We all face challenges every day, and I am no exception. Some call these challenges “tests of faith.” Some even question, “where is God” and “why is this happening to me?” This week we’re going to review three stories by Eckhart Tolle – three Stories of Non. Honestly, the practices seem quite simple on the surface. But, on closer examination, we can see how the principles put forth in the Stories of Non can be deeply rooted in our faith.
“Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be. ”
This week, I’ve faced some challenges that, quite honestly, have tested my faith. Many of you probably have, too. I’ve been reading, and re-reading, three stories by Eckhart Tolle from his book, “A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.” I call them Stories of Non. On the surface, the Stories of Non, and the principles they espouse, seem quite simple. They also seem to come under the heading, “Easy to say, not quite as easy to do.” But, by looking deeper at the stories, and how they relate to my faith, I am reminded that “bad” things happen. I’m also reminded that “bad” is relative – it’s how I choose to perceive the situation. And, no matter what, God is right here with me. It’s up to me how I choose to face the challenges.
Story #1 – Maybe – It Is What It Is
“The deeper interconnectedness of all things and events implies that the mental labels of “good” and “bad” are ultimately illusory. They always imply a limited perspective and so are true only relatively and temporarily. This is illustrated in the story of a wise man who won an expensive car in a lottery. His family and friends were very happy for him and came to celebrate. “Isn’t it great!” they said. “You are so lucky.” The man smiles and said, “Maybe.” For a few weeks he enjoyed driving the car. Then one day a drunken driver crashed into his new car at an intersection and he ended up in the hospital, with multiple injuries. His family and friends cam to see him and said, “That was really unfortunate.” Again the man smiled and said, “Maybe.” While he was still in the hospital, one night there was a landslide and his house fell into the sea. Again his fr4iends came the next day and said, “Weren’t you lucky to have been here in hospital.” Again he said, “Maybe.””
Story #2 – Is That So
“The Zen Master Hakuin lived in a town in Japan. He was held in high regard and many people came to him for spiritual teaching. Then it happened that the teenage daughter of his next-door neighbor became pregnant. When being questioned by her angry and scolding parents as to the identity of the father, she finally told them that he was Hakuin, the Zen Master.
In great anger the parents rushed over to Hakuin and told him with much shouting and accusing that their daughter had confessed that he was the father. All he replied was, “Is that so?”
News of the scandal spread throughout the town and beyond. The Master lost his reputation. This did not trouble him. Nobody came to see him anymore. He remained unmoved. When the child was born, the parents brought the baby to Hakuin. “You are the father, so you look after him.” The Master took loving care of the child. A year later, the mother remorsefully confessed to her parents that the real father of the child was the young man who worked at a butcher shop. In great distress they went to see Hakuin to apologize and ask for forgiveness. “We are really sorry. We have come to take the baby back. Our daughter confessed that you are not the father.” “Is that so?” is all he would say as he handed the baby over to them.
The Master responds to falsehood and truth, bad news and good news, in exactly the same way: “Is that so?” He allows the form of the moment, good or bad, to be as it is and so does not become a participant in human drama. To him there is only this moment, and this moment is as it is. Events are not personalized. He is nobody’s victim. He is so completely at one with what happens that what happens has no power over him anymore. Only if you resist what happens are you at the mercy of what happens, and the world will determine your happiness and unhappiness.”
Story #3 – This, Too, Will Pass
“According to an ancient Sufi story, there lived a king in some Middle Eastern land who was continuously torn between happiness and despondency. The slightest thing would cause him great upset or provoke an intense reaction, and his happiness would quickly turn into disappointment and despair. A time came when the king finally got tired of himself and of life, and he began to seek a way out. He sent for a wise man who lived in his kingdom and who was reputed to be enlightened. When the wise man came, the king said to him, “I want to be like you. Can you give me something that will bring balance, serenity, and wisdom into my life? I will pay any price you ask.”
The wise man said, “I may be able to help you. But the price is so great that your entire kingdom would not be sufficient payment for it. Therefore it will be a gift to you if you will honor it.” The king gave his assurances, and the wise man left.
