My first semester in seminary, I took a course taught by Kay Jorgensen and Carmen Barsody. We read a book called Living Presence by the Sufi teacher Kabir Helminski; I’ve preached from that book to at least four congregations. It remains alive to me, one story in particular: a man is digging boulders, because his friend needed him to help. He didn’t want to, but he said yes. He dug, fully aware of the “No” in his mind and heart and the “Yes” in his back and shoulders.
It is the play of the “yes” and the “no” within that creates a sense of I AM, a sense of alive and awakened Presence, suggested the Sufi teacher. It’s the friction between “I want to help my friend dig boulders” and “dammit, I want to read my book!” – those two powerful impulses, the “yes” and the “no” rubbing up against each other — that creates energy to act in the world.
I’m still working with that story. I don’t understand it, I don’t even like it. And it draws me.
About the time I said “yes” to returning to work this year with the Faithful Fools, I picked up a book by Peter Block, The Answer to How Is Yes. Whenever we ask how to do something, Block suggests, we are living in the realm of “no.” “How” is a “no” question. Paradoxically, a “yes” question is a question about “no:” “What refusal have I been postponing?” In other words, what do I need to say “no” to, so I can make room for a more powerful “yes?”
There it is again, another take on the play of yes-and-no.
For many years, a big, red, quilted “YES” hung in the Fools’ Court. This “YES” followed Kay here from her parish in Minnesota, and earlier than that, from her own seminary days, when it was made for her by a colleague who was inspired by Kay’s own story of “yes” and “no.” This “YES” was the subject of a Fools Fables newsletter in 2011, with various Fools writing what it is they say “yes” to. Over the years the red has faded, so the “YES” was taken down for brightening. While “YES” was being restored, I continued to contemplate Peter Block’s “yes” questions. Not, “How long will it take?” but this: “What commitment am I willing to make?” and this: “What is the crossroads at which I find myself at this moment?”