MattAndJojang's Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus

The Revolution of Normalcy: A reflection on the third anniversary of the election of Pope Francis

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"Pray for me."

“Pray for me.”

March 13, 2016, marks the third anniversary of election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Bishop of Rome. Upon his election in the Sistine Chapel three years ago, he took the name Francis and told us he did so because of his love for St. Francis of Assisi. Over the past three years, many have associated the new pope’s gestures and actions with the “Poverello” or “Little Poor One” of Assisi, perhaps the most beloved saint of the Catholic tradition. One day in the late 12th century, the young Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone (later named Francesco) heard the plea of Jesus from the crucifix in the dilapidated San Damiano chapel on Assisi’s outskirts: “Go and repair my church.” And he certainly did that in his lifetime and through the huge Franciscan family that he left behind to carry forward his dream and continue his work.

We can become easily fixated on lots of eye-catching, buzz-causing externals, great photo opportunities and now famous sound bite expressions that Pope Francis provides for us on a daily basis: A pope who abandoned the red shoes—that were never an official part of the papal wardrobe! A pope who dresses modestly, pays his own lodging bills, rides around Vatican City in a Ford Focus or in foreign cities in small cars. A pope who invites street people to his birthday breakfast. A pope who tells the driver of his vehicle to stop at the dividing wall between Jerusalem and Bethlehem so that he may pray before this glaring sign of division and pain. A pope who invites Muslims clerics to ride with him in the popemobile in the war-torn Central African Republic.

This Roman pontiff specializes in kissing babies and embracing the sick, disfigured broken bodies and the abandoned of society. He knows how to use a telephone—and uses it often. He waits in line for the coat check at the Vatican Synod Hall and delights in holding in-flight press conferences with journalists while many church leaders hold their breath at what will come forth from those now legendary encounters. He has restored Synods of Bishops to their proper place in the church: meetings and encounters of church leaders who speak with boldness, courage, freedom and openness rather than staged gatherings of pseudo-concord.

Many sit back, smile and utter: “What a sea/See change!” “What a revolution!” “What simplicity!” “Wow!” “Awesome!” “Finalmente!”

And for many who are watching all of this with differing forms of angst and shock, they ask: “What is he doing?” “How can he continue at this pace?” “Does he remember that he is the Vicar of Christ?” “Will the Francis reform succeed?” The answer is: “Yes.” Francis’ reform is inevitable because it is not emanating from Assisi, Loyola, Manresa or even from Rome, as significant as those holy places may be! It is based on a great story coming from other lands where we find Bethlehem, Nazareth, Nain, Emmaus, Mount Tabor, Galilee, Jerusalem and the Decapolis: the lands of the Bible. Pope Francis has based his Petrine Ministry on the Gospel of the fisherman of Galilee who was Son of God and Lord, Savior and Redeemer of the human family.

Pope Francis wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving as Jesus has modeled to us on every page of the New Testament. He reminds us day after day that we have a Lord and Master who shared in the joy of the spouses in Cana of Galilee and the anguish of the widow of Nain; a Lord and Master who enters into the house of Jairus, touched by death, and the house of Bethany, perfumed with nard. A Master who took upon Himself illness and suffering, to the point of giving His life in ransom.

Following Christ means going where He went; taking upon oneself, like the good Samaritan, the wounded we encounter along the road; going in search of the lost sheep. To be, like Jesus, close to the people; sharing their joys and pains, showing with our love the paternal face of God and the maternal caress of the church. Francis wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies); and, above all, not to judge others. He has spoken simply, powerfully and beautifully about returning to lost unity. He wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. He is especially conscious of the poor and those who have been marginalized—social outcasts kept on the fringes of society. He has spoken out strongly for the plight of refugees and decried the evil of abortion and euthanasia. He stands for the consistent ethic of life, from the earliest moments of conception to the final moments of natural death.

At the very beginning of his Petrine Ministry, he said loud and clear in St. Peter’s Square: “A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient” (Angelus, March 17, 2013). His rallying cry has been “mercy” for the past three years. Just before Lent this year, Pope Francis’ personal book, The Name of God is Mercy, was simultaneously released throughout the world. The main theme of the book is mercy, and the pope’s reasons for proclaiming a Holy Year of Mercy this year. The centrality of mercy is “Jesus’ most important message.” Mercy is essential because all people are sinners, in need of God’s forgiveness and grace, and it’s especially necessary today, at a time when “humanity is wounded,” suffering from “the many slaveries of the third millennium”—not just war and poverty and social exclusion, but also fatalism, hardheartedness and self-righteousness.

