February 24 by The Running Son
The Tao of Christ: Confessions of a Zen Christian
by Brian Doyle
on Mon, 01/02/2012 – 20:21
“In the beginning was the performance; not the word alone, not the deed alone, but both, each indelibly marked with the other forever.” — John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Medieval Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (1991)
This past June, my wife and I officially joined with our brothers and sisters in Christ at the Congregational Church of Batavia by confessing our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Before I go any further, let’s stop and consider the impact of those words—or, as linguists say, their “perlocutionary force.” What thoughts and feelings do they evoke in you? Sympathy? Antipathy? Apathy?
For many Americans, such Jesus talk triggers a discursive frame that colors our understanding of Christianity and the Gospel. Throughout history this has always been the case. Yet, today’s context is particular. Today, the Good News is heard within the frame of the so-called Culture Wars. To confess oneself as a Christian in modern America sometimes implies certain stances about science and morality. It may suggest a worldview that is frequently derided as judgmental, intolerant, and irrational. It invokes a far-ranging debate about the very soul and identity of the United States.
I’m not saying that these perceptions are right or wrong. They just are.
Therefore, among the effects produced by Jesus talk (or any talk for that matter) is the problem of duality—e.g., rejoicing and fellowship for those within the Body of Christ; a decidedly “out of body” experience for the rest. This is the context in which my confession is given. These are some of the thoughts that bounce through my head as I consider its significance and with which I now grapple as I contemplate what it means to share the Good News with others.
What follows therefore is my first attempt at Christian apologetics. Nothing herein is terribly new or innovative. As they say, all errors and omissions are my own. I offer these reflections with the same intent by which an Eastern monk creates a sand mandala: They are a transitory picture of my spiritual worldview at this moment, to be freely discarded to the winds of change or theological debate—whichever comes first!
Am I really so detached from my own opinions? No, not really. But, I do believe that detachment—or spiritual poverty as Christian writers call it—is a key to salvation.
Another key is lovingkindness, also known as chesed, agape, or mettā. Here I must acknowledge the many good friends in and outside of our church who have shown me what friendship in Christ looks and feels like. I am grateful for these relationships, which have enabled me to peer behind the words and come into the presence of a simple truth that is beyond language and logic. As Scripture says, “wherever two or three are gathered….”
Thank you! You know who you are.
Reframing The Gospel
This is why I speak to them in parables; because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. — Matthew 13:13
Perlocutionary effects. Discursive frames. What kind of confession is this? These are academic terms that come from the field of discourse analysis—i.e., “logos” in the mundane sense. They reflect my academic background and continuing interest in linguistics. More important, they’re useful concepts for anyone concerned with the art of persuasion—be it politics, philosophy, or evangelism.
As the sociolinguist George Lakoff writes in his book Don’t Think of an Elephant (2004), the myth of the Enlightenment is that “if we just tell people the facts, since people are basically rational beings, they’ll all reach the right conclusions. But we know from cognitive science that people do not think like that. People think in frames…. To be accepted, the truth must fit people’s frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off.”
Conversely, reframing is the deliberate attempt to use language to activate a different frame in which understanding may be successfully conveyed. According to Lakoff, “reframing is social change.”
So, to begin, here’s a multimodal exercise in invoking a new frame, performed by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová of The Swell Season:
What thoughts and feelings does this song evoke in you? For me, it brings to mind the term ‘free spirit’ and all of the good things associated with it: unhindered joy and curiosity… a sense of awe and wonder at the mystery of life… genuine grooviness.
Morrison’s lyrics tap into something eternal. That opening line, “we were born before the wind,” reminds me of one of my favorite passages in the Old Testament (Proverbs 8:22-31):
The Lord created me the first of his works
long ago before all else that he made.
I was formed in the earliest times,
at the beginning, before earth itself.
I was born when there was yet no ocean,
when there were no springs brimming with water.
Before the mountains were settled in their place,
before the hills I was born,
when as yet he had made neither land nor streams
nor the mass of the earth’s soil….
Then I was at his side each day,
his darling and delight,
playing in his presence continually,
playing over his whole world,
while my delight was in mankind.
