Saturday, December 27, 2008

the authority of intimacy

What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have looked at and touched with our hands,
concerning the word of life––
this life was revealed,
and we have seen it and testify to it.
(1 Jn 1:1-2)

The 13th century Zen patriarch Dogen told the story about a Zen priest and master named Tokusan who was the greatest scholar of his era on the Diamond Sutra. One of the most famous teachings from the Diamond Sutra is from Chapter 18, when the Buddha said, “Mind in the past, mind in the present, mind in the future, cannot be grasped.” Well, Tokusan heard about another master in another part of Japan who had a great reputation, and he set out to go meet him loaded down with a huge bag containing his commentaries. Along the way, he sat down to take a brief rest, and he felt hungry and wanted to take a small meal. Along came an old woman who sat down beside him. He asked her who she was and she replied that she was a rice cake seller. He said, “Good, I’d like to buy some.” But before she would sell him one, she asked him what was in his great bag. He told her that he was a great scholar on the Diamond Sutra and that the bag contained all his commentaries. On hearing this the old woman said: “I have a question. If you can answer I will sell you one; if not, you must go hungry. I especially remember the verse,” she said, “‘Mind in the past, mind in the present, mind in the future, cannot be grasped.’ If you buy a rice cake from me what mind will you eat it with?” Tokusan was completely flabbergasted by this question and too surprised to say anything, so the old woman brushed herself off and went on her way leaving Tokusan empty handed––and hungry. Dogen comments that the old woman should have hit him with one of the rice cakes and shouted, “You stupid priest! Stop being an idiot!” And then he goes on to say that it is truly regrettable that such a great Buddhist scholar who had studied thousands of volumes of commentaries and explained their theories for so many years could not answer an old woman’s simple question. “There is a big difference,” he says, “between acquiring knowledge through books and acquiring knowledge through experience.”

There is a big difference between acquiring knowledge through books and acquiring knowledge through experience.

Today we celebrated the feast of Saint John, the beloved, the evangelist. More than the other apostles, I envy John this experience that gave him such knowledge, because his was definitely knowledge gained through experience, not knowledge through books. It was knowledge based on what he heard, what he saw, what he touched. Our knowledge of God is often so notional, intellectual, and abstract. John’s was knowledge based on what he learned from laying his head on Jesus’ chest.

What I find amazing about John is that while from him we have the most sublime articulations of the theology of the logos in the prologue to his Gospel, the loftiest of Christologies in the New Testament, soaring to the heights of divinity on the wings of an eagle, at the same time we have such great tenderness especially in his first letter from which we read today. Somehow we know as we read him that his teaching––as lofty as it is––is not dis-incarnate, not a philosophical flight of fancy, not speculation, not just notional: it is what he heard, what he saw with his eyes, what he looked upon, what he touched. There is almost not a phrase in this first letter that isn’t heartbreakingly beautiful with its paean to love, addressed not to friends and fellow Christians, not even to brother and sisters, but to the readers as “little children.” I think of him having the authority of intimacy.

And then, of course, there is the Book of Revelation. It’s almost as if he had to keep switching literary genres to try to express this powerful experience of his: from the high Christology of the Gospel, to these tender admonitions of his letter, to the archetypal imagery of the Apocalypse, as if he had to engage the head, the heart and the gut all to convey the depth of this mystery. But what else could we expect from someone who had learned the secret of Jesus’ heart? How many ways can you write about love and it is never adequate? What we have seen with our eyes! What we have heard! What we have touched! You can almost hear him still marveling over it all, with the firm conviction that this man was the logos made flesh, and “I laid my head on his chest!” And from experience that he draws the simple conclusion that God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them.

There is also something quiet about John, something humble, something that does not need to put itself first. Much is made of the fact that in the story of he and Peter running to the tomb, even though John arrives at the tomb first he lets Peter go in ahead of him, and how that is a sign of the primacy of Peter. But I like to think of it as the humility of love, that he has learned from resting on the breast of Jesus that love is like that––that it puts others first, that it does not seek the first place, that there is a kind of strength that doesn’t need to put itself forward. That too is the authority of intimacy. And it is from that vantage point that one gains access to a whole new way of knowing. His experience of the self-emptying love of Jesus taught him how to act. And so then he can teach from the authority of intimacy simply this: “love one another.”

And that experience that John had was not simply that Jesus loved him, but that John was open to that love and loved Jesus in return, in vulnerability, faithfulness and courage: vulnerability––laying his head on the chest of Christ and asking just the right question; faithfulness––even to being entrusted with the care of his mother; and courage––even to the foot of the cross. And his authority is based on that love, the authority of intimacy; it is that love that can recognize the Lord on the seashore when no one else can.

It would be truly regrettable if we who have studied volumes of commentaries and explained our theories for so many years would acquire our knowledge only through books, ideas and notions, and not through experience. How can we see, hear and touch, how can we experience Christ today? How can we gain this authority of intimacy? In the sacraments, in our prayer, in the Word, in each other, in the beauty that surrounds us. Let’s lay our heads on the breast of Jesus today, and, through the example and intercession of St John the beloved, the evangelist, pray to be vulnerable, courageous and trustworthy in love, love for Christ, love for one another, so that we too may have the authority of intimacy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

the refiner's fire

With your sacred body, O Fire,
come here and ascend my self,
bringing me great riches.
Becoming the sacrifice,
reach your birthplace, the sacrifice.
Born from the earth, O Fire,
come here with your own abode.
(Naradaparivrajaka Upanishad)

We just can’t seem to get away from this fire. Even in these last bucolic days of Advent with the gentle stories of annunciations and births, as we prepare for the silent, holy night when all is calm and all is bright, we still got treated to a reading from Malachi at Mass today warning us that “the day of his coming will be like a refiner’s fire, refining and purifying.” I’m thinking of all these fires––the burning bush, the fire that Jesus said he was coming to bring to the earth that he wished were already blazing, the flames of the Spirit on the heads of the apostles. It's all one fire and it's already here in Jesus’ birth too. And I’m thinking about the fires we’ve endured here on the central coast this year, wondering what kind of refining and purifying effect they have had on us in exile and evacuation, realizing the fragility of all that we hold precious.

I was thinking too about how important fire is in the ritual of India, among the Brahmin priests. Of course all sacrifices are offered in a sacred fire, but also the brahmacarya–students are obliged to tend the fire of their teacher, and then when they are married they are expected to tend the fires in the homes all of their lives. This is why it is such a significant thing for someone entering the sannyasa state of life––the life of the renunciant––to renounce the rituals with the fire, to be ordered to cease tending to the fires. This is a turning of one’s back on a significant ritual that binds society together. But if you read the texts that deal with this carefully you realize that it is not really an abandoning of the fire: it is an internalization of the fire, joining the sacrificial fire to the one that is already in the depth of the person, the fire of breath, the fire of digestion. The sannyasi takes the sacred fire into himself and from then on out carries it internally, which is considered more perfect and more permanent because one is never separate from them. That’s why the Naradaparivrajaka Upanishad teaches that the sannyasi should then deposit the fire in himself while saying: Becoming the sacrifice, / reach your birthplace, the sacrifice. / Born from the earth, O Fire, / come here with your own abode.

It’s wonderful metaphor for the spiritual life in general, and for the monk in particular, but it also has some strange little connection to another subtle reference that Pope Benedict made recently in his year end address to the prelates. While everyone else is upset about what he said about homosexuality being a threat to human ecology just like global warming is to natural ecology (eek!), he also slipped in a warning that the Holy Spirit cannot be separated from Christ or from the church. John Allen explains that this is because the Vatican is concerned that some theologians working in inter-religious dialogue are pressing the idea of “the Holy Spirit’s presence in non-Christian religions too far, as if the Holy Spirit acts apart from any explicit connection with Christ or the Christian church.” At the same time, it is valid to think of the waters of Baptism meeting up with that trickle of life-giving water already in us; and the breath of the Spirit meeting with that breath already breathed into the clay of the human person when formed; and the fire of the Spirit meeting up with that fire already in us, the divine spark that is our life.

Malachi says, “Suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek.” I can never hear the word “temple” in Scripture any more without thinking about the human person. That is the major relocation of God that Jesus comes to bring about: the temple is his body first, then the temple becomes our bodies, we ourselves the temples, the sanctuaries. But not only does that temple need to be cleansed of the buyers and the sellers: suddenly there will come to this temple the Lord whom we’ve been waiting for, but who will be able to endure the day of his coming? “For he is like a refiner’s fire" and "he will sit refining and purifying” this temple of our being. That’s ultimately where the Word comes to plant the blazing fire, in this sanctuary, this temple of our being, the baptism of fire that consumes all that is not God until we are all fire.

Tonight at the hermitage we have a quiet day followed by a communal penance service. As we prepare for it and prepare to celebrate the event of the Word becoming flesh, it’s been a good day to surrender to this all-consuming fire that burns away from within us all that is not God, and all that is not godly, so that we can be all fire.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

the time of the end is the time of no room

Let him quit his native land
and leave the region where he is well known.
He recalls his own bliss,
which is like the thrill of recovering a forgotten object.
Like a thief released from jail,
let him forsake sons, close relatives,
and his birthplace, and live far away.
Naradaparivrajaka Upanishad
So, I gotta tell you about this gig. I’m in South Bend Indiana, yes, the home of Notre Dame. As a matter of fact I am staying at Moreau Seminary of the Holy Cross congregation, a huge architecturally rather cold building built in the late 1950’s when it was thought there were going to be a gazillion seminarians forever. I seem to have been here (South Bend, Notre Dame) quite a few times the past few years. It feels pretty comfortable.

