Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Zen priest visits the Relic of the Holy Blood

Derrick receiving the Relic of the Holy Blood, 

On the last full day that David and I were visiting the lovely Belgian medieval city of Bruges, we encountered a miracle.  Well, sort of.  I am allergic to shellfish, and after feasting on some Belgian friet (the origin of what we call french fries, although Belgians are quick to point out that they should be called Belgian fries), I had a mild reaction, probably because shrimp and clams had been fried in the same oil.   As hives began appearing around my mouth and various other parts of my sensitive body, we started to make our way back to our AirBnB for some anti-histamines, when we passed the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a Roman Catholic church that contains the Relic of the Holy Blood.  The Basilica had been closed the last time we passed by, but now it was open, and there was a big crowd going up the stairs to the second floor of the church.  We made our way up the stairs to see what was going on, and found ourselves in front of an altar, presided over by a priest, and towards the front of a line that was about to be allowed to process by the relic itself.

According to the legend, Derrick of Alsace, Count of Flanders, was a crusader.  He received the relic of the Holy Blood in 1150 from his brother-in-law, Baldwin III of Anjou, who was the King of Jerusalem.  It's a piece of cloth, stained brown, in a small crystal vial, housed in a gold and glass casket.  Derrick built the Basilica in Bruges to house the relic, and for a few hundred years, the blood became liquid every Friday.  Once a year, it's paraded around Bruges, protected by 31 righteous men.

We got in line, and when it was our turn, put some euros in the donation box, bowed to the priest, and placed our hands on the transparent box housing the relic.  Although I am not a Christian, my eyes filled with tears.  Perhaps it was the saturated feeling of hundreds of years of worshippers, devoted to a belief in miracles and the spiritual guidance of a man who died two millennia ago.  I don't want to explain it away, but I was touched deeply.

David and I sat with the other worshippers, meditating in front of lit candles.  When a couple of them got put out accidentally, we stood to relight them.  And then we walked back out to the square to continue on our journey around the city.  My hives were gone.  Perhaps I had been healed by the Holy Blood?  Or by sitting quietly in a beautiful and silent devotional space?  Or by the miraculous human body that detected a problem and made its own anti-histamines?  David informed me that they had already started to fade by the time we entered the church.   I only know that I had a rare opportunity to experience something holy. 

As we teach in Zen, everything is holy.  Everything demonstrates the wondrous Dharma, the teachings, reality.  Everything shines with its own light.  There are no exceptions.  The green bottle glistening in the sun, discarded by someone passing in a car on Pleasant Street this morning; the flowers in the garden; the noise of the traffic.  Pay attention -- the Holy Blood is right here, now...please don't miss it!

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