This is a fitting way to open a conversation about religion. It starts with a simple, poetic affirmation that there is something sublime and meaningful about existence—a suchness (Sk. tathātā) in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). To live in accordance with this reality, however we name and conceive of it, is the basis of wisdom. Music and art, scripture and sacrament, contemplation, and Creation itself are just some of the ways that we “sail into the Mystic.”
But, here’s the problem. Life also gets in the way. Worldly cares distract us and we lose touch with our Ground of Being. Christians say that we are estranged from God. According to theologian Paul Tillich, this separation is the very definition of sin. Buddhists teach that the first Noble Truth is the truth of suffering (Sk. dukkha), which can also be translated as imperfection or discontent. Although we experience momentary highs in life, sooner or later we come down.
Thus, both traditions affirm that there is a fundamental problem: We’ve lost our way—and we’re suffering for it. Understanding this truth in the context of one’s life is essential to understanding the other claims of religion. Awareness of our own suffering and need for healing informs how we hear the Word and/or the Dharma.
This insight came to me as I approached my 40th birthday. In my 20s, I imagined myself a free spirit. In some ways I was. Like Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha (1922), I wanted to go my own way. I eschewed conformity and took delight in being different, unique. Like many young people, I also eschewed discipline and perseverance, bouncing from one new interest to another. I fashioned myself carefree but mostly I was aimless, restless, and not at all content just to be in the moment.
As I approached 30, I resolved to get over this quarter-life crisis and “grow up.” I got a full-time job, got engaged, got married, bought a house, had a child—even got a minivan! I did all of the things middle-class Americans do to build a life for themselves. I was now post-alternative. I was not going to concern myself any longer with the pretense of being hip or with worrying about what the materiality of my life represented about me.
But, suddenly I had a lot to lose. The craving for a unique identity that I felt in my 20s turned to clinging—an intense fear that some unforeseen calamity would come along and pull the rug out from beneath me. Fatherhood in particular led to intense worrying about all of the terrible things that could happen to my infant son. Anxiety attacks gripped me out of the blue. I became irritable and resentful at the smallest transgressions—a cab driver stopping in the crosswalk and blocking my right of way, a colleague failing to consult me on a project of mutual concern, etc., etc.
I was a long, long way from home. The lighthearted joy and grooviness that I had glimpsed before—albeit through a glass darkly—seemed to be slipping through my fingers. Thus, as the big 4-0 approached, when we casually decided that we should find a church and connect with young families in our area, I was primed. I had the ears to hear.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
— James 4:1
Welcome to the Second Noble Truth: As the Buddha taught, there is a cause for suffering and that cause is desire (Sk. taṇhā)—craving things that we do not have and clinging to those things we do. When I look upon our world today—and at myself—the truth of this teaching is self-evident. It stares us in the face every day.
The cardinal vices are so obvious in this regard as to be practically cliché. Indeed, as David Fincher’s acclaimed 1995 film Seven depicts, it frequently takes a sin of horrendous intensity to knock us out of our complacency. The brilliance of Fincher’s film, however, lies not in the shock value of John Doe’s (Kevin Spacey) gruesome murders, but rather in Detective David Mill’s (Brad Pitt) tragic fall at the story’s climax. As in the classic Greek tragedies, we recognize a good man brought down by hubris and are reminded of the jeopardy we all face when we are not mindful.
The object lesson here concerns the fallacy of placing faith in our own goodness and condemning others for their lack thereof. “Why do you call me good?” Jesus teaches. “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18).
Contrast this with the current state of our social and political discourse. Deep down, don’t most of us believe or act as if we are good? Don’t we desire to prove our virtue—or the virtue of our worldview—when we engage in debates about current affairs? Conversely, whom do we frame as sinners? So-called welfare queens? Wall Street suits? President Obama? Sarah Palin?
We have the answers. We know who’s causing the problems—and it’s rarely us! Humility and self-effacement have little place in the Age of Identity Politics. As Franciscan priest Richard Rohr writes in the opening to Everything Belongs (1999), “one always learns one’s mystery at the price of one’s innocence.” Alternatively, as Thomas Merton writes in No Man Is An Island (1955):
The deep secrecy of my own being is often hidden from me by my own estimate of what I am. My idea of what I am is falsified by my admiration for what I do. And my illusions about myself are bred by contagion from the illusions of other men. We all seek to imitate one another’s imagined greatness.
