Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Unconventional truth

Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian gets more and more interesting. The first four chapters are about theological questions but in the final two - "Prayer and meditation" and "Making peace and being peace" - Knitter shows why and how he arrived at these theological ideas, and how they help him be a better Christian. He thinks Christians need a "Sacrament of Silence" to help us get beyond archaic and wordy liturgies and prayers which we can no longer believe. But it's not that silent meditation is to take the place of words. Rather, Zen-like meditation will help us recognize that "The finger is not the moon" (59f). Christian language and liturgy are "symbolic," but that's not a failing but an empowering limitation. (He doesn't use the Buddhist language of conventional vs. absolute truth here, but easily could.)

[H]ow does the unitive, non-dualistic, mystical Sacrament of Silence fit with all the other sacraments and rituals of Christian practice? ...

To answer that question directly and simply: I've been able to bring the Sacraments of Silence - or more accurately, its fruits - with me into Sunday Mass and into our daily worship services at Union Theological Seminary. And it has made a qualitative, dare I say life-saving or faith-saving, difference in the way I'm able to participate in those rituals. My regular practice of silent meditation has enabled me not just to bear with the torrent of liturgical words but also to be swept up by their power.

There's no one clear way to explain why this happens. But I'm sure it has to do with the way the practice of silence keeps me aware that the content of the liturgy, like the content of all Christian doctrine and dogma, is ultimately a matter of Mystery. And Mystery, by its very nature, both needs words but also remains beyond the reach of words. So as I raise my voice to sing "Glory to God," as I declare that "I believe in God the Father Almighty," as I make my confession to "all the angels and saints of heaven," my practice of silence has helped me feel that all these words are as true a they are inadequate. They are symbols. And they are true precisely because - dare I say only because - they are symbols. To know that all our liturgical and ritual words, gestures, hymns are symbols releases their power.

While the words and images that make up the liturgical life of the church inform and guide my values and hopes and actions, I know that there is so much more than what they tell me, so much more than I can know, so much more I'll never know. So I hold and cherish these words - time-honored, treasured words passed down in the tradition of my community. But I do not cling to these words. They are true. They are never the Truth. By not clinging to them, they can touch me even more deeply. In knowing that they are fingers, I can see the moon! (162-63)
(Picture source)

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