I am here due to Mike Baxter. He’s an old friend––we know each other from Phoenix in the ‘80’s. He came as a deacon of the Order of the Holy Cross to St. Louis the King Parish in Glendale, AZ when I had just returned from my year in San Francisco and Portland, and Dale Fushek had hired me again to play for a “teen Mass” there. I was in a kind of bardo, just about to transition out my rock ‘n roll phase into what the late ‘80’s would be for me (another story), but at the time I was still a rocker doing liturgical music. It was when I wrote “Rejoice” and “Eternal,” those forays in liturgical reggae, all leading up to recording “The Message Goes Forth,” and before I had my “conversion” away from all that style for liturgy, pre-Pennington days.

Baxter also was in town to found and run Andre House, a Catholic Worker house of hospitality in downtown Phoenix. He is the real deal when it comes to all that, a pacifist, well-read, totally devoted to the poor, at the time more of a proponent of liberation theology which was pretty new to us all. I myself was heading into my what I call “neo-con” phase, getting adopted into a group of guys who were force feeding me G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, the Wanderer (an extreme right wing Catholic newspaper), of course the writings of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the Hitchcocks of St. Louis, even the Cardinal Mendzety Foundation, an extreme right-wing anti-Commuist group headed up by one of the Schaffley sisters. (Remind me to tell you about going to one of their meetings sometime…) When I first met Baxter I hadn’t yet completely succumbed to the right wing influence and he represented for me a real burst of inspiration.

I had spent one of the most influential years of my life in Chicago the year after high school living with some radical Franciscans who were also associated with the Catholic Worker in Chicago. I often credit them with teaching me about the spiritual life and prayer and simplicity. Nothing else I experienced after that had ever moved me enough to really grab my allegiance until I found New Camaldoli, certainly not the seminary environment at St. Meinrad, nothing really about St. Jerome’s parish for whom I worked on and off for four years, or my work with Dale and the teens, nothing really about NALR, the liturgical music company I was beginning to record and publish with. I was willing enough to work for them all, do music for them mainly, but I was never on fire. Not only that, I was nowhere near having any kind of a spirituality of my own. But Baxter re-kindled a tiny fire in me.

My favorite image of us in those days was riding around downtown Phoenix in one of Andrè House’s beat up big old pick up trucks, Bruce Springsteen blaring on the cassette player (“Born in the USA” which was Baxter’s favorite at the time), picking up supplies for the kitchen, both of us smoking. (Somehow it didn’t seem incongruous to me at the time…) I didn’t hobnob with the community at the house much but I liked being in the background, washing dishes or peeling carrots, doing fund-raising concerts and hanging out with Baxter. And I liked serving on the soup line. One of my favorite memories of Holy Week is from there. Baxter was gone but Fitz, the other Holy Cross priest who was stationed there was celebrating Holy Saturday in the back yard of Andrè House. We used the food preparation table for an altar, and Fitz told this great story about when he was a young boy, an altar server. He had to carry the new Easter fire from the church over to the convent for the nuns across the parking lot on a windy night, and make sure it didn’t blow out. And that’s us, he said, “We’re the ones who have to carry the fire, across the windy parking lots.” Baxter also got me reading Merton for the first time; he gave me “Raids on the Unspeakable,” an essay from which––“The Time of the End is the Time of No Room”––gave me an idea for perhaps the best song lyric I’ve ever written, recorded with LUKE St., called “Room for Me.” The only time I sing it now is when I do something for him, as I will tonight.

That was also the era when I put together LUKE St., by the way, my non-Christian-rock Christian rock band. I talked through a lot of the lyrics with Baxter, Flannery O’Connor-Thomas Merton-C.S. Lewis inspired lyrics, wanting to do with rock ‘n roll what Flannery O’Connor or Walker Percy did with short stories and novels. As a matter of fact the first name for the band was Wiseblood, after O’Connor’s short story of the same name, until we found out that someone already had taken that name for their band.

I also had some idea about moving in with them there at Andrè House, but I was already heading into my introverted hermit days, I guess, and all that hubbub around the place seemed like too much for me and my music and study (I was finishing by BA). I did coax my friend Gary to move in with them for a short time instead. Baxter and I had a kind of a minor falling out, mainly due to my new conservative friends. I think the friendship eventually really just slowly eroded. He and they at Andrè House were getting pretty far out there (at one point Baxter was touring Central America with Daniel Ortega!) and my friends did not approve. They had some kind of a big fight, and that was the last straw. As one priest said to me, a very conservative one, mind you, “So you stopped doing the corporal works of mercy due to an ideological disagreement?” Yes, and one I didn’t necessarily agree with on top of it.

Anyway, some years into my time at New Camaldoli we somehow got into contact again, and have remained so on and off ever since. He went on to do his doctorate under Stanley Hauerwas at Duke University (after the latter was driven out of Notre Dame by the “ruling liberal elite”…) and then came back to Notre Dame himself as a professor of ethics. His placement here was not without controversy. The same “ruling liberal elite” did not want Baxter part of the faculty because they deemed him too… hmm, I don’t know what to call it. Not exactly conservative though he is a real defender of orthodoxy. Their big issue, if I recall correctly, was that he was saying (after Hauerwas) that American religious liberalism had sold out to the left wing of the American political spectrum and had lost its prophetic edge. That didn’t go over well. When he was denied a faculty post, the president of Notre Dame, exercising his right as a Holy Cross overseer, appointed him anyway. That’s when the controversy broke. Richard McBrien, a well-known liberal writer who is on faculty here, was particularly incensed by the whole thing. It got national attention, etc. etc. It all died down some years ago, but it was right around then that Baxter and I got back in touch. He went on to become a very popular professor here, and to found a Catholic Worker house here as well.

About four years ago Baxter left Holy Cross, and has subsequently been laicized, but carries on as a professor and as head of a burgeoning Catholic Worker community, with three houses and a drop-in center, most of which are legally under his name. (It was quite an experience to go into a bank with him today.) He is a great embodiment of what I remember to be that Catholic Worker ethos, combining intellectualism with hands-on down and dirty life with the poorest of the poor. He keeps an office on campus but lives in one of the three houses. And that’s what brings me here, to do a fund-raiser for them, for him.

I have too admit (surprise, surprise) I don’t like most church environments, liberal or conservative––parish offices, religious education centers, retreat houses, liturgy or music conventions, monasteries, seminaries. I can’t really say why without being uncharitable and judgmental, and the problem is probably more mine than anyone else’s. But it’s undeniable; I don’t like hanging around church much, or at least what “church” has become in America. And yet, as I sat at the CW last night having dinner with the crowd––half community members and half guests (the latter meaning usually homeless folks who are being offered hospitality)––and as I hung out in the drop-in center this morning washing dishes and making coffee, I was perfectly at ease. That is really my kind of church like almost no other environment. How do I forget that? I was transported easily back thirty-two years ago to uptown Chicago to the Worker there and to our Wednesday night open house meals for which I used to cook stuffed cabbage and apple pie, or to the soup line downtown Phoenix twenty years ago on a rainy winter night watching the folks go by with Hefty trash bags wrapped around them to keep dry. I think that it is amazing that my own ethos is not that much different from what it was when I was 18 years old. I am still looking for the same thing in my life and my environment, simplicity, directness, a radical commitment to the Gospel, integrity, and a certain eschewing of middle class comfort, which can be stifling and sometimes mistaken and/or substituted for authentic spiritual values.

Anyway, all that to present this in context… This is the song, inspired by Baxter and the soup line that rainy night around Christmas of 1986, and that Merton essay from “Raids on the Unspeakable,” a song which I will per force sing tonight in our fund-raising concert with the Notre Dame Folk Choir right there at Our Lady of the Road Drop-in Center in South Bend.

From where I stand––my feet in mud
and my Hefty rain coat tied around me fast––
I can see a skyline stretching out
across the dusk
(the windows sparkle like stars!).
Now I don’t mean to sound bitter––
I’m just tired and confused––
but how come there’s always room for all these
buildings in the sky
and there is no room for me?

I seen the news the other night from a
sidewalk outside the pawn shop over on 3rd Street;
and I know this land is the best there is,
but there’s just one thing that keeps on bothering me:
I’m really not unpatriotic––
I’m just tired and confused––
but how come there’s always room to build more
factories for war
when there is no room for me?

I feel like that baby who,
asleep in his mother’s womb,
wandered the streets of Bethlehem
when there wasn’t any room.

Ev’ry night I lie awake
and I pray the Lord my soul to take,
but then I wake up with the dawn.
Since I do, I carry on and
wait for the day when the trumpet sounds that’s gonna
bring home all of the exiles,
‘cuz there’s a place that’s just for the poor folks
where the milk and the honey flow,
and when we get past these jaws of hell
I guess that’s where we’ll go,
and there will be room for me.

post-script: I am temporarily stuck in the South Bend airport. I (stupidly) missed my early bus to Chicago, hopefully to grab the next one, in the middle of a snowstorm. But it feels good to be with my backpack and guitar waiting for a bus right now. A fitting context for these days.

