This is a guest post by Father Tom Connolly who worked with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for 33 years as a Catholic priest and who now practices Zen Buddhism as well.
In an interview for, “Indian Country Today Media Network“, he said, “I’ve tried to find and emphasize integration between the older Indian spiritual ways and the more modern Catholic ways they have taken and show that these two worlds fit together in a comfortable way,” he said. “Much of my life has been trying to explore relationships between two different worldviews and how they can integrate and how both people can enjoy or expand themselves and find fulfillment in something of the views of other people.”
Why I meditate
I feel that a source of great confusion has come from the stories of the Book of Genesis, that have been taken for granted and assumed to be historically true.
But the growing acceptance of “evolution” as a more accurate account of history today has opened up an entirely new field of questions about god’s presence an activity. This shift has called me to search for an entirely different set of images and modes of prayer.
Christian theology has always stated that God is both “transcendent” and “imminent”. But beginning with Hebrew old testament history, God has been described as a kind of heavenly “creator-king” and always “intervening” in their history to reward their fidelity and punish their infidelity.
Later Christian artistic descriptions have presented God as an elderly, bearded, white male, seated at high on a throne and surrounded by heavenly courtiers in a place called heaven high above the clouds. Traditionally, most Christians have imaginatively and prayerfully dealt with this God who is primarily “transcendent”.
This prayerful, transcendent imagery is not nearly as satisfying for me today. Psychologically, it seems necessary to have some kind of phantasm or verbal image for all our thoughts, and so it has been difficult to find and develop a meaningful relationship with a God who is also “imminent” and therefore less image-able.
We are familiar with scripture passages like Jesus’ prayer: “that you will know that I am in my father, and you in me, and I in you”, and Saint Paul’s: “I live now not I, but Christ lives in me”, and Saint Ignatius’ call to, “find God in all things”.
Yet it seems that these insights have not had the same impact in people’s devotional awareness as have references to a primarily “transcendent” God.
In the Zen and in Buddhism I have found two helpful means in my pursuit of an imminent God, who is at once present in himself, present in myself, present in others and present in all experienced beings.
Zen meditation has been helpful in following my breathing and being aware of breath and psychic energy present in mind lower abdomen. In time this awareness has translated into a kind of imminent “awareness of divinity” within.
It has also brought a great peacefulness of spirit. This type of meditation has gradually led me into an altered state of consciousness, slipping from Beta brain waves of normal alert thinking into calmer Alpha brain waves of an unthinking awareness and peacefulness. It has been difficult to calm the mind and remain in the state, but with practice, it seems to become more possible.
Another helpful means has been the Buddhist teaching of the “tathagata garba” – a “seed of the Buddha nature”, something somewhat comparable to Divinity, present in all sentient beings.
It seems possible to find, and not total identity who, but a lot of similarity between Christian teachings about the ” divine – nature” and Buddhist teachings about the “Buddha-nature” present in all beings.
They both indicate a kind of transcendent-yet-imminent reality drawing me towards a unity of myself with the One and the All of creation.
Meditating with some of these aspects of Zen and Buddhism has helped me enhance my catholic awareness of god has also “imminent”. This awareness is more spiritually meaningful to me today than previous images of a god who is primarily “transcendent” and “above”.