Lisa Allgood, Executive Presbyter
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you”. – Luke 17:20-21
I am fully aware this blog might be uncomfortable for some of you, and welcome questions and dialog. Some of you have heard this story before. One of my very dearest friends was Alison Wright, a National Geographic photographer with whom I traveled the world for many years. She wasn’t the one who got me so passionate about travel – I already had that baked deep into my bones, and traveled the world with my daughter as well. She wasn’t the one who got me passionate about photography either; I already had a number of cameras on hand to record life. But she was an infectious soul, an Extrovert with a capital “E” (I am not!), and she taught me a lighter way of traveling and being in the world.
Alison could charm anyone. Absolutely anyone. She was primarily a photographer of indigenous people (which will give you an idea of why I’ve traveled to some of the more weird places in the world). I’ve seen her charm little old men in cities where the people are adamant about not having their photo taken, and have a photo of her laughing with them as they show her a photo of their grandchildren. I’ve seen her reposition meditating monks in the right light, with them laughing the whole time, and stopping a shy, beautiful young woman emerging from the cool darkness of a church, because she was so striking in the half-light of the doorway.
Alison passed away suddenly last year, at the ridiculously young age of 60. Needless to say, she left a big hole in the lives of many. I still really miss her.
One her trips ended with the creation of a t-shirt outlining “Ali’s Adages” (I still have mine): things like “when you wear a watch, ignore it”, “when you have a schedule, change it”, “when you see a mountain, climb it.” My favorite, though, is “when you’re offered a blessing, receive it.”
I would add “when you can offer a blessing, do.” I did that to a desperate Hindu man in a slum in Mumbai once, and the women who were with me are still shaken by that day. We had been told not to touch. I held his hands as he cried.
I was offered a red Buddhist thread to wear at the Gangteng Monastery in Phobjikha Valley in Bhutan by the Lama there (much longer story on that one). Tradition says it’s a blessing with 3 knots in it (I took that for the Trinity; I often mix my Christian walk with my Buddhist training – Buddhist study makes me a better Christian). I never wore it, but keep it safe in my Bible. It was a beautiful blessing after an amazing teaching about the oneness of all creation and all peoples and all religions (even though Buddhism is a practice, not a religion), and was incredibly moving. A Zen master wrote of Buddhist practice “All is within you”. Light – Love – the Kingdom. All is within you. Just as Christ said.
The bridge in this picture is the Huc Bridge, a colorful graceful link between the sacred Buddhist Ngoc Son Temple on Jade Island and the bank of Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of Hanoi. (Huc means Morning Sunlight.) The bridge is old (and often repaired), but in addition to being beautiful and practical – a way to get to the temple – it’s somewhat representative of the journey from the bustling big 21st century city to the ancient practices of meditation and self- reflection. Practices that Jesus taught as well.
I pray of all of us that we live as if that is fully and wonderfully and visibly true – that we carry the Light and Love of the Kingdom within us, practicing grace and forgiveness and mercy, and bringing the blessing of Christ into the world – across the bridge – wherever we wander.