Sunday, 30 May 2010

Skyping God

Our Hebe hung about for ages by the back door, skulking furtively out of sight after putting down tempting bird food, to get this snap of one of the visitors to our garden.

We have a few statues around the place. The one in the picture sits in the yard outside the kitchen window. We have a bodhisattva outside the front door. We have a colossal terracotta sleeping buddha up on the fridge.

I have a couple of statues of St Francis, one of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one of Our Lady, one that's supposed to be Our Lady but in my head she's Saint Clare (because the actual statues of St Clare I don't like very much, they are all stiff and stern and not much like her).

There's also a little set of sculpts that our Alice made - the archetypal figures of the Celtic Year: Oestre, St John the Baptist, St Michael the Archangel and the Christchild.

In our hallway hangs a resurrection crucifix, and I love the crucifix on my rosary.

One day in our home we shall have a statue of St Joseph - but I haven't found a good one yet.

Not everyone likes the statues: specifically, evangelical Christian friends sometimes have a hard time with them - 'Your idols' as a neighbour used to refer to the buddha figures; but, see, she hadn't understood.

An idol, strictly speaking, is a representation which is believed to be in actual fact imbued with the divinity it represents - that's why idols are worshipped.

But I don't worship the buddhas and the saints! They come in handy for skyping God.

When I am trying to get a clear connection with God about some aspect of his nature, or some aspect of the way I am trying to walk, it helps me to have an image as the carrier of my thoughts and God's thoughts on the subject.

I'll tell you more about the other figures on a different day, but for now just to think about the buddhas.

Apparently, at some point in his life some people came and asked the Buddha: 'What are you? Are you a God? Are you a King?'

And the Buddha replied: 'I am awake'.

Sometimes I have heard the kind of Christian preacher who likes to play at 'My religion's better than your religion' crowing about the fact that Buddha is dead where Jesus Christ is risen from death. But those preachers don't get it. There is no competition. Jesus is doing something different from the buddha. So, the statues in my garden are not failed gods that I (sad person that I am) worship. They are reminders.

The Buddha did not make his teaching centre around himself; it was a teaching of ideas and principles - teachings of a Way to live that would help us find equilibrium and peace. The Buddha showed his followers how to come to terms with life and walk in serenity. And I think he did a good job.

He cautioned his followers that everything he said could be wrong. He encouraged them to do their own thinking and find their own way. And far from expecting them to worship him, he taught them that the Buddha, the real Buddha, is not external, not a person we can meet or idolise: the Buddha is within each of us as buddha-nature. That's what he taught. He taught that somewhere deep within every heart are the beautiful realities of Wisdom and Compassion. In most hearts they are dozing; in many they are spark out - blotto - out for the count - fast asleep.

And the task is to wake them up: to go through life with one's wisdom and compassion awake and active. In Christian terms, I guess that our buddha-nature is like our soul or spirit. St Paul said our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells us: or , to use different language; we have buddha-nature.

When I look at the buddha statues calm and serene, sitting quietly, radiating peace, it doesn't make me worship them - it reminds me of the potential in me; the bit that needs waking up, revealing, activating, so that I too become a realised (rather than merely potential) image of God, reminding others by who I am and how I am of life's beauty and the possibility of peace.

'Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace...' my heart says to God when I see the peaceful Buddha.

Or I think of the words of the Metta Sutta, the Buddha's words on loving kindness.

The representations of the Buddha are not vying with Jesus for my attention. Jesus is Lord - so chill out! There's no need to get paranoid about a concrete statue!

I always find it a bit embarrassing, that bit in the Bible (Isaiah) where the prophet pulls out all the stops deriding people who worship idols of wood and stone, and he sneers at them, because a lump of wood can't save them or hear them.

I really wish they hadn't put that in the Bible, because the prophet seems to me to have not really got it.

Sometimes a person will keep a photograph of someone they really love and are separated from. And maybe when they go to bed at night they will kiss the photograph, and say 'I love you' and 'Sleep well'.

So we could jump in quick and sneer at them and point out that all the have there is a piece of photographic paper that can't hear them or reply hahahaha!

But, who would be the stupid one? It was only ever a means of keeping love alive, of touching with reverence and tenderness the person from whom we are physically separated just now.

And when I look at the Buddhas, settled and centred, peaceful in meditation, gentle and quiet of face, I touch with wonder the live germ of quietness and kindness in myself - and so begin to wake it up.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about the statue I haven't got yet - the one of St Joseph; which provides the hardware for me to skype the loving silence of God.