“Down Under” Reflections for Lent: Laughing Buddha, Suffering Christ
Having returned from a recent trip to visit family in Australia, Pr. Scott offers reflections on highlights of the experience in light of the season of Lent.
The last thing I want when traveling to a tropical area in the middle of winter is to spend a lot of time indoors. In Australia, we spent the great bulk of our time outdoors. We did, however, want to visit at least one local museum so we chose the Art Gallery of New South Wales. We chose well.
Of all the works we studied, the one that has stayed with me over the past weeks is a massive, wall-size work titled “Our Gods,” by Australian-Chinese artist Liu Xiaoxian. Two figures are depicted: the suffering Christ and the laughing Buddha.
This juxtaposition of cultures, faith traditions, and contrasting emotions is interesting, but there’s a hidden, deeper truth of the human condition waiting to be unlocked: When examined from mere inches away, visitors discover that each figure is a pixilated image of the other: the suffering Christ is composed of thousands of tiny laughing Buddhas and the laughing Buddha is composed of thousands of tiny suffering Christs. One possible interpretation: In suffering we may find joy. In joy, suffering.
For me there’s another takeaway: Distance from what seems to us “other” or “foreign” usually protects our assumptions from being challenged. When we take time to look more closely, however, we may see in the “other” something very much like ourselves; and in ourselves, something very much like the other.
Love your enemies, Jesus said. Do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27). Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26). Us? Them? Life? Death? Which is it? We’re compelled to look closer.
During Holy Week, the story of Jesus’ suffering includes stories of unexpected faith and courage—Joseph of Arimathea and the women at the tomb—as well as shocking betrayal: Jesus’ entire inner circle chooses to cut and run. What’s a hero? Who’s a villain? The story refuses to answer such questions easily.
The best of human nature is reflected in an expansive openness and determination to see, even in what seems alien or threatening, the very image of God. The path of truth is grounded in forgiveness and compassion. It includes death and leads to transformed ways of being and seeing. It may even lead to joy.
That’s the story we’ll explore in the week leading up to Easter. Hope you’ll be part of it.