Ruben Habito speaks four languages, travels widely and dialogues comfortably with people of many different faiths. But one simple, short Bible passage serves as his “home base.” It’s Mark 1:11, “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
In Mark 1:11, Habito said, he finds a message that runs much deeper than a “warm fuzzy feeling” of being loved.
“It’s a way to look at the suffering and agony of all the people in the world throughout history and even now, including our own, and to understand, that in the midst of our travails, there is something or Someone that whispers into our ear, in and through all of this, that we are not forsaken, that ‘I AM with you,’ that ‘You are my beloved,’” he said.
Grounded in that verse, Habito has become a low-key but influential voice on the Perkins campus and beyond, as a faculty member, author, spiritual director and Zen Roshi (teacher).
At Perkins, Habito heads the spiritual formation program, as well as a certification program for spiritual directors, with the goal of giving students a spiritual grounding for their ministry. He also teaches courses in world religions, with an eye toward “unpacking what we can learn from the world’s religions and enhancing and enriching our ways of doing Christian theology, ministry, and spirituality.”
Beyond campus, Habito is founding teacher of Maria Kannon Zen Center, housed at White Rock United Methodist Church in east Dallas. He began Zen practice under Yamada Koun in Kamakura, Japan in 1971 when he was a Jesuit seminarian in Japan.
“The Zen Center is a central aspect of my life,” he said. “It is nourishing for me to be able to sit in silence with people from all backgrounds and traditions, or none at all, who are seeking something genuine and authentic in life.”
Mark 1:11 also informs Habito’s personal practice of daily meditation, which he describes as “basically just sitting in silence, and basking in Love.”
Habito recently returned from gatherings of the Parliament of World Religions and the American Academy of Religion; he is often called on to speak at international interfaith gatherings and to participate in Buddhist-Christian dialogue. He’s also the author of several books – his most recent is Be Still and Know: Zen and the Bible – that explore connections between Buddhism and Christian faith. Habito hopes his books and his work help make Zen accessible to people of all faiths as well as those with no religious beliefs.
“Zen practice leads to an experience of our connectedness with one another,” he said. “That’s an underlying and recurring theme in my own work and in my own life. Going deep into the core of our being enables us to open our hearts to that transcendent mystery, and at the same time, see our intimate connectedness with all beings, with all the earth.”
Habito’s current research is aimed at crystalizing an understanding of the Trinity from an experiential perspective. With the developments in systematic theology over the last few centuries, he said, a disconnect has arisen between spirituality and theology, with spirituality becoming a subdivision of practical matters that does not inform systematic theology, which attempts to explain ultimate reality in the light of Christian faith. Habito believes reconnecting the two areas can be mutually enriching.
“More and more theologians are seeing that those two areas need to be reunited in order to do theology in a viable way that would address the crucial issues of our contemporary world,” he said.
The world’s religions, East Asian Buddhism, theology of religions and comparative theology, interreligious perspectives in spirituality and mysticism, prayer and spirituality, spirituality and Christian ministry.
Japanese medieval Buddhism, themes in comparative theology, spirituality and socio-ecological engagement, Trinity and the world’s religions.
What book is on your nightstand now?
“It’s a whole pile,” he said. “I’ll give you two: Entertaining Triune Mystery by Jeffrey Pugh and Savouring the Zen Oxherding Pictures by Patrick Gallagher.”
Habito’s wife, Maria, is also a Zen teacher and serves as international program director for the Museum of World Religions in Taiwan. The couple has two grown sons, Benjamin and Florian.
Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party, and what would you talk about?
“First, let me give you the menu. I would cook grilled salmon, using my favorite Cajun seasoning, called ‘Slap Ya Mama,’ and ratatouille. I would invite the following guests: Augustine’s mother Monica and her famous son (I will tell him how his Confessions continue to move me deeply, but will suggest to him to keep his mother in mind when he writes about women); Nicholas of Cusa (will ask him about the spiritual experience that led him to the insight of ‘coincidence of opposites’ that characterize genuine religious phenomena); Julian of Norwich (will ask her about the struggles she had until she came to the realization that ‘All shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well’); Louis and Zelle Martin, the parents of Therèse of Lisieux (I would listen to their stories of raising their nine children and ask especially about the youngest, Therèse, and her antics as a little girl); and Simone Weil, whose book, Attente de Dieu (‘Attentive to God’ has been a major inspiration in my life, especially her solidarity with the suffering of the earth. I would tell her to eat more of the salmon and ratatouille, and not starve herself to death. Then we will have dessert, a nutcake baked by Maria along with purple yam ice cream from the Asian grocery in Richardson.”
You get to ask one question at the Pearly Gates. What do you ask?
“I’d just have a request: Can everyone else come in, too?”
In honor of Habito’s contributions to Perkins, Dodee Frost Crockett and William B. Crockett, Jr., donated a labyrinth to the Perkins campus, which was dedicated in 2009. The Habito Labyrinth—a seven-circuit design, based on the eleven-circuit medieval labyrinth in France’s Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres—is located in the Frost Marcus Labyrinth Courtyard Gardens, in the open and accessible space between Prothro and Selecman Halls at Perkins School of Theology. The path of the labyrinth is about one-third of a mile long and takes about 20 minutes to walk at a moderate pace. The labyrinth is open to anyone who seeks to walk the path toward peace.