The Inn and the Un-Stable

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There was no room in the inn… (Luke Chapter 2)

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

-John Lennon, Beautiful Boy

Koan: A woman raised a goose in a bottle. When the goose had grown, she wanted to get it out, without harming the goose or breaking the bottle. How do you get the goose out of the bottle?

Life With Plans

I am busy trying to make my life, to plan things out. People sometimes ask in job interviews (where do you see yourself in 5 years?), visioning sessions, etc., about my plans. And I’ve got them. In three years I will X. In 10 years, Y. But I look at all the plans that I have made over the years, the places where I was supposed to end up, and the more I look back on that the more wreckage I see: these plans that do not work out, these imagined futures that do not come to pass. So, John Lennon remarked in his song, Beautiful Boy:

Before you cross the street take my hand. 
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

At least we have each other — “take my hand.”

No Room in the Inn

On Sunday when I heard the infancy narrative read in church, the good news I heard was “there was no room in the inn.”  What?  Good news?  This poor young couple, Mary soon to give birth, could find no room in the inn?  How is that good news? Well, for me it is like this:

I am always creating the inn. It is a place that I manufacture, clearly defined with four walls where I can be certain about life, my surroundings, the outcomes, a place where I can find my place. Recently, I stayed in a hotel in Kentucky, and it was exactly like that — the decor, the appliances, furniture and art that were finely turned, a space manufactured for a certain sort of experience. Like Disneyland, where the people are paid to smile — so when you will leave it is with a smile on your face echoing the Disney tag-line: the happiest place on earth.

This inn of my manufacture brings up a koan, one about a goose raised in a bottle

A woman raised a goose in a bottle. When the goose had grown, she wanted to get it out, without harming the goose or breaking the bottle. How do you get the goose out of the bottle?

The inn, the bottle, same difference. And either way, my goose is cooked.  The four walls of my certainty, the four walls of a life well ordered and planned; the more I grow, and the more life changes around me, the more constricting, and cramped those walls become. And life is relentless. No longer do I fit here. I’ve outgrown this space. So, it is with our lives, our growth and the constrictions of our manufacture.

Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. And that life just might be too large for the container you’ve provided for it.

How will you get out of the bottle?  Or, I was thinking, “how fortunate, no room in the inn.”

The Heart Sutra, a foundational Mahayana text suggests that as we live “without walls in the mind” we can find refuge in life itself. Accepting the uncertainty of things is more reliable than the belief that the world is held together in accordance with my plans, or expectations — what I come to count, and hold on to as my certainty. Receiving life as it comes to us finds us in the seamlessness of things, our responses to life in flow with what is. So, the Heart Sutra says this is our refuge, in life as it is, as it comes and goes.

The Un-Stable

A stable is anything but.  And I am thinking of a stable as it is depicted at Christmas time. The stable of Jesus’ birth is just this side of wild. It is a stable open to the elements, out of which animals and people come and go, shepherds, wise women and men, sheep, camels, chickens?  You get the idea. Not a stable environment, not even clean. Open the the elements, the wind blows and the rain falls. The environment of this stable is uncertain as it is compared to the inn of Bethlehem with its four walls, comfortable beds, matching furniture. And this is what Luke wants you to think: the environment in which Jesus was born was not certain, or safe, or even planned out. This stable is given by life itself and is close to life. And nothing is guaranteed. The big secret is that this is the way it is in the Inn as well. We just tell ourselves something different, invest in our own foolishness, manufacture our illusions of life.

Here, in the stable,  in the midst of unpredictable and unmanageable life something new rises, a light in the darkness, something new, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning AND the end, something new rises — the brilliance of life’s seamlessness — the word at one with all flesh. And it is only here that this is possible — there is no room in the Inn. A woman raised a goose in a bottle. When the goose had grown, she wanted to get it out, without harming the goose or breaking the bottle.

So, I am glad that there was no room at the Inn. Can you feel the constrictions in your life, the walls that hem you in, not grown? The illusion of certainty does not reign in our human lives.  Instead, life is here among us and within us. Our gesture is one of trust and a willingness for what is. It is here that we find our freedom and our responsiveness to what life brings.

So, silly goose., how do you get out of the bottle?

Happy Christmas to all,

David