“The Dalai Lama says we all have a Buddha nature, an unshakeable goodness in our core,” said Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J. “The nuns who taught me said, ‘Good, better, best; never let it rest until good is better and the better is the best.’ But that gets us away from the Buddha nature.”
He continued, “It is like we begin badly in sin, then get good, better and best, then on to holiness and sainthood. We are supposed to believe what was said of Jesus is true for us, that we are beloved and God is wonderfully pleased with us.”
Boyle gave the homily at the 9:15 a.m. EDT Wednesday, July 15, morning devotional service on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. His sermon title was “Your Soul Clapping Its Hands.” The scripture text was Mark 1:9-11 (NRSV) —
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”
Boyle quoted “What is the Greatest Gift,” by poet Mary Oliver: “That you have a soul—your own, no one else’s— / that I wonder about more than I wonder about my / own. / So that I find my soul clapping its hands for yours / more than my own.”
He said to the congregation, “It is hard to see the truth that you are beloved and God is wonderfully pleased with you.”
Many years ago, Boyle was in his office, busily writing something. He noticed Danny standing at his door. “He never did well in school and lived in the projects. Somehow he had purloined a sketch pad. Every once in a while he would look over his pencil with his thumb, which he probably learned in a cartoon,” Boyle said.
Boyle started to laugh and Danny said, “Don’t move,” which made Boyle laugh more. Danny looked at him and with a deep undertone said, “I said, ‘Don’t move.’” Boyle froze.
When Danny finished he ripped the sheet off the pad and gave it to Boyle. It was a portrait “but I looked like I had been hit with the ugly stick. My glasses were askew and my ears lopsided,” Boyle said.
Danny was waiting for a verdict. Boyle asked, “Is this me?” He did not know what to say so he told Danny it was “very interesting.” Danny said, “Whatchya ‘spect? Ya moved.”
Boyle said, “We don’t like moving. Why move when you are just like God made you — beloved, wonderfully pleased. Don’t move, hear the soul clapping for itself.”
A few years ago, Boyle was invited to bring several of the Homeboys to meet with President Barack Obama in Los Angeles. One of the men Boyle was going to take with him was Herbie, a 19-year-old African-American with a large Afro and a scraggly beard.
The beard bothered Boyle and he said to Herbie, “You are going to meet the leader of the free world. Do me a favor and get rid of the beard.” Herbie refused and Boyle turned to Louie, who was going to take Herbie shopping for clothes for the meeting, and asked Louie to intervene.
At the Sears store, as they were standing in line to pay, Louie tried again to get Herbie to shave the beard and Herbie again refused. Louie turned to the woman behind them and said, “Can I ask your opinion? He is going to meet President Obama tomorrow. Don’t you think he should shave the beard?” The woman replied, “I hate Obama.”
After Obama’s talk, Boyle and the Homeboys went to meet the president. They were standing in a semicircle and the first person Obama came to was Herbie. Obama asked each of them to tell him their name and how old they were.
Herbie told him his name and that he was 19. Obama asked what he did at Homeboy. Herbie said, “I work in the diner.” Obama said, “I would have loved to have a beard like yours when I was your age. Hell, I’d like one now.” Herbie shot Boyle a look.
Obama asked Herbie what else he did. “Herbie said, “Mostly I work on myself, my anger management, therapy, classes. Yeah, mostly I work on myself.” Obama, the leader of the free world, said, “I commend you.”
Boyle said, “And so the soul is clapping its hands. Herbie was arriving at the truth that was always there: the Buddha nature, that unshakable goodness, you are beloved and God is well pleased.”
Another time, Boyle was to receive an award from Loyola Marymount University. He could not attend the awards ceremony and asked if he could send someone in his place. He decided to send Pasquel.
“I asked him to accept the award for me. I knew that I would give it to him after the ceremony,” Boyle said. “Then I said, ‘Oh and by the way, you have to give a speech.’” Pasquel said, “Hell no.” Boyle told him just to write something.
Cara, a Homeboy employee, drove Pasquel to the event. She told Boyle, “Pasquel was so nervous he almost jumped out of the car while it was still moving. I told him if he was nervous, he should imagine the audience naked.” Pasquel said, “I can’t. I’d be staring at them the whole time.”
(Boyle, in an aside, told the virtual congregation that he was not using that technique at the moment.)
It was time to accept the award and Pasquel stood, his hands shaking. He read from his paper: “Because Homeboy believed in me, I decided to believe in myself. I decided that the best way to pay them back was to change my life. That is what I decided to do.”
As he sat down, the audience erupted in tears and applause that went on for a long time. Pasquel turned to Cara and said, “They sure are clapping a lot for Father G.” She looked at him and said, “They are clapping for you.”
Boyle continued, “The soul clapping its hands, discovering the truth. Look for the secret beauty in each other, the Buddha nature. You are exactly what God had in mind when he made you. Hear the words: ‘Beloved, in whom I am wonderfully pleased.’”
The Rev. Mary Lee Talbot, morning worship columnist for The Chautauquan Daily, presided at the service from the Hall of Christ in Chautauqua. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Amanda Lynn Bottoms, Chautauqua School of Music Alumna and currently the Washington National Opera Cafritz Young Artist, served as soloist. The organ prelude was “Veni Creator Recit de Cromorne” by Nicolas de Grigny. The hymn, sung by Amanda Bottoms, was “Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song.” The special music was “O Clap Your Hands,” by Ralph Vaughn Williams. The organ postlude was an improvisation. The program is made possible by the Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund.