Four decades after my two-year sojourn in Japan, where I lived after college, I still draw wisdom from Zen koans. As the Diocese of Newark continues to be in discernment in preparation for electing its next bishop this coming Saturday, a particular koan stands out:
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Since the candidate walkabouts from May 4-6, people across the diocese have literally been sharing notes, engaging in conversations, viewing the video of candidates Lisa Hunt, Carlye Hughes and Scott Slater taken on May 5, and sorting through answers and opinions. All of that is important and necessary.
And so is emptying the cup. In Christian terms, that means providing space for the Holy Spirit to breathe into our souls. To set aside time to flush out the anxiety – or at least let it drain a bit; to give our active minds a rest, to let go of the pressure to make a decision – and simply be in God’s presence. Emptying the cup does not necessarily result in an answer (although some will say that it does), but it opens up the possibility for greater clarity so that one has a better chance of responding rather than reacting.
I had a grace-filled two hours with Lisa, Carlye and Scott before they made their presentations to the diocese. We weren’t able to empty our cups in the conversation we had together – there was information to be passed on by me and many questions to be asked by them. But they each told me that they had done some serious emptying in the process that led them to become a candidate for bishop.
I am grateful to them for their willingness to take the journey – and for the commitment, talent and faith they each bring to this process.
Let us honor them – and the Holy Spirit, by taking some time to empty the cup.