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Morning Readings

We find it extremely valuable to begin each day with a spiritual reading. Stories, poems, or short passages from spiritual books help us start the day remembering and reflecting on spiritual truths. We offer some books for sale that work well for this purpose: Tales of A Magic Monastery, Lineage & Other Stories, Love Poems from God, and The Gift are just a few of the options you can find in our store. We also recommend some titles that we don’t sell: The Chronicles of Narnia (fun, and deep enough for any age reader/listener), The Snow Lion’s Turquoise Mane, Tales of the Hasidim, Seven Arrows. Reading aloud with your family is a powerful practice that will encourage you to discuss important issues. If your family isn’t together every morning, you can still share this practice by individually reading the same passages.

 

One of our favorite morning readings: The Mani Man

A prayer wheel, or mani wheel, is a wheel filled with innumerable mantras and inscriptions wrapped clockwise around a central axis. Some prayer wheels are tiny, like tops; others are huge, filling an entire room, and one turns the wheel by holding its handles and walking clockwise around it. Others are attached to running streams or waterfalls so that they can harness the natural energy and spread benedictions throughout the land. The faithful believe that spinning these prayer wheels or hanging prayer flags in the wind actualizes the inscribed prayers.

The Tibetan province of Kham is akin to America’s Wild West. The people of Kham are great equestrians, and like all who ride regularly, they love their horses. Until about a century ago, Kham was carved into dozens of smaller kingdoms, each of which had its own army, raised by forcible conscription.

There was once an old man in far eastern Kham known as the Mani Man because day and night he could always be found devotedly spinning his small homemade prayer wheel. The wheel was filled with the mantra of Great Compassion, Om Mani Padme Hung. The Mani Man lived with his son and their one fine horse. The son was the joy of the man’s life; the boy’s pride and joy was the horse.

The man’s wife, after a long life of virtue and service, had long since departed for more fortunate rebirths. Father and son lived, free from excessive wants or needs, in one of several rough stone houses near a river on the edge of the flat plains.

One day their steed disappeared. The neighbors bewailed the loss of the old man’s sole material asset, but the stoic old man just kept turning his prayer wheel, reciting “Om Mani Padme Hung,” Tibet’s national mantra. To whoever inquired or expressed condolences, he simply said, “Give thanks for everything. Who can say what is good or bad? We’ll see…”

After several days the splendid creature returned, followed by a pair of wild mustangs. These the old man and his son swiftly trained. Then everyone sang songs of celebration and congratulated the old man on his unexpected good fortune. The man simply smiled over his prayer wheel and said, “I am grateful…but who knows? We shall see.”

Then, while racing one of the mustangs, the boy fell and shattered his leg. Some neighbors carried him home, cursing the wild horse and bemoaning the boy’s fate. But the old man, sitting at his beloved son’s bedside just kept turning his prayer wheel around and around while softly muttering gentle Lord Chenrayzig’s mantra of Great Compassion. He neither complained nor answered their protestations to fate, but simply nodded his head affably, reiterating what he had said before. “The Buddha is beneficent; I am grateful for my son’s life. We shall see.”

The next week military officers appeared, seeking young conscripts for an ongoing border war. All the local boys were immediately taken away, except for the bedridden son of the Mani Man. Then the neighbors congratulated the old man on his great good fortune, attributing such luck to the good karma accumulated by the old man’s incessantly spinning prayer wheel and the constant mantras on his cracked lips. He smiled and said nothing.

One day when the boy and his father were watching their fine horses graze on the prairie grass, the taciturn old man suddenly began to sing:

“Life just goes around and around, up and down like a waterwheel; Our lives are like its buckets, being emptied and refilled Again and again. Like the potter’s clay, our physical existences Are fashioned into one form after another: The shapes are broken and reformed again and again, The low wall will be high, and the high fall down; the dark will grow light, and the rich lose all. If you, my son, were an extraordinary child, Off to a monastery as an incarnation they would carry you.

“If you were too bright, my son, shackled to other people’s disputes at an official’s desk you would be. One horse is one horse’s worth of trouble. Wealth is good, But too soon loses its savor, And can be a burden, a source of quarrel, in the end. No one knows what karma awaits us, But what we sow now will be reaped in lives to come; that is certain.

