I’m giving up Christianity for Lent this year. Well, not literally. I’ll maintain my role in the church. It pays my salary and expects me to show up, after all. But I’ll be doing in a more intentional and centered way something I’ve been doing peripherally for decades. I’ll be examining my faith – not the brand name faith we call Christianity or United Methodist, but the deep, inner, nameless stance toward life that binds me to the source of all. And I’ll be doing it from outside the frame, through the lens of Buddhism, particularly its Zen branch.
Recently I heard someone say, “It’s all about Jesus.” He meant well, I’m certain. Nor do I have any doubt it was an honest and commendable expression of his faith and the faith of many in the church. It’s just that I don’t believe – or no longer do, to be precise – that it’s all about Jesus. I might even say it’s not about Jesus at all. Rather, it’s about the relationship with God toward which Jesus pointed. (Here some of you will recall the classic analogy of becoming so absorbed in the finger pointing at the moon as to not see the moon at all.)
During the season, contemplative prayer and lectio divina will keep their places in my horarium. They will be joined by other reading: You Are Here, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki, both of which I’ve been reading already; The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life, by Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh (Puett has been teaching the third most popular class in the entire Harvard catalog, on Chinese philosophy); and The Three Pillars of Zen, by Roshi Philip Kapleau. Experience tells me that Eastern philosophy offers a rich and enlightening commentary on the faith of my tradition.
It’s an ambitious reading list for six weeks, but what is the season, after all, if it doesn’t require some extra discipline?