Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Gospel of The Princess Bride

I'm not sure if The Princess Bride was one of my daughter's favorite movies when she was growing up or not, but I know that it has always been one of mine.  And today, in meeting for worship, a scene from The Princess Bride rose up in me as an answer to a spiritual question.

All spiritual communities have their struggles.  Sometimes they are rooted in personal conflicts that divide a group; sometimes in the differing needs of a group's members.  For example, it can be frustrating to a newcomer to discover that a group is so well-adapted to meeting the needs of longtime members that their needs seem to be invisible, and it can be equally frustrating to longtime members to see a group seemingly caught forever in an introduction to work they are ready to take much farther and deeper than a newcomer can.  No matter how many beginners you welcome and show the ropes, there will always be another one right behind them... unless there isn't, at which point you discover a whole new set of limitations!  And no matter how wisely and sensitively you approach the experienced members of a group, there will always be someone who is uneasy either with your newness or your new ideas... unless there aren't any experienced members of the group, at which point, you bump up against that set of limitations.

There are the needs of the old and of the young; of the time-poor and of the lonely; there are needs around social class, race, medical needs, mental health needs...  So many needs, and sometimes, seeing how to meet them or even acknowledge them all is not so simple.

Sometimes, we just don't know how to agree on the best way forward in our life together.  It's a muddle, being human...

I remember the point among Pagans that I first realized that, no matter how much time and energy
Winchester Mystery House. Cullen328 via Wikimedia Commons
any of us put into building a community, building any spiritual community was akin to construction on the Winchester Mystery House: if you were lucky, it was a job that could never be completed.  And living in spiritual community is always a matter of living amid sawdust, wet paint, and tarps as well as beauty and grace.  That's just the way it is, trying to inhabit the Beloved Community with other human beings.

My meeting is like other spiritual communities in this; we have not achieved perfection, and sometimes we hurt one another, and sometimes we confuse one another.  No surprises there.

A message today in meeting spoke to that truth.  It was painful to see someone I love grieving over our struggles.  I wanted to make it better.  I wanted to make everyone in my meeting happy, fulfilled, and whole--but, of course, that's a job that's way bigger than I am.  I couldn't accomplish that if I knew what everyone needed, and of course, I do not.  I'm in the fog, along with everyone else.

So I sat with that for a bit today, and with my sadness at not being able to make everything right.

If it's not my place to do that--or even if it were my place, but I have no idea how to begin--what, then?

Ah.  Right.  The Princess Bride.
I felt the wisdom of Inigo Montoya rise up within me.

Inigo, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie (In which case, for shame!  Go out and find a copy, or download it from Netflix, or whatever the cool kids are doing these days to further their movie educations) is not normally a figure one would take to be an inspiration "To All Friends Everywhere," as Quakers like to address their epistles.

Inigo Montoya is a chronically unemployed drunk, who has lived only for the sake of avenging his father's death from the age of twelve, and whose most recent paying job was attempting to provoke a war between two rival nations.  (He is also compassionate, good-humored, and kind, oddly enough.  See the movie; it will all make sense to you when you have.)

The latest job ended in disaster, as Inigo, his partner, and his employer Vizzini were all outwitted by the mysterious Man in Black, who thwarted their attempts to start a war, rescued the princess, and defeated them all in battle, one by one.

When next we see Inigo, he is refusing to be strong-armed out of his chosen hovel by the Royal Brute Squad.  Such is Inigo's mastery of swordsmanship that even drunk, defeated and exhausted, the combined efforts of the entire Brute Squad are not enough to remove him.  Scarcely deigning to look up, he parries all their attacks, mumbling and shouting
I am waiting for you Vizzini!  You told me to go back to the beginning!  I have.  This is where I am; this is where I will stay...  When a job went wrong, you went back to the beginning.  Well, this is where we got the job, so this is the beginning, and I am staying till Vizzini come.
Life in a spiritual community involves a lot of confusion, and a certain amount of jobs that go wrong.  We get stuck.  We lose hope.  We get angry, or afraid, or our words fall on deaf ears, and we don't know what to do next.

Vizzini was right, however.  Inigo Montoya was right--at least in this.  When a job goes wrong, we go back to the beginning.  And we don't let anyone, no matter how determined, move us from that place.

What is the place?

Always the same.  Anyone who has ever been in spiritual community knows it, even if we forget about it in our confusion and our pain: it's the place where we love one another.  In spite of fear, in spite of anger, in spite of hopelessness, in spite of being at utter cross-purposes.

We go back to the beginning.

We remember how it feels to extend a hand in love, and to have it taken by love in turn.

We turn away from the part within us that wants to demonize the Other, fears to embrace the person we think will cause us pain, or who has raised so much anger in us in the past.

We go back to the beginning.

And wait.

(Look: if even a drunken vengeance-seeker can do it, so can I.  Maybe.  At least some of the time, if I try.)

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