Saturday, October 8, 2011

an unexpectedly competent minority

Happy are those who are able to escape from the lower self and feel the gentle breeze of friendship.
Their hearts are so full of the Beloved that there is no longer room for anyone else.
The Beloved flows through their every vein and nerve.
Every atom of their body is filled with the Friend.
True lovers can no longer perceive either the scent nor the color of their own selves.
They have no interest in anything other than the Beloved. (Jami, Sufi mystic)

6 oct, denver airport

Okay, so let's start out with a shout out to the World Religions Class at SFHS. That above quote is for you. It goes along with Fr. Bede's maxim on the right side of the white board in your classroom: "The aim (goal? scopos?) of life is to go beyond the self." It's just keeps coming up over and over again, doesn't it? This first entry may be a little boring and specific, but I'll try to make it more interesting as the days go on.

I am en route now, the first leg of a long journey. Tonight, Chicago where I will stay with Rory Cooney and Therese Donahoo tonight, old musician friends from Phoenix days (old friends, not old musicians. Speaking of which, we prayed and broke bread with Tom Booth and the Paschal Mystery Band last night in the Sangha room. They're on the road doing a tri-state tour. It was like an ambush of grace.) Tomorrow Rory will put me on a suburban train into Union Station where I catch an Amtrak bus to Indianapolis and my first meeting of the Board of MID, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, being hosted by the Benedictine nuns of Beech Grove. I was voted onto the board just this past year and am quite interested in what it means to participate. The organization has been around since 1977, founded as an offshoot of an older organization: AIM--Aide Inter-Monasteres.

As Franics Tiso explains in an excellent article (written to mark the thirtieth anniversary of Raimundo Pannikar's ground breaking book on "the monk as universal archetype"--"Blessed Simplicty"): A large number of Christian monastic foundations were made during the 1950's and 60's outside Europe and North America, where the majority had been 'til then. This suddenly raised the challenge for monks to engage in dialogue between cultures and address the issue of inculturating, that is, adapting monastic practices to the native genius of the culture in which the monks found themselves. And "AIM was founded in 1960 as a way of coordinating the efforts made in that direction." MID, on the other hand, was an attempt to institutionalize international monastic based specifically interreligious dialogue. At the time the Vatican was keen that the monastic orders continue to assume a leading role in the interreligious dialogue that was called for at Vatican II. Why monks? Cardinal Sergio Pignedoli, who was prefect for the Secretariat of Dialogue with non-Christians at the time, said it this way: because historically monks are the outstanding type of the homo religiosus (or at least they are supposed to be!) and as such monks could serve as a "reference point for both Christians and non-Christians." As a matter of fact, he says that "the existence of monasticism at the heart of the Catholic Church is in itself a bridge connecting all religions," and if we were to approach Hinduism or Buddhism for example, without the monastic experience, we should hardly even be considered religious people. Again, why? Because the real dialogue is not the dialogue of ideas and comparative theologies, but the dialogue of religious experience, and monasticism at its best is a practical life, a life of praxis. Not to say that other forms of religious life are not, but for the monk it is front and center.

Which brings up another point, the underlying point of Tiso's article. In the early days of Roman Catholicism's involvement in interreligious dialogue after Vatican II, it was often young people who were not official monastics--so-called "lay monastics"--who carried on much of the work of interreligious dialogue. It was specifically these "new monastics" that felt themselves addressed in Pannikar's book, and who were so inspired by Abhishiktananda and Bede Griffiths, the former of whose experience was especially the underlying fodder for Pannikar. According to Tiso, these "lay" or "new" monastics (NB: Julian Collette and his creative efforts with "emerging communities") often served as secretaries and assistants for, as well as being protagonists in, AIM and the organizations it spawned; they also brought a lot of practical knowledge as well as raw the data of emerging ideas about monasticism and immersion in dialogical encounter with members of other world religions. "Monastic interreligious dialogue was relying heavily on the scholarly expertise and organizational skills of lay collaborators, almost all of whom lived their lives under the aegis of the mysterious attractive force of institutional monasticism, without becoming monks." Tiso laments that these new monastics were sidelined early on because of the tension provoked by the encounter, partially, he feels, as he writes in a pretty good pithy phrase, because this is what happens when "a group feels threatened by the dynamism of an unexpectedly competent minority in its midst, something that has been observed in other institutional setting as well."

These new monks connected with monastic interreligious dialogue in the '70s and '80s ended up scattered across the landscape in a variety of marginal careers. But even Tiso admits that maybe that is as it should be, because "their very marginality corresponds to the most fundamental discovery of inner experience: that material success, name, fame and outer format count for very little in comparison to the experience of divine, ineffable wholeness..." and, as Pannikar himself noted, "the inner experience is definitely prior to the subsequent development of career and other commitments, including vows." Tiso goes on to note that the one form of life that has especially survived of all this is the hermit vocation, which tends to be a strong, even primal, monastic image. Many of these hermits find themselves in a very good position to provide a bridge "for those who have explored non-Christian religions and who now wish to return to the practice of Catholicism in depth."

I've got all of that in mind, especially having had a lot of good interaction with Julian these past weeks and examining my own vocation, as I go into this meeting with a dozen other monastic men and women this next weekend--specifically, what and how can we all, monks and non-monks, contribute to harmony among peoples and the evolution of consciousness so necessary in this day and age of polarization and fear?