Saturday, November 28, 2009

christ in evolution

From the point of Light within the Mind of God
Let light stream forth into human minds.
Let Light descend on Earth.

From the point of Love within the Heart of God
Let love stream forth into human hearts.
May the Coming One return to Earth.

From the centre where the Will of God is known
Let purpose guide all little human wills -
The purpose which the Masters know and serve.

From the centre which we call the human race
Let the Plan of Love and Light work out
And may it seal the door where evil dwells.

Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth.
(Alice Bailey)

28 november, 2009, back home

After I left Denmark, I spent a week in England working with three of the other composers who make up the collective known as The Collegeville Composers Group. We've been working for about eight years now on a project called Psallite (pronounced “Sal-lee-tay.”) It's a corpus of liturgical chant. By “chant” I mean (as I have probably said hundreds of times now) music that is essentially vocal--it might be harmonized, rhythmic and accompanied, but is not dependent on any of those things. Thus, we have not adopted any one style of chant but have drawn liberally from the many sources and influences that make up our corporate deposit. By “liturgical,” I mean it is essentially ritual music, meant to accompany the Christian sacramental rites, and therefore it usually winds up being almost totally scriptural as well.

I do little work in liturgy and/or liturgical music anymore, though that was my first and for years main discipline; the work in the Universal Call both in teaching and music has taken over. But I have stayed with the project, not only out of a sense of duty to see it through to its proximate conclusion, but because it is still a fascinating process. We actually compose as an ensemble, around a table piled high with Scriptures, liturgical books and music resources, one computer (the intrepid English composer Paul Inwood inputting directly to Finale files), and a candle. We “massage” a text until we find a rhythm and a form that suggest themselves, and then start testing bits of melody on each other. One piece of music may have a melodic contribution from all four of us. And then if there is to be harmony we sing and sing and sing it until that reveals itself as well.

Two of the composers (Paul and his wife Catherine) live in England, and so a few times in the past few years when I have had other reason to go to Europe, we arrange to have a session there instead of them always having to make the trek to us. Every time but one, the other Californian (Carol Browning) has made the trip over to meet them and me as well. It’s probably hardest on her, since she has little reason to come except for this work, so she leaves her work in California, barely gets over the jet lag, and then flies back home to work again. The other founding member of the group, who first convened us, Paul Ford, has never been persuaded to join us “across the Pond.”

As in past sessions, we housed together this time. I think all of our favorite sessions were the ones we held in Santa Cruz during the times I was filling in for Mark at Holy Cross and turned the rectory into Hotel Cipriano. But this session will stand out for me too. Paul arranged for us to stay at St John's Convent, in the village of Green Kiln, west of London about halfway to Reading, and not far at all from Windsor Castle. (Actually we went to Windsor for tea on Friday afternoon--not to the castle itself, mind you, though Her Majesty's standard was waving that day, as I'm told she is there every Thursday evening and Friday possible). St John’s is run by the Sisters of Pity, whose specific charism is caring for elderly and infirm priests. The property and housing are both ample, so they also offer retreat space and guest housing both in the large main house and in an assortment of flats and bungalows around the property. Carol and I were alone on the top floor of the main house. The sisters seem to delight in catering to their guests’ every need, and they spoiled the stuffing out of us: we were overfed; the beds were so comfortable that I slept painfully deep every single night; when I asked to use the clothes washer Sr Antonia insisted on washing and ironing all my clothes for me; a single mention of anything brought the desired item. There was a long stretch of a narrow road across the main highway from their street and so I had a beautiful jog every morning out into the countryside. Aside from our outing on Friday and our customary festive dinner at the end of the session--at the venerable Crown and Bray Pub, exactly what you might hope a pub to be on a rainy English night: generous portions, lager on tap, fires burning in every room, and laughter ringing ‘round the rafters--we never left from Tuesday through Sunday, working 9:30 ‘til 12:30, 2:30 ‘til 5:30 or 6. It may not sound much like work, but it is intense and tedious, so the spoiling was much appreciated.

