Tuesday, November 10, 2009

sewing ourselves together

Our faith is the needle by which we draw the thread of charity through our neighbor's soul and our own soul and sew ourselves together.
(Thomas Merton)

Tuesday, 10 November

These past two days I have had the luxury of the morning to myself. There is a series of four man-made lakes just a block away from the house where I am staying, with a nice bike and running path around them that I am told is 7 kilometres. That's almost 5 miles, so a perfect morning run, crossing over some major streets crowded with morning pedestrians and cyclists on their way to work and school, not to mention cars. (As I finish I go to a bakery around the corner for a chocolate cinnamon bun and a caffe americano, which seems appropriate.) But, speaking of cars, for a large major European city, I've noticed that there are relatively few cars here in Copenhagen. I'm told that is because there is a high tax on cars--300%--to discourage private ownership and encourage public and other alternative means of transportation. I read that 80% of people here bicycle to work each day, for instance. This may be one of the reasons that Denmark is considered one of the eco-friendliest countries in the world, with clean air and water, and why they were chosen to host the international summit on global warming this month.

Did you ever notice how if you want to disparage somebody in public in America accuse them of being either gay, a socialist or a Muslim? (Wouldn't it be hard to be all three?) It's as if somehow simply being one of those three implied that one is "objectively morally disordered," to borrow a phrase, or at least un-American. I'm mainly thinking here of "socialist," since I have heard that one getting bandied around so much this past year in the maddening debate over health care. I've never thought about it much before, but it is one of those assumptions, that socialism is somehow bad and doesn't go with being an American Christian. And yet the past two popes have been pretty harsh in their criticism of capitalism (and indeed it is not an intrinsically moral eocnomic system), and the bishops of the US were so "leftist" in their pastoral letter "Economic Justice for All" that William F Buckley, ardent traditionalist Catholic that he was, felt forced to write the headline "Mater, Si; Magister, No" in response to it--"Mother, yes; teacher, no." I'm thinking of that for two reasons. Here in Denmark they have had socialized medicine for years, and are quite proud of it, and they are a more overtly Christian nation than the USA. (As a matter of fact the Lutheran church is a state church here.) And the other reason I am thinking of this socialist epitath is that suddenly the Roman Catholic bishops' conference of America has shown a little influence in the political realm, and this time in a way that is sure not to please the social conservatives. In forcing the caveat about no public funds for abortions, they also proclaimed that they consider universal health care a right, and even urge health benefits for illegal aliens. What do you make of that? The Gospel is a burr under the saddle of every social system, and has values that transcend political expediency and nationalism. We need to be careful when we talk about preserving our "American way of life."

I had my first small event yesterday afternoon. It was at a large imposing convent-like building called the Diakonissestiftelsen. It is originally the headquarters of a womens' religious order of sorts--the diakonisse, literally "women deacons"--but also houses a loose collective of progressive social movemetns and organizations more or less religious in character. Our main contact there was Lars Mollerup who works for an organization called Areopagus. Originally Areopagus was Christian missionary group mainly concerned with Buddhists and Taoists in China and Hong Kong. They early on associated the Chinese notion of "tao" with the Greek Christian "logos." Lars gathered a group of other folks from the building that are working in the field of dialogue and spirituality. I always need to begin by asking my host what exacatly it is that they want me to do. The thing that they seem to be the most fascinated with is that I set texts from different traditions to music and sing them. So that became the bulk of my presentaiton for them, giving them some examples of songs I've written and some of the explanation behind them. They were indeed very interested. Again my new piece "Bismillah" was especially a big hit. That is the piece I wrote using the phrase "bismillah ar-Rahman, ar-Rahim" as a refrain, the phrase that opens up every surah of the Qur'an, and then worte verses based on St Francis of Assisi's Prasies of God, which are said to have been inspired by the 99 beautiful names of God that St Francis learned of from his time with the sultan al-Malik. It worked for us at the Tent of Abraham gaterhing this year (which happened to fall on the feast of St Francis) and also for the 25th anniversary of Mount RIenaeus Franciscan retreat center, for which occasion I had written it. The woman who especially liked it here asked to photocopy the music so that she could use it for gatherings of Jews, Christians and Muslims. What Lars mentioned was that the beauty of music is that it doesn't reside at the intellectual level. I had mentioned that I got the idea from the practice of lectio divina which Fr Bede expanded to include the meditating scriptures of other traditions. And indeed, in lectio divina we don't read scripture with a commentary and Greek lexicon at our side; we read scirpture as a personal encounter with the Word, a love letter from the Beloved.

The main theme that I am carrying with me these days as an explanation of my own work comes from two sources other than Fr Bede, Raimundo Panikkar and Thomas Keating. Panikkar spekas of "dialogic dialogue." That sounds like a meaningless tautology at first, but it means a conversation with those who think differently, the primary purpose of which is for me to learn from the other, for me to cross over into the world of the other and back again. In this crossing over we don't abandon our own tradition; rather, our own tradition is deepened and expanded. Teilhard writes about how these creative encounters give birth to complexified consciousness; Ilia Delio says that in this process "something new is created at the level of human and religious consciousness." What Thomas Keating adds to this is that in the light of the historcial developement of global consciousness that is now emerging, the first duty of the world's religions in our time may not be to propogate ourselves so much as to create communion. The other world religions must first of all be considered "our brothers and sisters, greatly loved by God," with something to contribute to us and the world at large. In other words, whereas Agnete keeps telling me about folks who are forever contrasting dialogue with evangelization, I keep saying this is a false dilemna. Dialogue in this day and age is evangelization, and evangelization is dialogue. Fr Thomas says, "Perhaps for the first time in history we could manifest that all of the human family are the children of God, and that each religion has its part to play in revealing the true God, and that above all it is God's will that we live together in peace."