out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”
for a simple, obvious reason.
They had leprosy.
Their flesh fell off and they exuded an offensive odor.
The lepers found that condition unsatisfactory.

We may not have leprosy,
but we know what it is to find our lives unsatisfactory.
Gautama Buddha said, “The first noble truth is this: There is suffering.”
Only he didn’t say “suffering,” because he didn’t speak English.
Speaking Sanskrit, he actually said, “There is dukkha.”
Suffering isn’t a good translation of “dukkha.”
Actually, it means dissatisfaction, discontent.
Robert Penn Warren said, “The earth grinds on its axis.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it, “the tears in the nature of things.”
W. H. Auden spoke of “all the failed caresses.”
St. Augustine, George Herbert, and modern theologian John Dunne
called it “restlessness.”
Dunne set out to follow his heart’s desire and discovered, in his words,
“how unfulfilled longing can be (like) an unrequited love.”

Leprosy was the specific form of dissatisfaction our lepers had that day.
It was the dukkha du jour on their life’s menu.

Like the lepers, we sometimes find our circumstances unsatisfactory.
I have been in circumstances so unsatisfactory, that in my eyes,
they made leprosy look like a hangnail.
I have cried “Jesus, have mercy on me” and he has done it.
Thanks be to God, the old hymn is true.
There is “power in the blood, wonder working power.”
He has brought me though the deep waters and the fiery trials.
Sometimes we bring our fear and our sorrow to Jesus and are redeemed.
But after we have been redeemed, are we then satisfied?
That is the question Jesus raised when one leper returned to give thanks,
and Jesus wondered,
“Were not 10 made clean? Where are the other 9?”

Indeed where were they?
It takes only a little imagination to answer his question.
They were made clean.
The priests restored them as members of society.
They saw, as they expected, it is better not to be a leper,
and they were happy -- for a week, maybe two.

Then they noticed that they were poor.
Unless you were a high roller like the leper King Uzziah
or dermatologically challenged General Naaman,
if you had leprosy, you were out of work.
Our 9 lepers were certainly destitute.
Being destitute was unsatisfactory. It still is.

Being hungry, having no roof or walls,
no bed to sleep in, nowhere to bathe,
these things are unsatisfactory.

I like to think that one or more of them
had a trade before they fell ill,
resumed their trade after they were healed,
and eventually got back on their financial feet.
Once restored to the blue collar middle class,
they saw that it is better to be solvent than impoverished.
So they were again happy – for a week, maybe two.

Then they noticed that they had no family and were lonely.
Or they noticed that they did have a family,
and their spouse was insufficiently attentive to them,
or their children were rebellious or indolent or slovenly.

Everyone’s children are too something.
If nothing else, they are too perfect. That is the worst.
There are two great forms of social unhappiness.
One is to have no family. The other is to have a family.
So again, their situation was unsatisfactory.

Perhaps, having been delivered from the distraction of leprosy,
they noticed, in that pre-dentistry era,
that they had chronic bad breath
and intermittent toothache.
Eventually mortality manifested as a specific terminal illness.
And terminal illnesses are decidedly unsatisfactory.

Can we see our lives in this?
Perhaps we have evolved from some discontent in the 80’s,
to a new tribulation in the 90’s,
to whatever burr is under our saddle today.
If so, that is not too bad.

Grading our lives on the existential curve,
that would be at least an A-.
It is better to move from one unhappiness to another,
than to remain forever mired in the same old misery.
It is at least more interesting.
Freud said the goal of psychotherapy is to liberate us from neurosis
so we can live lives of ordinary misery.

But one leper did something different.
One leper returned to give thanks.
Instead of rushing onward into the impossible quest for satisfaction
he returned to the source of the blessing he had already received.
He returned -- he turned around -- the Greek word is metanoia.
He repented – not of his sins but of self-seeking.
He turned from the common direction of human life
and gave thanks.
In Greek, the word for give thanks is “eucharist.”
It’s what we do today and every Lord’s Day.

It’s a spiritual practice in awakening something inside us .
Yesterday, in a KUNR radio interview, our own Rev. Stefani Schatz
called it “the heart of gratitude.”//

In reflecting on his earlier life of spiritual disquietude,
John Dunne said,
“I had not yet been able to say ‘thanks’ for the past
or ‘yes’ to the future, and so I was not yet able
to live in the present.”

The thankful leper in our story made that leap.
He said “thanks” for his past.
Then Jesus set him free to say “yes” to the future
and live in the present.
“Get up and go on your way,” Jesus said.
His grateful faith had set him free.

It is a good thing to enjoy our passing moments of happiness.
But it is a better thing to root that happiness in its source,
to turn our minds from checking our own emotional temperature,
from measuring our lives against some unachievable standard,
from dwelling on the half-emptiness of our glass
toward the eternal source of our blessing.
It is better to take delight in the existence of the Blessed One
who blesses us with reality itself.

When we awaken the heart of gratitude,
we discover a wealth of spiritual solace and strength.
Of course, troubles still come, we are still frustrated, disappointed.
Life is still what it is.

But life floats in a sea of grace.
Gratitude feels the buoyancy of that grace.
We see that in the one leper who turned around,
who turned his heart from seeking its own content
to praising God for his very life.
We cannot repay God for our blessings.
But we can acknowledge the source of our good.
That’s why we give our money as a Eucharistic offering,
to acknowledge that our livelihood is a gift.
That’s why we perform acts of mercy,
to acknowledge we have received mercy.
That’s why we pray for others,
to acknowledge that someone’s prayers have carried us.

There is another poor translation in today’s Gospel lesson.
At the end, our text says Jesus told the man,
“Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well.”
But Greek word is not “made you well.”
It is “Your faith has made you whole.”

Jesus cured the man’s leprosy at the beginning of the story.
At the end of the story,
gratitude completed the job
of setting him free from chronic disquietude.
To give thanks, to celebrate Eucharist is, as it says in Rite I,
“meet, right, and our bounden duty.”
But it is more than that, much more.
It is, as it says in Rite II, “a right, good, and a joyful thing.”