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A Lenten Reflection

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Lenten Reflection

Submitted by Ben Whaley

In our last newsletter, Charlie wrote about a koan that spoke to him in the Epiphany season. I want to share with you a koan that I have been praying with this Lent:

A monk went away to a cave to meditate. While he was meditating a demon came and stood in the mouth of the cave and hurled insults at him, jibing, “What makes you think you’ll ever become enlightened? You’re a worthless good-for-nothing, more ear wax than brains, wasting your life away for naught.” The demon’s jeers set doubt working in the monk’s heart. The monk took a deep breath and then said, “Mara, is that you? The tea is ready. Won’t you come enjoy it with me?”

Here storytellers have taken divergent paths. Some say that the demon fled, his power broken. I like to think, though, that the demon went in to the cave, that he discovered that the monk’s heart was true, and the monk discovered the demon was not so scary after all.

Lent is the season to invite our demons to tea. Life Together has given me a unique opportunity to practice this self-examination over the last 18 months by introducing me to The Enneagram. The Enneagram is a personality typology that suggests that there are nine basic personality types of human nature, with many subtypes and variations. Each type has characteristic behaviors, senses of self, and patterns.The folks at the Enneagram Institute assert that the Enneagram doesn’t “put your personality in a box, rather, it shows you the box you are in and the way out.” I’m a type Nine, and often my box is my demon. A Nine’s basic desire in life is for peace, the absence of conflict, which sounds lovely. The downside is that Nines will often make great sacrifices of their own personal desires and will to achieve this peace.
As a Nine, I LOVE harmony in community, and I’ve been blessed with a lot of gifts to help me create that. I also tend to tune out things that trouble me, preferring mental static over discord.

For example, last year when I was living in intentional community at SLAM, we had a problem with our dishes: we weren’t doing them. We would wash dishes as long as we could then put them in the dishrack and leave them to dry. However, when the dishrack got full, we would leave the dishes in the sink. It was my chore to clean the kitchen and finally, fed up with doing other people’s dishes, I hid the dishrack. Instead of starting a conversation about the system breakdown and risking a conflict, I took the passive aggressive route and hoped the problem would correct itself. The breakdown soon turned into a blowout, and I learned a valuable lesson about the value of addressing uncomfortable truths instead of trying to maneuver for peace.

This Lent, I’ve invited this avoidance in for tea. I’ve been examining the things I’ve shoved into the shadows and I’m finding that they have less power when I stop avoiding them. The dishes don’t bother me nearly as much once I’ve asked my roommate to do his share. Here, with the kettle on in my kitchen, the demons don’t seem so bad.


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