Wednesday, February 22, 2012

update from malaysia

In working for reunion it is necessary first to be humble;
second to be patient and await God’s hour;
and third, to avoid any discussions that may impair the virtue of charity.
We must leave aside, for the moment, those elements on which we differ.
(Agustin Cardinal Bea, at the announcement of the Vatican II)

ash wednesday, ipoh, malaysia

Sorry for the lack of posts. I actually just haven’t had much new to say outside of boring ol’ travelogues. But I’ll let you know what’s been up on the road.

I’ve done six out of seven concerts here in Malaysia now. Actually they have not been listed as concerts but “evenings of prayer, song and reflection” I think, but basically concerts with a lot more talking, as I have done often now. The difference of these is that they have been all Christian/liturgical music, none of the songs from other traditions and none from secular poets––mostly music from “As One Unknown” and “Awake At Last” two of the liturgical collections I did for OCP. The main organizer of most of the events asked me to specifically focus them on preparation for Lent/Easter, and they got permission to print 500 copies of “Awake At Last” just for sale here in Asia, so I focused even more on that music. (I have tried to tell them gently that 500 CDs is a very ambitious goal.) The one exception to the theme has been “The Ground We Share,” the song about Jerusalem which I added into the program. I really want to keep the awareness about the situation in the Holy Land alive wherever I go. Some years back I sang that song here for the first time, and the Malaysians got it in a profound way since they have had their own tensions with sharing the land with their ethnic Malay Muslim neighbors. They have been sweet events and the participants very receptive and appreciative.

Early last week, before the concerts started I did several more informal things for my young musician friend Ian whom I had met three years back, on music, on meditation and worship. I had stayed those first days with the Capuchin friars in Kuala Lumpur, and then four days with Mother Mangalam at Pure Life Society, as I noted earlier. She was as always a gracious host, and allowed me to receive a number of guests there as well as come and go for my various work.

Then this week Monday I took the beautiful comfortable electric train up to Ipoh. I have been here twice before, once for work and once just to visit some friends that I made the first time. I am staying with the Redemptorist fathers in their community home that houses both the parish priests, the superior and a mission team. They are a well read, bright, lively and welcoming bunch of guys, and I felt right at home right away. I’ve been able to beg out of socializing much with my hosts to spend a lot of time reading and writing. Though they did take me out to two delicious Chinese vegetarian lunches. Most of the young folks I met here three years back, and who also entertained me and took me on a grand tour of the countryside, are gone away to university by now. But one of them, Melvin, drove in on his motorcycle after classes and we were just going to go for a tea or juice and visit afterward. But in the end we decided to go with his Dad and another gentleman named Nicholas to find Nicholas’ son Joel, one of that gang, who was working at a lounge across town. We wound up being a group of about 12 or so, men and women, seated at an open air Irish pub. I couldn’t quite tell, but I think Joel was pleased to see us all descend on him. I introduced the concept of Fat Tuesday (it being the day before Lent––Mardi Gras) to them all––they had never heard of the term before. So, given how Malaysians love to eat, a juice and a tea turned into pizza and a roasted leg of pork. I had a Greek salad, which seemed odd enough at an Irish bar in Malaysia.

Tomorrow I head to Pinang with folks from the World Community for Christian Meditation to lead a retreat in what reports to be a beautiful retreat house in the hills, only accessible by four-wheel drive, so I thought I’d update this now before I run out of internet connection. Some things I’ve been reading and pondering: a book that I glanced through when I was here three years ago called “His Name Is John,” a biography of Pope John XXIII, written in 1963, and published just after he died, between the first and second session of the Second Vatican Council. It made me fall in love with him again, the great stories of his warmth and humanity and deep desire for unity among Christians and all people of good will, his broad mind and big heart. It seems like a miracle that such a man could have been pope, and even more astonishing the dreams he had for that council. There is much talk all over the world among Catholics these days either worrying about or happy for the end of that era, as if! I’m still letting it wrestle around in my heart, knowing myself to be a pure bred son of that Council, born the year John was elected, started grade school the year the Council began, raised in what I think of as the best of the liberal tradition.

My own path in religious life doesn’t look like that of many others of my age group, liberal or conservative, but I see it as a direct result of having been surrounded by these brilliant progressive, prophetic minds and hearts like Sergius Wrobleski and the Gospel Family and the Catholic Worker in Chicago, and the “Community,” these young couples who used to meet at each others’ houses every Saturday night in the 70s to break the bread and open the Word. I was just a kid in the corner, sometimes playing the guitar for their Masses, but listening off to the side at all the conversations. And all the “radical priests” (as Paul Simon sang) and sisters and brothers who immersed themselves in the civil rights and anti-war movements. Others who dared to live poor among the poor and live out new forms of contemplative life in poustinias and urban hermitages and went off to study Zen and Yoga. I often say that part of the reason I stick to doing what I am doing is because there are so few of us who are given the chance and support to try new and creative things like this anymore, so much of the church is involved in battening down the hatches.

I’ve also been following closely––too closely––the political scene in the US, Rick Santorum’s rise, President Obama’s problems with the contraception mandate. I want to be careful with what I say, but I think I can say this to any of my Catholic friends that are reading: Rick Santorum is not all good. Barack Obama is not all bad. Period. And vice versa. But, boy, is this going to be a difficult debate, never have the lines seemed so clearly drawn. And yet the political scene abhors subtlety and candidates thrive on calumny and caricature. It may be that there is no salvation at that level, but Jesus did say, concerning the rulers of this world, It shall not be that way with you! Let is not be that way with us. This would be a good time for fasting, prayer and almsgiving.