A few weeks later, he returned and handed the king an ornate box carved in jade. The king opened the box and found a simple gold ring inside. Some letters were inscribed on the ring. The inscription read: This, too, will pass. “What is the meaning of this?” asked the king. The wise man said, “Wear this ring always. Whatever happens, before you call it good or bad, touch this ring and read the inscription. That way, you will always be at peace.””
Putting Them All Together
As Mr. Tolle states, “The full import of these words [This, Too, Shall Pass] becomes clear when we consider them in the context of two other stories that we encountered earlier. The story of the Zen Master whose only response was always “is that so?” shows the good that comes through inner nonresistance to events, that is to say, being at one with what happens. The story of the man whose comment was invariably a laconic “Maybe” illustrates the wisdom of nonjudgment, and the story of the ring points to the fact of impermanence which, when recognized, leads to nonattachment. Nonresistance, nonjudgment, and nonattachment are the three aspects of true freedom and enlightened living.”
Three statements – Maybe…Is That So…This, Too, Will Pass. Three simple statements…quite easy to say; much harder to live. But, as I re-read these stories this week, I began to realize they have scriptural foundations, too:
Luke 23:24 – “Then said Jesus, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”” Jesus accepted the situation as it was. In fact, during his entire ordeal He never resisted what the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Romans did to Him. Even from the cross, He never condemned or judged them.
Matthew 6:19-21 – “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Philippians 4:11-13 – “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Hebrews 13:5 – “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.””
Colossians 3:1-4 – “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth…”
In Matthew, Jesus is reminding us that everything of this world is temporary, so don’t get attached to it. Enjoy it while you have it. But, if it goes away, that’s the nature of things. Instead, never let go of faith – it can never be taken away.
Philippians, Hebrews, and Colossians remind us of Paul’s total acceptance over his circumstances and his detachment from material “things.” He understood that everything is temporary, including this earthly life, so he didn’t stress over it. Whether “good” or “bad” – Paul leaned on his faith in Jesus.
So, we have three simple stories…Stories of Non: Nonresistance, Nonattachment, and Nonjudgment. And, scripture validates each and every one of these concepts. Scripture also reminds us to always turn to God in faith, regardless of circumstance. One thing scripture adds, though, is passages that remind us of God’s promise to never leave us. Let’s take a look at just a few of them:
Deuteronomy 31:6 – “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Deuteronomy 31:8 – “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Joshua 1:9 – “…Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Matthew 6:34 – “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Matthew 8:20 – “…And behold, I am with you always…”
We all have troubles and challenges. And, I am no exception. As I mentioned at the beginning today, this week has been full of challenges for me. But, as I pondered and reflected and, yes, even stressed a bit – okay, a lot – I realized I was stressing over “things”. Researching and preparing for today helped me immensely. I am reminded, again, that “things” and situations and possible outcomes are all temporary, or haven’t even happened yet. And, though put into much simpler terms, Grandma Moses was right – life is what we make it.
As I re-read the Stories of Non, and immersed myself in scripture, my feelings of helplessness and hopelessness abated. I became more at peace with it all. I am reassured that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are always with me. No matter what happens, that can never be taken away. And that fills me with a sense of hope.
In closing, I want to share again a poem. It bears witness to Jesus’ reassurance that we will never be alone. We’ve all heard it before but in getting caught up in life, in “things of this world,” we tend to forget. For me, perhaps for you, too, it bears repeating:
One night I had a dream–
I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord
and across the sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints,
one belonged to me and the other to the Lord.
When the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that many times along the path of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest
and saddest times in my life.
This really bothered me and I questioned the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,
you would walk with me all the way,
but I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life
there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why in times when I needed you most,
you should leave me.”
The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child,
I love you and I would never, never leave you
during your times of trial and suffering.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.”
- Luke 23:24
- Matthew 6:19-21
- Philippians 4:11-13
- Hebrews 13:5
- Colossians 3:1-4
- Deuteronomy 31:6
- Deuteronomy 31:8
- Joshua 1:9
- Matthew 6:34
- Matthew 8:20
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