There are times when thoughts come together like objects, and bump against each other. I want to share this thought-object group with you.
I am finishing Buddha by Karen Armstrong. It’s a book on CD.
And I just finished Cold Mountain by Charles frazier, read by the author.
First, I would like to say, both of these books were much easier to take as being read to me. I would have found the book about Buddha not such a page turner, but I did want to hear about the enlightened one, so having it ‘pushed’ at me suited.
And Cold Mountain…well…First, I have seen the movie, which was a good movie, but it was so sad.
But beggars can’t be choosers, when it comes to my little library and it’s collection of books on tape. I took it.
The book is a masterpiece. The recording of the author reading his book is a masterpiece. I have high standards for books, and this one exceeded my expectations dramatically.
Wow. And wow again. The words. His phrasing and timing. I didn’t know it was the author reading it until I sat down to write this post. I continually thought that the reader was perfect for the work, little did I know how perfect. Authors are not always the best ones to read their work, but this one was.
Now, it would have been an excellent read. I loved his writing.
But remember, I saw the movie. I knew the ending. The book, however, was so much richer than the movie. So very many things happened, and so many ponderances took place. It was a leisurely story.
I forgot about the ending, and was enjoying the journey. I was enjoying the way he said ‘of’ and the old-fashioned-to-the-point-of-ancient phrases he used. They seemed deeply rooted in the time.
But the end of the book got closer. And I couldn’t help remembering the end of the movie.
And I couldn’t help but hope it would end different. At times I hit stop. I couldn’t face that lilted voice telling me what happened next.
I cried sheets of tears fully through the last two cassettes. I remember thinking again that I was glad to be listening to the story. I wouldn’t have been able to read the words through my crying.
What a powerful story.
In Buddha Karen Armstrong had talked about Siddartha’s journey to enlightenment. Siddartha is Buddha’s pre-enlightened name, if you didn’t know. I didn’t know.
He was born Siddartha, and the Brahmin prophesied that he would achieve enlightenment. Either that or be the King of the Universe. Buddha’s Dad prefferred Siddartha to be King of the Universe rather than just a boring old enlightened one.
Siddartha, however, chose the path of enlightenment. And when I say “chose” I mean to say he leaned into it. He didn’t just meander along and WHOOPS–fall into enlightenment. He worked really hard at it, and sacrificed a lot to get it.
Ms. Armstrong said something that stuck with me about Buddha’s road to enlightenment:
Siddartha was totally and completely sure he would achieve it. He had no doubt, he had utter faith, that enlightenment was a destination that existed and he would get there.
She mused for a little bit about what might have happened if he had given up. No Buddhist monks, no marvelous Buddhist scripture, what a loss, she seemed to say. Buddha knew the end of his story: Enlightenment. It was just a matter keeping going until he got there.
Now, I am not Buddhist. I know very little about Buddhism, but from what I’ve learned, it does not quite appeal to me. It does not fit the world I see around me, and although I would be pleased to learn more about the philosophies of the Buddha, I am a Christian to my core.
It was interesting to hear that Buddha is not supposed to be a god. Literally, he’s “The guy who figured it out”–how to avoid suffering and pain. In his world view, and according to Buddhist thought, there are gods and he is not one of them. He is actually better than a god, because the gods need him to help THEM figure it out.
Now, that’s a mind-bender to a mono-theist like me. Whoa. It made me think about the nature of Christ.
So, Christ is God. And Christ is Man. That’s a mind-blower for anybody.
What knife could separate the God from the Man? According to orthodox philosophy, he totally God and totally Man. Which doesn’t answer anything at all, really.
Easter is coming up, you know. It’s Passion week for most of America. Passion, also known as suffering. Just the sort of thing that Buddha was trying to avoid.
Jesus did not avoid His suffering. In fact, He walked right into it. The whole story of the crucifixion is how He gunned for the cross.
Which part was doing that? The man part? I have always tended to think that it was the God part that gave Him the character to do it, but the man part was the body that they tortured.
But, comparing the story of Buddha to the story of Christ put it in a new light.
How confident was Jesus that everything would turn out okay? Did He ever wonder if He was nuts-a faltering of confidence? Did he have a little voice in His head saying, ” ‘Son of God’–give me a break! Who are you kidding?”
What was the nature of Christ’s faith? Buddha had faith in his story; he believed he would reach enlightenment.
Did Jesus have such faith? It is human to falter. In my experience, it is the nature of faith to include faltering. Part of the mustard seed that is faith includes the part that doesn’t quite believe. The part that doesn’t believe but does it anyway.
Was that how Jesus had faith?
While I was listening to the end of Cold Mountain, and crying and wishing-wishing-that it would end differently, I thought about suffering. All the suffering that Inman and Ada has been through, and the whole country suffered in the Civil War. All they had struggled and suffered for…why did the story have to end that way? I wanted so badly for it to end another way.
And I remembered Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. He suffered terror and dread, a suffering before the physical suffering. Sweating blood in his pain, he asked God the Father if there was another way for the story to end. He really wanted a different ending.
O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me
He knows what’s coming. He knows he’s going to be tortured and killed. But does he know the rest? Does he have confidence that He will be the saving of all mankind? What if He didn’t know? What if all He knew was that God said he had to suffer and die?
Suffering and dying is the state of all humans. Suffering and dying doesn’t require godhood. God could require me to sacrifice my life, and I can only hope I would do as he demands. It is possible that He would enable me to do it. It is certain, though, that if I died for some noble purpose it would not result in the redemtion of all creation.
In Jesus’s case, though, it did. My life doesn’t have the currency of Christ’s.
But that doesn’t mean He knew that. Perhaps He knew no more than I know. That the bigger story of suffering, pain and death is in God’s hands and He works it all to good.
Jesus suffered so much in His death. And every step along the way, He could have stopped it.
I think about that, and how much I wanted to stop the sad suffering end of Cold Mountain.
Jesus didn’t stop his end. Because He believed in the story. I don’t know how much He knew of the story. I don’t know how much _I_ know of the story. But in this case, in this story, I know it works out with perfect justice, symmetry and beauty. It’s the story that God is telling, and it’s a story about Him.
Me, and my experiences with suffering and beauty, is only a story inside the big story.
The story, not even a real story in the sense of historical fact, of Cold Mountain is an experience of suffering and beauty and justice because it lines up with the big story, the way the world works, the way God works.
God is the original storyteller. It makes me feel humble to put my spun stories inside of His.
Believe in the stories. That is saving faith.