“The ninth-century Buddhist master Lin Chi said, ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.’ “Kill the Buddha” often is considered a koan, one of those bits of dialogue or brief anecdotes unique to Zen Buddhism. It is said that by contemplating a koan, the student exhausts discriminating thoughts, and a deeper, more intuitive insight arises.
When you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha. What is this supposed to mean? Well,, one way to think about it is that your teacher or guide is just another human being who is pointing beyond himself or herself or themself to something greater. I love this idea because this takes the pressure off me being perfect and invites you to listen and then discern what is right for you.
Another way to think about this koan is that when you think you have found the truth, the thing, the person to guide you, the way out of suffering, the answer, acknowledge it and step passed it. This brings us to the question, but Why would you not cling to what you have found…like a treasure that you go bury in a field? It’s because you are only 1 human being and cannot know everything. So when you think you found the truth and then you cling to that truth, that person, saying or thing actually prevents you from seeing and learning anything else.
When I considered this Zen Koan and it’s wisdom for our Christian tradition I ran across this quote in Richard Rohr’s Universal Christ. Richard is quoting from the Divine Milieu by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He writes, “God does not offer himself to our finite beings as a thing all complete and ready to be embraced. For us he is eternal discovery and eternal growth. The more we think we understand him, the more he reveals himself as otherwise. The more we think we hold him, the further he withdraws, drawing us into the depths of himself.”
Might I suggest that we hear in his words, “If you meet Jesus on the road, keep walking.” Or if you think you know Jesus, realize that you are only holding onto an image, an idol of your own making. Or if you are frustrated by following Jesus, maybe you have followed 1 human being’s path to God instead of discerning how the image of God within you is best expressed.
We are in our second week of advent and our theme for the advent season is Radical Amazement. Advent is about awaiting and anticipating the birth of Jesus, but I think most of the time we await something we think we already have or already know most everything about. But what if we could experience this advent season a little differently? What if we could embody the wonder of the shepherds, the joy of the angels, and the memory of the wise men?
It is in this time of advent or waiting that we return to the prophets who foretold of who we are awaiting and what this person will do for God’s people. So, let’s remember what has happened and why the people are awaiting a Messiah.
The land that was promised all the way back in the time of our ancestor Abraham, the land that in future generations became Judah and Israel was taken away from them by bigger and stronger armies. The people of God were exiled. The Temple was destroyed. This was both a political disaster and a religious disaster because the people of God felt that their identity was wrapped up in the land. They understood that the temple represented God’s presence with the people and the King had been the primary mediator between God and the people. So naturally, when these 3 things were taken away, the people began to ask some serious theological questions like, “Where is God?” “Is God able?” “Is God faithful?” and “Are the gods of the newest rulers of their land more powerful than YHWH?”
Now, the time of the prophets span from before the land was conquered, before the temple destroyed, and before their Kingly line was eliminated all the way to the time when the people begin returning to the land, putting the torah into writing, and rebuilding. So, most of what the prophets say have to do with current and slightly future happenings. It is not until after Jesus lived on this earth that the writings of the prophets began to be interpreted as related to Jesus. What this means is that as you and I read the prophetic material, we must first understand what it meant during that day and time and then build a bridge to what it might mean for us today.
Now, the time of the exile was not all bad for the people of God. Two positive things came out of the time of exile. First, the people of God began to tell others about the One True God. There was a missionary zeal of sorts. So, some of the gentile converts during the time of the exile fully converted to Judaism while others wanted to participate in the community, hear the wisdom of the ancient text, and have a moral code to live by but not adhere to the legalistic requirements. These partial converts were called proselytes at the gate or God-fearers. It is thought that this group comprised the early urban converts to The Way which was the first name of Christianity. The other important change to their life was they began to work for social justice both for the people of the covenant and for all people.
Building a bridge to the time of Jesus, the people are again living under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. They wanted all the same things that they wanted during the exile. They wanted their land back and a King from the line of David to rule over this land, and many were crying out for religious revival.
