Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.’
This well-known quotation, attributed to St Teresa of Avila, summarises much of how I feel Jesus (or Christ or God, if those names sit more comfortably with you) acts through us in the world. If I am to follow his example, simply by reading about his life and applying that example in my own, I would be doing this. That is one way I can understand being a Jesus-follower, a way of being christian.
There are also times when I feel that something else, whether from within me or from outside me, but somehow not actually me, is acting through me. In my Quaker understanding I describe that ‘something else’ as ‘that of God’.
Recently at a ‘morning of mindfulness‘ in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, someone requested that we chant ‘Namo‘valokiteshvaraya’. There were some newcomers to the tradition with us, so an explanation of this was offered. The chanting invokes the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, who is said to manifest whenever someone needs, or asks for, help, in whatever form is most helpful. In Chinese this bodhisattva is known as Kuan Yin and is reputed to always manifest in female form.
I found the explanation helpful in several ways, in part because I had not previously understood, in language or ‘head’ terms what we were doing when we chanted. But also because the explanation continued by saying that we need not see the invocation as literally invoking a separate being, but that it could be understood as invoking something within us. This gave me a clearer image of something I’d vaguely seen before. Anyone could, at any time, be (however briefly) a bodhisattva. Avalokitesvara could look out through your eyes and my eyes, could use your feet and my feet to go to were the need was, could use my hands and your hands to do what needed to be done. We can help the person who has fallen in the street, we can listen to the person in distress, we can feed someone who is hungry (directly, or by contributing to a food bank, or by sending money to an appropriate charity), we can help one another in all manner of ways, large and small. We can allow that inner bodhisattva to manifest through us.
So I came back to Christ, to Jesus. I also came back to the necessity that I act.
I can pray or chant or listen to ‘the promptings of love and truth‘. If I allow compassion to waken in me, I will be moved to act. If I act in line with, in tune with, ‘that of God’ or that inner bodhisattva, I will, hopefully, be acting for the best.
On this particular occasion,at that morning of mindfulness, I chanted, holding in the light my friend Stephen whom I knew, from his text messages, to be very ill with bowel cancer. I had replied to his texts offering my thoughts and prayers. In the circumstances I could offer little else, I wished I could. I heard, about a week later, that he had died only days after that chanting. I hope he felt upheld by it, as I had done on a previous occasion. I hope he is freed now from the slightly desperate searching that was so much a part of his life in the time I knew him. I give thanks that we shared a part of our spiritual quest, that we had spent some time together fairly recently and that we had remained in contact, however tenuously.