Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > vows and promises in religion and life


poems and prayers and promises ~ in an imaginative world

May 11, 2019

Saying For Today: Possibly, the best I can say about my vows is, "I absolutely keep them, relatively somewhat."


Our nature is to embody hope and compassion, and joy, in poems, prayers, and promises, and, yes, with others. This is a good thing, yes, a good thing indeed, while we live together in our imaginative, but real, worlds. And, if we are on a spiritual path, whatever it be, we are living under vow, even if not vows. For vow represents belonging, commitment, and servanthood; vow represents something worthy to embody, to incarnate, even when far from completely.

Almost twenty-five years ago, I was vowed by an ecumenical, contemplative community to six vows. These vows were based on the Christian monastic wisdom, principally the Benedictine.

Initially, I understood the vows as promises I would keep. After many years, this changed to promises I would keep and not keep.

So, vows are not restrictive, neither are they mandates to be observed perfectly. I see vows as having the potential to be freeing, partly for one aspires to embody principles worth embodying, yet, at the same time, one is humbled in how he or she never fulfills the vows. That lack of fulfillment is an essential wisdom in the vows. Likewise, the vows arise from a social context, in which one shares a living tradition, so a living community transcending time, and one cherishes the vows as an act of compassion to the world presently. In some sense, wisely lived, living vows cannot be the act of the self, only the Self that knows itself as a being arising in communion with others.

* * *

I am, again, at a juncture, with a job possibility that would lead me far away from where I presently live and feel at-home, the first place I have had this sense of deep at-homeness in years, and consideration of what Quaker Meeting to be a member of. I am, likewise, within a week of moving to belong within an intentional Quaker community, and this appeals to my need for like spiritual community. In a sense, these are matters of vow. Which direction to take? Where to join? This is vow, commitment. Possibly, the most important matter in such junctures is not the direction one takes, but that one does so with a motive to give oneself to belonging with others, that one decides with a sense of vow to serve, yes to love. And, living with vow, I always recommend a time of discernment in prayer and meditation, as one may receive specific guidance as to the path to follow. Fidelity to the uncertainty before guidance arises is itself a matter of living under vow, an act of fidelity.

* * *

I found a humorous example of this realism about vows and commitments in general. I came upon this book, by J. Brent Bill, a Quaker: Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker: A Humble Stumble toward Simplicity and Grace. I found this refreshing, this admission that one is something he realizes he does not do well. Yet, possibly in knowing that, he is a good, not bad ~ to use his word ~ Quaker. I am not sure anyone on any wisdom path can be rightly seen as doing badly at it, for, at least, he or she is on it and putting forth the effort to live it.

I appreciated living the Quaker life as a humble stumble. Vows and promises, religiously, are not meant for persons who are already able to keep them, but for persons like Brian who find in them inspiration but who are unable to keep them ~ that is, if keeping them means attainment of some perfection. Vows, even as ideals, are a journey, not a mere goal, not something we attain. Possibly, the best I can say about my vows is, "I absolutely keep them, relatively somewhat."

* * *

This reminds me of a wise saying attributed to Jesus in the Gospels of the Christian Bible:

When Jesus heard this, he told them, "Healthy people donít need a doctor, sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are already getting-it-right [lit., righteous], but those who know they are missers-of-the-mark [or traditional reading, sinners]."

* * *

So, why would one take a marriage vow, a monastic vow, any vow that one is likely or sure to never live up to? I had never read anyone address this question until this week, in reading an excerpt from the Buddhist Norman Fischer, in his The World Could be Otherwise: Imagination and the Bodhisattva Vow.

In Zen we recite the four bodhisattva vows: beings are numberless, I vow to save them; delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them; dharma gates are endless, I vow to enter them; the buddha way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it. These vows are perfectly impossible, so we know we canít take them as ordinary goals. They are imaginative goals, taken in an imaginative world by imaginative beings. We are those imaginative beings. Such vows point out a direction and inspire our feeling and action, but they donít pressure us. We practice them with joy and good humor. And we do realize them ~ in the imagination.

* * *

So, to me, "with joy and good humor" are key words above. Possibly, we can approach vows and promises and commitments more playfully, something in sync with the title of a song by the late John Dever, "Poems and Prayers and Promises," all given as what could be, but not what is, and what does not have to be and may never be. Yet, that we are inspired by this imaginative world and partly, though incompletely, realize it, could this be an act of compassion in itself?

* * *

i pray from where I am
to where I see I could be

i pray a world that is not
and, possibly,
in praying that world
it comes, at least for a few moments, near

and who is to say
the world I pray is
not as real and present as the world I pray from ~
What if?

and ~ What If? ~ the world I pray from and to
is, after all, not two worlds
but the same world

Always Coming Back To You

*Move cursor over photographs for title and photographer.
(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2019


Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > vows and promises in religion and life

©Brian Wilcox 2019