Eleven years ago I stopped going to church. For a 20-year-old who had felt a real, true connection with the person of Jesus, this was an agonizing decision to make. I witnessed so much unraveling about the faith I had been raised in -- and I felt in my conscience I could no longer profess this faith, nor condone the horrific actions of people who claimed to lead it.
My grandmother, an open-minded spiritual person, played a pivotal role during these early "unchurched" days, offering comfort and understanding when most of the Christians around me were impatiently tapping their feet and wishing I'd "just get over it."
The last 10 years have been spent wrestling with myself and my God, asking in a million different ways: Is this all a farce? The irony is if I truly thought there were no God, I would not be fighting so much to reconcile. At first, I cautiously approached my questions at arm's length with history, academics and theology. I found some reasonable internal calm when I understood the richness of the Christian faith and its historical background. As a result of seeing how normal denominations approach faith in Christ, nearly four Easters ago, I was confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church.
But there was still a very big problem: I still wasn't at peace.
Almost as soon as I was confirmed, the loving embrace of my initiation class disappeared and I was alone again--alone with my fears and anxieties and my resentment. Eighteen months after becoming Catholic, my grandmother died, and I felt the only person who truly understood and loved me unconditionally was gone. I went into a tailspin and awkwardly offered a desperate plea to the Universe to help me find my way.
That's when (now two years ago), I heard a Buddhist meditation teacher speak (at a marketing conference, of all things!). I did the scariest thing imaginable: I began studying and practicing something that was "outside" of familiar Christian doctrine. What resulted is what I want to talk about in this blog: how Buddhism meditation helped make room in my mind (and eventually my heart) for Christ.
1. It challenged the fundamentalist thinking patterns that had turned me against Christianity.
The Amanda twelve years ago was conditioned to run as far away from any influence that wasn't a direct proponent of Christianity. Growing up, Baptists were approached with caution for their "lax theology" around things like supernatural healing and the Holy Spirit. Catholic thought wasn't to be mentioned whatsoever. There was a gripping fear and mental line in the sand that directed me to stick my head in that sand, if someone was saying anything remotely contrary to "our way" of being Christian. Today I take so much issue with this narrowly defined, cultic approach to Christianity, but what matters most to me in this blog is how Buddhism helped me relax.
You see, in hind sight, I realized that after witnessing all this turmoil and spiritual bloodshed, my spiritual stonewalling turned me against Christianity. Because Christian leaders had taught me that intellectual pressure was a threat to survival (that must be cut off), it's no surprise to me now that when those same Christian leaders began wreaking havoc on my friends and family, I fundamentally cut off all things related to them, to Christianity and to Christ.
Thankfully, I was first introduced to Buddhism's openness from watching my meditation teacher. Echoing a tried-and-true Buddhist sentiment, she always said, "Don't take my word for it. Test it. See for yourself." This "testing" of truth was what opened the door for my heart to not be so defensive toward Christianity. I began to slowly open the doors to trusting Christ again, though it didn't happen easily.
2. It shook up how I viewed sin, forgiveness and God's view of creation.
All beings are innately good. You're good. I'm good. We're made of very good things, and at our core we have the capacity to choose goodness. It doesn't mean we are always angelic creatures, but it does mean there is a special something to us.
This was the worst idea to me, my friends. I could not wrap my mind around the idea that I wasn't terrible and wretched. I ran far away from this idea because: What if this meant I didn't need Jesus? The more I thought about it, the more I realized it's quite possible the Christian conversation as I knew it has always been rigged:
So God made us bad, then He got mad at us for being bad and (Good News!) He sent Jesus to satisfy his wrath so He wouldn't cast us all into hell.
Yeah, that sounds like an extremely rigged game to me. But I began to consider a different alternative:
What if I'm good and still need Jesus?
What if this whole Christian thing isn't supposed to be built on the wrath and anger of a God who looks on me as being dispicable and wretched? What if I'm actually "very good" (Genesis 1:31) and my choices are what separate me from following God whole-heartedly?
A few weeks after I sloooooowly stepped into the waters of this possible blasphemy, I found this video from the Orthodox church. It's nine minutes long because the priest takes his time explaining everything. I'd recommend watching it. It explains in very simple ways (the man uses folding chairs!) what I experienced many moons ago: it wasn't a spiritual beating that led me to seek reconciliation with my faith -- it was the Orthodox Church pointing me every week to the goodness and faithfulness of a loving God.
Where did I land with all this? Well, the jury's still out, I suppose. But I think I'm on the right road to not resisting friendship with Jesus.
3. It illuminated my fear-based judgment.
Fundamental Christianity is propelled by a very real fear. It is like walking on egg shells every day of your life and they're mixed in with shards of glass. There is no mercy or rest. There is no positively motivated relationship possible in fundamentalist Christianity -- because it always zeroes in on a damning understanding of self and a vengeful God. To make matters worse, there are prominent figures in the Christian community with millions of followers who are then empowered to invite everyone they meet into this equally damning sense of self.
In all of this, I saw very clearly how this fear-based faith influenced so much of my daily judgment.
When I was on a date, one tiny hiccup in the date would immediately disqualify the poor man sitting across the table from me. Why? Because NOTHING must threaten me. NOTHING must come close to disrupting what is my perfect expectation.
This pattern repeated itself everywhere in my life. I had no frame of reference for letting the truly lovely things in the world co-mingle with the unfortunate and tragic. I let fear control everything, until I learned how to rest with the great Buddhist teaching around suffering.
What things looks like today
On any given day, I'm probably sitting in meditation for 10 minutes. It's nothing fancy and you can learn more by going here. One of the reasons I so appreciate meeting my meditation teacher is because, without knowing it, she created room for God to meet me again. She had no interest in "converting me to Buddhism" because "converting" isn't really a thing in Buddhism. The first time we spoke last year, she had nothing but kindness and genuine curiosity around me (a "struggling" Christian) incorporating Buddhist meditation into my spiritual path. Her motivations were the least selfish of any spiritual teacher I've ever encountered thus far. Our Christian leaders would do good to model her example.
I'm also thankful to belong to a group of online Buddhist meditators (from all faiths, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike). Much of what I'm able to write today about the intersection of Buddhism and Christianity is due to the loving embrace I received from this group. They don't mind me exploring "out loud" about Jesus and, in turn, I return the curiosity to what they're exploring in their own spiritual paths.
Without this gentle openness, I wouldn't be knocking at the door of the Church, trying to decide if I'm ready for someone to answer.