I’m finally able to take a deep sigh of relief, finals are over! I can breathe without the backpack that I carry weighing me down with what feels like fifty tons worth of books. I’m able to sleep again and not have to take the occasional nap with a textbook over my face in the Clock tower Lounge. As I attempt to settle in to being back home, I’m left with time to reflect on this past semester.
The last thing you would think any student wants to think about after finals is classes. Our books have been returned or sold after waiting in long lines at the Bookstore and it’s time to forget everything we just crammed into our minds to pass a final. Yet, I find myself reflecting on a course I took this past semester called Buddhism and Christian Exploration. The class taught by Karen Enriquez fosters inter-religious studies in an authentic atmosphere. I soon found myself enthralled in reading about Thicht Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist teacher, who hails from Vietnam and originally gained notoriety in the West for his avocation of Dr. Martin Luther King JR. to speak out against the Vietnam War. Since then, Nhat Hanh has gone on to write over a hundred books and has become the voice of Engaged Buddhism, a movement within the Buddhist tradition that promotes work for social action and social change.
Over the course of my semester I became so tired of the monotonous routine at school that I dreamt of running away from school and my hectic life. I would escape to a far off island, a mountain village, or even Nhat Hahn’s plum village monastery. Yet, it was in a reading from another important Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, which brought me, back down to earth. The Dalia Lama in a lecture to students reminded them that the importance of inter-religious studies is not conversion or becoming half-Buddhist and half- Christian but that we will come to a better understanding of our own traditions. This teaching from the Dalai Lama was a metaphorical slap in the face for me. I was so ready to drop my Catholic faith and choose the sexier alternative option of engaged Buddhism. Yet, over the course of my semester, I read segments of a book written by Paul Knitter , a former Xavier Theology professor, entitled, Without Buddha I could not be a Christian and I realized that this Buddhism course had actually brought me back to my spiritual side that I had been pushing away this semester.
Nhat Hanh discusses that in order to work for peace in the world we must first find our inner peace. This notion of inner peace was new to me but it resonated deep within my soul. Yet, why in a blog-series on Advent am I talking about engaged Buddhism and inner peace? Well, it’s because advent is a time of reflection and preparing ourselves for the coming of Jesus. Yet, we often get caught up in always having to take action but the act of being still is something that remains just as important. As a skeptic, that through three and a half years of Jesuit higher education is ready to question everything and anything that comes my way. I thought this whole inner peace idea had to have a flaw. I get caught in the trap of desiring instant gratification, if I can find the answer with a click of a button on an iphone why doesn’t faith work that way? I’ve found that the desire for the quick fix and easy answers always leaves me dissatisfied.
This Christmas season offers us time for valuable rest and relaxation with families but also time to reflect and meditate. As members of the Xavier and Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice Community it doesn’t matter what structure or faith domination we do it in but I hope we can all find time to work for our inner peace. Yet, know that it will be a lifelong process and we are still on our journeys.
Brendan Kelly is a senior from Olney, Maryland. He studies International studies with minors in Spanish, Peace Studies, and Latin American Studies. He has tried to take advantage of all the opportunities he can at Xavier & the CFJ from the Summer Service Internship, ASLS Nicaragua, Nexus Garden intern and currently co-directing Encounter.