OK, so let us listen to what the prophets tell us we are awaiting during this season of advent.
1- Isaiah 64: 7-65:1
Listen to the people in these verses. (read 64:7-12) They are attempting to blame God for the loss of their land and the burning of the temple. They are saying, “You God, have left us.” Here God’s reply in Isaiah 65:1. It gives me goosebumps everytime. God says in response to the people, “I was ready to be sought out by you but you did not ask, to be found by you but you did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am.” To your whole nation but your nation did not call on my name.” This writing also reminds me of our Zen Koan. If you have decided that God has left you, listen again for God is saying, “Here I am. Here I am.”
1- Jeremiah 33: 14-16
(Read) God promised someone from the line of David would always be on the throne in the land that God gave the people. God promised that the land would be safe and that this person would execute justice for the people.
2-Micah 5: 2-6
(Read) God says that a person will come from the line of David to be the next ruler who will feed the people and bring peace to their land. God also promised leaders who would rule with a sword to weed out the people who do not belong on the land. This is the way that God’s people would live in peace.
Let’s bring this a little closer to the time of Jesus and read a scripture that is said to be the announcement for John the Baptist. (Read the verses) It is here that we find that they are awaiting religious reformation. We also hear that God is going to save them from their enemies, most likely Rome, through this person. God is going to fulfil his promise to Abraham of descendants, land and blessing. God is going to give mercy, forgiveness, and grant us peace.
If the people were awaiting someone to keep their belly’s full, a new king, a leader, a warrior, did they find him? Yes and No. I would say that mostly their expectations, what they awaited, prevented them from seeing who Jesus was and what Jesus was doing. Some were frustrated by him for stirring up trouble. Others hated him for being a rule breaker. Some just got stirred up by the mob and shouted for his death. This is not to blame any of these groups but it is to ask the question, “How are we like them?” How is what we are awaiting clouding our vision so that we miss seeing the Jesus that is? How are our expectations for what Jesus is supposed to do for us, our church, and our world causing us pain and suffering because we don’t see what we expect to see happening?
Wonder is about seeing life as if for the first time like reclaiming our childlike eyes. It is about slowing Down. Pausing. Releasing expectation so that we can accept the gift of what is right in front of us.
I think our children understand this.
When Peyton was newly crawling, one evening during advent Chad and I could not find him. He was not in his room. All the bathroom doors were shut. The baby gate was blocking him from attempting to go downstairs and he was not in the kitchen. In the house we lived in at the time, we had this front room that went largely unused. We did not need a 3rd living room and we did not want a formal dining room so for the year we lived in the house, it stayed empty….except at Christmas. When we were decorating our home for Christmas, we decided to put our tree in this unused space because this room had a large window that looked out over our cul-de-sac. Chad loved seeing the lights on our tree through the window when he drove home from work. So, guess where our newly mobile son was? Yep! He had crawled and was sitting up close to the tree. We peaked from around the corner because we did not want to disturb his precious moment with the tree. He touched the tree, he put some of the tree in his mouth but it was very poky so he did not do that again. He smelled the tree and at one point he looked up to the top of the tree and that was the moment, I new what wonder looked like, felt like, tasted like, smelled like.
How do we as adults reclaim that sense of wonder? I think one way is to let Go of our expectations.
Here these words penned by Danna Faulds
“Let go of the ways you thought life would unfold, the holding of plans or dreams or expectations. Let it all go. Save your strength to swim with the tide. The choice to fight what is here before you now will only result in struggle, fear, and desperate attempts to flee from the very energy you long for. Let go. Let it all go and flow with the grace that washes through your days whether you received it gently or with all your quills raised to defend against invaders. Take this on faith; the mind may never find the explanations that it seeks, but you will move forward nonetheless. Let go, and the wave’s crest will carry you to unknown shores, beyond your wildest dreams or destinations. Let it all go and fined the place of rest and peace and certain transformation.”