While I was there I, as is my wont, rummaged through the books available to the guests. Among the many old volumes that our bibliophile friend Michael Doherty would have been tempted to slip into his backpack, there was a history of the Reformation by one Philip Hughes. It was perfect bedtime reading for me, especially having just come from eminently Lutheran Denmark and presently staying in the motherland of the Anglican Communion. (Interesting also to watch the BBC’s, and read the Daily Mail’s, report about the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ visit with the Pope in Rome this past week.) So I poured through Hughes’ portrayal of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin. While a Catholic--an English Catholic to boot--and writing before the Second Vatican Council as well, when one could assume there could be more bias and counter-Reformation rhetoric afoot, Rev Hughes did seem to be even-handed.

I had the same two reactions this time as when I have studied that era in the past. First, if history is to be believed, I am appalled at the corruption, mediocrity and fatuousness of the Roman church at that time. I had the same reaction when I read the biography of Michelangelo, mind you, and other historical biographies and novels about Rennaissance Italy. One can understand why Luther would be believed when he taught that “Catholicism itself... (was) now considered to be a corruption of the Gospel of Christ.” I found this phrase of Hughes’ interesting particularly, that the origins of Luther’s convictions lie not just in his own “discovery of the true meaning of the religion of Christ,” which according to him was divinely guided, but also and maybe especially “in his own personal experience of the ineffectiveness and the mischievousness of Catholicism as a solution offered him for his spiritual troubles.”

On the other side, the second thing that struck me, as usual, was this: while I sympathize with the rancor at the Roman church for whatever that corruption was and the desire to return to a pristine articulation and practice of religion, and aside from the external changes that the Reformers inaugurated, I just can’t go where they go theologically, and anthropologically. Because they were so disgusted with faith by works––which was really faith by magic formulas, Deus ex machina, buying one’s way to heaven especially through the practice of selling indulgences––the formula salvation by faith alone is based on the premise that there is no natural goodness in the human person. Human nature is totally corrupt (according to Calvin, for instance), and we are utterly powerless to do good. Even if an act is good in itself there is still sinfulness in it, so it is impossible to fulfill God’s commands. The “righteousness” that Luther taught “is no more than a righteousness cast around [us] by God, imparted to us.” But behind that righteousness “the sinner remains as he was before the divine acceptance.” At one point Luther talks about grace functioning like “snow over a dung heap.” It follows of course that “even the most virtuous of philosophers of the old pagan world were necessarily damned.” And so, one could assume, so were even the most virtuous sages of other traditions, never mind “seeds of the Word,” unless they expressly know and confess their belief in Jesus Christ.

I hasten to add, I mean this with no disrespect to Lutherans or other Protestants. I have no idea how operative this mentality is in peoples’ minds, though I know it is the foundational argument I have had with many Christians of the more evangelical persuasion. But it does become the philosophical garden out of which all one’s opinions are grown. I remember debating with a Contemporary Christian musician once about chant, basing my remarks on the fact a vocal form of sacred music developed in most of the world’s spiritual traditions. He countered by saying, “Yes, but they were pagans and that was music written before they knew Jesus,” and therefore it had to be replaced by “Christian” music. The same thing happened with Catholic missionaries all over the world up until Vatican II, mind you, replaying the “native genius” with Roman ritual and poorly executed Gregorian chant. Sigh. And that of course brings us back to the Psallite project I mentioned above, why I stress that “chant” does not mean “Gregorian chant,” and why we can draw from the native genius of other traditions. (Side note: we were working with the new translations of the Roman rite, not released yet. From the stilted language used in them and the whole trajectory of the “reform the reform” afoot, I fear we are heading back there.)

To counteract that, I was also finishing up Ilia Delio’s book, “Christ in Evolution.” In tracing the theology of Teilhard de Chardin, Raimundo Pannikar, Thomas Merton and Bede Griffiths, along with contemporary, mostly Franciscan, authors such as Ewert Cousins, Zachary Hayes and John Haught, Sr Ilia pushes forward two things. First the understanding that “Christ” cannot be limited to the historical Jesus of Nazareth. (This is theological thin ice for some, so tread carefully.) Before Jesus was born there was still the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word, associated with the Greek Logos, as well as, by some, the Tao of Chinese philosophy. After the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Christ is the whole Body: first of all understood as the church, which is understood primarily as “his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (as St Paul says in the letter to the Ephesians; and must include, as Ilia points out numerous times, all of creation which “is groaning and in agony as we await the redemption of our bodies” (as St Paul writes in the letter to the Romans).

