Blessing a Hole in the Ground

August 31st, 2019

The peace pagoda at Ground Zero has been a work in progress for at least thirty-seven years. I have to be impressed by the tenacity and patience of the Buddhist monks and nuns, but I am not surprised. Over the years, Karin and I have met many monks and nuns (mostly Catholic), and these people all take the long view of time. They think in terms of centuries. The Buddhists have been in business for 2500 years, and they are in no rush to get things done. Monastic communities are probably the most counter-cultural groups in our country, and perhaps in the world.

On August 24th, a week ago, we attended the land purification ceremony on the Ground Zero property. Karin and I helped to set things up for the ritual, but we were spectators once the show began. Perhaps the word “show” is a bit disrespectful, but the Buddhist liturgy was a physical manifestation of a spiritual action. In that sense, it was a show.

The Buddhist ceremony lasted for an hour. I didn’t understand much of it, and there is no reason why I should have. The monks and nuns wore white and saffron colors. They played drums and chanted in Japanese (mostly “Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo”).  They used gongs, bells, and spinning cymbals. The spinning cymbals were very cool. There was a lot of incense, bowing, and general weirdness. Karin and I loved all of it.

As Catholics (and Buddhist sympathizers), Karin and I are comfortable with ritual. I read once that Catholics, by definition, believe in magic. True. Oh, so true. I think that the Buddhists may be the same. There was absolutely nothing that happened during the hour-long ceremony that made a damn bit of sense to me, and yet it was all incredibly beautiful. I especially liked the scattering of flower petals.

Set behind the gathered Buddhists was an altar, nearly buried under the weight of flowers and food offerings. Somewhere on the altar was a statue of the Buddha and a picture of Guruji, the founder of the current sect. Behind the altar was the site of the proposed peace pagoda. The site looked like a bomb crater, albeit a bit cleaned up. The entire ceremony was designed to bless a hole in the ground.

After the ceremony, there were guest speakers. That is kind of standard for this sort of event. Some Native Americans (i.e. indigenous people and/or Indians) were scheduled to talk. They never showed up. I don’t know why. It doesn’t matter. In my extremely limited experiences with these indigenous people, I have found that they do what they want when they want. That is both infuriating and admirable. It just is.

There was an interfaith prayer. A rabbi came, and she sang a prayer in Hebrew. Karin and I sang along with her. There were two Christian pastors who spoke. They were ecumenical in a warm, fuzzy way.

Other speakers included Jim and Shelley Douglass. They are co-founders of Ground Zero, and they rocked. Old does not mean lame. Both of them spoke very eloquently about peace and justice. I listened closely to them.

Johnella La Rose, an indigenous person, gave a very emotional talk. It is hard for me to remember all that she said, but I do remember that everything came from her heart. That much I know.

The last person up to bat was Mark Babson, a violinist from Portland. He finished it all off by playing a short piece from Ernest Bloch. The music was composed in memory of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement if Judaism.

It was perfect.


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