I'm in Copenhagen, just beginning a short two-weeks of work here in Europe. Almost three years ago, I had met and done some work for a group of folks from Denmark who were associated with Danmission, a Lutheran missionary group. They are the main benefactors of our friend JP's work in TIruvanamalai in South India, especially his Quo Vadis interfaith center, for whom I did a couple of wonderful concerts and other events. One of the Dane's who was there at that same time was Agnete Holm. She works full time for Danmission as the head of the interfaith dialogue section. As part her job she spends considerable amount of time in India, Syria and Lebanon. We had a number of very good discusisons during that time we were together in India, and she consequently asked me to come to Denmark at some point. And so, after long prepartion, here I am. After this I will go to England where I will spend some time with the other composers with whom I have worked on the Psallite project for Liturgical Press for some years, since two of the composers live there in England and whenever I get "across the Pond" we try to meet there instead of them always having to come to us. That second half of the trip may not be worth writing about, but this week looks to be fascinating, even aside from simply having an experience of a new country.
The organization of the church, with its doctrines and rituals, has no other purpose than to create a community of love, to unite all in the eternal Ground of being, which is present in the heart of every
person. This is the criterion which the church is to be judged, not by the forms of its doctrine of ritual, but by the reality off the love which it manifests.
(Bede Griffiths, Return to the Center)
I am staying at Jesu Hjerte Kirke, a Jesuit parish here in central Copenhagen. That name is usually translated into English as "Sacred Heart," but literally it means "Jesus' Heart." I like that better somehow. I am staying in the very large residence that was built to house the many Jesuits who were stationed here at one time manning both the parish and the non-defunct boys' school next door. At present there are only two Jesuits here, one who is the former bishop of Denmark (there are so few Catholics that the whole country is one diocese) and the other is the current rector, a German Jesuit named Gerhard Sanders. The latter has been here in Copenhagen, in this same house, for 40 years now in various capacities. There also is a Dutch priest here who is serving as the associate pastor, as well as an Indian priest from Kerala who is here on behalf of the Carmelite order to investiage opening a women's monastery here in Copenhagen, and an ex-Lutheran pastor named Wilhelm, who was a missionary in Tonga for years but after converting to Catholicism has not found a permanent place in the Catholic church again, and so lives here, helping out where he can. So, it's quite an interesting mix, throwing in a wandering musician monk from America into the mix. It's a very comfortable old house and I think I will enjoy my generous hours of down time here.
It was cold and dark when I arrived yesterday, and today that is supplemented by rain, too. I wandered around a bit in a jet-lagged daze yesterday; having gotten in pretty early in the morning, I wanted to negotiate as much of the day as possible awake so that I could get right into the time zone. There was Mass at 10. Catholics are about .08 per cent of the population here in Denmark--less than Muslims. The liturgy was sparsely attended and an interesting blend of Danish and Latin. There was a choir singing all the major parts of the Mass in Gregorian chant, with limited participation on the part of the assembly. The choir was quite brassy, their execution of the Gregorian chant more aggressive and brisk than usual. I don't mean any of those descriptors as criticism--I actually enjoyed their style. The congregation was an interesting mix, reflecting the population of the city itself, I assume. There was a good handful of Africans, and many Asian faces as well. And everyone seems to speak English, many of them as good as a native speaker. When I first heard Agnete speak I simly couldn't figure out what English speaking country she was from her accent was so good and her vocabulary to ample. I am assured that that will be the case for all the groups for whom I will be presenting.
Agnete has told me a number of times already that the main reason she brought me here is for inspiration, both for her and for others who work in interfaith dialogue. She and they often feel isolated from and unsupported by other church members, not so much out of negativity or neglect as by incomprehension. I was honored that she asked me, but wondered a bit over these past weeks as I was preparing for this trip and my work here, if I was "qualified" enough to speak to them about interfaith issues. But I realized along the way that folks don't necessarily call upon us because of our credentials, nor for the facts and figures that we have at our command, and none of those things is what they really want us to share with them anyway. They want us. They call upon us because they want us to share with them what we are doing with our lives, because they see someting in us that resonates with something in them. So I don't need to try to be more of an "expert in my field" than I am, I need to merely tell my stories, and share my experiences and how what I have learned has uniquely changed and effected me. And of course, in the course of that sharing I will be receiving as well, their insights and reflections and wisdom, mutually building each other up, learning and teaching.
When I am home in California, life is a little more mundane--the woods, the gym, yoga class, practice guitar, lots of whole grains--not that much to write about. But I've been gently nudged a number of times these past few weeks about my having neglected my blog for so long, so I am using this trip as an occasion to return to it.