Put those two things together and suddenly we see that Christ is now located at the heart of the whole evolutionary process, as a matter of fact what we call Christ is the whole evolutionary trajectory; or vice verse: the whole evolutionary energy of the universe is what/who we name Christ; Christians resolutely claim that the center of the universe is “personal and personalizing.” Christ is spirit wedding itself to matter, and matter then empowered to tend toward spirit. (Remember again here Sri Aurobindo: “Matter will reveal spirit’s face.”) Among the many paragraphs that I entirely underlined is this one:
We can now locate Christ at the heart of the whole evolutionary process: from cosmic evolution to biological evolution to evolution of human consciousness and culture. Within the evolution of human consciousness, Jesus emerges as the Christ, the fullness of God’s self-communication in history and the absolute expression of that self-communication in love… Christ is the dynamic life of the world. Christ symbolizes the fullness of life in God… Jesus is the symbol of every person and creature intended to rise from the dead and share in the glory of God… the realization of what we hope for in the universe: union and transformation in God.

Now this is a counterpart to the snow over the dung heap, because instead of starting with the corruption of human nature and the necessity for someone to come and redeem us from that corruption, this Christology starts out with the assumption that the Incarnation was not an after thought, but that this fullness of divinity dwelling bodily in human flesh was the design all along, the whole point of creation, the Omega point: “the realization of what we hope for in the universe: union and transformation in God.” (Ilia writes a line similar to that many times throughout the book and each time I underlined it.) And each person––here she quotes Panikkar––“Each person bears the mystery of Christ within.” And so “the first task of every creature, therefore, is to complete and perfect his or her icon of reality.”

The optimism of this view spills over. Why we would be in dialogue with other traditions is because any actions that are directed toward the good of the cosmos––the good, the true, the beautiful, the whole trajectory of evolution consciousness, and the evolution of matter to spirit––fall under the impulse of grace; their actions have eternal value, they are Christ inspired, because whether or not one explicitly knows Jesus, what we call “Christ” is the mysterious energy that is at the core of human life and life in the universe. To be a Christian then is to recognize a specific kind of mysticism of action as well as contemplation: to enter into dialogue with persons of other religions and cultures in which this Christ energy is making itself manifest; it is to plunge ourselves into the world, “getting involved with the tribes of humanity, earth’s people and the earth itself.”

I couldn’t help but think of Fr Bede and Abhishiktananda’s love for the concept of Purusa, the Great Person, as I read the closing lines of Ilia’s book, which also seem very poignant on this first Sunday of Advent, as we begin the great holy waiting:
We can look forward to a time when there will be one cosmic person uniting all persons, one cosmic humanity uniting all humanity, one Christ in whom God will be all in all.

When I was doing the presentation with Soren at the Center of Living Wisdom in Aahus, they ended the evening with a beautiful prayer. I later found out it was very famous, written by Alice Bailey of the Theosophical Society, and used by folks of many traditions who believe in a universal teacher who will come in some form––the second coming of Christ, the Lord Maitreya, the Imam Mahdi, the Messiah. I couldn’t find anything in it that was problematic. So, if you don’t know it, I leave it with you here as a great Advent prayer for anyone of any tradition, who is looking forward to the unfolding of the evolutionary process of matter and consciousness for the good of the cosmos, through Beauty, Truth and Goodness, seeds of the Word wherever they may fall.
From the point of Light within the Mind of God
Let light stream forth into human minds.
Let Light descend on Earth.

From the point of Love within the Heart of God
Let love stream forth into human hearts.
May the Coming One return to Earth.

From the centre where the Will of God is known
Let purpose guide all little human wills -
The purpose which the Masters know and serve.

