Sunday, January 18, 2004

On Un

Dale at Vajrayana Practice offered some thoughts on the word "unchurched" recently, and got me thinking about belonging.

He discussed the challenges and comfort that being "churched" -- or sangha'ed -- can provide. In Buddhism, one takes refuge in three things: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The sangha is the collective of Buddhist practitioners, either a specific group, or the wider universe of adherents. "Taking refuge" is a beautiful phrase: it implies shelter and support. It resonates with the biblical "under the refuge of your wings." Buddhism, then, holds the importance of the collective up to the importance of the Buddha himself, and the Dharma or the teachings.

I've been gnawing at the whole "church" thing for awhile. My tradition -- Congregationalist -- is definately into churchgoing. Church suppers. Church bake sales. Coffees. Fellowship.

Catholics claim the term "church" even further, referring to their church as The Church. Christian Scientists have a "Mother Church" -- I'm not quite clear whether this is a concept or a physical edifice, but the connotation of nurture and generation is there.

I remember maybe 20 years ago, during my first marriage, I ventured out one Sunday to church. I picked, probably at random, a nearby Trinitarian Congregationalist Church, not remembering that my natal denomination had transmogrified into the "United Church Of Christ," a dismally corporate sounding name if you ask me. I remember little of the service, except that it was welcoming to the point of being intrusively evangelical and it scared me off. I suspect I'd wanted to simply sit, invisible, in the back pew.

So, other than a couple of funeral masses and a mass at Glastonbury Abbey last spring where I attended a Merton seminar, I've been, from a Christian point of view, unchurched.

I've sat sporadically with various local Buddhist groups over the past 20 years -- but never joined a sangha. I sat for a couple of years on my own, floundered, and stopped daily practice many months ago. (My zabuton's doing interim duty these days as a physical therapy mat and a bed for kitties.)

I'm -- have I mentioned ? -- not very social.

I guess if there has been a theme of the past year, it's been to wonder whether my own tradition could offer what I have found so appealing in Buddhism. Merton seems to suggest that it does. But garden variety Christianity doesn't speak to the question of Being as directly as Buddhism. It's great on doing -- admirable and wonderful, in fact. But one has to seek out odd streams of mysticism to get anything ontological, and, I may be wrong about this, that's just not the focus of the United Church Of Christ.

Ordinary humanist ethics gets at the doing part pretty well. It's the being part, the Mystery of it all, that I would hope "church" could teach. The Word "Christ" to me seems a way of speaking about having a "self" and a "body" that participates in Godhead; this is probably heresy in every Christian church. It could be a shorthand, then, for "form is emptiness, emptiness is form." That's definately heresy.

Plus, in the eyes of The Church (that's The with a capital T) I am an adulteress. (Divorced, remarried.) Big time sinner, me. Hellbent.

I couldn't, with any sort of good faith, recite the Apostle's Creed.

But I felt no such dissonance chanting the Heart Sutra and Hakuin's Song of Zazen the few times I sat with a local Zen group.

I have suffered, from time to time, from church envy.

But, deep down, I suspect that it is my fate to remain unchurched.

A spiritual derelict, refusing against all advice and counsel, to come in from the cold.

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