This desire to be virtuous, to eat the proverbial apple and hold mastery over good and evil, stems from an even more fundamental desire for selfhood. Yet, as the Buddha taught, there is no intrinsic “you” or “me”—no disembodied essence that is independent of the world around us. Like the various sociopolitical personas that we manipulate in our relations with others (e.g., liberal, conservative, Buddhist, Christian, etc.), the self is a construct conditioned by context. Buddhists refer to this as the principle of dependent origination—or, as Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls it, “interbeing.”
While not completely analogous, Christians also hold that the self we work so hard to prop up is an illusion, a “false self” that must die so that we can be born into new life: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20). Likewise, the literal meaning of Nirvana is “blowing out,” as in to extinguish the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion—including the delusion of selfhood.
If all this seems a bit gloomy, the lightheartedness of 14th century Sufi poet Shams-ud-din Mohammed Hafiz may be a fitting antidote:
Pulling out the chair
Beneath your mind
And watching you fall upon God—
There is nothing else for Hafiz to do
That is any fun in this world!
Many people have a hang-up with the rhetoric of sin and repentance. To a large degree, I think this is a matter of style as much as substance. So-called liberals like me are averse to the tone and insinuations of religious fundamentalism. Yet, when we hear the Dalai Lama expound upon liberating ourselves from “poisonous emotions,” we smile and nod in agreement. If we reach back far enough into the roots of the world’s great wisdom traditions—to the antecedents of Christianity and Buddhism—we can begin to see how the doctrines of sin and suffering actually relate to and illuminate each other.
Out beyond our notions of right and wrong there is a field. I will meet you there. — Rumi
The Third Noble Truth holds that there is an end to suffering. This is the Good News, if you will: “Rejoice! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”
What is this Kingdom like? It is like treasure hidden in a field of weeds (Matthew 13:24-44). It transcends our self-centered concepts of law and order. It is not a reward for good behavior or correct belief. Rather, it is a pure gift of grace. The New Testament is replete with teachings that challenge the social divisions that arise from conventional logic, including the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Far from castigating sinners and outcasts, Christianity affirms and aspires to the solidarity of all people and Creation itself: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).
For some, talk of the Kingdom invokes that same Culture Wars frame. However, as William Johnston suggests in Christian Zen (1971), many of Jesus’s teachings are paradoxical. Like the Japanese kōan, they actually seek to reframe—or completely unframe—the hearer’s preconceived notions: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39).
In Romans, St. Paul discusses the paradoxical relationship between knowledge (of the law) and sin: “Is the law identical with sin? Of course not! Yet had it not been for the law I should never have become acquainted with sin…. There was a time when, in the absence of the law, I was fully alive; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.” Likewise, in the Gospel of Thomas (11), we find even more explicit reference to the problem of duality: “…On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?”
In Buddhism, the key to the Third Noble Truth is detachment (Sk. nirodha). By relinquishing our desires, suffering ceases—that is, we can awaken to a sense of equanimity even in the face of pain or hardship. There are many examples within Christian tradition that also affirm the importance of detachment. In fact, according to the Gospel of Matthew, this was the very first of Christ’s teachings: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Many other teachings in the Sermon on the Mount can be understood within this frame of spiritual poverty:
- Let go of anger. (Matthew 5:22)
- Let go of lust. (Matthew 5:28)
- Let go of retribution. (Matthew 5:39)
- Let go of hate. (Matthew 5:44)
- Let go of vanity. (Matthew 6:1)
- Let go of greed. (Matthew 6:19)
- Let go of anxiety. (Matthew 6:25)
- Let go of condemnation. (Matthew 7:1)
As St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) taught, “to (serve God), I must make myself indifferent to all things…. I ought not to seek health rather than sickness, wealth rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long life rather than a short one, and so on in all other matters. I ought to desire and elect only the thing which is most conducive to the end for which I am created.” Discernment of spirits, as described in Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, is the individual’s contemplative process of discovering this end. The key is attention to those things that produce an enduring rather than fleeting sense of joy, faith, and hope. Properly viewed, all things—”good” and “bad”—can be useful towards our respective ends, if we approach them with detachment (Bauerschmidt, 2003).
