The golden key in the dirt

by | April 18, 2016

Have you ever wondered what He wrote in the dirt?

You know the story told by John. The woman was caught in the act of adultery. Incensed, they grabbed her and flung her before Christ.

According to the law, they said, she should be stoned. What do you say we should do with her?, they asked.

Instead of answering immediately, He pretended not to hear them and stooped down and wrote something with His finger in the dirt.

We’ll never know what he wrote, but I have an idea…

In a temple in Thailand’s ancient capital, Sukotai, there once stood an ancient clay statue of the Buddha, almost ten feet tall. It had been cared for over a period of five hundred years, though no one knew where it had come from or who had created it.

It had endured violent storms, turbulent changes of government, and invading armies. It was weathered and cracked, but still standing.

The monks caring for the statue worried that the cracks were getting too wide. It needed to be repaired.

One day a curious monk shone a flashlight into the largest crack and was astonished to see a gleam inside.

The clay shell was chipped away to reveal one of the largest, most beautiful, and most valuable golden statues of the Buddha ever created. Today, the statue is estimated to be worth $250 million.

It was believed that the gold had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest.

“In much the same way,” says mindfulness teacher Jack Kornfield, “each of us has encountered threatening situations that lead us to cover our innate nobility. Just as the people of Sukotai had forgotten about the golden Buddha, we too have forgotten our essential nature. Much of the time we operate from the protective layer.”

This protective layer, our defense mechanisms erected in response to the pain and terror of this life, causes us to do things for which we feel ashamed. We screw up time and time again.

We fight with our spouses and yell at our kids. We turn to our drugs of choice and our comfort objects instead of turning to God. We lie, cheat, and steal. We can be petty and jealous, ungrateful and mean, vengeful and unforgiving, lustful and greedy, fearful and prideful.

And we wonder if there is any redemption for us. In desperation and futility, guilt and shame — and yet with a sliver of hope — we think, “What would You do with us?”

Or, when wounded by others, we symbolically fling our offenders before God and demand that they be punished.

In both cases, I imagine Christ stooping down and, pondering how to really reach us, writing some secret in the dirt, some golden key of wisdom that could unlock an invaluable treasure trove of forgiveness, redemption, beauty, and joy, if we were to really understand it.

The Christian mystic Thomas Merton held that key, I believe. He chipped away the clay of human nature and revealed this luminous truth:

“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”

I have no idea what Christ wrote with his finger in the dirt. But this is what I imagine Him writing — and wishing He could inscribe in every one of our hearts: “See the gold beneath the clay.”

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