Yesterday, I blogged several quotes from Thich Nhat Hahn. Last night, I came across a passage in Living Buddha, Living Christ that illuminated my journey through widowhood, change, and doubt.
“One day when you are plunged into the dark night of doubt, the images and notions that were helpful in the beginning no longer help. They only cover up the anguish and suffering that have begun to surface. Thomas Merton wrote, ‘The most crucial aspect of this experience is precisely the temptation to doubt God Himself.’ This is a genuine risk. If you stick to an idea or an image of God and if you do not touch the reality of God, one day you will be plunged into doubt. According to Merton, ‘Here we are advancing beyond the stage where God made Himself accessible to our mind in simple and primitive images.’ Simple and primitive images may have been the object of our faith in God in the beginning, but as we advance, He becomes present without any image, beyond any satisfactory mental representation. We come to a point where any notion we had can no longer represent God.”
“The reality of God”…beyond any notion or representation, there is a reality, an experience. Returning regularly to this experience is what Thich Nhat Hahn refers to as “deep practice”. It requires awareness, mindfulness, being awake and paying attention. What is the experience of being in this living world?
I went for a walk yesterday in a strong wind and looked up to the trees. They were all swaying in their own way, in different directions, at different levels, different speeds. They have no notion that is “wind”. They have an experience.
The river touches the stones and mud in the river bed, it touches the banks, it touches the wind with its surface and reflects the trees that rise high above it. It inhabits its course without a concept or an image of anything.
I enjoy images. I become attached to them. Their primitive simplicity appeals to my limited brain and feels comfortable. I wonder now if that’s why I often become “stuck”. It’s as if I become unable to see the forest because I look so constantly at the trees. The experience of ‘forest’ is so much more.
When I was a cantor at my church, I’d sing a refrain during Vespers, framing the prayers that people offered up in the pews: “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.”
Shepherd me, O God, beyond my doubts, wants, fears, images, and notions…from death into Life.