The Grotto


Red Church among the green trees
Raf and I had a fun adventure this past weekend. We visited The Grotto. I am not sure how to begin describing this place. It is very Catholic. Full of very stern, and sometimes disturbing, statues of Saints and angels. You could even buy a statue, if you are so inclined. Did you know that you can BUY holy water? I had no idea (Incidentally, when I Instagrammed this photo of the holy water my upload FAILED three times before I was successful. The Lord didn’t like me making fun of the gift shop selling His holy water.)
The Grotto

The highlight of the visit was the labyrinth. I’d always wanted to walk one and it proved to be as meditative as I’d always heard.
The Grotto

Actually, the whole place was beautiful. And, indeed, very meditative. I lost myself on the winding path that lead through the gardens and found it very relaxing. As I wandered through I felt a very calm, peaceful presence. Was it the Holy Spirit? Maybe it was.

I was reminded, again, of my connection to Catholicism. I was raised Catholic and though I don’t call myself Catholic anymore I do still feel a connection to it. Being around the symbolism makes me feel a little bit at home. I was reminded of the similarities between the ritual in Zen Buddhism and the ritual of Catholicism. A few weeks ago I visited Portland’s Japanese Gardens, which is rife with Zen symbolism. In fact, the two places were so similar that it reminds me that we are all striving for the same thing, essentially. We are all rowing the same boat.

This past week I have been thinking a lot about Buddhism’s first noble truth:  Life is suffering. Could Christians and Catholics realize this truth through the death of Christ on the cross? I wonder.

On Mara

Thoughts and Opinions
English: Painting of Gautama Buddha sitting in...

English: Painting of Gautama Buddha sitting in Dhyana, unharmed by the demons of Mara. Sanskrit Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra manuscript written in the Ranjana script. Nalanda, Bihar, India. Circa 700-1100 CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night at my Sangha we had a guest speaker talk about the story of Budda. I have heard the story many times and seem to get something new from each listen or reading (this video is excellent if you are interested in learning about his story, btw).  This time, the part of the story that really stuck out was Buddha’s encounter with Mara as he was sitting under the Bodhi tree:

During the night, he was visited by Mara, the evil one, who tried to tempt him away from his virtuous path. First he sent his beautiful daughters to lure Gautama into pleasure. Next he sent bolts of lightning, wind and heavy rain. Last he sent his demonic armies with weapons and flaming rocks. One by one, Gautama met the armies and defeated them with his virtue. (From

There are many versions of this story. The one told last night included magical feats such as Buddha turning arrows into flowers as he sat still.

This is a familiar story to me because it is in the Bible. Jesus also has an encounter with the devil while in the desert, and he also rejects the devil’s temptations. The bible’s devil is evil personified. He is the devil. A real being that actually, physically comes to Jesus to tempt him. Jesus reaches superhero status by overcoming temptation from the devil himself. He does this by fasting for 40 days. We read this and we are made to feel that there is no way we could do this. I mean, that is the whole point. Jesus is God and that is why he could overcome temptation. And that is why we need Jesus.

Mara is the the personification of evil in the Buddha story. Every other time I have heard or read this story I have viewed Mara the same way I have viewed the Devil in the bible. As a real entity that came to tempt Buddha (in the lore of the story, that is. I don’t actually believe in the personification of evil). HOWEVER, for some reason last night something just clicked. Mara is in Buddha’s head. Mara is Buddha’s thoughts. And Buddha was able to shut those temptations down himself, with his own thoughts. That is pretty powerful.

We all have our own Mara. And you know what? It is all in our head. As quickly as the arrows come at us, we can turn them into flowers. We can do this, just like Buddha did.

This reminds me of something that happened to me a few years ago. I had an episode of sleep paralysis. I was in that state when you are in-between sleep and wakefulness. I opened my eyes and looked above me and saw a demon sitting on Rafael and me*. When I looked up at it it slowly moved its head toward me and looked into my eyes. As I woke up, terrified, I thought to myself, “this isn’t real” and the demon dissolved into thin air like a cartoon character.

*this is actually a thing that happens – seeing “demons” in this half-awake state. See this article at WebMD.

My first visit to a zen center

Thoughts and Opinions

Yesterday I visited a zen center for the first time and it was amazing. I visited Dharma Rain Zen Center in Portland with my friend from my meditation group. She has gone there for years and invited anyone interested to come along with her yesterday morning. I’ve been really wanting to check it out but being shy I knew I would never make it down there by myself. So needless to say, I was really happy to go with her.

I was  briefed on what to expect so I had an idea of what it might be like but, still, it was such a new and different experience. And also not new. It felt kind of comfortable in many ways. I’ll explain.

