I’ve always been fascinated by Begging Bowls – admittedly, my fascination has a romantic notion to it. I’m drawn to a simple way of living and have a fantasy that if I could live the simplicity of a Buddhist monks life, then I would find a deeper sense of peace and serenity. If you don’t know of the tradition, historically Buddhist monks have left their temple each day holding an empty bowl. Anything placed in the bowl is honored as the nourishment that is needed for that day.
As a Spiritual Director and Pastoral Care Provider, I naturally think about this metaphorically. So many times we wonder if we’re impacting the people we’re called to care for. Over the years, I learned to answer that questioning voice in the following ways: we plant seeds. Often we don’t see the fruition of our work. For example, a church’s pastoral care volunteer may take an emergency call in the middle of the night, and never hear from that person again; however, the reality is that a word of compassion is like an empty bowl being filled. A need presented itself, a person suffering some emptiness of soul asked for help, and his or her emptiness was filled with the compassionate response of the caregiver. Or a person may have a need to feel a sense of connection with the church, to feel that they matter to someone. That need, that empty bowl, is filled with the gift of handwritten card, a phone call, a visit, a meal delivered, an experience of being listened to, or a simple and heartfelt prayer. These simple gestures have great impact upon people. Simple acts are, paradoxically, sometimes the greatest gift and, like planted seeds, continue to grow in ways we can’t imagine.
Many times when I’m out simply observing people, I imagine each carrying a begging bowl. I imagine what nourishment they are needing and what needs have presented themselves for that day. This act of observation and imagining helps me to cultivate compassion in my life and helps me to be a better pastoral caregiver and spiritual director. At the same time, I imagine my own unseen begging bowl and work to honor that whatever kindness, compassion or goodness I receive each day is the nourishment I need and, more importantly, it is enough.