“So be kind to one and all And don’t be biased, Based upon illusions regarding gain and loss. Have neither hope nor fear, expectation nor anxiety; Give thanks for everything, whatever your lot may be. Accept everything; accept everyone; and follow The Buddha’s infallible Law. Be simple and carefree, remaining naturally at ease and in peace.

“You can shoot arrows at the sky if you like, My son, but they’ll inevitably fall back to earth.”

As he sang, the prayer flags fluttered overhead, and the ancient mani wheel, filled with hundreds of thousands of handwritten mantras, just kept turning. Then the old man was silent.
 

Another favorite: Edification and Demolition

by Walter Wangerin, Jr

Reprinted by permission from Ragman and Other Cries of Faith, published by HarperSanFrancisco. Walter Wangerin is a faculty member at Valparaiso University in Indiana, an Evangelical Lutheran Church pastor and author.

Two gas stations attendants. One I met at a self-service pump; the other at her desk. The first in rain on a chilly night. The second in the afternoon, but there was no sun in that building.

What caused their differing attitudes, I won’t pretend to know. There may be a host of reasons why the latter attendant was so bitter, but that isn’t the point right now. Edification is the point, a Latin way of saying “building up.” The power to build up other human beings, or else to tear them down, no matter how menial the circumstance or how quick the meeting—that is the power possessed by each member of the body of Christ, and a mighty power indeed.

I had my collar up against the rain. I hunched at the rear of the Nova, had screwed the gas cap off and was running gas into the tank. My hand was numb. Beside me, suddenly, stood the attendant, his hands in his pockets. His presence was not rushing me because it was at peace. He said, “hello,” and a smile flicked across his face. When he spoke he looked directly into my eyes—without fear, without embarrassment, with neither judgment nor haughtiness nor threat. I was there for him in that moment.

He was lean. Dark hair streaked his forehead with the rain. He shook his head slowly when he saw the brown face of my kid looking out the window, and raindrops flew off his chin. I think he laughed. The fill-up seemed to take a long time. I hit $20 on the penny, capped the pipe, handed him the bills and watched while he folded them into his roll. He did not solve some terrible trouble of mine. Nor did he save me from disaster or fix something I couldn’t fix. Nevertheless, this attendant did the extraordinary. He shook my hand. He smiled one more time, and to me he said, “Thank you.”

I admit it: This is a minor and nearly forgettable incident, except that when I slid back into my car, I stopped a moment before turning the key and my son said, “Why are you smiling?”

The fellow had built me up. He had edified me. I never saw him again.

Neither did I ever see the other attendant again. But I remember her too. She kept her separated seat while I filled my thirsty car. Most attendants don’t pop out of the station for every person that jerks the handle. But when I entered the building, still she kept the seat, her eyes downward, gazing at the top of her desk. No book to read. Just staring.

I held out my money. “Whadda-ya want me to do with that?” she said. “Well, to take it,” I said. “I’m
paying for the gas.” “So how much was it?” “Twenty.”

There were lines from her nose to the corners of her mouth. Sullen lines. Anger, for some reason or other. And I was, it seemed, an intrusion in her life. She snapped the bills from my hand and bedded them in the slots of her register. I stood there too long, I think. She said, still without looking at me, “Your car stuck? You waiting for something?” “No.” I slid disquieted into the car and sat awhile.

Demolition. Sadness had made me sad. The day had been torn down utterly.

You say: “But how can I serve the Lord? I’m not important. What I do is so common and of little consequence. Anyone can do what I do.” But I say to you: “Every time you meet another human being you have the opportunity. It’s a chance at holiness. For you will do one of two things. Either you will build him up, or you will tear him down. You will create, or you will destroy. And the things you dignify or deny are God’s. They are made, each one of them, in God’s own image.”

And I say to you: “There are no useless, minor meetings. There are no dead-end jobs. There are no pointless lives. Swallow your sorrows; forget your grievances and all the hurt your poor life has sustained. Turn your face truly to the human before you and let her, for one pure moment, shine. Think her important, and then she will suspect that she is fashioned of God.”

How do you say “Hello”? Or do you? How do you greet strangers? Are you so proud as to burden the people you meet each day with your tribulations? Even by attitude? Even by crabbiness or gloom? Demolition! Or do you look them in the eye and grant them peace? Such are the members of the body of Christ—and edification in a service station.