The Taser's Edge

When Pop-Buddhism and Real Christianity Agree
September 30, 2008, 12:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I often find myself talking without addressing definitions of terms (especially when others in the conversation are also using the term as if we are talking about the same thing, which we may or may not be doing).  In this case, I am talking about the language of being.  The last sentence of last week’s reflection is a good example of how I use the term: “Showing up—and here I mean truly showing up and being in that room—is success.”

            When I say being in that sense, another way to speak the same thing would be to say, “being fully present.”  This concept comes to me through Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are.  As part of my one-on-one therapy for anxiety and depression through Duke’s CAPS program last year, my counselor urged me to read it, and to try Kabat-Zinn’s exercises—meditation with slow breathing or following one’s heartbeat.

            At first, the pseudo-spirituality threw me off.  A conservative Christian in upbringing (albeit plenty more complicated today) I questioned using what was in my understanding coming from a Buddhist technique.  It certainly sounds nice, but it also sounds a bit too Oprah-spirituality.  The point of being present, from a therapeutic point-of-view, was to not label my emotions as positive or negative, to be non-judging inasmuch as that was possible.  By stopping the labeling, I could simply experience the emotion rather than try to push it away or run from it.

            This was difficult, because I was certainly holding the book at arm’s length.  My assumption and hope was that there was something in the Christian tradition which would offer me something of the same.  Surely, I thought, there must be a monk somewhere who has said basically the same thing.  Although Kabat-Zinn rang true for me, I wanted to know that it was safe.  I am not sure what I was afraid of.  Perhaps my question was this: How does following a Buddhist practice (if that is indeed what this is) work with my practice of Christianity?

            This was not the first time that Buddhist practice has interacted with my Christian spirituality.  At first in high school, and in various phases later, I have read texts of and about Buddhism.  This history is to say that I have been working for a while to come up with a theology for my understanding of what “rings true” in other spiritualities, and that it comes to bear on my ministry as a chaplain.

            I finally came up with an understanding that made me welcome Kabat-Zinn, and that was a particular emphasis on God.  In Exodus, God reveals the Divine Name: “I Am.”  Because I am created in the image of God, I am also to share in that.  Christ is healing the “I Am” image in me.

It comes down to very practical questions: What do chaplains do?  When I go into a patient’s room, why am I there?  Chaplains come and are.  At least ideally they do.  And in coming and being, they are trying to be God incarnated for a moment.  This begins to explain how exhausting being can be.

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