By Ruben L. F. Habito
Dear colleagues and friends of the Buddhist Christian studies family,
Let me begin by citing from an inspiring sermon I heard at a Eucharistic celebration on the Feast of the Holy Family, Sunday, 30 December 2018, at St. Johann’s Basilica, in Saarbrücken, Germany. Given the theme of the day, the preacher, as to be expected, spoke about family and its vital role in making (or breaking) us in becoming who we are as human beings. He approached the theme in a way that challenged and further expanded the audience’s horizon of understanding of “family matters”. The reading was based on the Gospel of Luke, 2:42-52, wherein we see the twelve-year old Jesus straying from his parents during a visit to the temple, and after a search, is found by Mary and Joseph, in the company of wise elders of the temple, discussing matters of Divine law with them.
The preacher first suggested that we need not be stuck on the conventional image of a two-parent family, a married female and male couple raising one or more children together, and also include single-parent families, so-called patchwork families, rainbow families, and as well as families of various forms and sizes, biological as well as non-biological, wherein we human beings find our matrix of support, our grounding, our place of belonging, and most importantly, where we receive the unconditional Love that enables and empowers us to become a contributive and responsible member of society and of the human community. Secondly, he reminded his audience that just as children need to listen to their parents, parents too, need to listen to their children, from whom they can also learn much. And as his third point, he cited Jesus’ injunction to his hearers to go beyond nuclear or biological familial origins and expand the range of whom to consider as one’s family, wider and wider, to embrace “all who live by and follow divine will,” in short, people throughout the world and throughout all ages, of all manner of color, creed, age and ability, who have been born on this earth.
In sum, the preacher’s message was an invitation to look back at our lives with gratitude, and appreciate the role our family of origins has played in our being who we are, and a challenge to look beyond conventional boundaries and recognize our belonging and responsibility to a much larger family, that is, to our global community. As we acknowledge, claim, and celebrate this belonging to this global family, the eyes of our heart are opened to see how deeply wounded it is, pulled in different directions, marked by situations of violence, animosity, discrimination, injustice and inequality among its members, and now also facing an ecological crisis of colossal proportions. The task that comes upon each of us in this regard is to resolve to work together with other members of this larger family, across our differences in creed and color and age and capacity, towards peace and reconciliation with one another, towards healing on the different levels of our communal existence on this Earth.
This sermon sparked some further reflections, which I would like to share here, as we usher in and welcome the year 2019. I offer perspectives coming from the Buddhist practice of zazen (seated meditation), as well as from the Christian tradition, both from which I continue to derive nourishment.
Zazen is the practice of sitting still, breathing with attention, and allowing the mind to be calm and be settled in the here and now. This is the “home base” we are continually invited to return to in our day to day lives, where we experience being at home with ourselves and being at home in the universe. In this state of meditative stillness, we find our grounding, our belonging. We find our constant source of support to be who we are, the source of unconditional Love that enables and empowers us to realize the fullness of all that we are called to be. For those who have yet to try this practice for themselves, the invitation is open: taste and see! (More detail is provided through the following link, which opens to a 9 minute video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hWvVwL33Ps&t=191s ) It may take some initial struggle and awkwardness, but with persistence over a period of time, as the old Men’s Wearhouse TV ad would say, “I guarantee it!”--- you will find a precious hidden treasure that you will be able to access continually for an entire lifetime. There is much more that can be said about this, but will leave it at that for now. (Those interested may click on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcfcbGz9X5w )
From a Christian perspective, the contemplative practice called Centering Prayer may likewise lead to “home base.” (The following link offers basic guidelines to this practice: https://www.wikihow.com/Do-Centering-Prayer ) Other modes of contemplative prayer and practice found in different religious traditions may also bring us to a similar place. Whichever approach we happen to find accessible for us in our individual, social, or religious contexts, as we get accustomed to being still, paying attention, and allowing the mind to be calm and settled in the here and now, the eyes and ears of our hearts are opened to a literally breath-taking and life-giving dimension right there where we are. We are enabled to see that the Holy
is constantly in our midst, and conversely, that we are always in the midst of the Holy, no matter where we are, no matter what we may be doing or not doing.
In all this, we may be graced with those special moments whereby we hear, deep within our hearts, at a place “more intimate to us than we are to ourselves” (citing St. Augustine) the Word that Jesus himself heard when he went down the waters of the Jordan River as he was being baptized by John the Baptist: “You are my Beloved, in whom I AM well-pleased.” Who, me? Yes, you! We may hear this Voice being addressed to us in a unique and definitive way, and in so hearing, our lives are transformed from that moment on. This is a moment of awakening, enabling us to realize the answer to the big questions that inevitably come up in our life at some point: “Who am I?” “What am I here for?” “What is this all about?”
As we experience this Unconditional Love, even with a momentary glimpse given to us at some unexpected moment, we will be able to see how we are being showered with the same Love, every moment of our lives, since our birth, or even before, and even now, and always. Our life will then be lived in a totally different light. As we look around us, our eyes will be opened, and we will be able to see that each and everyone, each and everything that exists, is also embraced by that Love, that same Love that we now know is what constitutes our very being, as it does of everything else that exists in the universe. All of us are wrapped, rapt, in the embrace of that same Love. We are family!
Another way of putting it is that we are able to directly experience our intimate interconnectedness with each and everything that exists in this universe---every tree, every blade of grass, every star, every mountain, every newborn baby, and also, every child dying of hunger, every victim of discrimination or of violence, every refugee, everyone crying out in anguish, “Why have you forsaken me?” The Earth, groaning in pain, is us. We are the Earth.
All we can do from here on is spend the rest of our lives giving back this Love to all those around us. This is the boundless heart that the Buddhist treatise on Lovingkindness (Metta Sutta) refers to, in stating: “As a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, have this boundless heart in you toward all beings.”
From this boundless heart, grounded on the direct experience of being loved unconditionally, comes the realization of kinship with each and everyone and everything in this universe. Such an experience may be given to us, again and again, in different degrees of intensity and duration, in those moments of stillness when are hearts are totally open and awake. And from this comes forth a resolve. We can no longer ignore the woundedness, the violence, the injustice, the discrimination, the racism, the inequality, all the causes of animosity and enmity among our fellow beings, the ecological devastation impinging upon all of us on this Earth, because these are no longer “other” to us.
The resolve is to take on a way of life and its concomitant paths of action that would seek to contribute to alleviating the pain and the suffering of all that is kin to us. We are able to feel these deeply ourselves, as pertaining to members of our own immediate family! We will thereby be inspired and empowered to live in a way that seeks to make a difference in all this, toward building bridges and not walls, toward healing and reconciliation and not separation. Particular decisions and forms of action and engagement should naturally unfold from this resolve, suited to our situation and capacity.
May this resolve be ours, each and all of us, for 2019, and for our entire lifetime.
I offer my deepest thanks to each and everyone of you, colleagues and friends engaged in Buddhist Christian studies, as you are in the circle of those I hold with gratitude in my heart: you are part of what makes me who I am. Let us continue to hold one another in our hearts in mutual support, in cultivating wisdom and compassion in our day to day lives, that we may all be agents of healing in this wounded Earth of ours.
Ruben L. F. Habito
January 1, 2019