Monday, January 7, 2008

the wealth of the nations

January 6th–8th, in flight

May the mountains bring forth peace for the people
and the hills bring forth justice.
May he defend the poor of the people
and save the children of the needy.
Ps 72

It felt quite significant to leave for this trip to Asia on the feast of the Epiphany. My friend John had come out to my cabin where we had early morning yoga, Mass and meditation before he took me off to SFO. I was remembering our Eucharist with Raniero presiding on the porch of JP’s house in Tiruvanamalai last year, the day that Theophilus snuck up behind me and started playing tabla, especially our rendition of “We Three Kings.” I was remembering too the beautiful relazione that Bro Martin had offered at the General Chapter in 1999 on “the three wise men from the West” who had come to India, namely Monchanin, Abhishiktananda and Bede; and how it has always seemed significant to me that the gifts the magi brought were received, and how everyone brings gifts to lay at the feet of Christ, and just as they are welcomed, so we must welcome all the gifts that our sisters and brothers from other traditions and cultures bring and lay them at the feet of Christ.

But I was especially reflecting again on my conversation with Fr Monodeep Daniel last year at the CNI Brotherhood of the Ascended Christ in Delhi. Monodeep was telling me how much Abhishiktananda’s theology of the Word had influenced the whole Church of North India, so much so that they practically quote him in their Eucharistic Prayer: “From age to age you sent wise men and women to show us the way to you.” Any Indian, he said, would know that the rishis of India and the Buddha and the Jains and the Sikhs are all included in that phrase. He had spoken of Abhishiktananda’s understanding of “bringing the wealth of the nations to Christ,” such as the truth of the advaitan experience, or the wisdom gathered from any praxis. But he went a step further and explained what else that had meant for them, that Abhishiktananda might not even had known. “For the dalits,” he said, that is, the lowest caste, “untouchables,” “not only do we bring the wealth of the nations to Christ, but then Christ distributes the wealth of the nations back to us.” He went on to explain how there was a time (and somehow I never fully understood this) when the dalits were not allowed in the temple at all because they would pollute the place and the Brahmin priests. (Hence, here again is the source of Dr Ambetkar’s rage against Hinduism.) He told of an image that is used among Christians, “the drum of the Word,” which refers to the ironic fact that Brahmin priests could not beat the drum that was necessary for certain rituals because he could not have contact with animal skin, and so had to get a dalit to do it for him from a distance. “So you see, the dalits have been beating the drum of the Word all along.” And this, he said, is the tension between the Christian priesthood and the Brahmanical one: the Brahmins, at least at one time, were not allowed to touch the dalits or have anything to do with them, whereas, he said, “I have been to many Roman Catholic ordinations and it says specifically in the rite that they have the power to sanctify, the duty to touch the so-called unclean, and they will actually lay their hands on them. Christian priests say, ‘You come and I will bless you.’” He said this was the same tension between the priesthood of Aaron and the priesthood of Melchizedek that Abhishiktananda loved to point out: the priesthood of Aaron would not allow itself to be polluted by un-holy things, but the priesthood of Melchizedek is the cosmic priesthood that sanctifies the wealth of the nations for Christ. And then Christ distributes that wealth to everyone, which means a dalit may not get the wealth of India from Hinduism, but might get it from Jesus, advaita, yoga, everything, from the One who has gathered the wealth of the nations, the fullness of the Word wherever it has manifested, and then spreads is like prasada with bliss-bestowing hands.

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I've arrived safely in Singapore after 22 hours of travel. I'll be here 'til next Monday, some days to acclimate and un-lag, then a retreat on the weekend for the WCCM. Blessings, Cyprian