From the centre which we call the human race
Let the Plan of Love and Light work out
And may it seal the door where evil dwells.

Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

love in disguise

To discover Sufism,
it is up to you to take the first step
to drink from the sources of Divine Love.
It is like honey--
you cannot enjoy its sweetness if you do not taste it.
(from the Tariqa Qadiriyya Boutchichiyya)

16 november 09

I'm in London now, about to begin the working session with my fellow members of the Collegeville Composers Group. The original plan was for me to go up to Islington and spend the day and night with my friend Giovanni, yogi and rolfing master who I met through Laurence and the WCCM. But his mate Luke got stricken with the flu, so I got a room at a hotel near Heathrow, where I have to meet the others tomorrow, and was going to take the Tube into town and meet Giovanni for dinner and an evening out, and maybe some touristy gawking, all of which I was looking forward to. But then Giovanni wrote that he too has been struck down. As wonderful as it would have been to do all those other things, I still found myself not all that heart broken, glad to have some time to myself. I got in early and was in my room by 10 AM, and here it is after 5 PM and I am as happy as a hermit in the woods at the Park Inn Heathrow, with a gym (with a hot tub and sauna), wireless internet, Rai Uno on the cable television, enough room for my yoga mat, my guitar and Bible, a tea kettle, a pub called the Three Magpies across the street, and a free breakfast buffet in the morning. After a week of a lot of people stuff, who needs London? "Sit in your hotel room as if in Paradise," St Romuald might say, 'twere he in my running shoes.

I thought the evening at Sunhail's was to be the highight of the week, but it got even better, richer, deeper, with this little encounter on Sunday afternoon. It hadn't occured to me that I would have so much interaction with Muslims on this trip to Denmark. But indeed, there are a lot of Muslims in Denmark from many different parts of Asia and the Mideast. Of course, the country's relationship with Islam came into much higher relief after what Danes refer to as "the cartoon crisis." Put briefly, as one Dane explained it to me, while Denmark has long been regarded a neutral and friendly country, people here talk about the "cartoon crisis" as almost as much a watermark as we talk about 9/11. (You'll remember when a Danish newspaper ran a cartoon of Muhammad that was highly insulting to Muslims.) She said that the resulting cultural crisis revealed both the dark underbelly of xenephobia among the minority extreme right wing of Danes, as well as the dark side of some Muslims who were at least threatening to resolve a religious-cultural offense by violence. So, I was happy and should not have been surprised that I got to spend so much time with Muslims.

Agnete had arranged for me to spend the afternoon with Naveed Baig and his group of young Sufis from Pakistan. I think it is safe to describe them that way. Naveed is a soft-spoken bespecatcled gentle old soul, though quite young yet, perhaps in his mid-thirties. He was born in Denmark, and is immersed in promoting the Muslim community, active in civil society organizations, co-founder of MID (Muslims in Dialogue), which is the largest youth organization in Denmark, and also a member of the steering committee of IKS (Islamic Christian study center), which also functions as a dialogue center. The rest of his bio, gleaned from the Web also reports that
He has written various articles for Danish newspapers and journals, including an Islamic theology for spiritual care and counseling, sharing his gained knowledge from his work in hospitals and prisons. Furthermore, He contributed to an anthology regarding the post-cartoon scenario published by the 'information' publication. He participated in the month long series 'Islam's faces in Denmark' on DR (Danish Radio), and has also been quoted by various newspapers especially with regards to dialogue work and Islamic spirituality. Furthermore, he has organized and participated in outreach ventures as lectures at various universities, churches and for hospital staff. He was recently part of a Danish delegation to Syria in the aftermath of the cartoon crisis, supported by the Danish foreign ministry.
He is also a member of the Qadriyya Sufi Order, and is known as an imam (which he told me literally translates merely as "the one who stands in front") both for his hospital chaplaincy and his leadership of this particular group of young men.

