Skyline, Fall - 2009

By Diane Pendola

Given For All

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In a great basin below the Sierra Buttes, I'm settled on a wide slab of granite that drops down at an angle towards Long Lake. A shelf protrudes out from the rock, providing just enough bench for me to sit, my knees up, my arms clasped around them, looking out over clear, clean water toward a rugged mountain whose detailed reflection is captured in the lake's clarity. My skin senses the wind as I watch it breathing over the waters, raising small ripples of light as it moves across the lake's surface. I think of Ken Hartman, doing life in prison without the possibility of parole. I think of so many people (some just kids) locked away from such beauty: from the freedom of a hike on an alpine trail, from the joy of a picnic with a beloved, from the happiness of playing fetch with a dog in the water's shallows.

I breathe in and wonder how I can send this breath to Ken, this spirit, this wind. If in truth we are all connected, then this wind, too, is our common thread, this thought, this prayer, this care that some day our human-made hells may be transformed to heavens, not in another celestial realm but here among us and between us. "The kingdom of God is among you," Jesus said, "between you and within you;" just like the breath; just like the wind.

I was brought up on the Eucharist. At Catholic Mass I heard the words, "Take and eat. This is my body. Take and drink. This is my blood, given for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me." These words, this event, are considered the heart of the Catholic-Christian faith. I hope that you, who do not share this tradition, will be patient in allowing this meditation on these ancient words that sound so arcane to our modern sensitivities. I draw on the thought of the thoroughly intercultural and pluralistic philosopher Raimon Panikkar to guide me. At the core of Panikkar's philosophy is the insight that the whole of reality is deeply interconnected and trinitarian or triadic in structure. He says of the eucharist: "it is the revelation of the cosmotheandric (trinitarian) nature of reality. The eucharist reminds us of the whole and makes it real for us: This is the body of Christ. The Mystical Body does not mean just a small group of humans. It extends to the entire universe in its proper status." Other traditions have their own unique symbology to speak about this communion nature of reality. For example, pratitya samutpada (Interdependent Co-arising) is at the heart of Buddhist teaching. As Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says, "According to the teaching of Interdependent Co-Arising, cause and effect co-arise (samutpada) and everything is a result of multiple causes and conditions. Interdependent Co-Arising goes beyond our concepts of space and time. The one contains the all."

Which brings me back to the words of the eucharist: Given for all, so that sins may be forgiven. Do I believe these words, given for all? Do we believe them? Either all are included or none. I stake my faith on the all. And what is the "sin" to be forgiven? Is it only our individual wrongs, our petty offenses, even our mortal transgressions against life? What if we are more than individuals? What if we are in fact community, the body of Christ, that we re-member, make present, throughout the web of our shared humanity and beyond, our shared life with all the beings of this green-blue planet spinning in the immensity of space? If we are more than individuals, if we are persons constituted by the web of our relations, then we are indeed our sisters and our brothers keepers. We are our prisons as well as our universities. We are refugees as well as terrorists, peacemakers as well as arms dealers. We are the leaven in the bread rising. We are the salt in a tasteless desert. We are the light in the belly of the beast. We are the only ones that can transform the world: we who know that it is all of us or none of us . All are included so that sins may be forgiven : so that estrangements that run like chasms between us might be bridged; so that inequities bred into us like an ancient inheritance might be made right; so that war and violence, rape and cruelty might be undone at the knot of their beginnings by the threads of love and justice, equity and consciousness; so that kindness can be the warp and forgiveness the woof of our shared life fabric.

I think about this, looking out over the water. I think about how to send the peace of this place to my brother, locked away for life, barred from what I take for granted. He brings me there, to the belly of the beast. I bring him here, to the heights of beauty. Both of us change because we do not stop at the limit of our bodies and our senses; because this wind unites us across boundaries and flows in spaces at once too small and too immense to be imprisoned; because the Kingdom of God is among, between and within us; because that kingdom is community, and community is communion, and communion means we are ONE in the wind that unites us.

Sometimes I wonder why I feel so moved, "to proclaim release to the captive." I think it goes to this: either the liberating power of the Divine, which works through the human and expresses itself in real embodied structures of loving community, is transformative of the entire reality, or not! If this liberation is not for the most violent, the most wounded, the most degraded, the most de-humanized and de-humanizing, then how can it be for any of us? The promises of Christ must reach into hell, because we are largely its creators. It's all of us or none of us.

Gazing over the lake, I look deeply into the mountain reflected there. I'm reminded of a poem called Tilicho Lake by David Whyte:

In this high place
it is as simple as this,
leave everything you know behind.

Step toward the cold surface,
say the old prayer of rough love
and open both arms.

Those who come with empty hands
will stare into the lake astonished,
there, in the cold light
reflecting pure snow

the true shape of your own face.

Staring into this lake I see a face much like Ken's. I wonder if, on the cold surface of his prison cell, enough light comes through to reflect the true shape of this mountains face.


The Cosmotheandric Experience by Raimon Panikkar, Orbis Books, 1993, p.69

The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Paralax Press, 1998, p. 206

Where Many Rivers Meet, by David Whyte, Many Rivers Press, 1990, p. 23

www.kennethehartman.com for more about, and writings by, Ken Hartman



©Diane Pendola, Fall 2009. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

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