It’s been interesting to discuss the differences between Christianity and Buddhism with John. As much respect as I have for the Buddhist path and for those who walk it, it’s not for me. While the conquering of ego is part of the Christian tradition (and, in my mind, of pretty much any religion tradition worth its salt), I need to begin with the reality of the individual and of a personal God. For me it is by going down deep into God’s very being as Love (one of the reasons the relational nature of the Trinity is so compelling to me) and into God’s love for me that I find the strength and courage to look at the ways that my ego gets in the way, tempts me to sin*, and separates me both from God and my neighbor (and even, paradoxically perhaps, my best self).
It has been essential for me to spend time in God’s love: God’s delight in my existence, the fact that God not only loves me, but LIKES me. This was a crucial part of doing the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises this past year. My students hear me preach about this all the time: we are beloved, unstintingly, irrevocably, joyfully. Only by trusting that love do I then feel strong enough to face down my demons: the ones that tell me I’m lazy or prideful or worthless or too awkward or unwelcome. Only by hearing God’s voice chuckle at my foibles—that laugh that is full of forgiveness and patience—can I know that it is possible face down my sin, that I can look into my own abysses and not die of shame or fear.
My individual self and God’s unfathomable personal nature** are essential to my ability to live and thrive in this marvelous and horrifying world. And yet, there are echos of John’s path in my own, particularly in Jesus’ call to die to self and in the strange, circular language Jesus uses in the Gospel of John (“[B]ecause I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” John 14:19b-20). I love that the paths are so close that they call out to each other, yet will never be the same path.
*Sin is one of those baggage-laden words and a concept I think is crucial. I’m sure we’ll be talking about that one before long.
(**I mean, really, the idea that the force behind this infinite cosmos—and the multiverses we now suspect exist—interacts with me individually and uniquely is kind of ridiculous, if you really, REALLY think about it.)