The “service” (I’m not sure what Buddhists call it) involved lots of ritual. Ritual that I didn’t know anything about, having never attended any kind of Buddhist ceremony in my life. So in many ways I feel like a complete dork for not knowing what to do. Everyone was cool and, frankly, didn’t even notice my unsure feelings, but still.

What I noticed right away, and what I really liked about it was that it reminded me of Catholic mass. having been raised a Catholic this felt very comforting to me. The ritual, that is. This is something that I never realized before yesterday either. I spent a great deal of my adulthood outwardly despising the Catholic church, and there are many things about it that I do despise. However,  I have really fond memories from my childhood of church. I can’t believe I am actually saying this, but I do. We would go every weekend and I think it was a source of comfort to me, somehow. All of the ritual was  embedded into my conciousness and has become comforting to me as an adult. I remember working at Santa Clara University and secretly loving that I worked there. I loved going to mass when they occasionally held it during work hours. I loved walking around campus and being around all the Catholic ephemera. It comforted me. I would have never admitted that  out loud, but it did.

So as I was sitting there yesterday meditating on my cushion, I was realizing this. I think I was drawn to Dharma Rain because of the ritual. Because it would  make me feel like I was at home. Again, I felt like a dork for not knowing what to do (much like a Baptist would feel going into a Catholic mass for the first time) but that’s o.k. feeling like a dork isn’t going to kill me.

There was lots of zazen. Way more than I do daily. We meditated for an hour total. There was 20 minutes of walking meditation (also interesting). Then there was the 20 minutes of chanting. It was absolutely incredible. The best part of the service. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful and mind-blowing it was to experience that for the first time. The group chanted some sutras, translated in english. I was reading along in the book (I wasn’t going to try chanting my first time) and, my god, it was the most incredible, beautiful thing I have ever read.  I was reading along  being blown away by the beauty of what I was reading and then hearing it chanted around me by these beautiful voices. It was interesting because the words were chanted on the same note. It is the same note that you hear when monks chant “OM” (If you’ve ever heard that before). What is it about that note? Is it some direct frequency to God or something? What ever it is, it is a mystery so incredibly powerful and beautiful.

The dharma talk at the end was really cool too. In fact, I felt like I went yesterday specifically to hear it. It was about doubt. The thing that I took from it was that we are going to feel doubt sometimes, and it’s ok. That doubt is a part of the process and it will help you become a stronger person later. So don’t push the doubt away or make yourself feel bad for doubting (which is what I tend to do). Instead, let it in and take a look at it.

So anyway, that was my experience. This is a long post and I’m sure you have stopped reading a few paragraphs ago :). I mostly wanted to just get my thoughts and  feelings down before it all flew out of my head.

Interesting guest on Ronn Owens

Books, Music, Art, Movies

The Sins of Scripture : Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of LoveKGO-AM 810 NewsTalk

Ronn talks to retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, author of the new book, The Sins of Scripture. John Shelby Spong was the Newark, NJ Episcopal diocese Bishop for more than 20 years before retiring in 2000. One of the world%u2019s leading spokespersons for progressive Christianity, he%u2019s the author of several best-selling books and the most published member of the Episcopal Church%u2019s House of Bishops in the U.S. A proponent of feminism and gay rights, Bishop Spong calls for rethinking the basic ideas of Christianity.

I kind of wanted to post this for my own info, so I don’t forget.

Ronn Owens, talk-radio host on KGO, had a really interesting guest on tuesday, ironically, the same day the new pope was elected. He is an episcopalian bishop who has some really radical beliefs about the bible. I listened and just so totally agreed with so much of what he said! it was refreshing to hear the liberal viewpoint from an episcopalain Bishop! Some of his comments that found interesting: “It’s silly to take the bible literally.” When an asshole arrogant caller called in and asked him if he was really a Christian (what a jerk!) he replied, “when people ask that they are really asking, ‘why don’t you believe the same version of Christianity that I believe?’ and proceeded to make the guy look like an utter fool (yes!). He also brought up an interestng argument that Paul was actually a closeted gay (that’s punk)…I had arrived at work at that point but was really intrigued.

So anyway, I am really interested in reading this Bishop’s book.


Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Image via Wikipedia

‘Evangelical Christianity Has Been Hijacked’: An Interview with Tony Campolo–politics faith Democracts gay rights women Falwell —

Well, there’s a difference between evangelical and being a part of the Religious Right. A significant proportion of the evangelical community is part of the Religious Right. My purpose in writing the book was to communicate loud and clear that I felt that evangelical Christianity had been hijacked.

To follow up on yesterday’s post, thankfully there are leaders in the Evangelical community who are still Christians. This is an excellent article. It actually articulates the comments that Dianne so eloquantly expressed on the last post 🙂