'Overcast Autumn Day - Woolman Hill, Deerfield, MA'
Unorthodox - not orthodox; not agreeing with the official teachings.
Thomas Merton was influenced early in his adult years by a kind of man he, or no one else, would have anticipated. After all, Merton looked like everything-but this very-different man.
Merton wrote about Dr. Brahmachari (Hindu for "monk") with great respect and humor and reverence. Merton and Brahmachari met initially at Grand Central Station, New York. Merton penned in his autobiographical classic, The Seven Storey Mountain -
There stood a shy little man, very happy, with a huge smile, all teeth, in the midst of a brown face. And on the top of his head was a yellow turban with Hindu prayers written all over it in red. And, on his feet, sure enough: sneakers.
Merton and Brahmachari became friends. Merton appreciated how his Hindu friend criticized the Western world and relativized everything persons in the university found so important. Merton wrote -
He would simply make statements of fact, and then burst out laughing - his laughter was quiet and ingenious, and it expressed his complete amazement at the very possibility that people should live the way he saw them living all around him.
Possibly, the most interesting thing about Merton's friendship with Brahmachari was the Hindu never tried to give any insight into his Hindu faith. Instead, he told Merton there are many beautiful books of mystical Christianity, and he recommended Merton read The Confessions of St. Augustine and, also, The Imitation of Christ.
Merton saw Brahmachari as a potential providential send to his life. After Brahmachari toned down Merton's youthful curiosity for the East, he became very sensitive to the mystical Christian tradition in the West. Only much later did Merton immerse himself in Eastern faiths. Likely without his grounding in Western mysticism, he would have never been prepared to integrate that so well with his Christian experience.
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Would Merton have believed a Hindu monk wearing sneakers would have had such a marked impact on his life? No. No reason to think such would have ever entered his mind.
And we never know how Christ will appear to us. Christ may be sent by the Divine Love to us and appear totally unlike what we expected Christ to be or thought could be.
What if Merton had not been receptive to this man who outwardly seemed so unlike Merton? Could it be that Merton would have turned away Christ?
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If you turned the Christ away, in whatever disguise, would you be any different from those in Nazareth, Jesus' hometown, who tried to throw Jesus down a slope? They failed to see Christ in the man Jesus, a man who had grown up as a neighbor, in his father's home, the woodworker Joseph (Gospel of Luke 4.14ff).
Or, possibly, like Merton, and like this writer, you have said, "Welcome, Christ!" If you are not willing to say "Welcome" to Christ when looking so unlike what you thought or received permission to see Christ, you may never know Christ regardless of how much you say you do. Yet, one may never have faith in Christ as imaged by religion yet be deeply in love with Christ.
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We do not mean "Christ" as defined by much of Christianity or equivalent to Jesus, even as "Buddha" is not the same as Buddhists image. Many Buddhists recognize the Buddha is not the Buddha of Buddhism, even as Christ is not the Christ of Christianity.
Once, I spoke with a dear woman who had been under my teachings in Contemplative Prayer and Contemplative Living. She was a member of the church I was serving, also. I asked her, "What do you see to be the relationship between Buddha and Christ?" She said, "To me they're the same." So, she was seeing beyond the traditions of and men called Siddhartha Gautama and Jesus of Nazareth. I was delighted with her answer, especially as I sensed her practice and study in contemplative spirituality helped her arrive at this conclusion that would be rare in any Christian church. So, we cannot capture mentally Christ. I, however, had never affirmed what she said in her presence. See, we need to set the concept "Christ" free of conservative religious orthodoxy; hence, I, at times, speak of the universal Christ. This Christ is not somewhere, but everywhere. This Christ can meet you in a person today, even as Christ met many in Jesus long ago. There are, however, many other words that can refer to this same loving, all-present Being.
Many persons miss recognizing Christ, though he or she might pass their way often, for they are looking for a Christ who fits their beliefs. There is not one. Christ fits in no one's beliefs. Christ is a fire that burns all beliefs of what Christ is to ashes. If you wish to see more of Christ, look where you have never looked before, and look where the supposed authorities on Christ have said you will not meet Christ. There, you will meet Christ. To know Christ better, hold in suspicion all anyone has told you Christ is and pray, "Show me yourself. I want to meet you as you are. I am willing to see you where I have never seen you before. Amen." Oh, the foolishness! Persons act as though they decide whom Christ can be for others. The One decides that! Christ will appear as Christ will appear. If Christ is Love, why would not Christ appear differently to different persons, so to draw them to the One, the Lover-of-All?
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2020
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book is a collection of poems based on mystical traditions, especially Christian and Sufi, with extensive notes on the teachings and imagery in the poetry.