Onward Christian Soldiers

“Those who train wholeheartedly in awakening bodhicitta are called bodhisattvas or warriors — not warriors who kill but warriors of nonagression who hear the cries of the world. Warrior-bodhisattvas enter challenging situations in order to alleviate suffering.”

— Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty, p.5

I caught a glimpse of what this warrior-bodhisattva job must entail when I went to Oklahoma for my cousin’s funeral last year. In order to be there for my mourning relatives, I had to put my own discomfort with death and sadness aside and hang tough in an unpleasant situation. I’ll tell you — I had only mixed success and it was emotionally exhausting. I am no warrior-bodhisattva. But I can see what Pema Chodron is talking about there.

Imagine being so together yourself that you can go into situations with difficult people, angry, hurt people, suffering people, and show them the compassion and care you would a dear friend or family member. I cannot imagine the level of spiritual training and discipline required to be able to cut through one’s own fear and aversion and self-deception to the point of being able to dive into emotionally toxic situations, like carrying a rifle into a hail of bullets, to deliver comapssion to those who need it most. Such people would indeed be “warriors.”

I have always had a distaste for military metaphors mixed with religion. Mixing military images and religion has always seemed to be completely at odds with Jesus’ message. But if you take the soldier metaphor and strip away the fact that most are trained to kill people, you are left with a person who has developed disciplines of self-denial and overcoming fear, effectiveness in achieving a team objective, and stoicism in the face of dangerous situations. So a warrior-bodhisattva is such a soldier, only a soldier of Life instead of a soldier of death.

I’d written before that spiritual, altruistic people are the badass evolutionary soldiers who may be called to advance the Human species past its seemingly unsurmountable evolutionary hurdles. The world needs more warrior-bodhisattvas. More badass evolutionary soldiers.

I wanna be a warrior-boddhisattva. Maybe. Well, at least I can say that I find the notion of being a warrior-bodhisatva attractive. I cannot say I have the discipline to get there.

But that’s where I am being called as a Christian. This Sunday was the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Fr. Clint’s homily — thankfully not one of those useless “God Loves You” sermons — challenged us to embrace anew the identity we were given at our baptisms. He called us “Christian Soldiers.”

And, in part because of Pema Chodron’s book, I was able to comprehend that idea of being a “Christian Soldier” without rejecting it out of hand as an outdated, inappropriate metaphor.

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