Doors to the Kingdom

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In the past few weeks I have been re-reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Living Buddha, Living Christ. Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher who was an early opponent of the war in his country, and who has been a spiritual leader for decades in interreligious dialogue and peace movements.

Sometimes it’s good to see one’s faith through other eyes. Hanh’s insights into the life of Jesus are startlingly and enlightening because he comes to Jesus as a little child, comparatively speaking, and he responds to moments in Jesus’ life and teachings that we Christians no longer notice as the extraordinary revelations that they are.

For example, in commenting on Matthew’s view of the Kingdom of God as a seed planted within us, Hanh says, “We do not have to die to arrive at the gates of Heaven. In fact, we have to be truly alive. The practice is to touch life deeply so that the Kingdom of God becomes a reality. This is not a matter of devotion. It is a matter of practice. The Kingdom of God is available here and now.” And then Hanh links this to Jesus describing Himself as the door of salvation, the door to the Kingdom of God. The Buddha, says Hanh, is also described as a door, a teacher who shows us the way in this life.

“It is said that there are 84,000 Dharma doors, doors of teaching,” says Hanh. “We should not be afraid of more Dharma doors—if anything, we should be afraid that no more will be opened.” Without taking anything away from the precedence of Jesus as the door, Hanh says, “Each of us, by our practice and our loving-kindness, is capable of opening new Dharma doors. Society is changing . . . economic and political conditions are not the same as they were in the time of the Buddha or Jesus.”

Each of us can be a door for someone to the Kingdom of God.

These are difficult times for our church, for our country, for our world. In the midst of apparent chaos we lose our sight lines ahead. We may fixate on our own feet or only on the ground in front of us. In the face of confounding actions by leaders and the constant denigration of basic principles, we may doubt our own convictions of what is right and true. But, as Jesus said, these are the birth pangs of a new age.

Women’s ordination, the issue that has engaged so many in recent years, is one that defines for many of us what our moral and spiritual core really is. These are matters that clear away the underbrush of indifference and apathy as we struggle to recognize the church we thought we belonged to. But I am coming to see women’s ordination as a Dharma door, a door to the Kingdom of God, a door that opens outward to a wider, enlivening world, not inward to a dark and dank room.

If there is to be a parting of the ways in the future of this church, I hope we will remember Women’s Ordination as a catalyst that quickened the faith of many of us. I hope we will become doors to the Kingdom of God.

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