Wednesday, September 28, 2016, near Milgrove, Australia
The universe is a vast field of lovers,
a gathering where gods and goddesses––
who are reflections of the supreme couple––
intertwine. Love is found everywhere.
I did wind up singing part of the song during my homily Sunday morning. It was a very interesting parish, as Hans had advised me, very high church, and yet at the same time very socially progressive and active. They are right in the heart of downtown Melbourne, and have a soup kitchen as well as a very active ministry with the LGBTIQ community. I had to be careful about my references to “tramps on the street” because there seemed to be several homeless men coming in and out of Mass. Regarding “high church”: as we walked in some folks were removing the altar from the sanctuary and lighting the candles on the high altar instead, at which the priest-presider at our Mass faced ad oriens–“the same direction as the people”; most of the acclamations were sung polyphonically in Latin by a small choir; there was an MC, lots of incense and vesture, and it was all done very well, with almost military precision. I think this may be only my second experience of an Anglican High Mass, and I was taking all kinds of mental notes.
As I was getting ready to preach, I was trying to keep in mind my experience preaching at the Uniting Church in Perth seven years ago, and how there is a kind of British reserve about church folks here in Australia too; one simply doesn’t get the kind of feedback from an assembly that one would normally get in the States. But still, prepared as I might have been, it is a bit like flying blind. Afterwards people were very gracious and Hans told me that my homily was good. I actually overheard someone quoting me later, so I guess something of it stuck. After Mass and a small reception in the parish hall I was then the guest at a regular Sunday afternoon event, an hour presentation. That was most fun and again I felt in my prime––sitting on a wooden chair in the middle of a semi-circle of folks, singing songs and telling stories. I basically used the same program I had used the last two nights in NZ, so it is as easy as breathing now, and again I thought, “I love my life.”
Another of our oblates, Ruth Harrison, then drove me up here, up on “the peninsula,” as everyone calls it. I am staying at Pallotti College, the former novitiate for the Pallottine Congregation of priests and brothers, built in the 1960s when they were booming with vocations. Now that they, like so many other religious orders and congregations, are “aging out” it functions as a retreat center. But this has a connection with us Camaldolese (besides the fact that there is a priest who lives here as a hermit with a sign pointing to his place off the road that reads “Camaldoli”). Fr. Michael Mifsud, who is the director of our oblates here, met Bede Griffiths in the early 1990s, and came back from India requesting of his bishop that he be allowed to pursue an eremitical vocation. Soon other folks who were interested in the solitary life began to gather around him and they, along with our good friend Meath Conlan in Perth, who brought Fr. Bede to Australia in 1991, decided to become oblates of Shantivanam. More folks gathered ‘round Michael, and he founded a Camaldolese ashram here on this property, in a house called Montserrat. After Fr. Bede died in 1993 they decided to affiliate with New Camaldoli in Big Sur instead. Michael has been to stay with us several times now. The ashram experiment ended and he has moved to another hermitage in nearby Warburton, but the community of Camaldolese oblates has continued to grow. What is particularly interesting to me, and why I have a special love for this part of the world, is that it all started with Fr. Bede, and only then became Camaldolese; and our oblates here for the most part are folks who are interested in meditation and solitude, have more than a passing interest in interfaith dialogue, and hold their Camaldolese identity very dearly.
I might not have been paying attention when they were writing to me making plans for this trip, but suddenly my schedule seemed to fill up more than I realized, so I had written ahead and asked that I could have some down time, on my own. So they have kindly arranged for me to have three nights here, a full desert day Monday, and only a visit with the scholar Fr. John Dupuche yesterday and a brief visit to Michael’s hermitage. I was remembering the phrase that I heard attributed to Carl Jung: by then I really needed some time for my soul to catch up with my body.
The trip yesterday to visit Fr. John Dupuche was wonderful. We had met one time before at the Abhishiktnanda centenary at Shantivanam in 2009. He is a specialist in Kashmir Shaivism and works extensively in interreligious dialogue. When I first met him he was just beginning an experiment where a Tibetan monk and a yogi were living with him in his parish house. Now that he is retired from active ministry he has an interfaith ashram on 9 acres on the banks of the Yarra River, with room for six others. Currently a Buddhist practitioner and a former Jesuit who works in Islamic studies (currently teaching in Pakistan) live with him part time. He had two of his books awaiting me, Jesus: the Mantra of God and, the one particularly of interest to me, Towards a Christian Tantra: the Interplay of Christianity and Kashmir Shaivism. I was honored to find out that he, like may others down this way, had read my Spirit, Soul, Body, and apparently approved of it, too, and we launched into a good long discussion about our common areas of interest. I feel like a total dilettante in the area of Kashmir Shaivism compared to him, but he left me feeling as if I was on the right track. He was particularly struck by the mention I made in SSB that I thought that approach of kundalini Yoga, and even its “techniques, or something similar, are something I dream of being introduced into our seminaries and houses of formation.” We both agreed first of all that everything depends on some individuals really committing to prayer and the practice so as to be guides to others; but following on that wondered and dreamed if ever anything substantive and practical could grow from that in Catholic Christianity. I still don’t even dare to dream of myself enough of an adept to be a solid guide, but as I reflect on it this morning I am still frustrated that all of this so often remains at the level of theory and scholarship. Perhaps it can only be realized in charismatic relationships, guru to disciple, or companion to companion in a real bond of trust and commitment to long term relationship, and never really be institutionalized.
I read through most of the second chapter in John’s book last night and this morning, and am once again struck by the depth of this tradition, which so often gets known only by its sexual practices. It’s really all about consciousness. I went back to my own chapter on Tantra in the “Hidden Chapters” that were left out of SSB. As I understand it the fundamental intention––the scopos––of Tantra is to pass from the gross, phenomenal world to the subtle, absolute realm, but then to permeate the gross phenomenal realm with the value and meaning of the subtle absolute. If I may quote myself (from the “Hidden Chapters”):
Quiescence is realized and the universe reaches a state of absolute oneness when these two poles of activity and passivity, the Masculine and the Feminine, consciousness and matter, merge. Furthermore, the Tantric practitioner seeks the reunification of these two opposite principles––Shiva and Shakti, the masculine and the feminine, the passive and the active––in his or her own person, through experience, through sadhana. Note well that in Samkhya the union of purusha and prakriti had been an “unfortunate marriage,” whereas Tantra seeks the union of the two! Conceptually, they could merge for the Tantric practitioner simply by the repeated declaration of their fundamental oneness, but more importantly they merge when they are experienced, by the practitioner’s experiencing this merger through sadhana, through spiritual disciplines. They merge when the body––and with it all of creation––is experienced as an instrument of spiritual perfection.
Now I am off to another two free days at Hans’ home nearby on the peninsula, and then the retreat with our oblates on the weekend.