A Buddhist Christian? A Contradiction?

I read and study a wide variety of literature on spirituality.  While I am a Christian, my spiritual practice also draws on elements of Buddhism.  It’s often been the case that Buddhist practice has helped me gain a better understanding of Christianity.

Many people have drawn on both Christianity and Buddhism in their spiritual practice.  Within the Christian tradition, perhaps the most famous was the priest, monk, and spiritual teacher Thomas Merton.  In fact, Merton died in Thailand during a gathering of Christian and Buddhist monks in Thailand during dialogues about spiritual practice.  Similarly, both of the great Buddhist teachers of our era, the Dali Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, have written about the compatibility of the teachings of Jesus and Buddhist teachings.

In considering Christian and Buddhist practice, there appears to be a fundamental conflict in the purpose of meditation.  For Christians, meditation is to bring one closer to God and to experience the presence of God more fully.  For Buddhists, the practice of meditation is letting go of all distractions, thoughts, and images.  Letting go of all expectations, beliefs, and desires is the heart of Buddhist practice.  This clearly leads to the question:  how can a Christian who not only believes in God but is attempting to grow closer to God by meditation let go of all expectations and beliefs?  Isn’t that contrary to faith?

What I have learned in my practice of meditation is that I have been taught particular beliefs about God and expect God to be that way.  I expect God to be all-powerful, a trinity of three persons, all loving, and ever-present.  Yet, if God is truly Divine, then God is beyond my capacity to imagine and describe.  God is so much greater than I can ever understand that my beliefs and images are nothing less than inadequate.  In order to truly experience the Divine, I must let go of everything I have been taught, thought about, imaged, or considered God to be.  All those things just get in the way of the real experience.

To encounter the Divine requires that my understanding of a Diving Being has no importance at all.  Instead, I simply open myself to all the Divine is and may be. This is how Buddhism challenges me to let my beliefs, expectations, and pre-determined categories fall aside in order to be truly present to what is.

A good example of setting aside one’s beliefs and expectations about the Divine is Biblical story recorded in the gospel attributed to Luke.  An angel appeared to Mary and told her she would have a baby.  Mary was not in control of the experience.  She was simply open to what would occur.  In that, something Divine was born in her.

Buddhism has taught me to let go of my beliefs and understandings of what the Divine should be or even be like.  That has meant that in silence I have had the opportunity to simply allow God to be God.  In doing so, I’ve grown to understand more of what it means to be a Christian contemplative.

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Turning Down the Volume on the Political Noise

I like to know what’s happening in the world.  I read a great deal of news from around the world each day and follow business and cultural trends.  I have various news apps on my phone so that when I have a few minutes free, I can read more about the world.

The last few weeks, following the news has been disturbing, both emotionally and spiritually. I’m gravely concerned about human rights abuses, right-wing policies, and leaders who demonstrate disdain for people.  It’s happening in the US and in many other countries.  I want to be informed, but am demoralized by what I learn.  Reading the news in recent weeks often feels something like driving past an automobile accident:  I don’t want to look, but it’s nearly impossible to turn away.

Several of my friends have shared that they find community to be more important now than ever. They look for times to share their frustrations with friends and those they trust.  That can be an important part of getting through difficult political times.  By talking with others who share similar values we come to understand that we are not alone.

As important as community and the support of friends may be, I find that it’s not enough to turn down all the noise of events that scream for our response.  That noise can interfere with the ability maintain our day to day responsibilities and prevent us from discerning right action in our lives.

I’ve found that it’s more important for me than ever to be sure to engage in my regular spiritual practice.  Yes, in the midst of all the noise of political discord, I need to spend more time in prayer and meditation.  Taking time to allow the volume of the background noise to be turned down enables me to be more focused and centered.  When I am grounded, I am able to clearly choose what action is best for me to take in the face of social and political issues.  It also prevents me from feeling as though I’m just responding to some crazy external stimuli, like the ball in a pinball machine.

I’ve thought about the lessons I learned from a longtime activist, Father Daniel Berrigan.  Dan was very visible in the 1960’s anti-war movement.  In the 70’s, he became involved in the anti-nuclear movement.  In the 80’s, I got to know him in working with people with AIDS.  As involved as Dan was on the front line of many issues of social justice, he was also a contemplative soul and poet.  It was the time in silence and by writing poetry that he nurtured his spirit and found the strength and inspiration to respond to the critical issues he faced.  Dan knew that the way to avoid being consumed by the issues he faced was to also withdraw and be centered on a regular basis.

In order to turn down the volume of the political crises that face us and to be able to respond in a centered and focused way, I find that regular spiritual practice is critical.  To that end, I encourage my friends to take more time sitting in meditation, do another yoga class, or hike for a few hours.  Do whatever it takes to find that place of inner quiet again.  Then from that place of inner quiet and peace, you’ll be better able to respond to the challenges we face today in the midst of the world’s turmoil.

Photo credit: walter.keller via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Spirituality and Our Bodies

The words seem so very out of place, but the book begins in this way:

“Oh, kiss me!  Touch me with your lips.
Your love tastes better than the best wine!”

No, this isn’t from a romance novel or some pornographic story.  These are the first words of a book from the Bible:  The Song of Songs.  Yes, erotic love poems in the Bible!  What are they doing there?

The Song of Songs is part of the Hebrew Testament and included with what’s referred to as “wisdom literature.”  That’s right!  A long, erotic love poem is considered wisdom.

Historically, the inclusion of the Song of Songs in the Bible was controversial, especially for Christians.  It’s a poetic story to young lovers of different socio-economic classes and their erotic romance.  I suspect that most Christians have never heard a portion of the book read in church nor a sermon about it.  Yet, I find the Song of Songs to be critical for the spiritual dimension of life.

We tend to think of spirituality and spiritual practice as other worldly and detached from our bodies.  We assume that the person who is truly spiritual has transcended bodily urges.  That’s because Western culture has long held that the body is of less value than the human spirit.  This separation of the body from the human spirit makes no sense to me.

It is in our bodies that we experience the world.  When I look at these words, I’m looking at them with my body.  When I bow in prayer, it is my body that is bowing.  When I experience awe at the evening sunset, it is my body that is engaged and wrapped in awe.  Every moment of our lives in experienced in and through our bodies.  There is no experience that we can have that is not related to our bodies.  Our bodies are more than some sort of vessel for our spirits.  Our bodies are us.  When a person sees and recognizes us, they are seeing and recognizing our bodies.

The Song of Songs is all about the body:  sensuality, tenderness, and deep longing.  I contend that we are able to understand spiritual longing, spiritual union, and spiritual fulfillment because we also experience longing, union, and fulfillment in our bodies.  The Song of Songs — the best song that could be sung — causes us to consider that desires of our bodies run parallel to our spiritual desires.

What I find most important about Christian spirituality is that the heart of Christian spirituality is the belief that the Creative Energy of the Divine, the logos or Word, became flesh and lived among us.  This affirmation which begins the Gospel of John is central to understanding Christian spirituality.  It is an incarnational or embodied spirituality — experienced in every aspect of our lives including our bodies.

One of the challenges for our growth is to recognize and affirm that it is in and through our bodies that we engage in the spiritual dimension of life.  The desires and longings of our bodies, the hungers and thirsts, operate like the desires and longings of our spirits. In the end, when the same desires and longings of both body and spirit are cared for and nourished, how blessed we are as integrated people

What does it mean for you to have an embodied spirituality?

(Photo credit: Gabriele Roberti via Foter.com / CC BY-NC)

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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