Have you ever had an experience where the first time you saw someone you instantly disliked him or her for no rational reason at all? They immediately seemed to embody some value, way of life, look, or attitude distasteful in your mind?
Well, I responded to Samana that way from the first time I saw him in Northampton.
He's a tall, lanky man in his 50's. He dresses in an understated way. Up until a few months ago, he wore his hair long. Samana is most times accompanied by a young women he refers to as his "attendant." She goes by the name Sacred Little. She is much shorter than he, and always wears a head covering, much in the way Jesus's mother Mary is generally depicted. All of her hair is covered. You just see her cosmetic-free face.
A few weeks ago at the imagine/Gallery's Artist Reception for Richard Hawley, Samana and Sacred Little came up the stairs and we met for the first time. I found out he has an MFA in Poetry and lives in subsidized housing with Sacred Little in Northampton. They refer to their abode as "The Sanctuary." It is two-rooms, simply furnished, and where they practice a kind monastic way with rituals, spiritual disciplines, prayer, dietary disciplines, and meeting folks.
To my surprise, when they came up the stairs, Samana was walking unsteadily with a cane. He looked to be in pain..He was. Without me asking, he offered he'd been diagnosed with a degenerative and incurable disease which made it difficult to walk without a cane. Later, he would tell me he has learned to embrace the pain as a friend and teacher. To him, it is like embracing the suffering of all being.
Samana did most of the talking at our first meeting. Sacred Little would politely respond to questions, but it was clear he was her teacher and she was his disciple. In the midst of our conversation, he would often turn to her, and expound on a spiritual truth coming what from he or we were talking about. She would listen and smile quietly. Also, when he first spoke, it was with a north Jersey accent. It just didn't fit with my notion of what
being a "monk." was supposed to sound like. When I think "monk," I
don't think Jersey accent. Sacred Little doesn't seem to make the distinction.
Samana is also a flute player. I knew he played flute because I'd seen an article a few years back in the Hampshire Gazette about him, his creativity, spirituality, and way of life. Being from Jersey City he also knew jazz and, and was delighted Jim and I were jazz musicians. He knew the great players we knew.As it turns out, he's a self-taught flute player with a penchant for improvising. I have no idea whether he is any good.
So, last Friday night, he and Sacred Little came up the stairs again. The imagineGALLERY is open on the weekends. He said they wanted to know how I was doing. He said they often pray for me by simply saying my name. He inquired into the origin of our church's name imagine/Northampton, so I explained its origin and the meaning it has to our identity and work as Jesus-followers. Samana then began to explain his theology which is a blend of Buddhism with bits and pieces from all the world's major religions, Native American spirituality and shamanism. He a syncretist, blending all spiritual beliefs into something he refers to as Being. We are all connected and need to shed our religious distinctions. It's all the same no matter what you call it.We belong to each other and need to live that. Distinctions create needless separation in his mind. We are brethren.
He talks his belief in a very winsome and sincere manner. He and Sacred Little clearly desire to live a life of peace and love for their fellow human beings. They care for the poor, open the sanctuary to anyone, forgive those who mock them, and live simply without pretense. They practice daily the spiritual life they embrace.
Perhaps the most poignant moments of our conversation last Friday were when, before leaving, he asked if he could recite one of his poems to me. He called it Jesus Sang on the Way to the Cross. I have to say it was beautiful. Unexpectedly, I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. It's obvious Samana knows the story and shows respect for it. The way he delivered his poem was evocative and with the rhythmic flow of a jazz musician. While I'm no expert, I was taken by his talent and his feeling. He meant it as a gift to me.
So here I am talking about someone I immediately didn't like, and learning to like him. We share some of the same values, but from a very different spiritual aperture.
Just before they left, they said goodbye and both bowed slowly to me. I was taken a back a bit. It felt really awkward and unnecessary. i wasn't sure what to do. In my mind, I was going: "No, please don't do that. I am just a person like you. There is only One who deserves such obeisance." But, to them it was an expression of humility, affection and respect. I have to say I felt warmth toward them.
I'll end this by saying I hope our relationship will grow where I can begin to share my belief in Christ as the one true God, the One they so earnestly seek, but hold onto belief in a mish-mosh of spirituality. They are earnest, gentle, kind, and peaceful. I want so much to show them Jesus who loves them more than they can imagine right now.
Please pray I can do so with them. They are so close to the Kingdom. Maybe imagine will become their sanctuary on the way home. Make it so, Jesus.
This Saturday night we're going to the Quaker Meeting House to see Samana recite his poetry and improvise on his flute. If it's anything like I heard last Friday, it will be good.