It was a great evening last night, Mass, dinner and concert at the drop in center. There was a wonderful mix of people (by the end about 200), a nice mix of sacred and secular, the ND Folk Choir were shining and the pieces we did together were quite fun and energetic, my own set went awfully well, a great blend of songs I really wanted to sing in a great setting. That combination has a subtle magic to it. I enjoyed especially the interaction with the young people whether from the choir or the community members of the Catholic Worker. They are many of them so eager to learn, hear stories and find alternative models upon which to base their spiritual searches.

One last thought: the Catholic Worker folks, not unlike "professional" religious, choose voluntary poverty, and often actually live it much more than most of us professed religious. Why would you choose to live something that other people are trying to escape, and live with the people who are trying to escape it? And, reading the Sannyasa Upanishads (one quoted above), it is that same strange symmetry, that the sannyasi has no place to call home. And so it is good to associate with the homeless, to remind us of these things. I hope Dorothy would have been pleased with us, and maybe Fr. Louie, too

"The time of the end is the time of no room."

Monday, December 1, 2008

an ample space for dialogue

O servant, where do you seek me?
Lo! I am beside you.
I am neither in temple nor in mosque:
I am neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash:
neither am I in rites and ceremonies,
nor in Yoga and renunciation.
If you are a true seeker,
you shall see Me at once:
you shall meet Me in a moment of time.

Kabir says, ‘O Sadhu! God is the breath of all breath!”

It was the most amazing thing, if ironic: I had just finished writing for the first time a full talk about what I understand to be the basis of inter-religious dialogue, based both on the official Roman Catholic teachings and on the work of Bede Griffiths et al, and then that amazing one-liner appears in the headlines: “Pope says Inter-religious Dialogue is Impossible.”

Here’s a fuller version of what he wrote. It was in an open letter serving as a preface for a book in a letter he wrote to Marcello Pera, an Italian center-right politician and scholar whose book, Why We Must Call Ourselves Christian, argues that Europe should stay true to its Christian roots. Of course this would be dear to Pope Benedict who has tried to focus attention on the Christian roots of an increasingly secular Europe:
You explain with great clarity that an inter-religious dialogue, in the strict sense of the term, is not possible, while you urge intercultural dialogue that develops the cultural consequences of the religious option which lies beneath [a given culture]. While a true dialogue is not possible about this basic option without putting one’s own faith into parentheses, it’s important, in public exchange, to explore the cultural consequences of these religious options. Here, dialogue and mutual correction and enrichment are both possible and necessary.
A better sound-bite would have been that the pope says “inter-religious dialogue no, intercultural dialogue yes.” But headlines started spinning it both ways right away, and those who wanted or were prone to be incensed or exasperated at the pope (the latter, like me), were.

But John Allen explained pretty well, that “this is not a judgment on whether religions should be talking to each other, but rather what they should be talking about. In the pope’s mind, the point of inter-faith exchange is not to seek a lowest-common-denominator shared theology, but rather to find ways that cultures shaped by strong religious commitments can nevertheless live in mutual respect…” This is consistent with the approach to inter-faith relations Benedict has taken since his election to the papacy. By naming Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran as President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, for example, "Benedict opted for a professional diplomat over a theologian––the idea being that he wanted to reorient inter-faith exchange away from speculative theology, and towards more concrete questions of co-existence and cooperation.”

Then John Allen, as many others, goes on to explain how the pope actually is exploring inter-religious dialogue, in his own way, especially with Islam and between Islam and Judaism; and you could easily see this as mainly addressed to Muslims. But he doesn’t understand this dialogue with Islam in terms of theological exploration: how the Qur’an, for example, might inform new approaches to Christology. “Rather, he’s focused on more practical questions, above all what the Vatican calls ‘reciprocity.’ The question is, if Islamic immigrants in the West can claim the protection of the rule of law and of religious freedom, shouldn’t religious minorities in majority Islamic states get the same deal? The equal-and-opposite form of that question in the West, especially Europe, is how Western societies can express respect for religious diversity without cutting themselves off from their Christian roots.”

That said, I have to agree with Allen that it’s still a perfectly fair question to ask whether the pope might find a less ambivalent way of making his point––one that’s not demoralizing for the church’s experts on inter-religious dialogue, and that doesn’t send the wrong signal to the outside world about the church’s commitment to good working relationships with other religions!? Because he certainly seems to be contradicting Vatican II, the Pontifical Council on Inter-religious Dialogue and its pronouncements, and some of his own writings. That’s what I might say, with all due respect, in an open letter to the Holy Father. I might say something even stronger, again––and I mean it––, with all due respect: Do you not realize that people don’t understand the philosophical nuances of your pronouncements and arguments, such as the ill-fated Regensburg address. They (we) hear one-liners, and we understand gestures and attitudes. How much more eloquent was that simple photo of John Paul in Assisi with all the other leaders.

At this point I feel like it’s important to be in dialogue with my own tradition too, and I want to see the positive in this. I would say that one good point in this is that he is saying, for example, to Muslims that even if we can’t agree on theological differences, we still need to talk about the cultural consequences of our beliefs. In the back of everyone’s mind, of course, is the violence in the name of religion. He says, “… a true dialogue is not possible without putting one's own faith in parentheses.” I actually think this could be taken as a positive statement. Maybe he means we actually do have to put our faith in parentheses for a moment and simply look at the cultural consequences of our religious decisions. This could apply to America just as well and our decision to invade Iraq, which some high placed Vatican officials were saying at the time was based too much on George Bush’s Calivnism. It also could apply to Israel’s Zionist movements, no?

Another hidden gem here that will perhaps get missed (as in the Regensburg address) is that in the rest of the letter, which few will probably read, he praises the author, Pera, for his defense of liberalism as the basis of human rights, only saying that it has lost (as Bruno might say) it’s metaphysical base, i.e., it’s Christianity. Hence the importance of Europe staying true to its Christian roots. That could easily be seen as a shot at America too, albeit a genteel one.

I just still don’t understand this insistence that no other dialogue is possible, is it at a theological level? Is it because Jews will never believe that Jesus is the Messiah and Muslims will never not believe that they surpass Judaism and Christianity? Or, if it’s true that he doesn’t understand dialogue with Islam in terms of theological exploration, i.e., how the Qur’an, for example, might inform new approaches to Christology, does this mean that we have nothing to learn from any other tradition either––say Hinduism or Buddhism––about God’s self-revelation that we feel is complete in and of itself and interpreted adequately already by our Greek philosophy? Is this a justification for the suspicion of the Asian theologians such as Peter Phan? This would obviously negate the work of my heroes and role models.

On the other hand, the pope himself said in his talk on Pseudo-Dionysius this past year, which I quoted at length in my own paper, that Dionysius the Areopagite, for instance, has a new relevance today: just as in his own day he was a mediator between the spirit of Greek philosophy and the Gospel, today he could be “a great mediator in the modern dialogue between Christianity and the mystical theologies of Asia," because there is “a similarity between the thought of the Areopagite and that of the Asian religions.” But, here he says we must understand “that dialogue does not accept superficiality.”
Precisely when one enters into the depths of the encounter with Christ, an ample space for dialogue also opens. When one finds the light of truth, one realizes that it is a light for everyone; polemics disappear and it is possible to understand one another, or at least, speak to one another, draw closer together. The path of dialogue consists precisely in being close to God in Christ, in the depths of the encounter with him, in the experience of the truth, which opens us to the light and helps us to go out to meet others––the light of truth, the light of love. In the end, [Dionysius] tells us: Take the path of the experience, of the humble experience of faith, every day. Then, the heart is made big and can see and also illuminate reason so that it sees the beauty of God.
In some way this is not far from our teaching about Universal Wisdom, that perhaps the only level at which we can dialogue is at the mystical level, that place beyond words, dogmas and doctrines, and forms and rituals, a level at which we will not find much agreement.

Someone sent me this quote from John O’Donohue’s book, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, which he said connects nicely with the pope’s own words on experience, that may be a good challenge to our servant/leaders: “We grow increasingly deaf to the worn platitudes of staid authority. Their forced, didactic tones no longer reach our need. Now we want the experience itself, not the analysis or the membership card to some new syndrome.” He also suggested that we go back to Raimundo Panikkar’s insights “in both Christophany where he speaks frankly of the uselessness of Christology and every other conceptual approach to inter-religious dialogue (shades of Abhishiktananda!), and his Intra-religious Dialogue, where he understands the dialogue as ‘religious ritual’ in which all are participants." In a weird sort of way he does seem to be speaking much the same language as the pope.

I guess that's it––the integrity of our lives and our personal spiritual paths. There are some things that we will never have the depth to understand without that, and there is also an authority that comes only from that depth. Otherwise we are just part of the "worn platitudes." But, of course, we can't forget those "well-worn paths between huts" too, the charismatic relationships, the friendships between us all that are really the building blocks for everything.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

time and death

The summons is sent to every house,
to every soul, every day it is issued.
Remember, O Nanak, the one who sends the summons.
The day is not far when you also may hear it.
(Sikh Bed-time Prayer #1)

In the Christian tradition we begin the season of Advent this week. And Advent always makes me think about time, and the strange sense of time and timelessness that it provokes. In our readings that we follow these weeks we begin the first week talking about the "end times," and then we hear about John the Baptist and meet Jesus as an adult preparing for his earthly ministry, and only after all that do we go back to the events around Jesus’ birth. It’s almost as if the church wants to throw off our sense of time completely. I think there’s reason for that.

