Kennedy Roshi was ordained as a Catholic priest in Japan in 1965 and installed as a Zen teacher in 1991 and given the title Roshi in 1997 by Bernie Glassman Roshi. He is chair of the Theology Department, St. Peter’s College, Jersey City, New Jersey, where he teaches Theology and Japanese language.

How do you understand prayer as a Catholic?

Prayer is a vague word. Some pray by reciting the psalms or by the liturgy or by private personal devotions or by silence. Paying attention is the foundation of any form of prayer, and that is why zazen can be a wonderful form of prayer for those who are temperamentally inclined to it. Paying attention is a reverent, grateful presence to reality and that can certainly be prayer. We need not use the words or images when we pray, but attention is essential.

Is zazen as prayer problematic for a Christian who believes in a deity?

Zazen is paying attention to the reality right here in front of you now. It does not involve a philosophy of either theism or atheism. Also, Christians do not necessarily have to think of God as apart from them. Many do, and that’s all right. As C. S. Lewis said, “No one was ever hurt believing that God the father has a beard.” The Sistine Chapel has a wonderful image of a venerable, old God. This image is helpful to many, but it is not necessary. There is a long tradition of Christian prayer going back to the Greek fathers of the church that insists that no image of God is necessary; and since God cannot be compared to any created thing it is perhaps better to say, in that sense, God does not exist.

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