At a lecture I attended many years ago, it was either a former professor or a Tibetan Buddhist monk who told a room full of Christians that we didn't need to go to the Eastern traditions to find so-called "enlightenment." We Westerners, he observed, tend to puddle jump among traditions, let alone denominations, feeding our faith from an all-you-can-eat buffet of what we find most appealing at the time. But to find what we desperately seek, we needed to stop skipping across the surface and delve deeply into what comes most naturally to us. Pick a puddle and dive.
As someone who meandered from the Baptist Church to Zen Buddhism to the Episcopal Church, these words resonated with me. The compassion and mindfulness I learned about and practiced in Buddhism brought me to a deeper understanding of whom I believe Jesus Christ to be. The invitation to go deeper, however, also revealed something about who I am and what I was willing to do. What kept pulling me back to the church? Could I stay in an organized religion, especially one that had done wrong by so many people in history and recent memory?
Obviously I did stay with Christianity, and that journey is my own and ongoing. For all who are seeking and questioning, however, I point to this coming week before Easter as an incredible opportunity to delve into the heart of Christianity -- knowing that it's also a rich time to delve into Judaism, and I commend you to your local rabbi or Jewish spiritual leader if that be your path. I also offer some words of caution: It might not feel comfortable, and you will have to keep going. As far as I can tell, there are no quick fixes when it comes to matters of faith; there's no insta-enlightenment.
This Holy Week, in many Christian churches, there's a chance to come to church not just on Sunday morning. Away from the familiar routine, you won't be the only uncomfortable one. Maybe there's an Agapé meal -- a love feast -- that enables those around the table to share a common meal in mutual affection and praise and thanksgiving for God. On Maundy Thursday, we hear the words of Jesus giving the command to love one another, and we follow his example of serving one another in the tender, vulnerable and intimate act of washing each other's feet. (Yes, we take off our shoes and use real water. It is optional but highly recommended.) On Good Friday, we return to church with the bare altar and revisit the Passion we heard from Palm Sunday. We read and hear and remember the suffering and death of Jesus, drawing ourselves close to that moment. Maybe we walk the Stations of the Cross and recall the various other witnesses and their roles on that day. It's a day of silence, fasting if we're able, and it might also include the rite of reconciliation (confession). That silence spills into Saturday as we wait. In that waiting, there's anticipation, for we know that Easter is coming.
When Easter comes, after having gone through these experiences of introspection, contemplation and participation, there's a deeper level of appreciation of what is readily available to me here and now on any given day of the year. Marking this holy time concentrates our energy, giving us time to focus deeply on what it means for us that Jesus Christ triumphed over death. It might have meant something different for the person sitting near me, but it matters greatly that we made the journey together. As personal an experience as it all has been, we recall that we were not alone on our way; other voices joined ours in prayer. We let our lives be nourished and nurtured, and we lifted our hearts together. We invited the presence of all that is holy to touch our lives and grant us grace.
Maybe we experienced the presence of God -- maybe not. I love that meditation is called a "practice." It reminds me that our showing up for holy work is not a one-and-done kind of deal. I'm not going to be able to dive into Christianity this Holy Week and have everything figured out. I can go through the uncomfortable and the vulnerable and show up again not only next year but also at all those times in between, because the waters of our faith traditions are so deep.
The Rev. Sara Milford serves as vicar of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Bentonville. You can read past sermons and follow her Holy Week reflections at www.everydaysimple.org.
NAN Religion on 04/13/2019
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