“The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. . . .” Many of us, especially those with Protestant backgrounds, have sung this venerable chestnut in church. With what enthusiasm or at what tempo, I don’t know–but I do know that several years ago when I learned that the words fit perfectly to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” I perked up mightily. For some reason the joy came through in a new way. That was important because I’ve had a conflicted relationship with Christianity in general and my own Christianity in particular.

When I was a small child, “good Lynn” was expected to side with believer Mama against loudly vocal atheist father. Church attendance was sporadic, depending on the vagaries of my health and their relationship. But at twelve, as was the custom then in the South, I joined the Presbyterian Church–and proceeded to worry about the state of my soul. Was I really saved? (It was a great comfort, some years later, to read Kenneth Kenniston and to discover that, far from being a monstrous anomaly, I had had what he termed an “existential” adolescence.)

Shortly before I entered college I had an intense involvement with Pentecostal fundamentalism that at moments was piercingly sweet but that I could not sustain in my life at a liberal church school. I dropped away from the white church with the neon cross on top and early in my sophomore year sought out the one girl on campus who fancied herself a Buddhist. I don’t think I believe in God any more. Okay, she said.

In the Sixties, I was never anti-God or anti-religion, still liked the Psalms and parts of Isaiah, just didn’t go to church (much to my mother’s consternation till I told her and found myself meaning it, I worship God every day of my life). Religion, with the exception of reading Thomas Merton, just wasn’t part of my life.

Then, in 1972, serendipity led me to the practice of Transcendental Meditation, or TM. For the first time I found something good, and whole, and stable inside myself. I went more than two years without missing my twice-daily practice. Then the rhythm broke and I found Vajrayana Buddhism as taught by Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche from the Nyingma tradition. And here I could write volumes. Suffice it to say, in the Buddha I found an inexhaustible source of never-blaming compassion.

In the years to come I maintained some sort of Buddhist practice, almost always in the form of chanting, usually alone, sometimes in the company of others. And I started going back to church, for a year here, for a year and a half there, sticking my toe in the water, poised for flight despite myself. Looking back, I think there was a connection I missed then.

On a hot Arizona afternoon in 1980 I was blessed with a deep apprehension that the Love I sought, sought me and that in my heart there could be strong friendship between Christianity and Buddhism. But still I wandered, chanting as I went, occasionally allowing myself to be churched, however tentatively, for a while.

Till my mother died in 1989. After her death, to my great surprise, I began to hear a little voice telling me to go to seminary. But I don’t even know if I’m Christian, I thought to myself. Somehow that became a non-issue and I wound up attending, and graduating from, a progressive Presbyterian seminary with the full intention to become a pastor.

But in the increasingly tense climate caused by the conflict between conservatives and liberals, I did not feel free to speak of the Buddhist half my heart. So, when six months after graduation it became clear to me that I was not after all called to ordination, my Thank you thank you thank you thank you began to release me back into the fullness of being myself.

I continued to attend the Presbyterian church where I had done my internship and worked part-time. And St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco entered my life. For a while I tried to split myself between both congregations. Then, when I had been greatly injured, St. Gregory’s was my Good Samaritan and did not let me languish. That was eleven years ago. When it’s right, I tell my Buddhist stories at St. Gregory’s. More and more I have felt myself belonging, even when it hasn’t been entirely comfortable, as I sense a vastness and possibility in the home tradition that at one time seemed to constrict.

Recently, filling out the profile for a new online social networking site, I was trying to find words to describe who I am spiritually. Over time I’ve used phrases like “bi-chambered heart” and “informed primarily by Christianity and Buddhism.” This time I came the closest yet: “Astonished Christian with a deep debt to, and love of, Buddhism.” The child or adolescent I was would have never dared to dream it. Thanks be to God.

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