This morning was breath-taking, as only a morning in September by the sea can be. The light spilled across the bay, onto the land, flickering in the trees, cutting bright wide swathes across the fields. The rocks this morning seemed to be lit from within, and granite never looked so good. As many of you know, we had to change our plans and we did not go to the Holy Land this year. Instead, we ended up taking a different kind of trip, this one a road trip through France and Italy. It ended up being a kind of Art and Spirit journey, for we visited many sacred places along the way, and we saw so much beauty, from the paintings of Van Gogh and Chagall, to the wild beauty of the Maritime Alps in southern France and northern Italy. It was astonishing trip, and it will take many months to absorb all the we experienced.
One of the high points for us happened toward the beginning of the trip. We visited Plum Village where the Vietnamese monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh established his home-in-exile. Plum Village is composed of three beautiful hamlets in rural France, near a tiny medieval town called Loubes-Bernac. We drove through fields of sunflowers, which are grown in that part of France for the sunflower seeds and oils. Plum Village is nested in between rolling hills, with acres of farmland on either side. A long road narrow road leads past the entrance to the Lower Hamet; the Upper Hamlet is not far off, and that was the first place we went, for the registrar’s office was there. The Upper Hamlet was filled with families and children, many of them camping, there on what is known as the annual Summer Retreat: a month-long period of meditation, teaching, mindful work and mindful walking.
During this summer’s retreat Thich Nhat Hanh was in residence and offered teachings twice a week to retreat participants. We were immediately at home when we arrived, for the Upper Hamlet community felt very much like the atmosphere of a church family campground, interspersed with monks and nuns dressed in Buddhist monastic brown robes. People from every religious tradition attend the retreat, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, seekers from all walks of life, and every disposition. We heard people speaking languages from every part of the globe, a true Pentecost moment, for there was a sense of mutuality and understanding, gladness at being together. The resident monastic community had planted a grove of bamboo, and children played in among the shadows and high slender poles of the bamboo trees. The day was bright and beautiful, and we spent it wandering, listening, walking, and smiling with everyone else there. It is a joyous place. Every now and then, a temple bell would ring. When that happens at Plum Village, the whole community stops whatever they are doing, and stands in silence, for a moment of mindfulness, full attention on this very moment. Thich Nhat Hanh often uses the words of Jesus in his public teachings, and one of the phrases we heard over and over during our time there is this expression of Jesus from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark: The kingdom of heaven is here and now. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. We could feel it there.
May the peace of our Lord be with you today!