The Zen Minister Makes a Confession

The Zen Minister Makes a Confession September 17, 2022




Lord, through all generations
you have been our strength and our home.
Before the mountains were born
or the oceans were brought to life,

for all eternity, you are.
A thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it passes.
You return our bodies to the dust
and snuff out our lives like a candleflame.
You hurry us away; we vanish
as suddenly as the grass:
in the morning it shoots up and flourishes,
in the evening it wilts and dies.
For our life dissolves like a vision
and fades into air like a cloud.
We live for seventy years,
or eighty, if we are strong —
years filled with pain and suffering;
they pass, and we fly away.

Teach us how short our time is;
let us know it in the depths of our souls.
Show us that all things are transient,
as insubstantial as dreams,
and that after heaven and earth
have vanished, there is only you.
Fill us in the morning with your wisdom;
shine through us all our lives.
Let our hearts soon grown transparent
in the radiance of your love.
Show us how precious each day is;
teach us to be fully here.
And let the work of our hands

prosper, for our little while.

Psalm 90
Poetic rendition by Stephen Mitchell

A friend recently noted with, in his words, how my “interest in Japanese zen and Anglican ceremony is great fun to ponder. Does that make you Zenglican or Episcozenican?”

It brought a small smile.


I revisit how I can give words to my interior life with some regularity. I consider it part of my life commitment to relentlessly watch my heart. This being a central part of my spiritual disciplines, as much as possible, to witness. To watch what plays across the fields of my perceptions. What plays out in the world in front of and all around me. And what plays out of the mysterious mix of genes and hormones and memories within me. To give it a name, I call it paying attention.

Out of years of this watching my heart and the world, out of my studies, and out of the guidance of my teachers, I came up with a confession of who I am as a person of the way. Feel free to call it my confession as a person of faith. It’s “my physiology of faith.” Over the years it has been kind of a constant. Me. However, what I’ve noticed is that while all three aspects that inform my heart and my understanding, my Buddhist brain, my Christian heart, and my rationalist stomach, each continue to inform and present as me; what leads shifts from time to time.

And, as I am living into my seventies, an interesting age in the middle of the parameters set up in the 90th psalm, as I begin to witness my body beginning its declines, as I let go of various forms of spiritual leadership; I find a kind of liberation happening. Here those three things are ever less clearly delineated. There are boundaries. Yes. But they shift and move. And sometimes one can simply push right through one without feeling any more substance than a soap bubble of a wall.

With that, and sparked by my friend’s playful remark, it took me a half dozen tries. But, finally, well, as finally as such things can be, in response I came up with what speaks mostly to who I am, and with that what I believe. Today. Those shifting boundaries remain…

May this be of some use to someone on their way.

To the degree that I can confess a faith it is the four seals, the two truths, and the three bodies of the Buddha. The best analysis of a slippery deal. It more than makes sense. I recognize myself and the world within it. And. My natal roots are Christian, and I dream of Jesus and the Marys. I am a Unitarian minister. A most peculiar expression of the great Western way. And probably will remain so to my death. My inner landscape has elements of China, and perhaps India, but more than anything it looks like Palestine and Israel. And, yes, of the Christian expressions I love the Anglican via media most. Such a beautiful way. But, and this shift is critical: my practice life is Zen meditation (okay with a dash of the Jesus prayer) and as a spiritual director I live within the koan tradition of Hakuin Ekaku.

So. Whatever that is.

My brief confession above seems to describe a liberal Mahayana Buddhist with Christian sympathies. In an unguarded moment perhaps Zen Christian would do the trick. But, it would require asterisks…




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