Buddhist-Christian Studies 21.1 (2001) 33-36
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How I, a Christian, Have Learned from Buddhist Practice, or "The Frog Sat on the Lily Pad . . . Not Waiting"
Frances S. Adeney
Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
As a Christian, I have practiced various forms of silent meditation. I remember sitting under the grand piano as a child of three, watching the sun flit through white curtains during our one-hour home communion service of the Plymouth Brethren. Most of the hour was spent in communal silence, gathered around a small table upon which was placed wine and bread. My memories of these meetings are filled with a sense of awe and presence.
I practiced a different kind of silent meditation as a young adult when I spent six weeks living on a beach in Greece. I saw few people apart from my two companions and the shepherdess who brought her flock to the meadow each day. I spent hours watching the waves or studying the grains of sand at my feet. I never missed a sunset.
At certain times of my life, there were more intentional, prayer-filled kinds of silent meditation. Wordless yearnings and grievings were brought to those meditations as I sought understanding and peace during times of illness, loss, and confusion. I wouldn't call any of those experiences Buddhist meditation. They were intentionally focused on either worshiping Christ or experiencing nature. There was no attempt to leave behind desires, no longing for emptiness, no intentional focus on being in the present moment, qualities that I associate with Buddhist meditation.
The first time I joined a group of people practicing Buddhist sitting was in 1997. Yet I felt like I had been doing this kind of silent meditating for years. Here is how that convergence came about.
During the early 1990s, while living in Indonesia, I frequently visited a Trappist monastery in central Java. The nuns there didn't practice Buddhism, but my spiritual director, a German priest who lived down the mountain, said to me, "Come and see." Father Hamma introduced me to sitting in a gentle non-technique-oriented way. He called it "contemplative prayer." I took up this practice daily during a difficult time of loss in my life. Spiritual retreats at the monastery up the mountain helped me learn to let go of what I could not hold onto in life. It was there that I began to experience the delight and calm that comes from a practice of meditative silence. [End Page 33]
This silent meditation differed from other practices of silence that I had known in significant ways: (1) It was not focused on an interchange between God and myself. I was not listening for God's voice. I was not bringing my concerns to God. I was simply entering a place of silence. (2) It was not predicated on specific ideas about God or thoughts from writings in the Bible. I did not need to frame this time of silence with religious meanings. (3) It was not focused on an outcome. I neither expected nor did I ask for any changes in myself or the world.
Yet there were ways in which this practice of meditative silence was framed by my Christian faith. In taking up this practice, I felt I was intentionally entering God's presence. While not looking for spiritual experiences, I was somehow seeking life, and I did believe that God met me in those silent moments. More than once I had experiences that were "sightings" if not meetings with the Divine. During the seven years that I have practiced entering silence, the space that I enter has grown larger, and the conviction that I am entering and becoming part of God's presence deepens.
on the lily pad
This Haiku poem resulted from one such experience. I had taken the bus out from the city. It dropped me at the foot of one of hundreds of small mountains in Java covered by...