yūgen and the art of grace

yūgen art of grace

Mindfulness practices are prevalent and pervasive, and their effects are well documented and understood. At the same time, their techniques devoid of the context from which they were derived (for example, relationship with God) limit the potential and capacity these practices hold for greater wellbeing and wholeness. An article I recently read by, Lomas, et. al., discuss this problem as pertains Buddhism.[1] It is easy to see how well it can be applied to Christian spiritual practices.

The Zen branch of Buddhism is Japan’s iteration that incorporates the spiritual philosophy into the everyday experience. In particular, it is a spiritual sensibility that does not require words, as the Holy Spirit in the Christian experience understands with a sense “too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). It made its way to Japan through China who shaped its expression through the lens of Taoism. The Tao, then, refers to an all-encompassing being without form and is omnipresent. To encounter this being one must rest into the free-flowing action, relinquishing control “and aligning oneself with the Tao.”[2] It is hard not to call to mind an omnipresent Creator-God and the words of Jesus beckoning those who hear to rest, be still, come and be, stay a while.

It seems to me that by not seeing God in the practices of other cultures, Christians limit the capacity for the Spirit of God to make things right internally and in the community and beyond. These are not so different from many of the ancient practices of the so-called Desert Fathers and early spiritual writers. But, they are relegated to antiquity because very few are willing to go spend the balance of their lives living in a hut in the desert. Yet, practices found in Zen Buddhism, for instance, evoke similar results but are deemed not-God since the reference is to the Buddha, not Christ.

In Acts 17:23, even Paul recognizes the opportunity to see God in the practices of the Greeks when he recognizes the alter to an unknown god. And just as mindfulness practice extracted from Buddhist philosophy and lifestyle is stripped of its transforming potential, so too Christian prayer and Bible-teaching is limited when there is no whole-self surrender to the natural movement of a pervasive Creator-God.

In Zen, art is especially conducive to evoke meditation and a sense of awe and wonder. These are included in practices such as painting, swordsmanship, and, chadō, the tea ceremony. Chadō, also found in art forms such as archery and poetry, is described as having four key elements:

Kei, or reverence, refers to mutual deference and respect from the participants, and concomitant control of the ego. Wa, or harmony, reflects the experience of nonduality, in which the self does not stand apart from the other, but participates in a union of ‘interbeing.’ Sei, or purity, signifies that the heart-mind is free from the turbulent emotions which usually tend to disturb its equanimity. Finally, jaku, or tranquility, refers to the nature of the resulting untroubled mind.[3]

It is easy to notice that mindfulness spiritual practice is typically separate from daily activity, a way of being. But I can begin to engage by allowing myself to be moved with awe. My favorite Zen principle is yūgen, or profound grace. Profound grace! It is beyond expression, each part and gen translated as “cloudy impenetrability,” offers a sense of knowing the unkown, intuiting the intangible – mystery. It is a way of being that understands there is darkness, but does not despair because beyond the intellect is the Spirit who bears witness to my spirit that I am God’s own. It is a beauty that each person expresses – but does so much better when it is allowed to reverberate, seep through the yuck of each day.

And it is a beauty that is evident in the lovely human being in the picture above. Thank you, Bethany, for practicing yūgen and patiently allowing me the pleasure of capturing the essence of it on my phone!

[1] T. Lomas et al., “Zen and the Art of Living Mindfully: The Health-Enhancing Potential of Zen Aesthetics,” Journal of Religion and Health (2017/07/17 2017): 4.

[2] Ibid., 6.

[3] Ibid., 8.