In Christian theology, we differentiate between two different kinds of time: chronos and kairos. Chronos (as in “chronometer”) is like “clock time,” or what Eckhart Tolle calls “psychological time.” Kairos on the other hand is divine time, which of course is eternity, in a sense no time at all. St. Augustine taught that past, present and future don’t really have any kind of absolute existence. Past, present and future are just three different ways that our consciousness wraps itself around phenomena, by remembering them, by being aware of them, or by anticipating them. But none of them––past, present, or future––has any kind of absolute existence. God, on the other hand, has absolute existence; God is totally beyond what we call time, totally beyond past, present and future. And mystics would argue that consciousness itself, our own consciousness at its most sublime, is godly like that. It too shares absolute existence; it too is beyond past, present and future. There is only now in God, and ultimately there is only now for us.

Sometimes we talk about the end of the world. But, you know, I don’t think there will really be an end of the world––don’t we always pray “world without end, Amen”? No, Christian have a beautiful way of looking at creation, believing that all creation is heading toward some kind of Omega point when God will be all in all in Christ. But there will be an end of time, that is, of chronos or psychological time, and there will be the coming of kairos, the reign of eternity, the reign-of-God-time.

Cardinal Carlo Martini uses a beautiful image: he says that time is like a womb, and we are wrapped in it as “in the womb of God.” And like a mother's womb, the walls of that womb of time are porous; life flows in and flows out, that is, eternity flows in and flows out, chronos is always yielding up its solidity to kairos, which is also to say heaven is always breaking in on earth. And somehow that is what Advent is reminding us of. We keep catching glimpses of eternity, sitting silently waiting for flashes of the reign of God to burst in on our mundane affairs. The hope is that that bursting in of eternity into our clock time, that bursting of heaven into the earthly sphere, will at some point take permanent root in us, in our awareness. And then, as St. Teresa of Avila taught, all the way to heaven will be heaven. Do we not pray over and over, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth”––here, now, right at this moment––“as it is in heaven”?

In some way this is what is meant to happen in all of our prayer, in our liturgical celebrations, and especially in meditation: a little window opens up in these seemingly solid walls of time, and we enter into the stream of eternity. But I think at some point what is a passing state––an awareness of divine presence––is meant to be a permanent state, or at least a knowledge gained through experience that informs, guides and strengthens all our thoughts, words and deeds. And the walls between time and eternity begin to melt away, or we realize how porous they really are, how things slip in and out, and we do, too. As the Dhammapada teaches, Mindfulness is the path to immortality. Negligence is the path to death. The vigilant never die, whereas the negligent are the living dead. Is this why people who are ready to die are so alive?

At my funeral I want to leave instructions for the preacher not to talk about me being in a “better place” or about any kind of heaven light years away. With all the pains of life and all the salted wounds of terror and misery, still could there be a better place than here, a better time than now? The problem isn’t “here” and “now.” The problem is us, and our lack of awareness of eternity and the reign of God––that is, the Holy Spirit. I want the preacher to talk about how eternity keeps breaking in on time (all the way to heaven…), and how the veil that separates here from hereafter is so thin as to be non-existent; perhaps it is only made up of our lack of awareness.

During this Advent, let’s pray to be open to this awareness, to catch glimpses of eternity breaking in on time, so as to be ready for the definitive joining of heaven and earth––the event of Jesus, in whom the fullness of the godhead dwelt bodily… In the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch: Look for the one who is outside time, the eternal one, the unseen, who became visible for us. Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done––here, now, through me––on earth as it is in heaven, world without end, Amen.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

breathing in and breathing out

Someone born to this world should do many good deeds,
as a garland maker makes garlands from a heap of flowers.

Just as a sweet-smelling lotus blooms
beside the highway upon a heap of filth,
so does the disciple of the perfect Buddha
rise above those bound blindly
to the limitations of the world.
(Dhammapada 4:7-10, 15-16)

There is a theory in philosophy, with which may of you will be familiar, that has gained more and more popularity in the past hundred years or so concerning what is called the Axial Period. The idea is that about 2500 years ago, over the course of a few hundred years, a great shift in consciousness took place in the human race, and that that shift of consciousness had the effect of shaping the world’s religions to the extent of giving them the form that they have today. In a sense you might say that it was either a psychological shift or a cognitive leap forward. It’s when human beings realized rationality; it’s when, in philosophical terms, logos or the logical mind pierced through the veil of mythos or the mythological mind. It’s when we came to realize that God (or the gods) was/were not someone to be manipulated or cajoled by sacrifices and rituals, but instead that religions and spirituality were about personal transformation––not changing God but transforming me, and my world. And so, for one thing, the interior path opens up. The way of meditation is explored in India and China. Self-knowledge becomes important in Greece; the philosophical watchword for the Greeks is “know thyself.” These paths offered for the first time a vocabulary for personal transformation on an individual spiritual path. It is also from this era that the first examples of monasticism come, which is the best example of mapping a practical path for someone to move away from the tribe and follow a path of individual self-transformation.

You can also detect this same shift going on in Judaism. This is the era of the late prophets. But it occurs to me that Judaism and the late prophets have a unique contribution to offer this shift in consciousness, an accent that still abides today. The specific contribution of Judaism is the realization that, yes, it’s not enough to offer sacrifices and fast and pray: but that we must also live justly and treat our neighbor well. My favorite example comes from the prophet Isaiah Chapter 58 when he says: Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, the let the oppressed go free… to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless into your house…? But really it is there already as far back as the revealing of the covenant with Moses on Mount Sinai: aside from all the admonitions concerning our relationship with God, the second seven Commandments were all about our relationships with others, and they are not capricious commands, but rules about proper ordering of society. And that includes, as we also hear in the Book of Exodus (Ex 22:20-26), justice and even deference for the alien, the widow, the orphan and the poor. So neither the path of ritual and sacrifice, nor a supposedly more enlightened path of inner transformation through things like self-knowledge, meditation and yoga, are enough by themselves. Especially the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us that we must incarnate that personal transformation in charity, in service, in justice, in the way we live.

Now, I was formed in the monastic tradition, the paradigm of the individual spiritual path; it’s all about self-transformation through self-mastery and self-knowledge. So I can safely say that there tends to be a bit of inflation and projection around monks and monasticism. You’d be amazed how many people would stand in a kind of awe of our life, whether we deserved it or not––and usually we don’t! They would say, “How spiritual you must be to spend that must time in prayer and meditation; how holy you must be from spending so much time in solitude.” I heard one guy refer to us as “spiritual Olympians”! I used to think, and every now and then say out loud, “What about the elderly man caring for his wife who’s dying of cancer and Alzheimer’s? What about those who have dedicated their life to the serving the poor or fighting for justice? What about the ordinary married couples all over the world struggling to make ends meet and feed their children?” Those seemed as much if not more like the spiritual Olympians as any solitary monk.

And Jesus, good Jewish boy that he was, gives as perfect a summary of that teaching as anyone in history ever had or has since. The one greatest commandment, he says, is really two: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

There are always two dangers in the spiritual life: the first one is over-spiritualizing. In this day and age, especially in this area, we have a certain fascination with mysticism; I myself do as well. I meet many people lime me who I call “bliss junkies.” And there is something good about that. In this day and age we have developed a hunger for and an appreciation for the interior path and a way of personal transformation that has lain buried in the Christian West for centuries in the midst of all our extroversion. But there is a danger to our fascination with mysticism. There was a good interview with Andrew Harvey in the last issue of the Sun and in his word––himself a rather famous bliss junkie––mystical systems can tend to get addicted to transcending reality, and that also may be part of the reason why the world is being destroyed. We can give our honor to an off-planet God, and sacrifice the world and its attachments to the adoration of that God. But God as revealed in the Scriptures is both immanent and transcendent, and this world is not an illusion, and any philosophy that says it is, is only a half-truth. Perhaps in mystical experience the world does seem to disappear and reveal itself as a kind of “dance of divine consciousness,” he says. “But then it reappears,” and we realize that God is in everything. That’s the vision that completely shatters you. We can be so addicted to either materialism or to transcending material reality, “that we don’t see God right in front of us, in the beggar, the starving child, the brokenhearted woman; in our friend... We miss it, and in missing it, we allow the world to be destroyed…” He goes on in his typical fashion in a pretty funny passage:
The Mystics as we know them will be praying as the last tree is cut down. They are junkies of ecstasy and bliss, and they’re hooked into the IV of their own self-created mystical experiences. There are too many bliss bunnies running around, presenting the divine as a kind of cabaret singer in hot pants, available for ay kind of fantasy you may have. Then there are the activists, who are noble and righteous and give their lives to their cause, but they are divided in consciousness. They demonize others and often burn out. Neither mystic nor activist balances transcendence and immanence, heart and mind, soul and body, presence and action.
The other danger of course is the danger of empty activism. We can also tend to be so extroverted in the Christian West––and this applies to people in ministry and service professions as well as workers of all stripes––that we burn out, we lose our spiritual root ad source, and/or turn to materialistic solutions to recuperate and strengthen ourselves: entertainment and diversions, not to mention the more insidious lure of escaping through all kinds of intoxicants and addictions, instead of spiritual sustenance.