In a very provocative challenge to his newly-created brother cardinals last Feb. 15, 2015, Pope Francis recalled with them that “the church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement.” This means “welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world.”

Pope Francis is very critical of those eager to cast stones. Pride, hypocrisy and the urge to judge others in terms of “preconceived notions and ritual purity” are the targets of his ire. He has chastised church bureaucrats for their “theological narcissism,” and he says in his recent book that “we must avoid the attitude of someone who judges and condemns from the lofty heights of his own certainty, looking for the splinter in his brother’s eye while remaining unaware of the beam in his own.”

On the late afternoon of March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the call to go, rebuild, repair, renew and heal the church. What we have witnessed over the past three years is simply a disciple of Jesus—and a faithful disciple of Ignatius of Loyola and of Francis of Assisi—repairing, renewing, restoring, reconciling and healing the church. There are those who delight in describing the new pope as a bold, brazen revolutionary sent to rock the boat. Others think he has caused a massive shipwreck. But the only revolution that Pope Francis has inaugurated is a revolution of tenderness, the very words he used in his recent major letter on “The Joy of the Gospel” (No. 88).

And the second revolution he has inaugurated is the revolution of normalcy. What he is doing is normal human, Christian behavior. These are the revolutions at the heart and soul of Pope Francis’ ministry. It is his unflinching freedom that allows him to do what he does because he is unafraid and totally free to be himself at the same time of being a most faithful son of the church. It is Francis’ humanity, goodness, joy, kindness and mercy that introduce us to the tenderness of our God. No wonder why he has taken the world by storm, why so many people are paying attention to him, and others are frustrated with his exercise of freedom and his universal outreach. Everything the pope is doing now is not just an imitation of his patron saint who loved the poor, embraced lepers, charmed sultans, made peace and protected nature. It’s a reflection of the child of Bethlehem who would grow up to become the man of the cross in Jerusalem, the Risen One that no tomb could contain, the man we Christians call Savior and Lord. Pope Francis has given us a powerful glimpse into the mind and heart of God.

This Bishop of Rome demands a lot while preaching about a God of mercy, by engaging joyfully with nonbelievers, atheists, agnostics, skeptics and those sitting on the fences of life—many who thought that Christianity has nothing left to add to the equations of life. For journalists and those in media, he has made covering religion and the church interesting, exciting and enticing and rewarding once again. We need the bold, Francis revolution of tenderness, mercy and normalcy now more than ever before.

Lord our God,
We thank you for always providing shepherds to guide the church.
We thank you most especially for Francis,
the one you have chosen to be our chief shepherd
and guide at this moment in history.
Bless him with health and vision, boldness and courage,
wisdom and compassion, and boundless joy and hope.
Make him an instrument of your peace, compassion and mercy,
In your mercy you called Francis and you call each of us
to cling to Jesus, the rock of fidelity and truth.
May Pope Francis inspire us to be better Christians,
faithful Catholics and architects and citizens
of the civilization of love that your son entrusted to us.

We ask this in Jesus’ name, who lives with you forever and ever.

Amen.

–Father Thomas Rosica

Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., is the CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and English language attaché, Holy See Press Office.

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Written by MattAndJojang

March 13, 2016 at 1:03 pm

An Invitation to a Zen Retreat

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Zen Retreat Invitation

An invitation to attend a Zen retreat 16 years ago from Sr. Perla Macapinlac, an ICM nun. Attended the 6-day retreat, and it changed my life. An account of what happened to me during that retreat is found in this blog post:

A Touch of Enlightenment: A Christian’s Encounter with Zen

–Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

April 16, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Healing The Divide: A Book Review

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Healing The Divide Cover

Amos Smith‘s Healing The Divide: Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots is a joy to read!

As a lay person who has studied our Christian mystical heritage (my favorites are Meister Eckhart, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, and St. John of the Cross) for 40+ years now, I’ve come to almost similar conclusions as the author. The themes that he tackles in his book, like paradox as the key to understanding Jesus, the nondual approach to Christianity, the transformative power of contemplative prayer, compassion and social justice as the fruit of spiritual practice really resonates with me.

