— 2.B.1 Christian response by Philip Sheldrake

(Response to 2.B.1 Mumonkan, Case No. 1: Joshu’s Dog, presented by Ruben Habito)


Clearly what is initially strange to a Christian eye is that the concept of God is not present. Consequently the understanding of the spiritual life is not one of a loving personal relationship with the divine. Equally, the paradoxical form of the koan is unfamiliar to many Christians. Finally, the Christian spiritual path, while seeking “union” with God, retains a relational framework – it is union without absorption or utter loss of “the self”. However, there were some other ways in which I could easily resonate with this text. The Christian spiritual path in its own way has an inherent tension between knowing and unknowing, saying and unsaying, affirmation and denial. That is, that while Christianity seeks to affirm certain things about God – and about our relationship with God – it also recognizes that human language cannot in any conclusive sense define a God who is transcendent and utterly other. As the medieval mystical theologian, Meister Eckhart (paraphrasing Augustine) suggested, “If I have said it, I have not said it, for it [i.e. God] is ineffable”. The Christian mystical tradition is clear about the limits of discursive thinking and that “union” or “encounter” with God are not the product of “the discursive mind” but of the purification of the self and our desire brought about by God through prayer and commitment to an intentional spiritual path. There are also some parallels in a movement from a false (egocentric) self to a true (God-focussed) self.