Our Zen Buddhist brothers and sisters have a term I have always appreciated, shoshin, which is generally translated as “beginner’s mind.” I refuse to co-opt or fake being an expert in someone else’s faith, I am too familiar with the deep complexity and disagreements within my own about even basic tenets of faith to think that an outsider can begin to speak for it. So I will offer the definition of shoshin offered by the venerable wikipedia and trust that those in the know have had something to do with the crafting of the words.
Beginner’s mind “refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.” It is a beautiful concept because while much study and learning and devotion is good, it can also lead us into unimportant realms (I knew a university professor who was the word’s leading expert on inter-war period German postage stamps on the theme of modernity, I mean really???).
One zen teacher put it this way, “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” As a Christian leader I can tell you I have met many experts and supposed experts and all too often their views, opinions and ways forward involve a lot of “well we tried that before…that won’t work…we mustn’t do that because…” sometimes this is helpful and needed, other times it is part of the problem we have. And the church God (and we) love, gets smaller. Smaller numerically, financially, but far more important spiritually. Fewer and fewer people seem to have spiritual experiences, faith is often a matter taken for granted, established, put on a shelf, that sort of faith gets dusty and does not tangibly impact the way we go about our days.
Jesus demonstrated a lot about the life of faith. Faith must be tried and tested, it must be living, it must be transforming us, it must be impacting the way we live and how we understand and interact with others, and as the world changes this impact will by necessity change as well. Perhaps this is why we are to be called disciples. That is really just a fancy term that means students, students of Jesus, of his teaching, and his way of life, and of his death, and resurrection, and what it all means for us now. What it means about how we might organize ourselves, how we might treat each other, what it means for how we understand the good life.
So, as you muddle away at spiritual practices and try to understand God and bible: If you don’t have it all figured out yet, if much about faith remains dim and unclear, rejoice! You are still a student! Welcome to the club!
The key is to keep on learning and growing, keeping what makes sense and is of use and moving on from that which no longer helps. This is not to take scripture lightly but to to avoid becoming calcified in how we read and understand it.
There is much to learn and much to do, let’s get to it.