Wednesday, November 23, 2005

God and Zen

George Newkirk, the founder and host of our Ocala Quaker sharing group, has a large Quaker library; all his shelves are completely full. People all over town bring, give, or send him books for the library. Sometimes George tries to deal with the overflow by offering me the book he's just received. I always accept; whether I keep it long is something else.

George's last gift was a book called Working on God by Winifred Gallager. I read the last chapter, then started at the beginning, with a chapter on Winnie's experience in a Zen monastery. Thus began my education in Zen.

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee (Isaiah 26:3)

Zen seems to place great emphasis on 'staying the mind' and the first lesson in the monastery was to sit cross-legged, take long, deep breaths, and count them; nothing else as I understand it. (Breathing is as close to God as we can hope to get - in this life.)

Long ago I realized that I have a choice between 'God consciouness' and 'ego consciousness'. I would like to choose the first, but the second usually intervenes, agressively and continually. Among the gifts of the Spirit listed by Paul is self-control. In fact it is the last. So I gathered that what is last for Pauline Christianity is first for Zen; interesting.

The silence! Quakers become quiet, whether they count their breaths or not. And in the silence the still , small voice.

Are the Quakers Zen practioners? (I'd like to know the answer to that.) Of course there is a complete gamut of theological perspectives amond Quakers.

Many generic Christians practice silence. At the Church of the Savior every member went on a silent retreat each year at their Dayspring Retreat Center. Roman Catholics of course are very big on silence; the still, small voice often leads the seeker beyond his parochial home. Thomas Merton was learning from the Buddhist monks in Thailand at the end of his life (translated like Enoch and Elijah?)


This exposure to Zen opens a new world for me. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and many other objects of faith have something significant to say to the enlightened Christian. Expressing this poetically Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, and many others are brothers. Jesus spoke of other sheep, not of this fold.

God is everywhere, in everything, and he has stamped his Presence on all his children; anything different would be less than God.


George Breed said...

I appreciate your thoughts, Larry!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Mark Schreiber said...

very interesting. I need to study more about Zen.

It often strikes me that there is so much truth out there in the world, things that we as Christians can claim in a way. The Bible says that he is the creator of all things and is in all things... God is love, is truth, is all-knowing.... go is in a way the ultimate reality..... hmmmm.... so if God is the ultimate reality then what peices of God's truth can we find in other cultures, in other religions, even in the lives of people living opposite to God's teachings? What parts can we claim? Things like time away from the furry of life, from the business of "the season"--whatever season that may be---, things like breathing... Hmmm I may have to continue this thought on my own page before I write a book here.

david said...

Howdy Larry.

Personally I'm not disciplined enough for zazen. I need the support of a group to practice silence and then my mind wanders so I need a framework like Quaker waiting worship to keep it wandering down helpful byways.

Another neat connection between Christianity and zen is the koan/parable. What if Jesus' parables don't have meanings but are exercises in enlightenment -- getting us to reframe and think out of the box. Back to your all scripture is poetry thesis.

Larry said...

Thanks, George, Mark, David.
David, re the silence: I learned solitary silence long before I ever went to an unprogrammed meeting. Then, in contrast to you, I found group silence much harder. Being in the group always excites and stimulates me, just the opposite of getting quiet.

Of course age has something to do with that. But I've always been inner directed.
After time on a 'cheap tin can' (DE) in the navy I told a friend that I knew everybody had to have some kind of social life, but I was convinced I could get along with less of that than anybody else I knew.

So is life: we all have our separate paths, but happily toward the same goal.

Twyla said...

I love your thoughts here. I've always been strongly drawn to silence and the inner life. How wonderful it is to me to find so many examples of quiet sitting in other traditions.

I love the way your mind works.

Totally off the subject...does your wife blog?

Larry said...

It's so good to hear from you, Twyla. Thank you, thank you.

Re my wife: no. She strongly resists the computer. She ran a main frame for several years, while I was playing with 'micro-computers', as they called them in those days.

She is responsible for a lot of the stuff I write. I would be worth less than nothing without our life together.

Thanks for asking.

Larry said...