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Guest Message from Ruben Habito

March 10, 2015

We…are called to an encounter with that which is both so close to us that we can’t see it and so far away that we can never reach it.


This week we have some words from Roshi Ruben Habito’s recent new book, Zen and the Spiritual Exercises. Ruben was educated within the Jesuit Order in the Philippines, then joined the order as a young man and was sent to Japan, where he found his way, via the senior Jesuit priest Father Enomiya Lassalle, to Yamada Koun Roshi. He left the order along the way, becoming a Zen master in the 1980s, and moving to Dallas with his wife (and eventually two sons) to take up a teaching position in Comparative Religion at SMU. Please enjoy his insight into the marriage of Zen with a theistic approach…


Allow me to offer a way of reframing an approach to the God-language in Ignatius of Loyola’s usage. I take my cue from Norman Fischer, poet, Zen master, and former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center. In the introductory chapter to his book Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms, he writes,

For some years I had been giving thought to the question of who the audience of my poetry actually was. I came to see that I was not writing for ordinary persons, not for colleagues, not for poetry lovers. The person to whom my poems actually seemed to be addressed was someone much more silent and much more profoundly receptive than any human being could possibly be. This person wasn’t a person at all. It was nobody, nothing, and it wasn’t anywhere or at anytime. It was even beyond meaning. So poetry is important to me not because it gives me a chance to express myself, or to communicate, but because it is an encounter with that which is both so close to me I can’t see it and so far away I can never reach it.

From this description, we can see that Fischer is accountable to that “someone” so intimately close and yet beyond reach, to that silent audience receptive to the poetry that will emerge, as if expecting no less than the best insofar as his craft as a poet is concerned. The awareness of that someone so profoundly receptive to what a poet has to offer, and thereby so expectant of the poet’s best, is what empowers and inspires the poet precisely to come forth with nothing less than the best, also preventing the poet from slackening or being satisfied with mediocre work.

Following Fischer, I suggest that we as human beings, each in our own deeply personal and intimate ways, are called to an encounter with that which is both so close to us that we can’t see it and so far away that we can never reach it. We do not need to name it for the moment; we do not offer proofs of its existence, nor a conceptual definition of what it is, but we simply offer it as an invitation to the earnest seeker to consider for now as a horizon of awareness. As the poet is accountable to and at the same time empowered and inspired by that (unknown) someone to offer the best of his or her poetic craft, we human beings, living our lives and making our individual choices in the course of that life, are accountable and responsible—that is, response-able—to an unknown someone who empowers us and inspires us to be the best we can be and to live our best life.

Even using the terms “that” or “someone” to refer to this horizon, we also need to be cautious of our language’s limitations when it comes to this dimension. We are not referring to an objective reality here, nor to a subjective reality. It is neither object nor subject, but precisely a horizon of awareness that springs forth from and resonates within the deepest recesses of our own being. As St. Augustine described it, it is “more intimate to me than I am to myself” (Confessions III, 6: 11). It is also so far beyond all that we can ever conceive or imagine that it is “wholly Other,” as Karl Barth and many other theologians point out.

Is there a way of using the name “God” that is meaningful for adherents of monotheistic religious traditions as well as for people who regard themselves as agnostic or non-committed? Fischer’s term for the poet’s unseen audience—the horizon of awareness—may be taken as applying to all earnest seekers open to an encounter with the unknown as they pursue a spiritual path…”

Image: Groynes, by Andre-Rau, CC0 Public Domain photos, from

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