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Tuesday, 30 November 2021 11:22

Lord, help me to see - a reflection

Fr Nick de Groot SVD 150By Fr Nick de Groot SVD

Today I was reading the Gospel story from Luke (18:35) on the blind man who called out to Jesus and then to our amazement, Jesus asks him “what do you want me to do for you?” and the man answers, “Lord, please let me see?”. If you spend some time with this ‘parable’, and I really mean it is a parable and not simply a nice little story, you can see that it can push you to different levels of understanding. Another way of talking about “spending some time with the parable” is contemplation. In the quiet and silence of your heart, the Word of God will bring you to a different place, to a wider and bigger understanding, a more inclusive and compassionate understanding of many things – self, others, God, and everything.

Lord help me to see sunrise 550I must admit that I am a fan of Fr Richard Rohr who explores in one of his reflections, what Christians can learn about inner transformation from Buddhism. As Father Richard often says, “If it’s true, it is true all the time and everywhere, and sincere lovers of truth will take it from wherever it comes”. 

“I am convinced that in many ways Buddhism and Christianity shadow each other. They reveal each other’s blind spots. In general, Western Christians have not done contemplation very well, and Buddhism has not done action very well. [2] There is a reason that art usually shows Jesus with his eyes open and Buddha with his eyes closed. At the risk of overgeneralisation: in the West, we have largely been an extroverted religion, with all the superficiality that represents; and the East has largely produced introverted forms of religion, with little social engagement up to now.

“At its best, Western Christianity is dynamic and outflowing. But the downside is that this entrepreneurial instinct may have caused it to be subsumed by culture, instead of transforming culture at any deep level. In our arrogance and ignorance, we also totally trampled on the cultures we entered. We became a formal and efficient religion that felt that its job was to tell people what to see instead of how to see.” 

Having lived for many years in PNG I saw the results of that arrogance. The constant comparison between the various 'Christian denominations' as to who was the best, and we Catholics believed that we had more of the truth than anybody else. The quick condemnation of traditional culture was another. We could not see.

When we look at the Buddhist monasteries and their way of life, they are definitely much more disciplined and serious than most Christian monasteries. The first question a Japanese abbot will ask is “What is your practice?” The first question from a Christian abbot would probably be something like “How was your trip?” or “Do you have everything you need for your stay here?”

Fr Richard continues: “Both approaches have their strengths and limitations. Buddhism is more a way of knowing and cleaning the lens of perception, than a theistic religion concerned with metaphysical ‘God’ questions. In telling us mostly how to see, Buddhism both appeals to us and challenges us because it demands much more vulnerability and immediate commitment to a practice—more than just ‘attending’ a service, like many Christians do, ‘going to Mass on Sundays’. Buddhism is more a philosophy, a worldview, a set of practices to free us for truth and love than it is a formal belief system in any notion of God. It provides insights and principles that address the how of spiritual practice, with very little concern about what or who is behind it all. That is its strength, and I am not sure why that should threaten any Christian believer.”

By contrast, Christians have spent centuries trying to define the what and who of religion. We usually gave folks very little how, beyond “quasi-magical” transactions (sacraments, moral behaviours, and handy Bible verses). And yet these religious elements often seem to have little effect on how the human person actually lives, changes, or grows. Such transactions often tend to keep people on cruise control rather than offer any genuinely new encounter or engagement.

Our growth in Christian life depends on our continuing to grow in seeing what God sees and follow the call of that vision. We too must continue to pray: Lord, help me to see.

IMAGE: Shutterstock.