Our Christian theology since the Middle Ages has become over-analytical and too rational, leaving no room for paradox and mystery. This has resulted in a Christianity that is too intellectual, legalistic, formal and rigid – and for the most part irrelevant to the contemporary person. What the 21st century man or woman wants is a direct encounter with God. And this is what is meant by Christian mysticism – a direct experience of God through the person of Jesus, which results in personal transformation as well as the transformation of our society.

If I’m not mistaken, this is what the book advocates, based on a theology which sees the person of Jesus through the eyes of the Christian mystics, specifically the Alexandrian mystics. And herein lays the value of the book: it is not just a book only about mysticism but about Christian mysticism, solidly built on a Christology based on what the author refers to as the “Jesus Paradox.”

Like the author, I’m convinced that paradox is the key to understanding the deepest truths in life, and that includes the truth about Jesus. Another author puts it this way:

Paradox is the best form of language for expressing some of the fundamental truths of human existence.

Jesus is not only divine, neither is he only human. He is absolutely divine and relatively human! This is the key to understanding Christian mysticism. And for those who can absorb it– this could be a life-changing experience!

What the book offers us is a fresh approach to Christianity that is not only based on theology (although the book is very theologically sound), but one that is also based on a personal encounter with God – an encounter which leads to personal transformation.

Highly recommended!

–Matt

Christmas Letter 2014

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Jojang and Matt

Jojang and Matt

Dear Family and Friends,

Waiting is a mystery, a natural sacrament of life. There is a meaning hidden in all the times we have to wait. It must be an important mystery because there is so much waiting in our lives.

–Fr. James F. Donelan, SJ

“Mama, please help me find a spot in the house where I can pray?” Matthew asked me one morning.

Surprised, I said, “Okay.”

The request was music to my ears because it was a healthy sign that Matthew is well enough to be able to practice what he loves most – meditation and contemplative prayer.

Gone are the days when our days, weeks and months are measured by the number of times he is rushed to the hospital. Gone are the days when a foul smell is enough to trigger an asthma attack.

Indeed, waiting is a sacrament because the last time Matthew was able to sit, meditate and pray was twelve years ago…

Thank you, Lord. You are so good!

Although Matthew has not fully regained his old health back, nowadays when he is not feeling well, we already know what to do and shortly after he is able to recover and bounce back. Of course, we still need to be careful, and avoid situations and places that may trigger him. But we have gone a long way off from before. Slowly but surely, we hope that he becomes even stronger than when he was before.

We would like to thank Dra. Chona who patiently and lovingly took care of us throughout all these years. You are God’s angel for us.

Lastly, we cannot end this letter without mentioning our blog. Now on its sixth year, we have 230+ followers and have reached 249,500+ hits; a wonderful reaffirmation that we must be doing something good and reaching out to so many people. We appreciate our cyber friends who regularly keep in touch. And even those that drop by once in a while.

Let me end this letter with a Christmas Prayer (not my own). It echoes what we have in our hearts….

Christmas Prayer

Meister Eckhart once said:

What good is it that Christ was born 2,000 years ago if he is not born now in your heart?

Lord, we do far too much celebrating your actual coming into our hearts. I believe in God, but do I believe in God-in-me? I believe in God in heaven, but do I believe in God-on-earth? I believe in God out there, but do I believe in God-with-us?

Lord, be born in my heart. Come alive in me this Christmas! Amen.

We pray that Christ will be alive for you this Christmas and all throughout the New Year ahead.

 

Matthew and Jojang

Written by MattAndJojang

December 8, 2014 at 11:59 am

Behind Every Easter Is a Crucifixion

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Easter

The trees on both sides of my street in New York City have bloomed with tiny white flowers that create a canopy under which I walked on this fine Easter weekend. The trees do this every year in spring, and I wait for it, knowing that the cold, grey branches only appear to be dead and lifeless; and that the flowers are waiting for the right moment for revelation.

The white blossoms are a sign for me that new life is coming, that spring will not be thwarted, that Easter has come.

Those of us who are Christian celebrate Easter with joyful and victorious choruses of Hallelujah because Christ rose from the dead and triumphed over the grave. “Where is your sting o death?” I sing at the Easter vigil where we light the Christ candle to shine within the darkness. Easter is a glorious celebration of new life, new beginnings, new hope.

