Do spiritual practices that are most
often associated with Eastern religions have
a place in the lives of Christians?
as there is no way of saying with certainty where and
when He will appear at the end of the world, so too
there is no way of saying with certainty where and
when He will manifest Himself to contemplative souls.
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
Western Christianity, we have a hesitancy about exploring
other traditions, and spiritual practices that are not
a part of our own experience. Part of our aversion comes
from the theology and doctrines that have been so much
a part of our religious formation. But, there is also our
own fear that if we expose ourselves to what is outside
our tradition, we will in some way diminish our tradition--and
even, our faith. In reality, if we are uncertain that our
faith can be strong enough to maintain its integrity if
it's exposed to what is different from it, then the certitude
of our faith is in question.
is not going to strike you with lightning should you try
the Buddhist practice of walking meditation, for example.
And no 'evil' will accrue to you if you explore other spiritual
practices that are unlike your own. You will find instead,
that there are more similarities than dissimilarities between
the various disciplines practiced throughout the world.
You may also find when you experiment with a practice such
as Zen 'sitting meditation' that your own practice of contemplative
prayer has new life and energy breathed into it. Or, if
you learn how to pray using prayer beads from the Islamic
tradition, you are likely to find that you have a renewed
appreciation and attraction for the practice of praying
the Christian rosary. A bishop friend of mine once said, "We
may not agree with others theologically or doctrinally,
but we can learn about the holy life from one another." All
spiritual practice in the West and the East is based on
the desire to dip one's foot into the water of holiness
and there is much we can teach and learn from one another
about doing just that.
Thomas Merton, clearly an important figure in the life of Christian prayer
and spirituality, did not limit his spiritual practices to those of Western
Christianity. Toward the end of his life, he began exploring the practices
of the East and found that the manifestation of God in his own life was not
limited to the spiritual practices that were a part of his own Western monastic
tradition. If, like him, you try Eastern spiritual practices, you will find
that you are able to incorporate elements of those practices into your own
discipline, and your own life of holiness will be enlarged and deepened.
role of spiritual practice is to bring you more and more
into union with God. The time and effort taken to do spiritual
practice is richly rewarded because in the unseen depths
of your own spirit, God is revealed and your longing is
met by Love. It's more important to do spiritual practice
than it is to do the "right" or "acceptable" practice
as defined by the West. So, experiment. Attend to your
deep longing. Your faith will not falter as a result. It
will simply increase.
Rev. Canon Renée Miller