By: Tyler Sit
May 29, 2014
“... when we look out into the world we expect to find Christ’s gaze returning back. And perhaps that is what watchfulness means—not only that we can be present with the world but that we allow God to be present with us through the world.”
Jesus dedicates no small amount of metaphors to inspire his disciples to “keep watch”: bridesmaids who burn their lamps as they wait for their beloved (Matt 25:1-13), a servants in a house who waits for the homeowner to swing by (Mark 13:32-37), and so forth. Watchfulness, it would seem, was what the disciples should be all about: their eyes were to be the ones to peer into the dark outside and wait for a flicker of the divine to break the night.
Not an easy task—ever, I imagine, but especially nowadays, when we have no shortage of things to keep us distracted. Sitting meditation with some Buddhists in India, then, has been nothing but a countercultural experience for me. About 50 of us would gather into a room and perch on a cushion to think about…well, nothing—not what we’re doing later that day, not what emails we expected, not the fight we had last night.
There are a number of things I disagree about Buddhist ideology, but silence serves as a great meeting spot for the different faiths. For me, though, it is the time after the meditation when the real insight begins—when I actually hear the crunch of the gravel as I walk down the street, or when a creative solution naturally comes for a problem I have been stewing over, or when I can be more present in conversation. Buddhists sometimes call this mindfulness,* but that’s not exactly how I experience it. It’s more like God has been trying to have a quiet conversation with us the whole time, and meditation helps me actually listen. Buddhists cultivate mindfulness, but I suppose for Christians it’s slightly different: when we look out into the world we expect to find Christ’s gaze returning back. And perhaps that is what watchfulness means—not only that we can be present with the world but that we allow God to be present with us through the world. In these distracted times, maybe a simple prayer from the Gospel of Mark would do: Lord, help me keep watch.
*I would note, however, that while “mindfulness” in the American understanding has come to mean a general ability to remain in the present moment, various strains of Buddhism use the word differently. In the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, for example, it refers more to the ability to have single-pointed concentration on an object rather than general awareness.
Tyler Sit is a seminarian at Candler School of Theology who is pursuing ordination in The United Methodist Church. His interests include embodied theology, environmental justice, and photography.
Tags...: Thinking Out Loud