One Cosmic Moment
Gurus have never worked out too well for me. The charismatic, know-it-all, youth pastor at my church told me that if my girlfriend and I were having sex I had to marry her, or else I was just using her. It didn’t feel like anyone was using anyone, but we did what we were told: we got married. I was turning twenty-one, my girlfriend twenty. Eight years later we were divorced.
I became involved with the L’Arche Community and started following Jean Vanier. I sat at his feet as he opened the Bible and brilliantly extemporized on themes relating to prophecy and justice, on climbing down the ladder to be with the people who can’t climb at all. I led his retreatants in spiritual songs and then did the same for a few of his houses. I tried to follow his example. Given the unsavoury revelations after his death, it was a good thing that hadn’t gone too far.
Then, there was a long string of bishops, “defenders of the faith,” “good shepherds,” “fathers in God"--my bosses. I know it takes all kinds, but not all kinds should take up an office like that. Which may have been how they felt about me, come to think of it. Some were indeed fatherly, and some were good shepherds of their flock. But some, well, I’ll stop there. We’re just not all going to get along.
But I’ve always felt, despite my disappointments, that there ought to be trustworthy guides, loving leaders, good shepherds with the deep wisdom and the emotional intelligence to lead the rest of us somehow by liberating us and empowering us rather than infantilizing us, or taking advantage of us, or any of the other things bad gurus do. Surely, there must be someone worthy of the titles with which we honour them: Father, Rabbi, Pundit-ji, Master.
When I first heard Vickie MacArthur’s story, I was skeptical. A soulful glance from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh had changed her life. Only that. A glance. She felt an inner opening that can only be described as mystical. In that moment her soul was touched by his and, beyond his, by the Heart and Soul of the Universe. It was an intimate connection. It was a cosmic connection. More than a decade later, having attended retreats with “Thay” (Vietnamese for Teacher), and having both practiced and taught meditation and yoga, she’s still trying to live into that experience.
I wanted to believe. What if such gurus really do exist? What if the bad ones don’t cancel out the good ones? What if it’s still possible to come into contact with someone who is so deeply rooted in the divine life of Soul that our own souls ignite in their presence? But what if Vickie was deluded? What if she was projecting so much of her own need onto this diminutive figure that the resulting transference, and perhaps counter transference, held no other possibility than that of her having such an experience, having nothing to do with him at all? Or with her, for that matter?
I attended a reading Vickie was giving from her memoir, A Lotus on Fire: How a Buddhist Monk Ignited my Heart. Vickie was real, and so was the small loving congregation who gathered to hear her. She was so clearly invested in her own spiritual journey, so transparent in her storytelling, and so ... credible, that maybe this time my belief would be justified. Maybe it is still possible that one enlightened person can light the flame for someone else. And that’s what I came to believe.
Vickie’s story is eminently believable because she herself is believable. And it’s inspirational because she herself is inspirational. Whatever happened in that moment when her soul and the soul of the great Master touched, Vickie was launched on a journey deeper and richer than anything she could ever have imagined. And now the world, through her, is being given its own invitation, its own ignition. Because it’s not about the guru. It’s about Life unfolding as it should ... in each one of us.
To hear my recent conversation with Vickie MacArthur, please click on the Play button below. To learn more, scroll the show notes that come up when you press the Information button(“i”), also below.