33 – zen
I’m a Christian, not a Buddhist. But different religions have characteristics and practices that are good ideas, and I reject the idea that one religion’s practice prohibits another religion from a similar practice. If a practice helps me draw closer to God, I’m interested.
I first realized this when I was searching for the Truth in college. (labo & christus) Different religions seem to acknowledge some characteristics of Jehovah under different names, and I concluded that I, as a Christian, could learn some valuable things from those religions without feeling threatened or weakened in my faith.
The second nudge came in my reading of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, during the Christmas/New Year’s breaks of 2008/9. This was a challenging but worthwhile read in which Mr. Pirsig, the author, takes his reader on a motorcycle trip west from Montana as he struggles with his own past, his son’s future, and issues of metaphysics. Oddly and certainly unintentionally, Mr. Pirsig strengthened my belief in the Trinity. From his perspective, western civilization’s dualistic ideas of objectivity and subjectivity are inadequate and must be supplemented by the concept of “quality,” completing the spectrum. “Quality,” according to Pirsig, is the nexus of objectivity and subjectivity. Mr. Pirsig would probably be disturbed at my conclusions from his work:
I found myself agreeing with his lengthy and thorough explanation of the three parts of existence, but I also easily aligned them with the trinity of my God. What he discussed as Objectivity matched with the fleshly Jesus; Subjectivity with the Holy Spirit, and Quality with the Father. Much of the book discussed the relation between these three faces of existence, and it deepened my acceptance of the trinity, and my understanding of how these three parts can be one.
“Zen” comes from the word that is the Japanese on’yomi – a reading of the Chinese word chán (禅), which is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, meaning ‘absorption, meditative state.’ But again, just because it has roots in the Japanese, Chinese and Sanskrit languages and Buddhism doesn’t mean it is worthless to me. After all, many words, symbols, dates and customs of Christianity find their roots otherwise.
So should Christians meditate? Absolutely! It’s not just a Buddhist thing, it’s a spiritual thing – that eastern religions just happen to have grasped better than their western counterparts.
Take a look at Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” This would be the words of the Jewish God, written by David, telling us to meditate – to be absorbed in Him. This is the definition of zen. Knowing His practices as an adult and having visited the same location recently, I wonder if the boy Jesus didn’t “find his zen” when He stayed behind at the temple when He was twelve. (Luke 2:41-50) I can imagine Him sitting on the temple steps, shown below, and soaking in the presence of the Father as He considered all the prophets and disciples that had, and would, climb those steps. According to Mark 1 and Luke 4, Jesus would rise early in the morning when it was still dark and retreat to a solitary place to pray. Jesus meditated regularly.
Meditation is simply focusing and letting everything but God slip away. It takes some discipline, but the effort and practice is worth the reward.
James 4:8 says “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. 2 Chronicles 15:2 gives the same message, only a thousand or so years earlier.
As much as God wants our obedience, and for us to make disciples, and for us to be devoted husbands and wives, He also desires our exclusive attention at times. This is meditation, being absorbed in Him, His Word, His love. Call it prayer if you want, but like my Dad taught me, sometimes in prayer, we forget to shut up and listen. We forget to
Be Still and Know that I Am God.
Call it meditation, prayer, quiet time, zen, devotional – whatever. Christ did it. David did it. It has helped me. But the western church doesn’t teach it to the extent that the eastern faiths do. It is a lost art that we would do well to re-discover.