However, Easter is not, must not, be a time of amnesia. We do not, cannot, forget the journey of Jesus when we sing the Hallelujah chorus. Easter, if it is to mean anything, must always stands face to face with the crucifixion of Good Friday — because God knows the crucifixions did not stop when Jesus’ resurrection happened. And God knows that suffering and oppression will not stop in 2014, just because Christians will be celebrating Easter.

I was reminded of this when my partner told me that the white flowers signify to him the anniversary of the death of his first partner who died of AIDS around this time in 1989; just blocks from where we so comfortably now live together as a married couple. For Brad, just because Easter happened in 1989, and is happening again this year, doesn’t mean his heart did not break. Easter did not, cannot, erase the fact of devastating loss Brad experienced, and the grief that accompanied it.

Easter does not erase crucifixions of oppression and personal trials that humans face. It does not have that power, nor that goal.

Easter also does not erase the crucifixion of hunger, fear, war, violence that too many will know today. Easter does not erase the crucifying greed, sexism, racism, domestic abuse, or homo and trans hatred that so many will experience today. Easter does not erase the cross of gun violence, destruction of the environment, the distrust between religious traditions, the unjust prison system, the monied corruption of political systems that plague our country and the world. Easter does not erase the agony of physical disease, Alzheimer’s, loneliness, depression, addiction, despair, heartbreak that are part of many of our daily lives.

Easter does not erase any of it — instead it shines a spotlight on those crucifixions and proclaims that the power of death and sin can and has been shattered by the power of love.

Easter only matters because it is the story of God taking the form of a human in Jesus who experienced the crucifixion, dying for and with us, and then rising to proclaim that death and destruction are not the end of the story of life. Easter matters because it reminds us that God is with us, and loves us, even amidst all of our sufferings. Easter matters because it proclaims a faith that even in 2014, God is pouring forth the powerful spirit of new life to resurrect our personal lives and our world.

Easter is a call upon the Christian to turn to face the crucifixions in our lives and in the world; encouraged and emboldened by Christ, to believe that we too can rise.

May we be blessed and bless others with new life this Easter Sunday.

— Paul Brandeis Raushenbush

Written by MattAndJojang

April 21, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Why I Love Lent

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Lent
I wasn’t raised in a household that observed Lent and only began to get into it once I was introduced to the more liturgical traditions while at seminary. My mother always thought it odd that I would observe this season believing that one of the finer things about being a protestant was not having to do dreary old Lent.

However, Lent has become my favorite season and Ash Wednesday my favorite Christian Holy day outside of Holy Week. Having someone look you in the eye with love and tell you that you are going to die is powerfully moving, and quite beautiful, especially, I suppose, if that day doesn’t seem too close.

“Death is the mother of beauty. Only the perishable can be beautiful, which is why we are unmoved by artificial flowers.” Said Wallace Stevens.

Being reminded that I am perishable, that I am dust and that I will return to dust serves to awaken me to the fact that I am on that beautiful journey between dust to dust that we call life. I, like those dry bones in Ezekiel, have had life-breath breathed into me. Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent startle me enough to consider that this very day might be a good day to look up from my day to day concerns, as unimportant as they may be, and to zoom out the lens and to look at my life — where I have been, where I am going, and if all is well with my soul right here and now.

In Lent we observe the 40 days that Jesus wandered in the wilderness filled with trial and temptation. As it is with most of us, my personal sojourn often is located in the wilderness; winding within uncomfortable and uncertain terrain filled with temptations and trials and sense of alone-ness. At some point in my life, however, I came across the words of another sojourner found in Psalm 139: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” the psalmist writes, “If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

Over time, the testimony of God’s intimate presence and love found in this psalm has become my own, and, while it did not, and has not relieved me of my wilderness experiences it allows me to understand my struggles in a different way, to feel less alone and to redeem my life as a valid and, even valued, part of the wider sacred story of God.

Maybe that is why I love Lent. In this season it is permitted to reflect on the pain in our lives and to even acknowledge that there are times when God seems utterly absent. Christians spend their lives between the words of Jesus that ask God, why have you forsaken me, and the others that proclaim into your hands I commend my spirit. The testimony of Psalm 139 is that no matter where we go, or what we do, whether we sense God, or we don’t – God is. God is Present.

