Thought threads that have been weaving themselves together in my mind in light of the COVID-19 pandemic …

To start, here’s a story that I first heard more than 20 years ago and have encountered in various forms many times since, the origins of which are likely Taoist, coming from ancient China:

Once upon a time, there was an old farmer who had worked his farm for many years. One day his horse ran away.

Hearing the news, his neighbor came to visit. “Oh, that’s bad luck,” the neighbor said to him.

“Maybe. We’ll see,” the farmer replied.

The very next day, the horse came back to the farm, bringing with it a dozen wild horses.

“What wonderful news!” the neighbor said.

“Maybe. We’ll see,” the farmer responded.

The day after, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses, but it threw him off and he broke a leg.

The neighbor again arrived to offer sympathy to the farmer. “What horrible luck!”

“Maybe. We’ll see,” the farmer answered.

The following day, military officers arrived in the village to draft young men to fight in a war that had already taken the lives of many of their soldiers. However, seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.

After the officers left with their new recruits, the neighbor came along to congratulate the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Such good luck!” the neighbor nearly shouted.

“Maybe. We’ll see,” the farmer said.

author unknown

And, after a search to see what people offered as insights on this story, here are some thoughts and images from “Who Knows What’s Good or Bad?” by David G. Allan:

Remember the neighbor from the story? This is his emotional journey: He’s up, he’s down, it’s good, it’s bad. This is most of us and how we deal with most things that happen in our lives. We’re on a roller coaster. I love roller coasters, and they’re fun, but if you stay on one too long you’re going to get sick.

Now, here is your brain on Zen. It’s not that the farmer is unengaged in life. It’s not that he is unable to be happy or sad. But he has a greater perspective. He sees the bigger picture.

Next, in much the same vein of philosophical thought, a challenging saying from Jesus:

God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

matthew 5:45

And some thoughts from Franciscan priest Richard Rohr:

I am convinced that Jesus was the first nondual religious teacher of the West, and one reason we have failed to understand so much of his teaching, much less follow it, is because we tried to understand it with dualistic minds. …

The dualistic mind is essentially binary, either/or thinking. It knows by comparison, opposition, and differentiation. It uses descriptive words like good/evil, pretty/ugly, smart/stupid, not realizing there may be a hundred degrees between the two ends of each spectrum. Dualistic thinking works well for the sake of simplification and conversation, but not for the sake of truth or the immense subtlety of actual personal experience. …

We do need the dualistic mind to function in practical life…. It’s helpful and fully necessary as far as it goes, but it just doesn’t go far enough. The dualistic mind cannot process things like infinity, mystery, God, grace, suffering, sexuality, death, or love; this is exactly why most people stumble over these very issues. The dualistic mind pulls everything down into some kind of tit-for-tat system of false choices and too-simple contraries, which is largely what “fast food religion” teaches, usually without even knowing it. Without the contemplative and converted mind—honest and humble perception—much religion is frankly dangerous.

from “the Dualistic mind” by richard rohr

Finally, some challenging but comforting words from author Paul Dordal:

When we discover the profound truth that so many of life’s polarities (e.g., sacred or secular, failure or success, us or them, light or dark, conservative or liberal, etc.) are simply human constructs reinforced by repressive societal systems, we can cease attempting to choose between the Either-Or’s of life. We can begin a new search to transcend the polarities.

Jesus’s life and ministry clearly displayed that he transcended the dualisms and polarities that cause so much angst for many of us. One Bible account especially exemplifies this truth:

A violent storm arose, and the seas were breaking over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping on a pillow undisturbed at the back of the boat. His followers asked incredulously, “Rabbi, don’t you care if we all drown?” Jesus replied, “You of little faith. Why are you so afraid?” (Mk 4:37-38, Mt 8:26a)

Claiming that the weather was a “violent storm” was a dualistic value ascribed to it by Jesus’s followers. A mile away a farmer might have viewed the rain as a needed blessing. But Jesus saw the weather, and all of life, for what it really is: just the natural order. Jesus did not live trapped in binary and polarized ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. Jesus, throughout his ministry, showed us that by faith we too can transcend the seeming polarities of life. Jesus invites us to rest with him in the back of the boat.

from in search of jesus the anarchist by paul dordal