I’ve been reading a book called Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey Among Christian and Buddhist Monks (2003) by Fenton Johnson. In fact, I’ve spent months reading it, as it’s a book that requires time and thought.
I read a few pages and just take it in, thinking about the author’s reflections on these monks. It’s like a fine meal; you just want to enjoy the taste of each bite.
Within its pages, Johnson interviews Zen Buddhist Abbess, Blanche Hartman who speaks about an experience in a 1960s peace protest, during which she was confronted by a policeman. Despite the chaotic scene, looking into his eyes, she realized he was just another person like her. The experience showed her the importance of “being able to see the virtue in each person.” In adapting her language, we could say, “To see Christ in each person.”
This is no easy task, as our baggage often gets in the way—our biases, agendas, fears, anger, and resentments. But that’s why it’s called a spiritual practice, because it’s not the normal way of operating. Our practice asks us to set aside those things, to stop doing, to stop talking, to listen, and to notice. It means being prepared to hear wisdom and even the voice of God in situations, places, and people we would never expect.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks recently noted that the name Yahweh means, “I am who or how, or where I will be.” (On Being, October 29, 2015). It may be difficult to wrap one’s mind around such an abstract idea, but that in itself is significant. God is beyond our limited views and categories, and is even bigger than religion.
Our spiritual practice is not intended to be a hiding place, but a way for us to fully embrace and engage the world so that we may listen and learn. In doing so, we can approach all life with greater compassion. And perhaps, rather than getting pulled into life’s craziness and confusion, we can somehow find order, direction, peace, and hope. This is possible because we are always in the presence of the Holy One. If we open ourselves to receiving his wisdom by becoming listeners and observers, he will help us to be agents of change. For this we can be forever grateful.
Tom Payton is a United Methodist minister serving the Shawnee District at Center and Spring Grove United Methodist Churches. In addition, he is employed full-time at Southern State Community College as a Career and Licensed Professional Counselor for Southern State Community College. He lives in Washington Court House with his wife Julie and daughter Amanda, a student at Southern State.