Following Christ as Openness to Surprise:
A Swiss Pastor Finds Wisdom in Zen and Jazz
I am a pastor in Switzerland.
Being a minister in Switzerland is a kind of social activity. When
someone dies the family can call you and ask for a ceremony. Usually we
have one funeral each week, but of course there is no regularity, you
may have three weeks on the line without service and a week with four
or five serviced. On top of that, you have the Sunday worship, the
Bible study and so one. It's not easy to manage. The phone can ring at
any time, you have to stop with your preaching or your study and meet a
family in order to prepare the funeral ceremony.
Many pastors suffer burn out because of that. I tried to manage the
stress with sports and relaxation exercises, but it didn't suffice. So I
thought maybe I will succeed with changing my approach of reality
where break and surprise are not the exception that bothers the
stream of life but the norm. I picked up the book of Michael Hampe, a
philosopher who teaches the ETH of Zurich: Macht des Zufalls (the
power of chance). He introduced me to the process philosophy of
Whitehead. All is process, there is no fixed reality, and you don’t bathe
twice in the same river. The idea pleases me, but how to manage that
in the every day life?
I discovered process theology, and some books of John B. Cobb revealed
to me proximity between Whitehead's thought and Buddhism. In
Switzerland there are just two Buddhist monasteries of the Soto Zen
tradition. One is located in Zurich, the biggest city of Switzerland (you
may think the only city in Switzerland!), what is quite normal, the
second that was built in the smallest village. This village happens to be
near to my home. The monastery is lead by an abbess, who studied Zen
in Paris with Taisen Deshimarou and happens to be the aunt of my first
girlfriend (I was then ten). She introduced me to the Zen meditation.
The practice of meditation has nothing to do with relaxation; it is pure
thought, the « thinking of non-thinking », says the thirteenth century
Master Dogen. It is pure presence at the present moment that can't
be thought. What happens is what happens, meditation is receiving it
like it is. For me that is process philosophy in action.
Learning Buddhism was like learning a foreign language: you don't learn
just another language; you learn to know better your own language.
Buddhism helped me to know better Christianity and the message of
Jesus: you grasp better his genius and his particularity. But there is
much more: reading the bible, meeting the people with this presence
(you may think mindfulness) that I have learned from Buddhism, helps
me to improve my ministry and in the evening I'm not as tired as I was
before. Accepting a phone call for a funeral doesn't bother me anymore,
it's just an event and the occasion of knowing new people.
I searched the internet in order to discover if there are attempts to
bring Christianity and Buddhism into dialogue. I discovered that in Italy
there is a community of Buddhist monks and Christian monks who live in
the same place but practice each his own tradition,
www.lastelladelmattino.org. I discovered this website too,
www.jesusjazzbuddhism.org; It helped me to discover jazz, where you
may be caught by a sound and ask what will happen next. Usually in jazz
what happens next is pleasant, especially if the artist is a genius. What
happens next when the phone rings? If you believe God is playing with
you, you have good reasons to believe it's a good sound or even a good
melody. I'm living on a lake and on the other side you can see the Alps.
Life is like a lake: always changing, sometimes it is calm, sometimes
agitated. If you are planning to cross the lake in order to come to the
other side it can be scary and painful, but if you learn to surf it may be
very funny. Process is surfing, meditation is surfing, jazz is surfing and
maybe believing in the God of Jesus is surfing too. Try this: « Whoever
tries to save his own life will lose it; whoever loses his life will save it.
» (Luke 17, 33)