Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cradled by Amida's Embrace

     Tonight I went to the movie theater to behold—I think that's the only word that does justice to the film's power—the movie "District 9".  The movie was definitely a sight to see—equal parts allegory, tough-as-nails action movie, and deft tale of human transformation—but it was also extremely violent.  I am usually not apt to enjoy a movie quite that violent, but I thought that the underlying messages of the movie at least partially excused all of the gore.    Nonetheless, I was looking for some quiet time—some moments of contemplative silence to recover from the in-your-faceness of the movie—and so I went to the local Books-A-Million.  The bookstore is always quiet on a weeknight—rather like the silence of a library—due to the fact that most people in town seem to hang out at the local (and louder) Barnes & Noble.  I wanted to peruse the theology and philosophy bookshelves just to see if there might be anything new—not to mention good—that had recently arrived on the shelf.
     Once my psyche was feeling more peaceful—a bit more in tune with its usually tranquil self—I decided to leave so that I could come home, lift weights for 45 minutes or so, and then sit down and attempt this blog piece you are now staring at on your computer screen, but having no clue what that blog piece might be about.  (A lot of times I don't really know what I'm going to write; I just sit down and write it.)
     When I opened my car door—my mind and body still rather peaceful—I was struck by the sight of one of the most wondrous sunsets I have ever seen.  It wasn't just beautiful—I have seen plenty of beautiful sunsets in my life, but this was wholly different—it was powerful.  It was partially obstructed by clouds of a kind of abstract divinity, bold—dark and bright at the same time—and blood-red.  So blood-red that, for a moment, I had the thought that its color was something like the eyes that must emerge from the seductive, beautiful face of a female vampire just before she sinks her teeth into some prey.  (Odd, yes, but that's how I felt.)
     Then something else struck me.  It was That something else that is so beyond words that perhaps even attempting to type this is a blasphemy.  It was the That which is just this.  But it wasn't "just this"—to attempt to equate it with some sort of "Power of Now" belarney really doesn't do it justice.  No.  It was more like a "just this" transcendence.
     And then, the word that came to my mind was Amida.  And I think I knew—truly knew—what it was that Shinran was trying to get at all those years ago in feudal Japan.  Some creator god didn't have to make those clouds, and that sunset, and all of that color, but it was imminently soaked with Divinity none-the-less.  And this imminence is also a transcendence; it's a transcendence that we can trust, surrender, and put our faith in wholly and completely.

     Once I got in my car and was driving home—my mind both lost in transcendence and yet also fully aware of everything in the present moment—the "a-ha" moment I had just had, and the thought of Amida that had come with it reminded me of a conversation I had recently had with a very kind, good-hearted Christian friend of mine.  My caring friend is also quite conservative—as Christians are apt to be here in the deep South—and he was having a hard time understanding how in the world I could be what I told him I was: a Christian-Buddhist (or a Buddhist-Christian; take your pick of what label you want to place first in the order).
     I attempted to explain it to him—how good religion is more of a way of being as opposed to a way of believing, and then how religion seems to function best as a set of practices rather than a set of beliefs.  But I'm not sure if he really understood what I was getting at, for it is hard to undo a lifetime of cultural conditioning; conditioning that ingrains a mythic-sky god mentality in you from an early age.
     As I bid farewell to my friend, a thought came to my mind.  It was a thought that I'm positive my friend would never have understood.  A good religious inclination, I thought—whether it's inclined toward Buddhism, or toward Christianity, or toward an amalgam of both Traditions—is something like being cradled by Amida's embrace.  It accepts that there is a Transcendent Reality inherent in nature and in our lives.  But it doesn't assume that this Transcendent Reality is going to somehow take care of us by answering our prayers of petition, or (likewise) by watching over everything we do and damning us to hell if we are sinners.
     No, the truth is that this Reality—the transcendence that is Amida, and is the Logos made flesh yet Who also always was— just is.
     God is.  Amida is.
     And that is good enough.

     The blood-red sun.
     The peace of Amida.
     The Just This transcendence.
     Good enough.

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