Just a little recent history about how I went from someone that, outwardly at least, was a self proclaimed athiest/Buddhist, to someone interested in Anglicanism. Particularly its contemplative stream. But still also a practicing Buddhist.
It all started really about 3 years or so ago with the introduction to a book. I had signed up to participate in a “Non-residential Training Period” with the Victoria Zen Centre. A place I had been practicing with for the previous 6 years or so. It was a 3 month period in which you commit to a certain amount of sitting meditation each week, as well as a certain amount of chanting practice at home and with the centre, as well as body practice, care taking, weekly interview with your teacher and a book to read. There was a choice of 2-3 books. I decided I would read “Unlearning the Basics” by Rishi Sativihari. A Thervadan Monk.
The book was excellent. Probably at least in part because of the more intensive period of practice I was engaging in, but the book really “sank in” and had a re-orientating effect. So, I looked up the author on Facebook thinking that maybe I could put in a “friend request.” Which I did and he accepted. While the jacket of the book had mentioned that he was no longer functioning as a Buddhist monk and was exploring the contemplative roots of Judeo- Christianity, which in of itself I thought was a bit odd. I discovered that now, through Facebook, he is now an ordained Anglican priest. Something I found very strange indeed. How did this obviously insightful Buddhist monk, become a Christian minister? It seemed to me at the time to be a very unlikely turn of events.
But over time, I began chatting more and more with Rishi about his take on Christianity, how it can relate to Buddhist concepts and ideas, as well as a bit of what Anglicanism is all about. Something I knew zilch about, despite having been raised in a Christian home, it was of the more fundamentalist, evangelical variety. Anglicanism was totally alien to me.
Shortly after I began chatting with Rishi. I also started popping in at Christ Church Cathedral periodically. No services of any kind at first. I wasn’t ready for that. But often just going in and sitting alone and meditating. Often feeling a bit awkward, so I would frequently sit outside the main chapel in a specially designated interfaith area. Where, people like me, of different religions could come and sit and pray or meditate if they didn’t feel comfortable in the main chapel. I was, and still am, deeply impressed and grateful that they had created that space. It was my first real tangible proof that maybe, just maybe, I had really encountered “a different breed of Christians” than what I was accustomed to. Something that has been since confirmed to me many times over, like Alastair McCollum, rector of St, John the Divine, friend, pastor and occasional beer swilling partner…. And numerous others. There are a different breed of Christians out there than what I’m used to. Compassionate, intelligent, engaging, thoughtful and welcoming people. Not quick to judge, not fundamentalist in their approach, not homophobic. And there is plenty of them it turns out. Again, I was shocked.
One day, while sitting in the interfaith chapel, I had what can only be described as a religious or mystical experience. While meditating I suddenly and very unexpectedly had the unmistakable feeling of welcome. There were no fireworks or anything. But it was an unmistakable sense of welcome and disarming familiarity. Like returning home after being away for a while and just getting a warm hug. No fuss, no muss. And that was that. I felt that I had just encountered this Mystery that people choose to call “God.” This Mystery was still and is very much a mystery to me. I don’t know much of anything about It/Him/Her. But that was my very last time sitting outside the chapel. My hang-ups keeping me out,were suddenly no longer. That’s not to say that I don’t still have all kinds of issues with different aspects of doctrine, because I do. Or different aspects of theology, I do there too. I also still cringe sometimes with words like God or Christ or salvation etc. I know what I mean when I say it. But do others mean what I mean? Sometimes I suspect yes. But often, I think not. I also am far from a literalist with scripture. Something I was raised to take at face value. “If scripture says the earth was created in 6 days, than that’s what it means.” There is a great deal in the new and old testament that I simply think should not be taken as historically accurate. I was relieved to discover that Anglicans typically agree. And to discover that historically that’s not how scripture has been read and interpreted. That was both a shock and relief. Whether I understand everything, or agree with others or not is now a secondary consideration. I know I belong there and am welcome none the less.
I still find Buddhist practice and philosophy deeply meaningful. Although I haven’t practiced formally with a centre in the last 3 years. But I am finding a meaning, depth and “truth” within the Christian contemplative stream, that can be found within Anglicanism, deeply meaningful as well. And newly discovered (by me) contemplatives of incredible depth, like Trappist monk Thomas Merton, that add so much to the spiritual dimension of my life. And I will point out, that at the end of his life, a Buddhist practitioner, as well as a deeply practicing Catholic monk: ” I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity. In fact I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can” he wrote.
I don’t know where this path will lead, whether I’ll stay a Buddhist/Christian hybrid or sorts or not. But I am very certain that I’m heading in an appropriate direction. Appropriate for me anyway. My journey, no doubt, is still just beginning.