When the opportunity presented itself to make a Zen/Christian retreat with Robert Kennedy, S.J., I had no decision to make. Of course I would, despite my knowing how painful it is to get up so early and sit for so many hours. After four and a half years of practicing Zen, I am still constantly integrating and balancing Zen with my Catholic religion and training that has claimed such a large portion of my life, and that I have embraced at such a deep level. Catholicism showed me St. Teresa of Avila’s description of the Interior Castle and St. John of the Cross taught me about a way to pray without words and the necessity of letting go of desires. These teachings nourished and offered meaning. I came to Zen looking for help and guidance from a tradition based not on doctrine or oral prayer, but one based on meditation. The retreat with Father Kennedy offered another opportunity for integration.
Having said that, it is still difficult to describe what I took from the retreat. It was hard to get up very early and sit so long. However, I found pleasure and enrichment in sitting with others from multiple religious backgrounds. Meeting in a place where other groups went about their activities seemed to demonstrate the oneness of matter and spirit. Sitting was actually less distracted than usual. In my advanced age, I can no longer remember a great deal of what Father Kennedy said. I am grateful to have heard these things. To sit well is labor and requires great energy, the greater the energy the greater the reward. Keep your back straight and pay attention. Attention is key. Here, for me, is an important synthesis. To what am I paying attention? To what cannot be named or imagined or understood, to “no thing”. I remember that Jesus said the wheat must fall into the ground and die or it cannot give life. That seems the same as saying there is no self. It makes perfect sense even while it makes no sense. It is a hard saying, but I believe it is good to bear it.