We walked out of the Federal Immigration Courts on San Antonio Street, the Seattle visitors and I, and proceeded to walk further downtown to the nearest pharmacy, where a prescription medicine was waiting for me. Then on our way past the Toltec Club and some other comment-worthy sites of El Paso, we headed back to the Columban Mission Center. We talked as we went, sharing our impressions of the courtroom proceedings: the judge’s strict standards for the lawyers’ actions, his compassionate but clear instructions to the immigrants whose ‘removal’ was under review, and the respectful but firm manner in which he invited some members of the family of one immigrant to wait in the hallway outside the courtroom (a special-needs adult was continually groaning uncontrollably).
We drew near to the Cinco Puntos Press bookstore, on a corner of a block a short distance from the CMC, which is owned by Bobby Byrd. Bobby is a Zen master and leader of his local Buddhist community, and frequent partner in interfaith activities with me and other clergy of diverse spiritual traditions. He must be in his seventies, and is full of wisdom and wry, gentle comments, chuckling and sharing humorous stories, but seriously devoted to the Sino-Japanese chants that he and other members of his community bring to interfaith services, dressed in rigorous Zen master robes.
Bobby and I not only share the same name, we speak the same language—of mindfulness, of the rights of migrants, of ecological responsibility, of compassion for all sentient beings. I have been employing Buddhist meditation teachings and recommended postures in my own times of prayer, finding them insightful and perfectly harmonious with Christian doctrine. “Stay awake,” Jesus tells his followers, especially during the Advent season of Gospel readings, and Buddhism is all about staying awake, paying attention to the moment, and stepping away from the illusion of separateness between subject and object.
We had a half-hour before arriving at Annunciation House for a tour of the shelter for undocumented migrants, conducted by volunteers who live with the migrants lodged there, so I decided we could visit the Cinco Puntos bookstore, and see if Bobby was at his desk in the back. His wife happened to be attending the book sales area, near the storefront window, and welcomed us warmly, together with an assistant. Bobby eventually came out as well, and greeted the group with a smile and a polite welcome. The Seattle visitors, members of St. Luke’s Catholic Church, began to explore the many books on sale, and found several they were willing to buy right away. I didn’t really expect them to buy any, but I was pleased that they found them valuable for their respective lives and work.
I decided to buy one as well, realizing that Bobby had recently published an autobiographical set of poems—reported on in our local newspaper—and that it would be the thing to do, especially since he could sign it for me right there. He conversed easily with the visitors, having spent time in Seattle himself as a young man, and chatted with a few individually. He signed my book, spending a few moments thinking of something to write in the way of a personal message. I didn’t open the book until late that night.
“For Bob,” he wrote, “in honor of the sacred in ordinary life.”
It’s a beautiful and apt expression, a recognition of how God infuses our world, His/Her ongoing Creation, with His/Her own presence—whether or not a personal God is recognized, which is neither affirmed nor denied by the spiritual tradition of Buddhism—and of how chance meetings and last-minute changes of plans and routes are charged with grace and possibilities of harmony with the unfolding plans of our God. Bobby found a vast, common ground between our two traditions. Ordinary, everyday events actually take place in a holy courtroom of compassion, clarity and connectedness. No one waits outside in any hallway.