A Zen-Christian Night Teaching

Running into Thich Nhat Hanh is always cause for celebration. I’ve never visited Plum Village, his community in France, never heard him speak in person. Still, like millions of his mindful followers, I consider him family.


Thich Nhat Hanh in Paris in 2006. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Last night he showed up in a short dream. Thay, as he’s known to his students, and I stood in the Coleman family kitchen. I can’t remember his exact words, but he said that in his family they drink tea from small cups. He smiled, gently rested his hand on my forearm, then placed a tea pot and a cup on the counter. He smiled again. That was it.


Credit: Michele Constantini

In this moment, I breathe in and out and savor Thay’s night teaching. Most of my dreams are anxious, like I’m enrolled in a college calculus class and forget to attend all semester. But I receive Thay’s visitation as a blessing from my Judeo-Christian God. “Drink slowly from the little cup,” both say. “Why are you always rushing?” Thank you, Thay. Thank you, Lord. Your spiritual hybrid gratefully accepts the healing lesson.


Stop to notice the spider plant blossoms reaching to the sink in the church bathroom.

A week ago Thich Nhat Hanh showed up in the form of words: “To be is to inter-be,” he writes. “We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We have to inter-be with every other thing.” For Thay, garbage and flowers inter-are. “The affluent society and the deprived society inter-are. The wealth of one society is made of the poverty of the other.” The same goes for people. Reflecting on the suffering of a young prostitute in Manila, Thay observes, “Looking deeply into ourselves, we see her, and we will share her pain and the pain of the whole world. Then we can begin to be of real help.”


Neighborhood sage Patrick with well-loved Tin Man. This Down’s syndrome kid’s a master at inter-being.

Half an hour ago, sipping a Starbucks redeye, I was inter-are with a tall, skinny guy standing in the long line: shaved head, felt newsboy cap, great puff of a graying beard, black long-john shirt, corduroy pants. For all I know he may have been the most neurotic soul in the coffee shop, but he appeared so overwhelmingly corduroy that I thought to myself, “That dude. I want to be like that dude.” And now, darned if I’m not relaxed—chunky, tight-bearded, balding, but relaxed. I’ll take it, thankful that inter-being is concrete, tangible.


A dog channels my corduroy brother. I want to be like this dog. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Five minutes more and I’m off to the church for office time. In prayer this morning, I leaned everything I had into the loving bosom of I Am. In the night, Thay touched my arm. I can still feel I Am and Thay. I’ll take them both with me, along with the corduroy man who blessed me with his peace.

10 thoughts on “A Zen-Christian Night Teaching

  1. Thanks for an insightful message, John. Julie and I drank from the small cup and savored great stress reduction and inter-being on a cruise ship journey last week. Now to translate that grace to life in the home and work arenas. I Am does say, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

    • A cruise ship! Now there’s a place to inter-be–especially the buffet. Glad you had some good rest, Ray. And good luck trying to make daily life a cruise. I’ll pray for you and Julie. Peace, John

  2. Yesterday I served at Rebecca’s Cafe, a lunch my church provides for people who are food-insecure. I had the pleasure of sitting down with a colleague who had just returned from a week’s retreat in Mississippi led by Thich Nhat Hanh. I wish you could meet Fred. He calls himself an EpiscoBuddhist! And much of what you wrote was echoed in Fred’s comments. Especially the part about slowing down!

    • Hi, Loretta. I’m envious of Fred. He’s an EpiscoBuddist. Love it. Now I’m thinking, “What am I?” I’m leaning toward a “Budderan.” Peace, John

  3. Amazing, dream! It looks like you made it to grateful – for now. When I was in Savasana on Sunday, I felt someone touch me on my belly. I opened my eyes. No one was there. Hmmmm. It is the second time in recent months that I have been touched. The first time was on the crown of my head (while commuting home on the train…)

    • Man, Sally, you’re raising inter-being to new levels–very in touch with something. I hope those touches were friendly. And, yeah, I’m making progress in the grateful department, especially since I decided to take today off. Peace, John

  4. I think I am an inter-being. I was baptized Catholic well into my adulthood. I felt the calling, I guess. Then when I was in Japan, I fell in love with the Buddhist Bible in my hotel room. I wanted to take it, but my friend said that would be stealing. I wish I stole!:-) But I’ve now discovered Pema Chodron and love listening to her on CDs.

    • Hmm. Stealing a sacred book. Stealing? Or receiving? Pema Chodron: I once read I really helpful article on fear by her. She’s good. Peace, John

  5. I haven’t visited the world of blogging for about a month, because I have been busy and because I have had certain doubts about (my own) blogging in general. Then for some reason I remembered Napper’s Companion, and I came to see what you’re up to these days. I’m so glad I came here.

    You call yourself a “spiritual hybrid”, and as a former theologian, nowadays I-don’t-know-what, I so much relate to that description!

    Your post is inspiring, thank you for sharing your dream…Thich Nhat Hahn is one of my favorite spiritual teachers, and I once had a chance to listen to that ageless, friendly little monk when we were living in Vietnam.

    All the best to you!

    • Hi, Maarit. Nice to see you. Yeah, I hear what you’re saying about doubts. Me, too. Something keeps me at it, not sure what. Please know I think of you and wish you well. From one spiritual mutt to another, peace. John

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