The Kingdom Is Now
This past week I was saddened to learn of the passing of Thich Nhat Hahn, who died at the age of 95. Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, spent most of his life exiled from his home country because of his opposition to the Vietnam War.
He was an activist for peace and for the "deep ecology" movement, which taught about the interconnectedness of all things, and he was also an admirer of Jesus, who wrote extensively about the intersections between Buddhism, and Christian wisdom.
In 1967 Hahn was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and the great Christian mystic, Thomas Merton, who once called Hahn "my brother."
I've written here before about how Hahn's writing taught me so much about my own Christian tradition, despite the fact that it was not his own. I daresay, Hahn knew more about the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus than most people who call themselves followers of Christ.
He also wrote eloquently about Jesus' own insistence on the Kingdom of God being present in the world, right here and now as well as within our own hearts, and not some pie-in-the-sky notion of the afterlife as so many Christians seem to think.
I came across this quote from Hahn the other day, and I've been thinking about it ever since:
The Kingdom of God... is not situated in space and time. You do not have to die in order to enter the Kingdom of God; in fact, you are already in it now and here. The only thing is that you don't know that.
When you read through Jesus' teachings on the Kingdom of God, you can clearly see that Hahn was merely reiterating what he'd read, only putting it even more plainly.
Jesus taught his followers that the Kingdom of God was both "coming" and "is now." He taught them that the Kingdom of God was like a secret that is whispered into our hearts, and also a light that shines from within us.
And even though the world isn't as it should be, Jesus asserted that it's becoming more so because of the presence of God's kingdom all around us, in us, and through us.
Further, Jesus taught that the more people wake up to the reality of the Kingdom of God, the more the Kingdom will be recognized and lived into. This is why he told his disciples to "seek first" God's kingdom, and let everything else fall into place.
Through his teachings and his actions, Jesus declared that the Kingdom of God was present when God got what God wanted on earth, just as God does "in heaven." And then Jesus showed everyone what that looked like.
He healed the sick, restored outcasts, ate dinner with sinners, hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors, showed grace to all, turned the other cheek when he was struck, forgave those who abused him, and then took on the worst the world had to offer, and redeemed it.
I know that it is often a struggle for me to open my eyes wide enough to see God's Kingdom around me. I tend to focus on the aspects of the world that are not as they ought to be, including my own shortcomings.
But the potential for real transformation is within me, just as it is in all of Creation. The more I seek awareness of the Kingdom of God, the more I am able to recognize where it is already present.