The other day I was with a group of people (over video conference) and one of them brought up the Zen Koan by Master Yunmen, which talks about medicine.

All the world is medicine.
Which are you?

Now, while I’m probably not interpreting the Koan properly, my mind automatically went to this dichotomy of “are you medicine, or are you not?” In other words, when people look at me, do they see healing and love, or do they see destruction, pain, anger, hate, etc? This then led into the thought that in the teachings of the Buddhist monks, and the teachings of some of the Christian monks, we are to see the Buddha or Christ in all people we meet, and treat them accordingly. When we have emptied ourselves of our own biases, our own desires, and live in the manner of Love, we will see all people as the embodiment of God, and we will treat them with the kindness and respect that they deserve.

Now, this story of the teaching about medicine continues beyond this Koan. Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, the one who carries the double-edged sword that kills or gives life, asks a monk to bring him something out in the world that is not medicine. The monk searches far and wide, and finally returns, saying that there is nothing out there that is not medicine. To which the master says, “then bring me something that is medicine.” The monk then reaches down and plucks a blade of grass.

The master turns to the monk and says, “This medicine can kill people and it can also bring them to life.”

Since I had already started down a path of self-reflection, I interpreted the meaning of this last sentence to speak more directly to my interaction with the world, and with those around me. If I am truly able to see Christ in all people, then I would be the blade of grass (medicine) that brings people to Life. But if I am full of anger and of hate, resentment and fear, then I am the blade of grass that can kill people. Obviously not literally, but through my words, or through my lack of care, my lack of concern, my lack of empathy.

In the book of James, Chapter 3, we run across a discourse on the tongue, and what great damage the tongue can do, if left unchecked. We praise God with our tongue, our voice, and simultaneously we curse other people – those who are made in the likeness of God (James 3:9). The tongue is a part of us that is the most difficult to control. And it is just a symptom of what lies within us. Or, to be more specific, “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). What we say, and what we do, are just an outgrowth of that which we hold on to in our hearts.

Just recently, I was involved in an investigation, during which those making the final assessment came to a conclusion that made sense when looking at the greater picture. When I was told the final outcome of the investigation, I understood the reasoning for the decision, because I had made a similar decision using the same reasoning not too many months before involving the same set of circumstances.

But while I might understand the reasoning behind the decision, that doesn’t mean I don’t still recognize that at times I wanted the investigation to turn out differently than it did. I hold on to resentments and anger. These things are contrary to seeing – and treating – others as people made in the likeness of God, and so I see more clearly the necessity for restraint, just as James reminds us in his letter.

Because if I do not restrain myself and my tongue, I can quickly and easily become that blade of grass in the story above. A blade of grass that can kill and destroy, just as easily as it heals.

About Michael

Mike was called to be the Vicar of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ, and started this call on February 1, 2024. Before taking a call as clergy, Mike worked in IT for almost 25 years, variously working as a back- and front-end web developer, database developer and manager, and as a business analyst. If he's not engaged in the work of the church, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride, or training for an upcoming BikeMS ride. Mike holds a Bachelor of Arts in Classical History from Seattle Pacific University, and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He attended Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022, and graduated in May of 2023. Mike was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona on January 20th, 2024, and will be ordained to the priesthood on July 27, 2024.

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