Saturday, November 14, 2009

the Divine Pathos

Claim nothing: do not covet God's property.
Then hope for a hundred years of life doing your duty.
No other way can prevent deeds from clinging,
proud as you are of your human life.
(Isha Upanishad)

13 november, 2009

I've just returned to Copenhagen (pronounced, by the way, "koop-en-haugh") from Aarhus (pronounced "ow-hoos"--I'm just barely starting to make some sense of Danish. Fr Thomas, here from Kerala says all the vowels are in the throat, trouble for an Indian when all the vowels are in the tongue). It has been dreadfully dreary here and there, even the Danes say that it is unusual to go this long without seeing the sun. The days are short this time of year this far north as it is--barely light at 7:30 AM and now almost twilight at 3:30 PM; add to that overcast, windy and raining, not quite cold enough to snow but with the wind pretty bone-chilling, at least for this Californian. I love the fact that Danes like to light candles all the time, to supplement the electric light and to add a little warmth to the ambiance of the indoors. They are well aware of the depression that can come from this much time without sun.

On my way to Aarhus, Agnete (pronounced "awg-neeta", though I am not entirely sure of that...) took me over to Danmission, what I had been calling "the mothership." Indeed I now have a pretty good connection with that institution, the work I did for JP in Tiruvanamalai and now this trip here. It is an impressive sunny place, a real missionary deployment center full of casually dressed intense but friendly people. I led a small morning devotion in their main conference room with readings and music and a short meditation, but then came the main reason Agnete had brought me there. I met in another conference room with her "team." All the members of Danmission are divided up into smaller teams, kind of like the missionary equivalent of small faith communities. Agnete's job on her team is interfaith dialogue, though she usualyl just refers to it as "dialogue." And she wanted me to hold forth about my approach to dialogue, some of the things I had shared with her when we met in Tiru and during these past few days here. I pretty much used the presentation I had prepared for the school for spiritual directors at Pecos two months ago, and like that presentation, again here going into this I felt underqualified. I mean, these folks are professional missionaries! But I know enough about what I know that I have been able to string together references from what has influenced my thoughts and also wisdom I've gained from my own "work." There doesn't seem to be an adequate word for what I do--work? apostolate? ministry? life? Yea, I think that's best: it's just my life. And so I tried to share what I've learned from my own life experiences especially these past years from the wonderful array of people with whom I have been surrounded and interact. I mainly spoke about my understanding of the perennial philosophy, my uinderstanding of the trajectory from the Word to the logos to Jesus to Christ, and how wherever we discover the Word being manifest... Well, William Thompson says it better than I can:
The transcultural Christ is co-present wherever the Divine Pathos is authentically mediating itself, whether through some cultural form of religion or through some 'personal religious experience.'

I talked about Panikkar's notion of the three energies of the Divine that are revealed in the Trinity, energies which are also manifest in other traditions such that we can teach one another, one tradition to the next, about those energies. Then I laid out my whole telos-scopos-praxis schema--I am getting a lot of mileage out of that and better copyright that soon. We don't indeed agree on the telos-the end, but oddly enough we do agree on the proximate goal-the scopos, as well on the practical way to that goal, the praxis or spiritual practice, sadhana, upaya. The staff seemed to like it a lot, even got excited about some of it and were undoubtably hearing the whole thing expressed in a different way then usual. One woman said to me, and she prefaced it by saying, "And I don't mean this as a negative thing," that my approach was very "Catholic," and/but she liked it. It was one of those occasions when a) I was wondering if I would have anything worthwhile to say to fill up an hour and wound up talking non-stop for 45 minutes; and b) when it was a worthwhile thing to be stretched a little bit, called to swim in water about an inch over my head. I think that's how we get called: you've shown that you can do that much, and we'd like you to do this much.

Agente took me to the train station then where we had lunch in a little cafe. How I love train stations! I kept remembering how when I have stayed in Rome I always loved to walk to Roman Termini each day, just to hang out a little, watch the people, maybe have a caffe, but just kind of delight in humanity. Train stations, I must say after this many trips, are so much more civil than airports, and trains much more humane than airplanes. There is something so un-natural about the whole airport experience, especially now with the incredible security precautions on top of hurtling through the air at 300 miles per hour in an air conditioned tube six miles over the earth. I can see why some great thinkers--Carl Jung and Krishnamurti among them--thought there was something psychically damaging about the air travel. Anyway, I digress... It was a beautiful train trip from Copenhagen to Aarhus. I was met at the train station by Johnny--yes, his real name; he was a post-World War II baby when folks all over the world liked to name their kids after the American soldier who was always known as "Johnny."