But what about detachment from God himself? Can Christians ever entertain the notion analogous to Buddhist teaching, “if you meet Jesus on the road, kill him!” As Merton explains in Zen and Birds of Appetite (1968), this is one of the significant differences between Christianity and Buddhism:
In Christian mysticism the question whether or not the mystic can get along without the human “form” (Gestalt) or the sacred Humanity of Christ is still hotly debated, with the majority opinion definitely maintaining the necessity for the Christ of faith to be present as ikon at the center of Christian contemplation.
While acknowledging this convention of Christian wisdom, Merton and others have nonetheless plumbed deeper and discovered compelling parallels between Zen and Christian mysticism—particularly with the teachings of Meister Eckhart (1260-1327).
Like St. Ignatius, Eckhart affirmed, “to be a proper abode for God and fit for God to act in, a man should be free from all things and actions, both inwardly and outwardly.” Yet, Eckhart goes further. Citing R.B. Blakney’s 1941 translation of Eckhart’s sermon, “Blessed are the Poor,” Merton discloses how Eckhart’s teachings on spiritual poverty approach the Buddhist understanding of emptiness (Sk. śūnyatā):
A man should be so poor he is not and has not a place for God to act in. To reserve a place would be to maintain distinctions. If it is the case that man is emptied of all things, creatures, himself and god, and if god could still find a place in him to act … this man is not poor with the most intimate poverty. For God does not intend that man should have a place reserved for him to work since true poverty of spirit requires that man be emptied of god and all his works so that if God wants to act in the soul he himself must be the place in which he acts….
Man’s last and highest parting occurs when for God’s sake he takes leave of god. St. Paul took leave of god for God’s sake and gave up all that he might get from god as well as all he might give—together with every idea of god. In parting with these he parted with god for God’s sake and God remained in him as God is in his own nature—not as he is conceived by anyone to be—nor yet as something to be achieved, but more as an is-ness, as God really is. Then he and God were a unit, that is pure unity. Thus one becomes the real person for whom there can be no suffering, any more than the divine essence can suffer.
“Not as (God) is conceived to be … but more as an is-ness.” Sound familiar? This is quintessentially Zen, articulated within a Christian frame.
Yet, there’s still one noble truth left that needs discussing. For perfect poverty, emptiness, and dying to self are not the whole story. What about the Resurrection? What about eternal life?
Reframing the Way
In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God, and the Tao was God.
— John 1:1 (as commonly translated in Chinese)
Emptiness is often misconstrued as a life-denying or even nihilistic philosophy. The same might be said of spiritual poverty. If we strip away all of our attachments to good and evil, justice, hearth and home, even our very love of god, what’s left? What lends meaning and purpose to our lives?
Christian mystics refer to this existential crisis as the “dark night of the soul.” It is a well-attested period in some disciples’ spiritual journey when God may seem absent or even dead. In today’s post-Christian secular world, increasing numbers of us are raised with such presumptions, albeit without the angst of feeling forsaken. Proverbially speaking, we are born into night. The driving fear of many orthodox believers is the conviction that we will lose our moral bearings without “faith … present as ikon” at the center of our lives.
As the saying goes, however, the Lord works in mysterious ways. All (no)things can be useful in illuminating our respective ends if approached with detachment. Fr. Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk and a founder of the Centering Prayer movement, gave an interview a few years ago in which he was asked if there’s a Christian parallel to the concept of enlightment in Eastern traditions. He answered:
Transforming union, which is the term of the extended death…. One can even feel like one is an atheist because the dark night of the spirit heals our mistaken ideas of god that we might have brought with us from early childhood or interpreted in the teachings of our particular denomination. So what contribution atheists make, perhaps without intending to do so, is that there is no god, at least the one we thought we knew. So in the dark night people sometimes feel that they’ve lost their faith in God because everything has disintegrated that supported them. But in actual fact the true God has just been born and the god of our childhood, who might have been a monster or some co-dependent personality is the only thing that dies, but he never existed anyway. So there’s no real loss except that one’s attachment to that god has been shredded and one is left, for the moment at least, in tatters, like death or worse than death. But it passes. And the acceptance of it is the resurrection. And those supernatural gifts begin to manifest in direct proportion to that death. Dying and rising again. Death is resurrection, perhaps in the paradoxical understanding that Jesus presents, because on the cross in much of the gospel of John, he’s reigning as if he was the king of the universe even in the depths of his rejection and degradation and identification with sin.
