Robert Kennedy is a professor of theology at St. Peter's College, a practicing psychotherapist, and a Catholic priest. After 15 years of practicing Zen, he was installed as a Zen teacher. He presently conducts weekend and weeklong Zen retreats in the United States and Mexico. For those who might be startled by this intermingling of Christianity and Buddhism, the author points out that all the Zen centers in Europe, except for one in France, have been started by Catholics.
This illuminating work is designed for those who might be interested in enhancing their devotional orientation with Zen practice. Kennedy uses images and passages from the twelfth century Chinese Zen text The Ox and His Herdsmen as an organizing structure for the book. In addition, the commentary is enriched with poetry and prose from Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov, May Sarton, Iris Murdoch, Kathleen Raine, Emily Dickinson, and others.
The gifts of Zen for Christians include daily practice, self-reliance, impermanence, emptiness, no-self, and compassionate service. The chapter on "Not Knowing" is particularly valuable. Zen masters repeatedly teach students not to cling to scriptures, customs, or theories. Certitude and rigidity in form is out of the question for anyone on this spiritual path. Kennedy reminds us of the Catholic saint Therese of Lisieux who discontinued reciting the rosary because she did not find it helpful. The practice of "not knowing" enables us to shift the emphasis from belief and tradition to the vital experience of living our lives in the present moment.
Kennedy quotes from a poem titled "The Cutting Beam" by Denise Levertov: "Imagine two neighboring hills, and / your house, my house, looking across, friendly: / imagine ourselves / meeting each other / bringing gifts, bringing news." This is how he envisages interfaith dialogue in the 21st century with different religions meeting, sharing gifts, and finding fresh ways to explore the good news of the universe.