Book Review. ‘Hold the Rope, Carry Your Cross: Christianity and The Ten Bull Pictures of Zen’, by Andrew McAlister and Carlos Siqueira.

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This review was published in the WCCM oblate newletter Via Vitae (Way of Life) in 2022. More information about the oblates of the World Community for Christian Meditation can be found here.

If you would like to purchase a copy of ‘Hold The Rope, Carry Your Cross’, please go to our Shop page.

By Stefen Reynolds

Oblates may be familiar with the Bull pictures of Zen, through Sr Eileen O’Hea’s wonderful Essay on ‘The Spiritual Journey’ used in the Essential Teaching Weekend (and Handbook) or their depiction in William Johnston, Silent Music: The Science of Meditation (1974). This current book by two Oblates, and published in 2021, really gives a full Christian Meditation commentary by Andrew and our own pictures, drawn by Carlos. It is the collaboration of two Oblates and a wonderful example of the networking the Oblate community makes possible. The Forward to the book is by Fr Laurence. Andrew gives a fascinating Introduction section, where he looks at how Christianity and Zen find common ground in the practice of meditation. He explains how Zen, though it has its roots in Buddhism, is not a religion but a practice. As such it is transferable across religious traditions. He also shows that Contemplative prayer and Christian Meditation, though they also have roots in Christian faith, are fundamentally a way of being, a way of living, and not tied to one system of beliefs. So Contemplative Christianity and Zen have much in common. Andrew gives a good survey of the literature on the subject but most of all he leads us into a contemplative way of approaching the Ten Bull Pictures that are a key meditation for Zen.

We then come to the wonderful drawings by Carlos, which with simple clarity bring to light the deep meanings of the Ten Pictures. With each picture Andrew gives a meditation, guiding us through questions and hints into the process of transformation that is depicted in the Pictures. We get to know the searcher – who is us. Who am I? What am I looking for? We get to know the Bull – mysterious and elusive but also strong, down to earth and fierce – our passion for enlightenment.  We get to know the rope – our practice that yoke’s us to what we seek. And the gradual integration of the searcher and the bull – catching it, taming it, riding it home, and then letting go so that both the bull and the searcher are transcended. In this way we reach the source. As Andrew writes; “The Spirit involves us, all forgotten, in the love-life of Christ and his source, Abba, and this love that flows is the Holy Spirit.” This is the level of the deepest mysticism, the unity of all things, of the self and God. But the Zen Pictures bring us back into the world, into the market-place, where the Divine energy flows out to become love in the world.

At the end of the book Andrew gives a very helpful ‘Glossary of Terms’. His comments on Carlos’ pictures are brief and meditative, keeping us always focused on the pictures and on our response to them, encouraging us to sit and meditate on them. The ‘Glossary’ helps explain and unpack some of the hints and prompts he offers.

This is a very attractive book, a perfect gift for someone, written and drawn by two Oblates from WCCM. I highly recommend it. Available through Medio Media or Amazon, it is a short book – no heavy tome – but deep and a joy to read. It is something you can easily share with friends and family – an easy to read present that carries no religious baggage but points to Zen and Contemplative Christianity. The pictures are beautiful. As Father Laurence writes in the Forward, “The deep simplicity of the Bull Pictures engaged the mind and imagination of two Christian meditators and has produced this rich and intriguing book.” A wonderful fruit of our Oblate community. A fruit to share with many!