Here, Fr. Keating articulates a contemplative understanding of the Resurrection, a metaphor for “transforming union” or enlightenment. His response is not merely an affirmation that such union is possible, a facile appeal to universal oneness. Rather, the mystery of faith is that eternal life is found in “extended death”—or, if you like, Nirvana. The fullness of God lies in perfect emptiness, definitively embodied for Christians by the Crucifixion.
This brings us to the fourth and final noble truth, as taught by the Buddha: There is a path that leads to the end of suffering. The so-called Noble Eightfold Path is a way of cultivating insight into the true nature of reality, the suchness of life. It is a way of awakening to that which is unconditioned, what Taoists refer to as the “uncarved block.” In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we might call this grace or innocence, as in the original state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is the dying of our false self and the rebirth of our original identity, that part of us “created in the image of God.” Eckhart captures beautifully the joy that characterizes this union:
In this likeness or identity God takes such delight that he pours his whole nature and being into it. His pleasure is as great, to take a simile, as that of a horse, let loose over a green heath, where the ground is level and smooth, to gallop as a horse will, as fast as he can over the greensward—for this is a horse’s pleasure and nature. It is so with God. It is his pleasure and nature to discover identity, because he can put his whole nature into it—for he is this identity itself.
In describing the fruit of this union, Eckhart also corrects a common misconception about the nature of emptiness. Rather than being a total absense or rejection of ideas, actions, and experiences, perfect poverty simply entails freedom from them. As Eckhart says:
(I do) not regard them as mine to take or leave in either past or future … (I am) free and empty of them in this now moment, the present….
In other words, the Way is not an abandonment of the material world for a pure spiritual realm. It accepts that we are creatures who have thoughts and take action. Yet, it does not cling to those thoughts and actions. This is very close to the Taoist concept of wei wu wei or effortless action. Interestingly, I think it illuminates a difficult issue in both Christianity and Buddhism, which is the tension between contemplation and action.
As discussed earlier, one should not put trust in her own goodness as reflected in doing good works and living a virtuous life. One should especially not fall prey to contrasting his perceived virtue with others’ lack thereof. It is for this reason I think that Christ exhorts us to “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven”—that is, to cultivate insight into our own nature and the nature of things around us so that we may be in a right relationship with them. In other words, we are to contemplate. After all, the eye is the lamp of the body (Matthew 6:22). Only when we have removed the proverbial plank, only when we see clearly and with detachment our own suffering (sin) can we possibly hope to act with virtue, much less enlighten others.
What then of good deeds? What is the significance of charity? For me, this relates to those “supernatural gifts” that Fr. Keating mentions. It relates to our respective ends. Keating is not talking about literally walking on water or feeding the 5,000 with two fish and a few loaves of bread. I believe he’s talking about love and compassion. He’s talking about the freedom to care for others without effort or ulterior motive. For me, this is wei wu wei. In Christian terms, the fruit of the way is freely sharing in God’s delight and creative energy—a delight like that of a horse let loose over a green heath.
But to quote Tina Turner, what’s love got to do with it? Or compassion? For that matter, why act at all? If one were so able, why not simply abide in the “extended death” of Nirvana, enjoy the bliss of emptiness, and call it a day?
Awakening to the sublime beauty and majesty of life does not negate the First Noble Truth. Suffering persists in the world. I speculate that an enlightened or “anointed” one only sees this suffering more clearly—and it is at this point that the character and ultimate purpose of the Way becomes fully clear.
“Bodhicitta” is a term in Buddhism that articulates this character and purpose. It has been described as the union of wisdom and compassion, the selfless pursuit of enlightenment in order to relieve others beings from suffering. A bodhisattva, in turn, is a person who has bodhicitta as the primary motivation for all of her activities. According to the Tibetan master Patrul Rinpoche, in its most ideal form, the way of the bodhisattva is:
…that of the shepherd, who makes certain that all his sheep arrive safely ahead of him and places their welfare above his own.
Conclusion: Confessions of a Zen Christian
If they ask you, ‘what is the sign of your Father in you,’ say to them, ‘it is movement and rest.’