Johnny and his wife Pernilla were to be my hosts for the next two days. They are a wonderful memorable couple. They too had been a part of Danmission for some years, but also part of a Christian commune in the 70's, and founding members of IKON, another Danish group dedicated to dialogue, besides being members of Areopagus, which I mentioned earlier, as well. Pernilla is the daughter of two famous Danish Lutheran theologians, especially her father was well known for some of the earliest work in interfaith dialogue, though his style tended to be more of a provacateur, confrontation rather than conversation. They picked an especially harsh fight with Scientology at one point, for example. Johnny is the son of a Danish father who was a sailor, and a southern Spanish mother, and he has a little of the fire of each of them in him. There was a pciture on their kitchen cupboard of a swarthy, gangly guy with hair down his back and a scraggly beard down to the middle of his chest dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans next to a peachy cheeked Danish girl with flowers in her hair, and I asked hesitantly, "Is that you?" It was they indeed! At the wedding in 1978. Their home is filled with books, of course, but also artifacts from mainly from Nepal and Hong Kong, where they worked as missionaries, and contemporary sacred art from all over Europe and the Mideast. And a huge sheep dog named Fritz, besides mementos of their two grown children, and their adopted Vietnamese daughter and grandchildren and their Somali son. Pernilla is still working (for the Christian Labor Union now), but Johnny is pensioned and was free to devote all of his time to me for 48 hours. He was a great host, full of stories and edgy opinions that he is unafraid to offer to anyone anywhere. He referred to himself as a jester, and that is a pretty good description.

My first event was a full-on concert. I say it that way, because most of the other things here have been a combination of speaking and singing. Every now and then it is so nice to just do a plain old concert. The only hard part of it was that English was not the first language of this audience, so I had to speak slowly (and not MUMBLE, pace Leonard Ong...). Every now and then someone in the audience would give me a good gesture with a hand to the ear saying, "Slowly and louder, please!" Other than that, there was a good crowd--a combination, as Johnny said often afterwards, describing it to others, of "a few Catholics and a bunch of New Agers!" That is because our friend Soren Hauge of the Center for Living Wisdom had done a great deal of advertising among his people. I had also met Soren in Tiruvanamalai, and he was quite happy with the various things I had been able to do for that same tour group back in '08, which was a combination of his folks and more mainstream Christian folks. But the best part about it, for me anyway, was that it was a beautiful space, the Catholic church of Our Lady. It was perhaps an 18th century Neo-Gothic building, but modifed very tastefully, chairs arranged choir style in the lwoer part of the church with the upper area around the high altar set up as a Eucharistic chapel, the whole place full of plants and art and tasteful lighting. Best of all it had a scrumptious acoustic, like I haven't had since the concerts in Italy. They had placed a clip-on mic on me to supplement a little, but after the first song I removed it with the assent of the crowd and simply used the space. I had saved Awakening until two songs in, so by the time I got to that I was ready to let loose and I could send the voice soaring all around, and even could hear myself harmonizing with the overtones that were left hanging in the air. Unusually, I did not have a set list drawn up, but just brought a pile of cheat sheets out with and me and decided one after the other what song I felt like singing next. The audience didn't applaud at all until the very end--I'm finally getting used to that--but quite often I could feel all of us sort of sigh together after a piece. The reason I mention the "New Ager" thing is because apparently there is some tension about that among Catholics in Denmark, and I overheard that one of the priests of the parish (none of whom came to the concert), after hearing from Johnny who had been there for the concert, wondered out loud if I myself was sufficiently Catholic. I certainly don't want to ever cause a stir some place, but I hope that in the end he was happy that some folks who ight never set foot in a church of any kind actually did come to one and spend an evening with a monk. After all:
The transcultural Christ is co-present wherever the Divine Pathos is authentically mediating itself, whether through some cultural form of religion or through some 'personal religious experience.'

The next day, Johnny was my tour guide. Of the few choices I had, I picked the Viallge Museum as my destination. The city of Aarhus has re-constructed on a large piece of land historical houses from all over Denmark from different eras. Some of them are open, some of them are set up like active shops--booksellers, cafes, etc.--but many of them are simply sitting there to be admired in all thier architectural wonder. It was pretty cold and damp but we made a good go of it; but I especially liked when we pulled into the tea house and drank hot chocolate and ate typical Danish pastries. Then that evening I had an event at Soren's center, The Center for Living Wisdom. Soren was raised up through the Theosophist school and is well known throughout Scandanavia, traveling extensively giving lectures on various spiritual topics. They wanted some music, as always, but mainly he arranged for the evening to be a conversation. I have noticed a number of times that Danes are particularly fascinated to meet a monk--Soren introduced me by saying, "It is not often that you get a monk in a package!"--so he asked me a number of questions about monasticism and my own life. I always begin by stressing that I am not a typical Western monk. After talking about the desert monks, Benedictine monasticism and then the Camaldolese reform, I talk about Bede and Abhishiktananda, and then refer to myself as a bit of an eccentric among eccentrics. Folks are fascinated by specifics, exactly how I spend my day when I am home, what kind of prayer life, what do you eat? It feels odd to have such personal things on display but kind of moving and inspiring all the same, a good motivator for me to examen.

I'm back in Copenhagen now. I'll try to add one more entry before leaving on Monday for England.