Fr Bede describes Jesus as having reached what the Hindus call the state of sahaja samadhi, the highest state beyond the active and the contemplative life in which one “can be a contemplative, in perfect stillness, and at the same time fully active.” He wrote:
Many Christians interpret Jesus in the New Testament simply as a man going about doing good, helping people and always busy and active, and they do not realize that he had gone beyond. In his six weeks in the desert and in the depths of his being he was enjoying pure samadhi. He was a pure contemplative, always abiding with the Father as the source of his being, and always seeing what the Father does as the source of his action. He is in that state of transcendent awareness in which he is one with the Father, and at the same time perfectly natural and human.
So, until we reach that sahaja samadhi, what we are always looking for is the balance, or perhaps a better word is “proportion.” I like to think of it as simple as breathing in and breathing out: we have to do both. If we are active people, along the way we learn that we need to breathe in: we need prayer, meditation, self-care of our bodies and minds, times of withdrawal, recovery. If, on the other hand, we are bliss junkies hell bent on a course of grabbing enlightenment by hook or crook, no matter how much money it costs and what distant lands we have to travel to, we eventually learn that we also need to breathe out and contribute to our world, or else the energy goes bad inside of us, turns rotten like seed sitting too long in the silo; whereas if it falls into the ground and dies, it can yield a rich harvest. Maybe this is the practical part of the marriage of East and West that is taking place in our world today, an opening up of the rest of our souls, and both of our lungs, rooting our activity in prayer and meditation, and incarnating our prayer and meditation in action, breathing in and breathing out. Finding that proper proportion is a lifetime struggle perhaps, but maybe today’s readings can serve as a simple reminder that both of those dynamics of our spiritualities must be in play for us to healthy, happy and holy.

Monday, October 20, 2008

rendering to caesar

Only when the Tao is forgotten
do kindness and morality arise.
When wisdom and intelligence are born,
the great pretence begins.
When there is no peace with the family,
filial piety and devotion arise.
When the country is confused and in chaos,
loyal ministers appear.
Tao Te Ching #18
(The following was my homily for this Sunday’s readings: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6 Matthew22:15-21––which were quite timely for the nearness of the election, and coinciding with a much touted book by Archibishop Chaput of Denver, also titled, Rendering to Caesar.)

In these days of political sound bytes, this is certainly one of Jesus’ best ones. You can almost see it passing by on the running banner under the newscast on FOX or CNN: Jesus: Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s; and to God what is God’s.

What you might not get at first listen from this reading from the prophet Isaiah–– especially if you, like me, don’t understand nor hear it in Hebrew––is that King Cyrus is being called “the Lord’s anointed,” in Hebrew the word is masiah or messiah. In this case this word doesn’t mean “the promised one,” or the who will bring about a final age, as it is understood in some cases and comes to be understood later by Jews around the time of Jesus. It generally simply refers to kings. But there is still a surprise: this particular messiah king isn’t a Jew! This is the only time in the Hebrew Scriptures that a foreigner is called “the Lord’s anointed.” Cyrus is the Persian king who was allowing the Jews to return to the Holy Land from their exile in Babylon in the name of his god, Bel-Marduk. But God through the prophet claims to be guiding Cyrus’ hand even though Cyrus does not know it. God is making sure that history converges to fulfill the divine plan for this tiny little nation.

So it’s interesting to read this passage from the Gospel of Matthew in this light. Here we are dealing with another foreign occupier––this time Rome’s Caesar. This question of paying taxes might have been a problem to some of the Jews of that time because in a sense it is an acknowledgement of the sovereignty of a foreign pagan over Israel, not unlike the time of King Cyrus and the Babylonian exile. It’s also worth noting that God seems to have only reluctantly allowed Israel to have a king at all back in the days of Saul, David and Solomon. They wanted to be “like the other nations.” And Jesus has about the same attitude. He is certainly not being an anarchist, nor is he being quietistic. He is merely accepting the state as a kind of necessary evil, and one assumes just as God has worked through the hand of the pagan king Cyrus, so God could work through the pagan Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar son of the Divine Augustus, great high priest,” as the inscription on the coin would have read. “Whatever!” Jesus seems to be saying. The really important things are deeper. Besides that, in the words of the great Jewish teacher Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus who may have been influential on Jesus’ own thought, we should pray for the peace of the ruling power, since without it people would swallow each other alive.

Also included in this little Gospel passage, by the way, is the biblical justification and inspiration for what is known as the “preferential option for the poor”: as they say of Jesus “you do not regard a person’s status.” This is expressing a basic biblical notion of justice, an impartiality that refuses to take a bribe and would generally tend to favor of the poor.

All of these things are salient for us right now as we face this election here in America, and an end to this agonizingly protracted campaign. Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular does not allow us any kind of quietism in regards to our citizenship. It teaches instead that it is our duty as citizens of the land we live in to contribute, along with our civil authorities, to the good of society “in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom.” It is our freedom in America and our system of justice that affords us the luxury of practicing our religion at all, and it is through that system of government that we can contribute to the good of our society as well as do our best to make sure that there is a preferential option for the poor––the needy, the orphan and the widow that the Bible loves to refer to, not to mention “Joe the plumber.” So we are urged over and over again to submit to legitimate authorities as much as we can in good conscience, and to serve the common good, to fulfill our roles in the life of the political community. (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2239)

But we've still got a lot of homework to do; let’s be formed and informed by both of our readings. From the first we learn that God does not always work through the most obvious means; God sometimes worked through pagans, unbelievers, foreigners for the Jews, and it could be that God will work for us through someone who at first glance does not appear to be the most obvious Christian leader. (Mind you––lest I put Holy Cross’ tax-exempt status in danger––that statement could apply equally to both candidates for president as well as the countless other state and local officials running.) We need always to look at the bigger picture of what needs to be done, where we need to go as a nation to build an environment of justice and peace, of good stewardship of the earth and economic justice for all people, especially a preferential option for the poor and the voiceless from the womb to the tomb.

A second lesson, drawn more from the Gospel, is this: let’s remember what is really important, and render to Caesar only that which is Caesars’. There is a deeper reality beneath our petty notions of justice and peace that cannot be expressed by words or by any form of government. As the Tao Te Ching teaches:
Only when the Tao is forgotten do kindness and morality arise.
When wisdom and intelligence are born, the great pretence begins.
When there is no peace with the family, filial piety and devotion arise.
When the country is confused and in chaos, loyal ministers appear. (#18)
All our systems of justice are pale imitations of the merciful justice of God and have only relative value. There is only one messiah for us, and it is no king, no queen, no president or prime minister––it is the Word, the Word made flesh––or as the Chinese translate the beginning of the Gospel of John, “The Tao was made flesh and lived among us”––in Jesus who is the living book of God, and the example of his life and death poured out for the sake of the world. And in response to Jesus’ statement, “Give to God what is God’s,” I also want to add, “What is not God’s?!” I am reminded at least of the first words of Psalm 24: The Lord’s are the earth and its fullness; the world and all its peoples. We, and our government leaders, are merely stewards, servants. And good government is not an end––it is a means, a means to the deeper realities of life, a means to ensure that all people, even and perhaps especially the least among us, have the chance to pursue those deeper realities.

As we approach these big decisions, let’s pray that God once again makes history converges to fulfill his designs for our nation and that our hearts and minds are pure enough to discern that will.

Monday, October 13, 2008

the tent of abraham

O servant, where do you seek me?
Lo! I am beside you.
I am neither in temple nor in mosque:
I am neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash:
neither am I in rites and ceremonies,
nor in Yoga and renunciation.
If you are a true seeker,
you shall see Me at once:
you shall meet Me in a moment of time.

Kabir says, ‘O Sadhu! God is the breath of all breath!”

There was a beautiful gathering at Holy Cross hall and church here in Santa Cruz last night. It was called the Tent of Abraham. I may get these facts wrong, but I believe it was started by a Rabbi Arthus Waskow in New York shortly after the terrorist attacks, an event to gather the children of Abraham––Jews, Christians and Muslims––all together. Abraham is of course known for his hospitality, from the famous story of being visited by the three visitors in Genesis 18. Sylvia, one of the hosts of the evening, made a clear mention of the fact that Abraham “ran to the entrance of his tent to greet them,” bowing to the ground.

So our friends here in Santa Cruz, (Pax Christi and members of our Sangha) with the help of a young Muslim man, have held such a gathering four times now. This year what was added to it was a time of dialogue beforehand. Rabbi Paula, a representative from the Muslim community and an Episcopalian priest each gave a short presentation on the place of ancestors in their respective traditions. Then we broke into small mixed groups and answered questions. They were good questions: 1. just to introduce ourselves we had to say our name and also something about it, its meaning or background; 2. where was our mother’s mother from? (What a lot of interesting responses that brought!); and finally, 3. what is there about your religion that you would like people to know? At the end of our time together one of the Muslim men, a Turkish man named Bora, who was actually from my small talking group got up and sang the call to prayer. I don’t believe I have ever heard it sung live, nor have I ever heard it sung so heart-felt and beautifully. I had goose bumps and tears in my eyes. While we all sat in silence the Muslims laid cloths on the ground and did the whole series of gestures that accompany the salat, led by this same gentleman.

We then adjourned to the beautiful little mission chapel for evening prayer. The three of us who were presenting there had been asked to consider something that had to do with peace. Another rabbi read and sang from the Bible, and then offered some reflections. Then this same Bora who had led the salat chanted passages from the Qur’an while the other, Bulent, who was one of main collaborators in the event and who had spoken earlier, translated them for us. But what they chose! They chose all passages about Mary, the mother of Jesus, to honor us. Again, chills, goose bumps and tears, not only at the beauty of hearing the scriptures sung like that, but at the graciousness of the gesture to sing those passages for us.