I of course had no idea exactly what to expect, and really only the vaguest idea of what I would do or was expected to do. I'm starting to really enjoy that part now, to be prepared to go in just about any direction but to first meet a few people, look into their eyes, smell the room, get a sense of where people are at. You can tell a lot just from walking into a room, I think, and watching how people interact. I often think about these two different occasions in the past when I had no idea what to do. One was the famous concert for 3000 school children arranged by JP in Tiruvanamalai. Even now when I look at photos of that event I laugh at the look on my face. I recognize it. I'm saying to myself, "Oh. My. God. What am I going to do for a half an hour with this beautiful sea of faces that don't speak English?" The other time was when Shannon took me out to the prison in the central valley to give a day of recollection. I had plenty of things with me, but when I walked in the room I knew I wasn't going to be able to deliver any of it in the way I normally do. It wound up being one of the most memorable days of ministry I've ever had. I told someone that night on the phone that I had never felt so satisfied and so exhausted by a day's work.

As it turned out, I was to do the first part of the program, 45 minutes, whatever I wanted to do. We were a group of about 20, mostly young men. Some of them had been brought by a striking guy named Tokir, fellows he studies Arabic with. There were a few women and children as well, all arranged in angled tables with chairs in a small hall. So I decided to just pull up a stool, sit in the middle of them and sing my songs and tell my stories, talking about Fr Bede, and Universal Wisdom and the stories behind, and the reasons I sing, those particular songs. I only got through three or four songs with those long introductions. It was especially nice to open with the Gregorian Latin chant and then the Sanskrit one, and then go into "Hidden in My Silence," because that already brought three traditions together. Not only was Ghalib (from whom I got the refrain) Muslim, he wrote in Urdu, the native language of most Pakistanis. Something that Naveed said in his introduction made me want to mention over and over again "finding words that we can all share." That led of course to pulling out the "Bismillah" song again and telling the story of St Francis and the Sultan. I also had them sing "Lead Me" with me, of course. I must say, with all due respect, they were not giving me a whole lot back singing-wise, but they made a valiant effort. (There was however one young boy, maybe six or seven years old who sang out quite boldly and beautifully, named Hasan, I found out later.) They were not super responsive either but very attentive and respectful. So I wasn't sure who well I had connected. It wasn't a concert setting really, but more of a presentation, you might say. When I finished a very fine young Pakistani Sufi singer named Adeel then did the second half, singing selections from the Qur'an and various devotional poems of great teachers. (Again, Hasan sang along with some of the first pieces Adeel did which we well known traditional songs.) Adeel had asked me to stay up in front with him, and help him lead the dhikr then, which I thought was quite an honor, even if it was only a small thing. And then I led a short prayer service, which I called "Word Into Silence" as we normally name our regular service back home, which was sort of a very short lectio divina. Adeel sang (and Naveed translated) a section of the Qur'an, and then I taught them to let the words roll around on their own lips, then move into the mind and then to "put the mind into the heart." After a short meditation I sang a passage from the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew's Gospel and led them into the same thing. And then I pulled out the beautiful prayer from the Harmony Center in Singapore which I have been carrying around with me for years now and prayed it out loud. It was all very good, simple and sweet, in the best sense of the word.

I wrote earlier that I hadn't found them terribly responsive, though attentive and respectful, while I was speaking, to contrast that with our interaction afterward. I had a number of beautiful very in depth conversations with several of the guys who came up to me and wanted to speak. What I noticed the most about them was their presence: they were really present when they were speaking with me, or shaking my hand or giving me a hug, looking me right in the eye, standing quite near--really present. I knew I was hearing from their hearts.

