I am reading a book by Paul Knitter* about how his relationship with Buddhist friends has impacted his Christian life. It is an honest, humble and intelligent presentation. I have underlined just about every sentence in the book so far. The chapter I am reading currently is about the practice of meditation which, by the way, is not foreign to Christianity. But it is out of the mainstream – historically a practice for monks and nuns. But this is changing. Here in the U.S. I would credit Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and Thomas Keating for bringing it into the world of those Christians who go to their jobs and raise kids and pay bills. In the Church they are called “lay people”, an awful name, in my opinion.
Nevertheless, I am one of these and have been interested in meditation for years. I’ve read all of the above authors and then some. I have read Buddhist practitioners including the Dalai Lama, Pema Chodrin and Thich Nhat Hanh. I have also read the works of various mystics who inhabited the middle ages. I didn’t really know why I was drawn to the practice – I just was. I rarely came across anyone else outside of a religious order who meditated. So I stuck to the books and fumbled and bumbled in my efforts to meditate. Now I belong to a small community of “lay people” who meditate together and individually in their own homes as a form of prayer. It feels really good not to feel like a freak of some sort.
This morning I read in Knitter’s book a small section he entitled: “The key role of mindfulness”. It gives me a little clue as to why I do this. He says that mindfulness is really a factor in all forms of meditation. He quotes Thich Nhat Hanh: “to meditate means to be aware of what is going on…what is going on in your body, in your feelings, in your mind, and in the objects of your mind, which are the world.” Being aware is just the first step, he says, “one must fully accept what is happening but at the same time not cling to what is happening.” Let me tell you, this is not easy. The tendency for most of us is to get mad about the bad things that are happening and hold on desperately to the good. What happens is that we are always frustrated, discontent, and resentful. Accepting life as life is is far easier on the emotions and even on the body.
This reminds me of the serenity prayer which suggests that we accept the things we cannot change (leading to serenity), to change the things I can (which sometimes requires courage), and to seek the wisdom to know the difference between these two. For me meditation has facilitated my acceptance, enabling me to let go of even traumatic events around me, letting them unfold naturally without my interference. But it also gives me space to observe difficult situations and to ponder carefully what I might offer to help make things better.
*Without Buddha I Could Not be a Christian by Paul F. Knitter