Lent offers us the opportunity to tear away all that would blind us, or numb us to that reality. For some that will come through fasting from mindless consumption of whatever distracts us; for others it will come from radical service to the neighbor; but what is most important about Lent is that we make time and space for an awareness that God who is with us and loves us – even right here and now. It is in the telling of our stories that God is revealed and Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection become real – all of our lives become – the bread and the cup – elements of eternal life amidst the dust.

— Paul Brandeis Raushenbush

Written by MattAndJojang

March 13, 2014 at 7:46 pm

A Touch of Enlightenment: A Christian’s Encounter with Zen

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An old photo of Matt (far left) and some of his fellow retreatants with the Zen master Kubota Roshi (middle). (Circa 1999)

An old photo of Matt (far left) and some of his fellow retreatants during a Zen retreat conducted by the Zen Master Kubota Jiun Roshi (middle) in October of 1999.

When you pick up the whole great earth, it is as small as a grain of rice.

–The Blue Cliff Record

It was sometime in March of 1999 when I attended a one-week Zen retreat. Up to that time I was practicing Zen meditation on-and-off, mostly by myself, for almost 20 years. I attended the retreat to simply jump start my Zen practice. Never did I expect that something wondrous was going to happen to me.

The retreat started uneventfully. The Zen teacher was late. She explained that the traffic was terrible. It started with an orientation talk. But, because I had attended Zen retreats in the past, I was already familiar with what she was saying.

It wasn’t easy sitting in meditation for about 5-6 hours daily. I spent most of the time putting up with the physical pain (at one point I was sweating because of the almost unbearable pain) and battling with mental distractions. I mentioned this to the Zen teacher. And she told me: “The reason you’re in pain is because you are fighting your thoughts.” Somehow when I followed her advice not to resist my thoughts, but, instead, just letting it be – letting it come and letting it go – I felt better.

By the 4th day I was achieving a certain level of stillness and depth during our meditation sessions. It was during this time, as I was holding a piece of biscuit, during our morning break, that something extraordinary happened to me.

In a flash, the world as I knew it collapsed! Time stood still, and space disappeared! There was no time and space, no I and you, no inside and outside! Touching a piece of biscuit, I had a glimpse of the world of Zen. I could only describe it as a thunder-and-lightning realization that the universe is a palpable Whole!

                                             Touching a piece of biscuit,
                                             Heaven and earth are recreated.
                                             Sipping a cup of coffee,
                                             Whole rivers are swallowed in a gulp.
                                             Emptied of notions of “self” and “other,”
                                             In a flash, the True Self revealed!

Initially, I was filled with trepidation and fear. I thought I was hallucinating, going crazy and losing my mind! I shared this with the Zen teacher. She reassured me: “This is as close as you can get in experiencing your True Self.”

After the experience, I viewed the world in a fresh way. It was as if scales were peeled off my eyes and I saw the world for the first time in all its splendor and beauty! Each object was luminous and charged with energy! And I saw each object as precious, and having an absolute value.

This was accompanied by a deep peace which I haven’t experienced before. To use biblical language, it is what probably what St.Paul meant by “the peace which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). I experienced, too, a freedom and spaciousness in my life that is “as vast and boundless as the great empty firmament,” to borrow the words of one of the koans of The Gateless Gate.

The after-effects of the experience lasted for weeks. And just remembering those days gives me an exhilarating feeling of joy!

In the meantime, I began to ask myself what the experience meant to me as a Christian.

I had three questions:

1. What is the relationship of the Zen enlightenment experience to the Christian mystical experience?

2. Can we consider Zen meditation as a form of Christian prayer?

3. Is the Zen enlightenment experience similar to the mystical experiences of the great Christian mystics like St. Teresa of Avila or St. John of the Cross?

Fortunately, as I was surfing the internet I came across a website of a Christian theologian and Zen practitioner, Jim Arraj. (Later, I found out that he wrote a number of books addressing these issues – God, Zen and the Intuition of Being; Mysticism, Metaphysics and Maritain; Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue).

I started corresponding with him through email. And he was kind enough to accommodate me and answer my queries.