Then I was up. Ziggy, one of the organizers, did tell me that the others were going to chant the scriptures, in Hebrew and Arabic respectively, and suggested that I probably didn’t want to chant the Gospel in Latin. But it seemed to me that this was a little teachable liturgical-musical moment too! Few Catholics realize that there is a tradition of singing the Scripture readings in our tradition (that, by the way was the conceit behind the oratorio that I composed, The Song of Luke) and that that possibility is also offered to and exhorted upon presiders to do also in English. So I did.

I could have picked a dozen other passages concerning peace, but the one I chose was Matthew 5:38-48 from the Sermon on the Mount that makes it as clear as possible, beyond any shade of doubt, what Jesus’ teaching is on peace, and it is setting the bar pretty high. It’s not just saying “try to get along with everybody”: it’s saying offer no resistance to evil! And turning the other cheek! It’s kind of amazing that we so often hear from government leaders who are pretty ardent public Christians, but never hear this passage quoted when we are discussing foreign policy. It’s just too impractical, I guess. I must confess that I have a hard time being an absolute pacifist (perhaps to my shame); I think there are situations when defending the poor and the weak and the innocent call us to make use of a righteous means of arms. But––and here’s the rub––anything I do or advocate has to be informed by this model and exhortation to perfection.

A bunch of us have here in Santa Cruz t-shirts and stickers with the ubiquitous local logo “No Enemies.” I like it a lot. What it means to me is this: the weird thing about saying, “love your enemy,” as Jesus says, is somehow when you love someone they could no longer possibly be your enemy. Later in the Gospel of Matthew (22:36) among other places, Jesus offers as the second part of the great commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As your very self! As if that other were your very self because in some way that other and you make up part of a “self.” Some of my Indian friends instead of writing, “yours truly,” like to sign off their letters by writing, “Your very self!” As Ecknath Easwaran interprets the Katha Upanishad (1.2.8): They who see themselves in others and others in themselves through spiritual osmosis help others to realize the Self––that is, the Atman or Spirit––in themselves.”

In fact, there is a level of being deeper than body––where we are all divided; and deeper than our minds, our intellects and our souls––where we all maybe divided. There is the level of spirit, that realm, that aspect of ourselves, before name and form, before ritual and dogma and doctrine, and, if the mystics of our traditions are to be trusted, beyond name and form too, beyond ritual, dogma and doctrine, where we are one with God and one with one another. It is then that we realize that we are one great body, that phrase that St Paul loves to use so much, and this I don’t think he means as an allegory: I think he means it literally. (Perhaps it is similar to what the Buddhists call dependent co-origination?) What happens to one part of the body is happening to the whole. When we really realize what an intricate web created reality is at a material level––and what we learning about the psychic realm seconds that, that we are connected in so many ways at a subtle level––we understand these things more. And it is even more so at the level of spirit. Just as the sense of separate self sort of disappears in our relation with the Divine as we are only conscious of the Divine, just as the sense of separate self disappears for moments between two lovers, so corporately our sense of separate selves also somehow dissolves, united in our common submission to That-which-is-greater-than-us, when we are all of us gazing in the same direction, gathered around the well that is the source and ground of our being.

We all got to de-brief a little this morning at 8:30 Mass at Holy Cross. (I’m filling in there for a couple of weeks.) Ironically, the reading was from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, chapter 4, where he writes allegorically about Hagar and Sarah, Hagar, the slave woman representing the covenant of Mount Sinai and Sarah representing the freedom of the children of the promise, the children of the heavenly Jerusalem, freedom in Christ from the law. Hagar, of course, is the mother of Abraham’s son Ishmael who is revered as the father of the Islamic people. So I first warned folks not to take the allegory literally, but to marvel at the fact that here we had all three traditions present––Paul writing to Christians about Ishmael concerning freedom from the Jewish law.

I also cautioned against getting to smug about this “freedom” from the Law. The Gospel that accompanied it was Jesus saying that this is an evil generation because it asks for a sign, but none will be given but the sign of Jonah. And the sign of Jonah, of course, is that just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale, so Jesus would spend three days in the heart of the earth. That’s where the freedom comes from: kenosis-emptiness, death. Freedom comes from, as our Muslim brothers and sisters might say, submission, which is the meaning of the root of both the words “islam” and “muslim.” That’s why Muslims say that Jesus was a “muslim”: he was one who submitted totally to God. He didn’t even deem equality with God something to be grasped at. And it was therefore that God raised him on high and gave him the name above every other name. This is the wisdom that Jesus says is greater than the wisdom of Jonah, greater than the wisdom of Solomon, the wisdom of the grain that must fall into the ground and die if it is to yield a harvest.

And it is as crazy and counter intuitive as “turn the other cheek” and “offer no resistance to injury.”

How many ways we have to die to our little selves so that our true perfect self may be born! The one I think about the most these days is this whole slow subtle process of “training the senses and stilling the mind.” Because, as the Dhammapada says:
Mind is the forerunner of all actions.
All deeds are led by the mind, created by the mind.
If one speaks or acts with a corrupt mind, suffering follows,
as the wheel follows the hoof of an ox pulling a cart.

Mind is the forerunner of all actions.
All deeds are led by the mind, created by the mind.

If one speaks or acts with a serene mind happiness follows,
as surely as one’s shadow.

Animosity does not eradicate animosity.
Only by loving kindness is animosity dissolved.
This law is ancient and eternal.

There are those who are aware
that they are always facing death.
Knowing this they put aside all quarrels.
(1:1-2, 5-6)
Changing our mind, changing the world. Do not be conformed to this world! Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

taking no action

A shout out to the students at SFHS, in case you’re looking in––Mr Marheineke has inspired me to get back to this blog. (I just taught a session in their World’s Religions class the other day, comparing the understand of the “self” in Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity––atman, an-atta, and mystical union, in a thumbnail.) Frankly, I’ve been home a lot, in my cabin in the woods a lot, not traveling and not preaching much, and al my writing energies have been going into preparing conferences and a few writing projects. I’m not really a diarist-blogger; I usually only write when I think I got something new to say that others might be interested in. But let me tell you what’s been up and what’s coming up and see if anything of interest to you comes out of that. Actually there is one thing on my mind…
Rule a nation with justice.
Wage war with surprise moves.
Become master of the universe without striving.
How do I know this is so?
Because of this!

The more laws and restrictions there are,
the poorer people become.
The sharper our weapons,
the more trouble there is in the land.
The more ingenious and clever people are,
the more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations,
the more thieves and robbers.

Therefore the sage says:
I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and people become rich.
I have no desires and people return to the good and simple life.
Tao Te Ching #57

I’ve been sort of obsessed with the presidential race up to this point.

Mind you, this is coming from someone who didn’t vote until he was 30, 1988. I voted for George Bush pere, by the way, I was so angry at the Democrats. My father nearly kicked me out of the house when I told him that. You must understand, I come from a long line of Kennedy Catholics––I thought these things were synonymous––Irish/Italian-Catholic-Democrat. I remember when I was about 24, having dinner with an Italian-American family, and the conversation turned to politics and economics, about which I knew next to nothing. But as the conversation progressed––they were referring pejoratively to Franklin Roosevelt and the “New Deal” and the welfare state (Talk about holding a grudge! This was in the early ‘80s)––it suddenly dawned on me, and I said rather hesitantly, a little confused and not meaning in any way to start a row, “So you guys are… Republicans?!” And the mother answered, “Well, yes.” And I responded, quite innocently, “But you’re Italian… and Catholic!” She said, “So?!?!” a little offended, I think. That was quite a wake up call. Not too many years later, still in my twenties, a new acquaintance of mine, who described himself as very “orthodox” as opposed to “traditional” or “conservative” was vilifying me for my liberal views. The next day I phoned a priest friend of mine for whom I had worked for some years and asked him, “Am I liberal or conservative?” I honestly didn’t know!

So I lived a lot of my life in a weird little bubble concerning politics as well as the liberal-conservative antagonism. I think I came about that somewhat honestly, though I carried it on just due to laziness: I remember so clearly having a conversation with a rather radical leftist at the Catholic Worker house on Montrose in uptown Chicago while I was helping him hand-mimeograph and collate a copy of the book (I think it was called “The Green Revolution”), and he explained to me that part of the philosophy of the Catholic Worker, at least as he understood it, was a kind of anarchy, but not an anarchy that wanted to overthrow governments and create chaos, but the kind of anarchy that didn’t believe one could ever accomplish anything on a grand scale, either in governments or churches, and that the only real impact one could have was at the most local level possible, really picking drunks and homeless folks off the street and feeding them, caring for them, and “getting off the grid.” At the ripe age of 18 I had already come to a similar conclusion, that was why I was hanging out in uptown Chicago with a group of radical Franciscans and Catholic Workers instead of being bundled off to seminary after high school. And I have carried that ever since in some way; it still informs me. As we say about St Francis: he didn’t waste time criticizing the church or the state––he just walked the other way.

