Last Sunday I wrote about God’s response in the book of Job, a book at its core about human suffering. Yet In a week full of suffering locally (the Berkeley balcony collapse) and nationally (the white supremacist terrorist attack in Charleston), my own response to scripture followed an intellectual interest instead of addressing real suffering in the world. As a follow-up post this week I choose to sit with and consider the suffering caused by the atrocity in Charleston.
Some days it is easy for me to acknowledge that Christianity and Zen are two separate traditions, with two very different cultural contexts which speak very different truths to many different populations of people. Today is not one of those days. Job 38:1-11 sounds to these ears like a kong-an being posed to me by a Zen teacher. If Zen and kong-an practice are ways of closing off rational thinking and directly witness The Mystery, this passage is perhaps one of the greatest kong-ans of all time. God reveals Godself to be a Zen master par excellence.
Why is everything so messed up? Why can humans be so full of grace one moment and so horrible the next? Christianity’s go-to source to answer this question is often the story of Adam and Eve, of which one (but just one) interpretation is original sin and “the fall” of human kind. Buddhism teaches that that the basic nature of the world is suffering, and the four-fold path offered by the Buddha is a way out of suffering. Do these teachings have anything to say to each other?
In this week’s epistle John gives us beautiful and inspirational language about the nature of God and the place of Jesus Christ in God’s plan for the world. To me the language is at once inspiring and uplifting, but also vague and bereft of specifics. It paints a wonderful of the cosmic order, but feels removed from the life and teachings of Jesus. How is it specifically that God’s love should transform our lives?
This week we encounter Jesus and Bodhidharma, two central characters in Christianity and Zen, coming back to life. Jesus died and came to life again on the third day; Bodhidharma died and was seen alive three years later wearing only one shoe.