Three

So far, I’ve lived through three tumultuous seasons
engulfed within the tsunami called conversion.
The first time, that hot and hasty summer of ’99,
I met the Buddha in the form of an exiled monk
who taught me to take refuge in the Triple Gem,
and to confront my anger, ignorance, and fear.
I didn’t know that my ecstasy was fueled by mania;
nonetheless, all of my prostrations were sincere.

The second time, I came home to the Church,
having been astonished by some Arizona Baptists.
When those red Episcopalian doors opened wide,
it felt like coming home. And me? For years I was all in.
I gave myself to God, to the Church, to my church,
until slowly, in the opposite order, they betrayed me,
and I wandered in the wilderness for forty years.
OK – six years staring at my own unkempt backyard.

The third time was long after I had given up, and
it was occasioned by admitting defeat to my friends.
The very moment I told my church I was a nonbeliever,
my atheism was doomed to live no more than a month.
I’m still an atheist – what I’m not is a reliable narrator.
But I’m a queer heathen, given my trinitarian streak.
So yeah, now I call myself a “scientific pantheist”,
and I think we’re all one, and the universe is sacred.

Weird, I know.

The common thread through all of these conversions
is – my God – how I’ve always excessively loved liturgy.
I mean, Tibetan Buddhism is “smells and bells” Dharma,
with incense and chanting, icons and ritual pomp.
And my Anglican church tradition is justly known as
“Catholicism lite”, on account of the litanies and thurifers.
And now? Well, this naturalistic mystic sure does dig
a Eucharistic liturgy or a Vajrasattva purification mantra.

So what’s the unifying thread, making all these motley
pieces of me groove to the funky rhythms of sacrament?
I think it might be emptiness. Because liturgy is poetry,
which is shaped by the space between words, and lines.
To Buddhists, emptiness – shunyata – is the ultimate truth.
To Christian mystics, emptying self reveals God’s fullness.
All this is just crazy philosophy, but in my bones I believe
That the space we perceive between us is actually sinew.

It’s weird,
I know.