And so, put this statement in that context: I’ve been sort of obsessed with the presidential race up to this point. I went over to my friends’ the Albright’s house to watch Senator Obama deliver his acceptance speech and to watch the vice-presidential debate. I also watched a good chunk of the first presidential debate, of all places, at Esalen Institute, on cable TV in the private quarters of the director of programs before I started the seminar I gave there a few weeks back. That’s a lot for me, to actually search out a television. But really, I’ve been obsessed with it only up to this point, actually up ‘til last Tuesday. I listened to the first few minutes of the debate on the radio and then turned it off. I’m done now. We pretty much know who both of these guys and their running mates are, their differences of policy, and the differences in their style of leadership; I know how I’m going to vote, and it will be interesting to see how the country votes. But I’m tired of the whole polemic now.

Here’s the thing: it’s time for a new paradigm. Like many “seamless garment”-consistent ethic of lifers, I also agree that if Senator Obama gets elected he needs to give us a lot more than “reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies.” But regarding America itself, this voter (me) is saying, we need a new paradigm, a whole new approach to foreign policy, economics, the environment. I don’t think Senator McCain can deliver that; I don’t know if Senator Obama really can or will either. I just don’t know. I ate lunch with a friend the other day who is a venture capitalist, and I asked him what his take was on this financial crisis, now global. He looked me right in the eye and said, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” He added the analogy of a ship whose engines get blown out while sailing across the ocean: it takes some time for it to actually slow down. He thinks the engines have blown out. I’m not sure if he is right or not, but he said to me, “We can’t just pick up and go back to doing things the way we have thus far.” I was so happy to hear someone say that, someone who really knew the inside of the situation. But I am afraid––in regards to the environment, economics and foreign affairs––what we really want is for someone to come in and fix things so that we can just get back to life as we have known it thus far. Just fix the environment so we can go on with our gas guzzling lifestyle, just finish this war so we can get back to exporting materialism and consumerism along with Christianity and democracy, just fix the economy so that we can continue to stretch ourselves out to the limit and live beyond our means on debt. Just fix it for us!

I hope the next guy does not just fix it for us. It’s time for a new paradigm. But that new paradigm cannot come about without a new mind––“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds!” What is called for, what we are to be about, we spiritual warriors, along with the social and global transformation, is a transformation of human consciousness, my consciousness, your consciousness, our collective consciousness, the renewal of our minds. Bede Griffiths wrote before he died: “... the whole human race has now come to the moment when everything is at stake, when a vast shift of consciousness will have to take place on a massive scale in all societies and religions in order for the world to survive.” And Eckhart Tolle is right there too: he says this “is no longer a luxury, so to speak, available only to a few isolated individuals, but a necessity if humankind is not to destroy itself. At the present time, the dysfunction of the old consciousness and the arising of the new are both accelerating. Paradoxically, things are getting worse and better at the same time, although the worse is apparent because it make so much noise.”

I’m not without hope. Things are getting worse and better at the same time, it’s just that the worse is more apparent because it make so much noise. So, for goodness’ sake––get out there and vote! I’m not advocating my naïve “anarchy” to anyone. Make you voice heard and incarnate goodness in the world in whatever way possible. But while we render to Caesar what is Caeser’s, let’s not forget to render to Spirit what is proper to Spirit, without which we will make no progress individually or corporately, socially or economically. We have a lot of work to do, inside and out. We need to be yeast in the dough, salt in the earth.

In the meantime:
I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and people become rich.
I have no desires and people return to the good and simple life.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

the mystical marriage

Love is sufficient of itself,
it gives pleasure by itself
and because of itself.
It is its own merit,
its own reward.
Love looks for no cause outside itself,
no effect beyond itself.
Its profit lies in its practice.
I love because I love,
I love that I may love.

Love is a great thing
so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead,
flows back to its source,
always drawing from there
the water which constantly replenishes it.
Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon 83 on the Song of Songs

There could hardly be someone with more zeal for the monastic life than Bernard of Clairvaux, doctor mellifluus–the honey-tongued teacher. When he entered Citeaux at 23 years old, a mere 15 years after its founding, he brought 30 others with him. And then at the age of 25 he took twelve monks with him and founded a new house at Clairvaux of which he was named abbot. When Bernard preached his fiery sermons about conversion, he wasn’t trying to convert people away from sin or to Christianity. He was preaching conversion to the monastic life. Pope Bendict writes about him in his encyclical Spe Salvi, how it was commonly thought that monasteries were places of flight from the world (contemptus mundi) and of withdrawal from responsibility for the world, in search of private salvation. But Bernard had quite a different perspective on this. In his view, monks perform a task for the whole Church and for the whole world. In one place he quotes pseudo-Rufinus saying: “The human race lives thanks to a few; were it not for them, the world would perish...” Even more, Bernard was convinced that mystical pleasures were not just about eternal life, and not just to be read about, but were meant to be experienced now through the contemplative life.

On a few occasions I have been asked to teach a World Religions class both for a Catholic high school and for Mount Madonna School, which is at the yoga/retreat center run by Baba Hari Das’ followers. I am always trying to find some kind of a clear line to show not just the similarities between traditions but, respectfully, also the differences. Last year I decided that the clearest way was to speak about differing understandings of the self.

For Hinduism, at least the strict advaita Vedanta that many people gravitate to in our neck of the woods, they teach that at the end of our spiritual search we discover that our own self is Brahman, or Brahman is Atman, and tat tvam asi–You are that! And so one can say Aham Brahm’asmi–I am Brahman. Now that doesn’t mean that I, Cyprian, am God; it means I, Cyprian, am only an illusion; I don’t really exist. Only the Great Self, Brahman, really exists. And this is when we escape the endless round of births and death; when this ignorance is cleared up and we realize this, then we are free. The Buddha goes one step further; a foundational doctrine for him is anatta, translated “no self” or “not self.” Not only is there no abiding self of me, neither is there an abiding Eternal Self that can be grasped. Everything is in flux and all things arise co-dependently, and so there is nothing to grasp at. As a matter of fact, that grasping at some kind of “self” is the cause of dukka–suffering––which is the second noble truth of Buddhism. The Christian mystic will have an experience like this, but it will be considered a working of grace, so much so that St Bernard will write at one point:
To lose yourself as if you no longer existed,
to sense yourself no more,
to be emptied, virtually annihilated––
that comes not from human feelings,
but a heaven-sent conversion.
But for the Christian mystic, this annihilation is a passing phenomenon, like Jesus’ death on the cross preceded the resurrection. The mystical union does not ultimately mean the annihilation of the human self, or waking up to the fact that there is no self, or the swallowing up of the finite human into the divine infinity or endless flux. For the Christian mystic, not only is there a self, but that self remains, eternally, in relationship to Ultimate Reality, who we call God.

Fr Bede was very much in this tradition, not only in distinguishing Christianity from the religions of Asia but even in distinguishing himself from Abhishiktananda. He said that the mystery of communion in God and with God is that “the Father and the Son become a total unity and are yet distinct, and that is true of [human beings] and God as well. We are one, and yet we are distinct. There is never a total loss of self.” Even if in consciousness there could be, or could seem to be, pure identity, “in love there’s never pure identity because love involves two, and yet the two become one. That’s the great mystery.” Hence, he said, for the Christian the Indian metaphor of the ocean and the droplet that re-merges with the ocean “is not adequate”: "You can say the drop merges in the ocean, but you can also say the ocean is present in the drop ... In the ultimate state the individual is totally there, totally realized, but also in total communion with all the rest."

This is where St Bernard comes in very strongly. The mystical union, Bernard says, is when the soul is married to God and, though of different substances, it becomes one spirit with God. If there is a way to sum up Christian mystical experience, this is undoubtedly the most sublime: that we become one spirit with God in a mystical marriage.

I think it’s notable that Bernard is sometimes referred to as the last of the Patristic era; and also notable that he is just on the cusp of the dawning of Scholastic theology. We often talk about the three centers of gravity in the human person: the gut, the heart and the head. If I am not stretching this all too far, I like to think of the early monastic tradition and fathers as the gut, rooted in practical spirituality, close to the earth and close to the movements of their own inner beings. And of course it is not a far stretch to see the Scholastic era well represented by the head. But on the way from the gut to the head, it was necessary to pass through the heart; and somehow Bernard represents that for me. A great gush of affective spirituality on the way to the heady Scholastic era.

Bernard’s Sermons on the Song of Songs is considered a mystical masterpiece and his own capolavoro. It’s comprised of 86 different sermons offering a verse-by-verse commentary, and he had still only gotten to the third chapter! Interpretation of the Song of Songs of course already had a long venerable history by the time Bernard got a hold of it. The rabbis saw it as a metaphor for the covenant between God and Israel; that’s why they included an erotic love poem in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Christians see it as a song between Christ and the church, the whole church. And then Origen, followed by Ambrose, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory the Great, begin to see it as a love song between God and the individual soul. Bernard certainly knew this tradition and drew on it. But in his hands the Song of Songs becomes something new again. It’s almost as if he created a whole new vocabulary for the Western mystical tradition, with a whole new set of images and themes. He was convinced that erotic language was the best analogy for describing the human encounter with the divine. The Song, Bernard says in his first sermon on it, “…expresses the mounting desires of the soul, its marriage song, an exultation of spirit poured forth in figurative language pregnant with delight.” (SCC 1.7-8) From Bernard on this kind of language will stay in the Western mystical tradition, and perhaps come to its apogee in the writings of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, but it is with Bernard that it gets its first real push. In Sermon 83 on the Song he writes:
When she loves perfectly, the soul is wedded to the Word . . .
Truly this is a spiritual contract, a holy marriage.
It is more than a contract, it is an embrace:
an embrace where identity of will makes of two one spirit. (SCC 83.3)
One spirit with God! Now, he is only echoing St Pauls' language here, but still this is an astounding claim! God, in Christ, and the soul become one spirit! Notice here, it is not even an annihilation of our will; but an identity of our will with God’s. Nothing of us is lost. If God and the soul “cohere with the bond of love” we are “said to be of one spirit” with God.