— The Gospel of Thomas (50)
As anyone familiar with contemporary Christian discourse knows, the Culture Wars have found their way into the Body of Christ. My cross-cultural approach to the Gospel is emblematic—or symptomatic if you prefer—of a growing debate that pits the so-called “earlier” or orthodox paradigm against the “emerging” or heterodox paradigm. Jesus scholar Marcus Borg characterizes the former as literal, absolutist, and exclusive and the latter as metaphorical, sacramental, and inclusive. The post-evangelical and missional aspects of the emerging church also have been emphasized by some commentators.
I draw attention to this debate to put my views in their proper context, as well as to acknowledge certain influences on my way of thinking. However, my intent is not to declare (à la 1 Corinthians 1:10), “I follow Borg” or “I follow the Buddha” but, rather, to express a genuine confession. I really don’t know where this desire comes from or if I have any choice in the matter so I try to let it be whatever it will be.
My confession starts with the recognition that I suffer and am in need. As a self-described “Zen Christian,” I’m inclined to reframe Mark 9:24 and exclaim, “I don’t know. Help me in my knowing.” In other words, help me to unknow. For a guy who attests to the limits of images, concepts, and discursive logic, I’m remarkably obsessed with and attached to my own words and ideas! I’m prone to anxiety, frustration, and irritability. I’m am not the cool, collected Zen dude I fashion myself to be.
Observing this, I then recognize and “elect” a desire to seek refuge, to embrace a way of living that not only supports me in my need but also turns my attention outward to the suffering and needs of others. In Buddhist practice, disciples take refuge in the Three Jewels, according to the following sacrament:
I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dharma.
I take refuge in the Sangha.
In my mind, these three refuges correspond to Christ, the Word, and the Body of Christ (i.e., the Church). This is not to say that there aren’t significant differences between Christian and Buddhist beliefs and faith practices. But I believe that the fundamental dynamics that motivate discipleship are the same. I also believe that the fruits of these two traditions are more or less equivalent—love, compassion, mindfulness (prayerfulness), equanimity, etc. The differences are largely (but not completely) a matter of symbolic form and style.
Thus, when I hear my pastor and friends in the church glorifying the Holy Name of Christ Jesus and dedicating their lives to His Service, on the one hand I recognize a certain conditioned reaction in me that is challenged by such language. Sometimes, I confess, I have been afraid to give myself over to this mode of worship (i.e. liberal evangelism) for fear that I will lose myself. After all, I know who I am and what I’m about, right? I’m a free spirit. I would never let my own estimate of what I am hide from me the deep secrecy of my own being, would I?
It is precisely at this point that non-attachment comes into play—specifically what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “nonattachment to views.” The postmodern multiculturalist in me says, if tolerance and understanding of diverse ways of being are to have any integrity, must I not recognize my own prejudice? Must I not be patient, listen, and learn from what others have to teach me?
When I do, I sense something powerful and transforming behind the words and images—something that at one moment brings me to tears and in the next “lifts me up on eagles’ wings.” As I experience genuine fellowship with friends in our church, I gain a pragmatic, emic understanding of what Christian expressions and practice actually mean in context. My old knowledge falls away and suddenly it makes perfect sense to proclaim that we are “in Christ” together. Church becomes one of those “thin places” in my life—alongside music and art and aimless walks in the countryside—that mediate the Mystic. This too is the Resurrection. This is the Banquet, the Cosmic Dance, to which many are invited (Luke 14:15-24). I do not want my excuse to be merely that the manner and presentation of the invitation don’t suit my tastes. As Merton observed:
The dread of being open to the ideas of others generally comes from our hidden insecurity about our own convictions. We fear that we may be “converted” – or perverted – by a pernicious doctrine. On the other hand, if we are mature and objective in our open-mindedness, we may find that viewing things from a basically different perspective … we discover our own truth in a new light and are able to understand our own ideal more realistically.
Of course, I still have my thoughts, ideas, desires, and doubts. Sometimes I wonder if I’m not simply making up my own meaning and/or indulging in a silly mind game. But then I rest in the mystery of it all and think, well… at least I’m in good company:
Peace of Christ, the Tao, and all the Buddhas be with you!