I enjoyed meeting Naveed very much. I had told Agnete earlier that week that I really want to go to the Mideast some day, if for nothing other reason than just to sing these songs there, and she mentioned it in front of Naveed. I said to him casually, "We should go together." And he actually took to the idea right away, and little sparks started lighting right away in Agnete's eyes and mind with her genius for setting these kinds of things up, and we tossed the idea around a bit. I think that just might happen and I hope it does. What a beautiful thing it would be to do programs together, what a sign, what power in presence.
Agnete and I had spoken the day before about the pain around the issue of inter-communion between Catholics and especially Lutherans, there in Denmark, but really all other Protestant denominations. Often our own Catholic leaders want to insist that we can't share communion because we are not unified. But one wise holy old man once taught me that Eucharist is not just the sign of unity: it's also the instrument of unity--it's what makes us one. Why should we deny medicine to the sick? And so we ache. But I was thinking too that there is actually something good about the pain. It's a sign that we know something is wrong, and also it's the ache of the longing for the healing of that breach. It goes the same with our bonds of love with people from other traditions too, other ethnic groups and countries. That ache spurs us on. We need to wail and fast and mourn too, and then we need to be spurred to do unity, not just long for it, just as we know from Thich Nhat Hahn that "there is no path to peace--peace is the path," so there is no way to unity: unity is the way. Sychronistically someone wrote in an e-mail to me the other day about "the discomfort/pain of conflict that is inherent in any calling to wholeness..." and I thought of that later. One of the men at Naveed's group simply handed me a note when I had finished and was packing up my guitar and told me that this had occured to him while I was speaking and singing, and so he had written in down for me. After we left the building I pulled it out of my pocket and read it. It said simply,

In the Name of Allah
Most Gracious Ever Merciful
There is no sorrow
without love
Sorrow is love
in disguise

I half wanted to go back in and talk to him about it, but I figured "words are darkened lamps on a stranger's silent grave" anyway. Yes, that's it: It's all love. Even sorrow is love in disguise.

Agnete, ever the consummate host, then had me over to her place for a delicious farewell meal. We were again joined by Elizabeth, and she and I had a good discussion about en-bodied spirituality while Agnete cooked. At dinner Agnete told some amazing stories about her travels these years, from dodging bullets in Palestine to sneaking a group of pilgrims across the Syrian border while Israel was bombing the daylights out of Lebanon a few years back. I am amazed and inspired and humbled to have been in such good company this week. I feel as if I have been given more than I gave. The very friendly taxi driver told me at 6 AM as he dropped me off at the airport, "You must come back when the sun is shining. Copenhagen is soooo bea-uuu-tiful" with a big toothy grin. I said--though I don't know if I will spell it correctly--"I will. Tusund tak!" A thousand thanks.

Monday, November 16, 2009

other peoples' words

When you go forth begging,
let contentment be your earrings,
and modesty your begging bowl;
smear your body with the ashes of meditation,
and let contemplation of death be your beggar's rags.
(from a Sikh Morning Prayer)

15 november, 2009

I have had a harder thime than usual with jet lag on this trip so am still staying awake until 2 or 3 AM before I fall off to sleep (I stop looking at the clock after 1). That means I usually sleep until 8 or 9 in the morning which feels like a decadent extravangance. Actually the sky has been so overcast that with the curtains closed in my room it is pretty dark until then anyway. But this morning when I was rustling awake around 8 o'clock, through the little crack in the curtains there was some yellow and I woke up saying, "What is this?!", opened the curtains and, sure enough, there was sun shining on the steeple outside my window. As quickly as I could I gathered my running clothes and headed out for a jog around the lakes. It was the first time I was over-dressed for the run, with hat and gloves and a scarf, and worked up quite sweat. As other days, I was even more impressed to see so many people out doing the same thing this morning--even on a Sunday. On my way back, as has been my wont, I stopped for a caffe americano and a pastry. I had been going to what I came to find out was the most expensive bakery on the block: once I figured out the exchange rate I found out I had been paying around $10 for what I thought was a humble bun and a cup of coffee. The past two mornings I went to what I think is the Danish equivalent of Starbucks, and got the same for a little less. Heck, gotta have some treats on the road, and absorb a little of the local flavor.