Let him kiss me with the kiss of his lips, the Song says. What does this mean to be kissed by the kiss? Well, Jesus is the kiss of God. Just as we are the image of the image, so we are kissed by the kiss, kissed by the Word, kissed by Jesus. That’s Jesus’ function as Word made flesh: to kiss us, unite us with himself so that as one spirit with him we can be of one spirit with God through him, with him and in him.

We’ve been on retreat all week and this is a nice way to end the week. Our conferences were excellent, offered by Columba Stewart, OSB, undoubtedly one of the world’s experts on early monastic sources. But they were a little academic, and it took some time for them to sink down into the gut. St Bernard serves as a reminder that on the way from our head to our gut (or from our gut to our head) we should make sure we don’t hurry too quickly past the heart, and let God kiss us with the kiss of his lips, let Jesus invite us to the wedding chamber, to the wedding banquet, so as to make of us one spirit with God.

The sad thing is that, after allowing himself to get lured into spending the better part of his career involved in the politics of the church––including preaching an ill-fated Crusade!––, shortly before his death Bernard wrote in a letter that he was a sort of “modern chimera, neither cleric nor layman. I have kept the habit of a monk, but I have long ago abandoned the life.” History has judged him differently, but it is too bad that he himself was not tasting the sweetness of union with God as an old man. The good are always tempted by the good, my spiritual director tells me. Let’s make sure we don’t get caught up in the “stuff” of religion––whatever tradition––to the expense of the real stuff.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

dialogue with paul and benedict

The fact that we are distinct from the world does not mean that we are entirely separated from it. Nor does it mean that we are indifferent to it, afraid of it, or contemptuous of it. When the Church distinguishes itself from humanity, it does so not in order to oppose it, but to come closer to it... On the contrary, it finds in its own salvation an argument for showing more concern and more love for those who live close at hand, or to whom it can go in its endeavor to make all alike share the blessing of salvation. (Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam #63)
Some years ago at the monastery––this was a public event so I am not breaking any secrets––one of our novices, who was quite well educated, was doing the readings at Vigils and came upon John Chrysostom’s commentary on this week’s Gospel. It's Mt 15:21-28, the story of the Canaanite woman asking for healing for her daughter, in which Jesus at first refuses her because it is not right for him to take "what is meant for children and throw it to the dogs." And this novice got to the line, right near the beginning of the reading, where John Chrysostom says, “She was a woman, a Canaanite, and a dog…” at which point he slammed the book shut and stormed out of the chapel, never to return. (And I mean never, he left the community shortly after that, for other extenuating circumstances.) When asked later why he had done that, he said, “Because that was a racist and sexist reading, and never should have been read in a public liturgy.” The whole thing was my fault; I was the one picking the readings at the time, and knowing what I know now I agree with him. We don’t think metaphorically anymore, and we also know enough about John Chrysostom and many of the writers of the patristic era, that they did in fact have a rather dubious unenlightened misogynistic anthropology when it came to women.

I have also learned along the way that, although we have the scholarly right to question the exact veracity of some of the Gospel accounts and words of Jesus, whenever Jesus appears in an unfavorable light in the Gospels, as in today’s reading, it’s probably true, for the simple fact that otherwise the compilers of the Gospels would never have left it in. I take some comfort in thinking that we are missing something here, a nod or a wink, a tone of voice. Everything I know about Jesus leads me to believe that, though he did deem his mission prior to his death to be mainly to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, he was not a racist, and regularly did extend his healing mercy outside of the visible boundaries of Israel. Was Jesus having some kind of a dharma battle with her, simply re-iterating ironically a rather commonly held belief of the Jews at the time merely so he could show the wrong-headedness of it? This is something we will never know, but if we note the context in which the church puts this reading and the ultimate outcome of the exchange we have a very clear idea of what we are meant to learn from it, especially viewed in the light of the first reading, a Scripture that surely Jesus knew well coming as it does from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, which scholars think was the book that was most influential on Jesus’ own theology, quoted in the Gospel more often than any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures except for the psalms. “My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Is 56:7)

The other thing I note is this phrase, “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus had said this once before in the Gospel of Matthew, when he was sending the twelve out for the first time and he told them not to go into Gentile territory or enter any Samaritan town, but to go instead “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” I tend to think, rather optimistically perhaps, that the really important modifier in that phrase is not the prepositional phrase, “of the house of Israel,” but rather the adjective “lost.” In other words, don’t go to the fat cats in the temple––they already have their rewards, and Jesus saves for them the worst displays of the acerbic side of his personality. No, go instead to the lost sheep, an image that will figure so prominently in his parables as well.

With al that as a caveat, I must admit I got most of my thinking about these readings from two recent columns by John Allen, one on Pope Paul VI and the other on Pope Benedict. He reported about Pope Benedict holding what has become an annual event for him last week: he had a Q&A session with the priests of the Alto Adige region of Italy, in the Italian Alps where he vacations. Among other things, a propos today's Gospel, Pope Benedict said this: “In the course of time, I have come to realize that we have to follow the example of the Lord, who was very open with people who were at the margins of Israel… If we can see even a tiny flame of desire for communion in the church… it seems right to me to be rather generous” with them. So even the smallest stirrings of the faith should be encouraged rather than snuffed out, and so he said his instinct is to err on the side of mercy.

That all got me thinking about Pope Paul VI. Something he said has been rather foundational for me in my work: in his opening address to the second session of the Vatican Council, he called on the council fathers to adjust their relations with the world: “Not to conquer,” he said, “but to serve; not to despise but to appreciate; not to condemn but to comfort.” This was an ongoing theme of Pope Paul––dialogue, gentle, respectful conversation. One of the most neglected treasures among recent papal teachings is Pope Paul’s 1964 encyclical on the church Ecclesiam Suam, in which he laid out his vision of what the church’s engagement with humanity might look like. He said that the church could “reduce its relationships to a minimum,” it could “isolate itself from dealings with secular society”; it could set about point out “the evils that can be found in secular society, condemning them and declaring crusades against them;” or it could feasibly approach so close to secular society merely to try "to exercise a theocratic power over it.” “But it seems to Us,” he wrote, “that the relationship of the church to the world––without precluding other legitimate forms of expression––can be represented better in a dialogue.” (As a matter of fact he uses the word “dialogue” over 70 times in that encyclical. Computers are wonderful for that kind of thing.)

And then he goes on to describe that dialogue in terms of four qualities: clarity, meekness, trust and prudence. Clarity, meaning not just that our position is articulated clearly but that language should be “understandable, acceptable, and well-chosen”; meek, meaning that dialogue is “not proud, not bitter, not offensive.” Trust, meaning not just confidence in the power of one’s own words, but also in welcoming the trust of the interlocutor, a trust that promotes confidence and friendship. And prudence, meaning not just that we don’t take risks but trying to learn the sensitivities of the hearer, and adapting ourselves and our manner of presentation in a reasonable way, so that “we not be displeasing and incomprehensible.” (Why we might not want to refer to a Canaanite woman as a “dog”!) There’s a French phrase that his attitude reminds me of: noblesse oblige––the noblest among us are the one who have the responsibility to act with generosity and graciousness. The authority of our part in the dialogue, he said, is intrinsic to the truth it explains; our authority comes from the charity it communicates and the example it proposes. Our authority is not a command, nor is it an imposition. It is peaceful; it avoids violent methods; it is patient; it is generous. Before speaking, we have to listen to the other person’s heart as well as their voice. The other must first be understood; and, wherever possible, agreed with. “In the very act of trying to make ourselves pastors, fathers and teachers… we must make ourselves their brothers” and sisters.

John Allen wrote that in an era of what he calls "ideological tribalism," theologically and politically, it seems good for us to remember this largeness of spirit, and I am finding that Pope Benedict is carrying much of this same spirit in his modus operandi, to many peoples’ surprise. At this same Q&A session, he was asked some questions about evangelization and, instead of talking about specific aggressive strategies, he spoke about the cultivation of simple human virtues, very much in the spirit of Paul VI: “Honesty, joy, openness to listening to one’s neighbor, the capacity to forgive, generosity, goodness, [and] cordiality.” Very much in the spirit of what Paul VI wrote, he said these are the things that are “indicative of the fact that faith is truly present,” (are they not what St Paul calls “the fruits of the Spirit”?) And these are the things that give the best form of witness. It reminded me of the often quoted saying of St Francis, which has undoubtedly been reduced to a sound byte: “Spread the Gospel; use words if necessary.” Or, as a craggy old missionary living in Hell’s Kitchen in the Bronx said once, “The Gospel spreads itself. All we have to do is show up.”

Let’s hope that the Lord’s house, our house, the house of the Church, the house of our communities, would truly be a house of prayer for all people and that we can learn this spirit of civility in dialogue, and through the example of Jesus, seek for the lost ones, and bring them home with honesty, joy, openness, forgiveness, generosity, goodness, cordiality, patience. And these words could describe all of our relationships:
Not to conquer but to serve,
not to despise but to appreciate,
not to condemn but to comfort.