In a nutshell this is how he explained it to me:

Zen enlightenment is a deeply spiritual experience. We could even say from a Christian perspective that it is a mystical experience of God as the author of being. But it is not identical to the Christian mystical experience, as described by St.Teresa of Avila or St. John of the Cross. And it is not also good to call it prayer in the Christian sense of the term, either.

Zen enlightenment is a deep seeing into the isness, or existence of things. As such it is a certain contact and union beyond concepts and beyond the distinction between subject and object, between our own selves and these things, and with God who is the author and sustainer of their existence. We could say that it is a mystical experience of the very mystery of existence, and in some way embraces all that exists: ourselves, the piece of biscuit, and in an indirect but very real way, God who is existence Himself.

That sounds like a mouthful. But this is the way he puts it:

In the center of every soul, in the deepest part of our being, is that place where we come into existence. Somewhere in the depths of our self, in the depths of our souls, there’s a point where we touch God and God touches us. But we’re NOT talking about when God makes His presence felt in the center of the soul through grace and then this sharing of His own life.

Normally, we spend our time looking out, and we spend our time on the superficial level with all our ideas. We don’t even see the things around us clearly because our ideas are getting in the way and we are looking out through them. The Zen practitioner tries to quiet all this, but there are layers and layers of our ideas and thoughts and emotions, and he starts going down through these layers.

So what happens is if the Zen practitioner practices long enough and hard enough, that house of cards is like all these different layers, and they begin to collapse and are no longer operative in the same way. And he gets down, and finally, when all the collapse is done, when all the layers have fallen, he experiences what is at the center.

What’s at the center? Existence is at the center. What does that mean? At the very center is the point where God as the author of existence is touching the soul and bringing it into existence. If we could get back to that point, dig down far enough where we no longer have any ideas, and we get back to simply THAT – that THAT is the very point where God is infusing existence into the soul. Or put another way, that very center point is the existence of the soul inasmuch as it is springing forth from the hand of God.

On the other hand, the heart of Christian mystical experience is a contact with God who as a loving person makes himself present to us, and calls us to share in his own life through Jesus. It is the experience of the Father and lover of the soul who wants to transform the soul by love so it shares in his own nature.

In other words, in the Christian mystical experience God is transforming us into Himself, so that we are becoming God – certainly not like our nature, our being, because we are just limited creatures – but by being transformed in knowledge and love. We are directed towards God because He is where our knowledge and love are going. So there is this tremendous mystery of transformation we hear about all the time, and St. John of the Cross is trying to say that in the Christian life we actually experience this becoming God. That’s the only way you could put it – participation in God’s nature.

You don’t get to contact with God by this kind of contact through Zen practice. You don’t arrive there by technique. No matter how elevated and spiritual the technique is of controlling the mind, or controlling the breath, and concentrating, you can’t arrive at God’s inner nature.

Why? Because there’s such a difference between the level of our being and the level of God’s being. The only way you can arrive there is not because it is due to us. That would make us God by nature, and we know enough about ourselves to see that’s not true. The only way you arrive is through God’s gift and through the transformation that comes through knowledge and love, that transformation that comes from grace.

The whole Christian mystery revolves around that distinction. Zen is not Christian mysticism in that sense. It doesn’t sound like it. And the Zen practitioner doesn’t go around praying and thinking about God and trying to be transformed into God.

This is why the accounts of Zen enlightenment and Christian mystical experience do not sound alike.

There certainly cannot be any opposition between Zen enlightenment and the Christian mystical experience because to oppose them would be to oppose God as the author of being, and the Trinitarian God that the Scriptures teach us about. But at the same time we have to make a distinction between these two kinds of mystical experience, and I think there is a need to because they demand different means to arrive at them.

I’m profoundly grateful to Jim for his insightful explanation. He has helped me to reflect on my Zen experience in a way that makes sense to me as a Christian.

This happened many years ago, and looking back now I can see that my Zen experience has transformed my life in a way that I could not have imagined. In the end, what Zen means to me is summarized in these words of Goto Zuigan Roshi:

What is Zen? Simple, simple, so simple. Infinite gratitude toward all things past; infinite service to all things present; infinite responsibility to all things future.

— Matt

Note: Seven months later, during a one-week Zen retreat, this experience was confirmed by the Zen Master Kubota Jiun Roshi as kensho, i.e., a Zen enlightenment experience.

Written by MattAndJojang

February 27, 2014 at 9:30 am