Answers to questions about Christian Meditation that may be useful for members of the community.
The response to that is that it is in the person of Christ that we find our way to enter union with God. Jesus is not in the way; he is the way. He is not an obstacle. He is the way in which we enter into the deeper union with God. We have to really understand the mystery of Christ. Meditation hasn’t made me understand the mystery of Christ in all its fullness, but I can certainly say that I understand it better because of meditation.
If we read the Resurrection appearances of Jesus, we see that he appeared to the disciples, they didn’t recognize him or they were even frightened of him, and then he calmed them. He brought them to calm, and then he would disappear from their sight. But when he disappeared from their sight, they did not feel he was absent, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. At the breaking of the bread he disappeared from their sight, but they were filled with joy and confidence, and they ran off to proclaim the good news. All of the Resurrection appearances show that.
We know Christ, as St Paul says, no longer after the manner of the flesh; we know him in his risen form. In the Ascension, he is moved from our sight in order to be more deeply present to us from within. So that is the starting point for Christian meditation, that he is with us and he is accompanying us. We are going with him on the journey to the Father.
The only thing we have to remember is that there are many dimensions to this experience of Christ, many forms of prayer. In some of them, we are using our thoughts and images – in sacraments, in scripture, in mental prayer – and those are important to nourish our Christian understanding, Christian faith. But there is also, as the Christian tradition teaches, this level of prayer of the heart, where we are so confident in Christ’s presence that we can let go of our images of him or thoughts about him and enter into a more direct and personal relationship with him.
So it is very different from Buddhism, there’s no doubt. I think what Buddhism gives us, in a way, is like how the clock works. Buddhism is very rational and has good psychology, and it shows us how the mind works. We don’t need to know all of that, but it is helpful and interesting to know some of it. What Christian faith brings us is the meaning – the meaning of time, not just the way the clock works. And what we have in Jesus is the embodiment of that meaning. To know Jesus is to know the Father, to see Jesus is to see the Father.
About this idea of emptiness, the Buddhist sunyata, anatta - for the Buddhist, the essence of all things is emptiness. That sounds very negative to us, but the emptiness is not nothingness. Emptiness is not nothingness. They define emptiness as being the nature of things, of everything – that it is inter-dependent and it is impermanent. So the nature of everything we can see, know, is impermanent and inter-dependent.
The fact that we are all here today has many causes, many interdependent causes. It is temporary: in a few minutes, we are going to go to lunch, this meeting is over. Everything in our life is like that. I think that is very similar to what we mean by ‘creature’. Creation is also impermanent. All things are passing away and everything in creation is dependent upon God, upon the Creator.
So I think there are key ideas in Buddhism that we can relate to within Christian theology, Christian understanding, but there is no perfect translation. And the differences between the two traditions are just as important as the similarities, as good dialogue is to respect those differences.
One of the similarities is in meditation – that we all get distracted. The Buddhists also fall asleep in meditation, they struggle with it, and so on. That is the similarity.
The difference is our understanding of Christ and that in our meditation we are experiencing, at a level deeper than thought, deeper than words, the real presence of Christ in our hearts. And in that way we fulfil our destiny, which is to travel with him into union with the Father; and as we do that we learn to see him present in everyone. I think that is the Christian experience that comes out of our meditation.
This idea that we go, in some times of prayer, deeper than thought is not an importation from Buddhism, not at all. There are similarities and differences between Buddhism and Christianity. We should be very clear about the similarities, but also respect the differences. But you are absolutely right that in our understanding of the meaning of what we enter into in the silence, it is Christo-centric.
Maybe we could just end with this prayer of St Paul, which is a very beautiful summary of what I’ve been trying to share with you this morning, from the Letter to the Ephesians:
With this in mind, I kneel in prayer to the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name; that out of the treasures of his glory, he may grant you strength and power through his Spirit in your inner being so that, through faith, Christ may dwell in your hearts in love. With deep roots and firm foundations, may you be strong to grasp with all God’s people what is the height, the length, the depth and the breadth of the love of Christ, and to know it though it is beyond know-ledge. And so may you come to fullness of being, the fullness of God himself. Eph 3:14-21