Buddhists Helping Christians

I am grateful for the opportunity to read books authored by non-Christians.  I don’t know whether I read any person who was not a Christian before I went to college.  Perhaps I did, but I was not aware of it if I did.  In college I began my pilgrimage with a few non-Christians.  I can remember very well the first Jewish theologian.  I bumped into some other spiritual folks who were not Christians.  And then I went to graduate school.
Ironically, I received two kinds of education in graduate school.  The obvious one was the classes and degrees that I paid money to have.  I appreciate that.  The other kind of education was provided by my living context.  When I moved to a new city to do graduate education, I rented the top floor of a house very near the graduate school of theology.  Since my house was on a corner, I had two neighbors on either side.  On one side was the Hillel House, the campus Jewish ministry outreach.  The other side was the Center for the Study of World Religion.
That Center doubtlessly speaks for itself.  It was an academic building focusing on various world religions.  Christianity was only one of those.  In addition to classes held there, it was a rather big building that had living spaces.  So I had neighbors who were Hindus, Buddhists, Muslim and others.  I felt like I was living in a spiritual laboratory!  Every time I stepped out my back door was a global experience!  I never knew what religious tradition I might encounter.  And I never knew what country around the globe I might encounter.  It was exciting.
Whenever I had a chance to read a non-Christian, I am excited about what I might learn and how I might grow.  Recently for a class, I had to read one of my favorite Buddhist authors, Thich Nhat Hanh.  In his book, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, we learn about Buddhism and also we learn about our own Christian tradition from this wonderful Buddhist.  I especially liked his reflections on the Holy Spirit and will share that as a focus for these inspirational musings.
I begin with the Hanh’s first sentence in our focus.  He says, “The Holy Spirit, the energy of God in us, is the true door.”  I like his description of the Spirit as energy.  That fits how I conceive of that presence of God.  I know in classical languages the word for “spirit” means “wind” or “breath.”  When I feel the wind on my body, it does feel like an energy.  When I become aware of my breathing, it feels like energy.  All that makes sense, but what does it mean to say the Holy Spirit if the “true door?”
The trick is not to understand “door” in a literal fashion.  A door is an opening.  One goes through the door to another place or space.  That is what the Spirit enables us to do.  The Spirit as door gives us an opening to the place of God’s presence.  Go pass through the true door---the door of the Holy Spirit---is to go into the spiritual place, the place where God abides and spiritual communities thrive.
Hanh carries this thinking forward with more ideas and words.  “We know the Holy Spirit as energy and not as notions and words.  Wherever there is attention, the Holy Spirit is there.  Wherever there is understanding, the Holy Spirit is there.  Wherever there is love and faith, the Holy Spirit is there.  All of us are capable of recognizing the Holy Spirit when it is present.”

This first point is an important one.  Hanh reiterates that the Holy Spirit is energy.  When I think about the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the odd one.  The other two members of the Trinity are personal---in traditional language referred to as the Father and the Son.  The Spirit is not personal in the same sense.  The Spirit is a non-personal image.  The Spirit is energy.  However, we all know the power of energy.  It is necessary to life.  Hanh says the Spirit is real; he claims it is not merely an idea or notion.

Then Hanh helps us see how we know and recognize the Holy Spirit.  Wherever there is attention, there is the Holy Spirit.  Wherever there is understanding, there it is.  Finally, wherever there is love and faith, there we find the Holy Spirit.  All of these are simple, but also profound.  Attention, understanding, love and faith are all places---occasions---for recognizing the Holy Spirit is with us.

I appreciate Hanh’s guidance.  At times in my spiritual journey, I have wondered how we actually can recognize the Spirit?  I know some would claim it is merely an idea---a notion people in the Church made up and promulgate in churches.  I knew I could not prove the Holy Spirit exists, nor could I make the Spirit appear, like the magician pulls bunnies from hats.  But Hanh, the Buddhist, helped me the Christian.

He points out that where attention, understanding, love and faith appear, the energy of the Spirit comes to be present.  The energy of the Spirit moves us from ignorance to some knowledge.  It moves us from apathy to engagement with God and with life.  There is still more to learn, but thanks to this Buddhist, we are farther on our way. 

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