Contemplative Sitting Network Reflection for March 2023
Some years after retirement the marine who served tours in Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan recounted a dream he had one evening: As he tells it, “I was at the range. I fired and hit the paper bulls-eye. As I walked over to inspect it, the bulls-eye was bleeding. I started to clean it up but it just kept bleeding.” So recounts Richard (Mac) McKinney in a New Yorker documentary entitled “Stranger at the Gate.”* This stunning short is about the Muslim community in Muncie, Indiana as much as it is about Mac. They welcomed him with open arms to the newly constructed Islamic Center despite his threatening appearance and gait.
Attention to the moment, to the breath, is one of the key aspects of contemplative sitting. It schools us in presence to the present moment, where it is often repeated, is where we find God. Rarely has the import of this been depicted with such clarity and drama. You see Mac came to the Center to scope it out so he could locate just the right spot to place the IED (Improvised Explosive Device) He’d set a goal of about 200–individuals to kill that is. The depth of presence of the community to Mac changed all that. In fact, he converted to Islam.
There’s a simple poem that ranks among my favorites. It captures both the heart of this film and the heart of contemplative practice. It was written by the now deceased Abbess of Redwoods Monastery in Northern California, Miriam Dearden. It is entitled: “A Prayer for Today.” To quote it in its entirety: “This.” May our attention to it change the course of the world’s enfolding. Keep on sitting
Margaret and Nancy
*available on YouTube