Lent 2011–Day 9

Finally the UN is taking action about Libya, and President Obama quickly followed suit with news of our military involvement now in that crisis.

I keep coming back to Luther’s sense that life will bring you to your knees without any help from invented penances. We have all manner of reasons to pray, especially these last two weeks. The cross is coming by itself in the news, and sends us to God in lament and prayer.

I keep returning to the letter I posted yesterday, from a young woman in Sendai, Japan (see Day-8 entry) especially her words about the quiet, and the beautiful darkness in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. Today I returned to an old book of Christian mystic, Thomas Merton’s “Zen and the Birds of Appetite.” Merton was struck by Japanese Zen Buddhism when he was introduced to the works of D.T. Suzuki, a Zen Buddhist scholar and teacher, and who was instrumental in bringing Zen Buddhism to the west. Merton was a scholar of monasticism, being a Trappist himself; he investigated the histories of monastics from different cultures and times. He loved the Desert Fathers, and their terse expressions of spiritual wisdom, and became deeply enamored of Buddhist contemplative practice. His last journey in life was a pilgrimage to the east, to make contact with living representatives of Buddhism.

This week in Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we will hear that God so loved the world he gave his only Son, so that all might be saved through him. The operative word in the sentence is the verb “gave” and brings us home to the gift of our life in Christ. Merton writes about this “gift” of love in his discussion of Japanese Zen and the Buddhist notion of “emptiness.”

Here is what he says: “…it seems to me that from a Christian viewpoint supreme purity, emptiness, freedom and ‘suchness’ still have the character of a free gift of love, and perhaps it is this freedom, this giving without reason, without limit, without return, without self-conscious afterthought, that is the real secret of God who ‘is love.’ I cannot develop the idea at this point but it seems to me in actual fact the purest Christian equivalent to Dr. Suzuki’s formula zero = infinity is to be sought precisely in the basic Christian intuition of divine mercy. Not grace as a reified substance given to us by God from without, but grace precisely as emptiness, as freedom, as liberality, as gift.” (Zen and the Birds of Appetite, p.137).

I’m grateful for the liberality of God’s love, the freedom and grace that comes into the world in Christ, the embodiment of divine mercy. I pray that outpouring of grace for this world, for peace in Libya, for an end to violence, for an awareness between peoples of our common needs, for the liberal gift of love for neighbors in Japan, and for the safety of our planet.

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