Tuesday, May 6, 2008

End of the Day Thoughts on Life and Religious Study

I received an email last night from my old (as in I haven't seen him in years - no offense meant!) spiritual director. I trained under him and several other directors at the Virginia Institute for Spiritual Direction. It's now just a retreat center, but I was there for two years studying under those whom I believe are the best and brightest in the art of spiritual direction. Not to mention that my spiritual director helped me through some very rough spots when I was working in a fairly dysfunctional (okay - very dysfunctional!)church.

Following the election of the new Pope, my spiritual director decided to leave the Catholic church. It was a very hard and personal decision, but was in part based on the swing of the theological pendulum towards conservativism and the apparent rolling back of the Vatican II reforms. For reasons that are unknown to me, he chose to pursue the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Although I continued to see him for a while after that, some changes in my life and my career necessitated that we part company, although I have nothing but respect for the man and his faith journey. As far as I'm concerned, if he says he's on to something, he's definitely on to something!

As my interests gradually turned away from the church, having become more and more unhappy with the church's climbing more and more into bed with the political machine (okay, granted this has been happening since the years between 313 and 325, when the Roman Emporer Constantine converted to Christianity), I began to think more and more of my spiritual director and his decision to adopt what in this day and time seems to be a counter cultural life. Add to that my growing interest in the situation in Tibet and hopes for that country's eventual freedom and I finally decided to email him and ask him for his advice.

So here's his thoughts. One, he advised me to stay "in the closet" so to speak in terms of my religious and spiritual wanderings. Wise advice, being that I'm struggling to get the denomination's approval as I attempt to get the chaplain job! He also suggested that I keep a low profile in Buddhist circles - small population in this area, so new people stand out. And then he pointed out a correspondence course that costs more than I can afford. Sigh.

Then I figured I'd go to one of the Tibetan centers that he recommended in my area and check it out. However, there's a guy I work with - a Buddhist - whom I'm not too fond of. The guy just has a way of ticking me off. In my opinion, he acts very un-Buddhist, seeming to enjoy singing his own praises about what a good job he's done, and so forth. So I figured I better find out where he hung out, so as to avoid embarrassing moments and potential career hazards.

Fired off an email, only to find out that yes, he goes to the same place my spiritual director recommended. Grrrr. One Ring says that I should check the place out anyway, that it would be the same as if there was someone who irritated me at the church we attend (and there is). Just go and see. I'm not too sure.

We'll see. I have to admit that I'm curious as to what goes on there. And I enjoy the act of wandering, experiencing various religious traditions - from attending a Passover Seder with Jewish friends to sitting in a Zazen session to participating in a Catholic Mass. It's a beautiful thing, to see the underlying similarities and honor the differences; to see what thousands of years of experiencing the holy has done in terms of creating the religions of the world. It doesn't mean that I agree with everything I've seen, but it does mean that I appreciate and feel humbled to be able to participate in them. And I find that, in coming away from these experiences, I'm rooted more strongly in my own faith, even if it also means that I'm simultaneously alienated from other religions.

The end of the day is upon me now, and I'm happy to be preparing to go home. I'm exhausted - so much so that I'm not even sure the last paragraph I wrote makes sense! So I'm calling it a day and heading home.


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