One of the joys of getting back to church last Sunday was in joining in with fellow parishioners in a discussion of Richard Rohr’s book, The Naked Now. It explores the concept of “present moment” work as a method of meditation or contemplation. Like many other works of this nature, its basic premise is that we experience the divine from within, and the great Christian mystics attain the same basic state as do the great Buddhist monks and yogis.
In this study, I am blessed to share my thoughts with a group of people who are highly educated and thoughtful people. They are readers, thinkers, and doers in the world. They are highly placed business people, college professors, theologians and biblical experts, and others of intellectual acuity and attainment. I learn a great deal, always.
This has not been my usual experience in other Christian faith traditions generally speaking. For reasons that are not necessary to this discussion, the Episcopal Church tends to attract the better educated and more career advanced of our populations. This is especially true in my church.
A statement was made by one participant that stuck with me, and provided some deeper thoughts within me. I thought I would share with you what that is, and ask for your thoughts. I’m not at all sure my analysis is accurate, and it is preliminary, but my first thoughts may lead to your second thoughts, and thus perhaps further sharpening by others. All in the name of learning and thinking, and being what we all are–inquisitive humans.
The statement referred to the fact that both Buddhist and Christian share this methodology of reaching the divine–call it contemplation or meditation. It is the attempt to remain focused on the present, without judging or naming. It is to proceed deeper into a Oneness with the universe, and with the Divine Knowing, or God, or Higher Power, or whatever you wish to call it. We call it different things, but when described, it is clear we both are experiencing the same thing.
How ironic then that we differ to very much on another issue, that of table hospitality. It will be noted that the Jewish practice, indeed the Middle East tradition of table hospitality has a long and rich history, well independent of Christianity or Judaism for that matter. It was a survival technique developed in the desert environment that placed life about politics if you will. Any stranger or even enemy was graciously invited to eat and rest and was safe while within the environs of the camp.
Jesus took this practice to new levels, suggesting that even in a urban setting, such as Jerusalem or the small towns and villages that surrounded it, such practices should continue, and enlarge to include all the “others” we might identify. The ritually unclean, the sinner of whatever kind and so forth. Jews have continued the practice, and all Christians are urged to as well. We all conclude that the best meal is the one shared with others in friendly and warm conversation and laughter.
How different the practice of many Buddhists. Mindfulness trumps conviviality. Instead of sparkling conversation, there is often perfect silence, and by design. The monk would tell you that silence allows total focus on the food–its texture, its taste, its temperature, its aroma. Monks wish to experience food as clearly as possible, not diminished by mindless chatter.
It is well to remember that some Christian monasteries also practice silence during meals, but this is generally the result of an imposed order of silence that is normal for most all day, or perhaps even most all week. This is an attempt to keep focused not so much on the task before the monk or nun, but rather to retain focus in all doings on God. Constant prayer is the goal.
I can see the efficacy of both practices. Dieters are admonished to turn off extraneous distracting influences such as TV and MP3 players. Distractions cause absent-minded eating. Yet, in the main, we pursue the family gathering as healthy to us emotionally and psychologically.
I began to wonder if there was any explanation for these so different practices and reasonings. I came up with one, but I am not sure how valuable are the insights, nor how strong the argument. You be the judge.
Christians are not by nature pantheists–people who believe that God permeates all things, and that all things are God. This concept leads to a dumbing down in a sense of God and his working in the world, and is rejected theologically as simply wrong. Yet Buddhists do tend to see the divine in all things. There is a reverence for life, for the beauty of stone and sand. There is a palpable response to every day things as sacred. All this without a defined concept of God as a defined creator.
Yet, in Buddhism, many Christians do see a sense of the sacred, of the divine, and that the Oneness with all things amounts in a sense to a wisdom presence that can be entered into and benefited from. Thus the intense time spent in meditation by believing Buddhists.
I think Christians, on the other hand, are taught to look primarily to each other to see the divine. Jesus taught that we would see him in the faces of those whom society rejected, the poor, the sinner, the tax collector, the diseased. Our hospitality looks to people to reveal the face of God, thus we find the food less interesting that the company we are in. The food enhances, rather than directs the meal.
Does this explain the difference? Hardly, but it offers an insight I believe. Or perhaps I am all wet. Anyway, it’s what I got to thinking about. As always that is a dangerous thing. Who knows what craziness I’ll come up with if I’m allowed to continue thinking. I guess that’s why fundamentalists turn away in droves when I open my mouth. Thinking is dangerous!