Jesus and Buddha would have liked each other a lot

Dear President Trump,

Two days ago I discovered that someone in the next block up has a log on their front porch that’s been carved into a likeness of Jesus. The top is plain log, complete with bark and tree rings and the rest has a detailed Jesus face, neck, and upper chest carved into it. There’s a faded, painted heart on his chest and his hair is painted black. There are also a few blue bits that look like maybe robe and sky but it’s hard to tell because they are faint and I can’t get close enough to parse it carefully. It’s kind of interesting how involved and complicated the lone Jesus icon is compared to the plain concrete of the dozens of Buddha statues around here. Come to think of it, the only other Christian statuary in anyone’s yard is an occasional concrete St. Francis and those tend to be fairly involved too, with robes, birds perched on fingers, rope belts, and cross pendants. What’s up with that? The Buddhas are just big heads with closed eyes, seated meditating figures, or maybe a figure standing with a simple staff; not much to them. Also, the Jesus on the porch has a gaze that looks pretty distant and sad while the Buddhas all have their eyes closed and look serenely self-contained.

Obviously both depictions are really representative of the people who created them and not of either the real historical Jesus or Buddha (plus there’s my own particular way of seeing the world to factor in), but it’s interesting that our neighborhood Jesus has his eyes open and looks pained while the Buddhas all have their eyes closed and look serene. As tempting as it is to take a side and say one or the other is more righteous or better in some inchoate way, juxtaposing these two classic physical representations of major religious/spiritual figures is bringing home to me my need for both ways of being in the world. I need the Jesus reminder to open my eyes and heart (even, or especially, when it’s feeling faded) to what is going on around me, including suffering and injustice, and I need the Buddha reminder to take refuge in quiet, perhaps serene, moments of eyes closed breathing so that I can, in turn, open my eyes and heart.

May we all be safe to see what needs to be seen and to take care of ourselves.
May we be happy to consciously keep recalibrating between the two.
May we find those touchstones that remind us to take care of our spiritual health.
May we make space for different worldviews and not be snagged by false dichotomies.

Tracy Simpson

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