Today I was doing some reflection, meditation and praying when a somewhat odd thought occurred to me: the comparison of zen versus shalom. I recall that zen is a Buddhist principle that has sort of slipped into the mainstream, echoing thoughts of harmony, peace, and happiness. I’m guessing that I’m like most people (correct me if I’m wrong) in probably not really knowing the first thing about zen but being guilty of boiling it down to a set of steps one takes to reach perfection, perhaps confusing it with nirvana, the highest state of enlightenment. What I find interesting is that it’s made its way into popular culture in new age philosophies and self help advice.
People are consistently looking for a way to achieve peace and harmony- to supersede their struggles and endure (if not overcome) suffering. It’s common to all that is human- perhaps it’s an essential component of our humanity. Yet the Buddhist idea of zen or nirvana takes the shape of working towards some high goal of perfection (going through cycles of karma to attain to it) and while my point isn’t to argue philosophy, theology or religion here, I find it personally to be daunting and terrifying that I could never reach such a state in my own power. How utterly hopeless.
And yet, in the Judeo-Christian context we have a state known as Shalom. I’ve heard it interpreted so many different ways: peace, prosperity, wholeness. To be true it’s probably an amalgumation of all those words- and how awesome does that sound?! And the ‘good news’ is that this personal freedom is not earned by one’s own strength or perfection- it’s a perfectly free gift.
As I thought about these two ideas, the words of Jesus came to me:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
You may not be all that informed on farming practices of the ancient middle east (or even of today), so you may not know what a yoke is. It’s not the yellow thing in an egg; it’s the wooden piece that holds two oxen together as they plow a field or haul a cart. In that culture the word was often used to symbolise the teachings of a rabbi – a philosophy, set of beliefs or interpretations that determined the way a person lived. Some people today live by the yoke of Oprah or Doctor Phil. Some by the teachings of the Buddha.
What Jesus was saying is, ‘Take up my slant on things, my way of life. Follow me- my way is a way of peace and rest.’ Jesus was promising shalom to his followers. Check out The Message paraphrase:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me– get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me– watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Count me in! Life, rest, rhythm, grace, freedom and lightness. It just does my soul good thinking about it. I’ve been so wanting to find a rhythm in life, and who doesn’t! So many people feel there isn’t enough time for what they *really* want to do in life, pulled in 1000 directions. And if you go the route of most self-help guru’s you gotta work your butt off at getting that kind of ‘wholeness’ you crave.
Perhaps I’m a simpleton after all, but I’ll take Jesus up on his words and see if he delivers. And what really comforted me in reading that paraphrase was that he said he wouldn’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on us. How often does religion try to force a one-size-fits-all yoke on every single one of us? How does this make us struggle and stumble around and compare ourselves and judge one another? It’s a fact– I googled it– yokes are even to this day tailor-made to fit the oxen that will wear it. The maker takes into account the size of the animal, the work that it’ll be performing, and no doubt the animal’s yoke changes with time and growth. So how can we force particulars on people who decide to take up Jesus’ yoke? He’s the one sharing that yoke with them, standing immediately beside them, teaching them to move forward in life and to achieve that shalom. He’s the maker of the yoke they both share and he carries the brunt of its weight.
So while the idea of zen, nirvana and enlightenment may be applaudable on the one hand in that it encourages people to improve their lives and seek peace, it falls drastically short of the most necessary component in achieving wholeness and shalom: Christ.