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.