Friday night, back in Copenhagen, I was scheduled to perform for Night Church back at Helligandskirken (Holy Ghost Church). This is an activity sponsored by quite a few Lutheran churches here in Copenhagen, a kind of open house from early evening until some time around midnight, with various events scheduled, at least in the case of Helligandskirken, every hour on the hour, with people drifting in and out as they wish. How well it succeeds at this I do not know, but the intent is to make a welcoming place for folks who would not normally come to church to drop in and stay as long as they want. As I had been told earlier in the week, I was to simply play for about an hour, whatever I wanted, without even talking. That sounded like my dream gig, and I put a set list together and practiced for it beforehand. As it turned out, Mikel, the pastor of night church (one of eight--eight!!--pastors at Helligandskirken), wanted a little more than that, and hoped that I would also share something about monasticism in general and my life as a monk in particular. So I played for about 40 minutes, and I did do some small introductions to the pieces, mainly just titles and translations. I was thinking it was like a "cabin set," what I would normally play while practicing at home in the afternoon (while listening to NPR in the background), going from an instrumental to a song, from Sanskrit into English. May favorites were playing the Malayalam "Aarathi" and then going into "Behind and Before Me," and then a long instrumental version of Christopher Walker's "Like a Child Rests" into "Put Love First." And then the last 20 minutes, led on by Pastor Mikel, I first led the crowd in "The Lord is My Light," then aided by Agnete sort of interviewing me, I spoke for another 15 minutes, and then closed with "Streams of Living Water." Again, this sort of fascination with "monkery" among the Lutherans here in Denmark. It was a sweet environmnet, the church low lit with candles all over the place, at least during the musical set, and I felt right at home. After my hour another pastor came, led by a candlelight procession, and led us in a simple eucharistic service, the church in total darkness except for the candle light. Pastor Mikel was off to the side accompanying a few hymns on classical guitar. I don't know if I have ever heard hymns sung so beautifully, especially one which is also a favorite of Agnete that she said she would get for me later. I was told it is not typical there in Denmark either for the hymns to be accompanied by guitar, as it is rare too in the US.

Saturday was a full day off. I had the morning luxuriously to myself in my comfortable room with the Jesuits, and then Agnete came to fetch me around 1 o'clock for sightseeing. She took me first to a Leggo store (Leggos are made here, you know) for a few small Christmas presents for a select group of beautiful nieces and godchildren; then on to the Lutheran Cathedral where Agnete will be ordained some time before the end of the year as the ninth pastor of Helligandskirken, dedicated mainly to dialogue. That church is filled with the statuary of the famous Danish sculptor Thorvaldsen. The twelve apostles are lined up along the aisles and at the very front is an enormous Christ. Agnete was keen on introducing me to his work, so from there, after some meandering around the beautiful walking malls of Copenhagen, we ended up at the Thorvaldsen museum, chock full of his sculpture. I had never heard of him at all, but he is the pride of Denmark (one of his statues is in St Peter's in Rome, of Pius VII). He was a contemporary of Hans Christian Anderson and Soren Kirkegaard, and apparently they all hung out in Rome together during their Italian period at a certain osteria, with a host of other thinkers and artists from around the continent. The place reminded me of the Uffizi in Florence and overall gave me a good case of nostalgia per l'Italia. From there Agnete took me to the district known as Nyhaun--the new harbor, an area where Hans Christian Anderson lived, which later became a red light district, and is now more of a tourist trap with kiosks and taverns and entertainment. There was also a view out over the harbor and national theatre and opera house, to which the Queen, incidentally, can sail directly from her castle. The Dane's are quite proud of their royalty, too, by the way, the oldest monarchy in Europe. I heard none of anti-monarchy talk that one hears from time to time in England, for instance, but instead a kind of fondness and affection for the heritage.

Agente and I spent a good deal of time talking about our various approaches to dialogue that day. This is a big word for Agnete--"dialogue"--, the main focus of her life and work, fostering experiences of and situations for folks from different religions and cultures, even different sects within religions and ethnic groups to find space for and the skills to be in dialogue. I was running by her what my experience of dialogue has been, what I feel like I've been attempting to do with the Sangha and in other situations as well. She often faces the opposite problem than I. She is often with people who are not open to experiencing difference from another religion, folks who are focused on the differences without necessarily knowing the facts. I said that I often feel that I am faced with folks who think "it's all the same"--without necessarily knowing the facts. We talked about the tendency of some moderns, for example, who want to reduce all mystical language and experience to the advaita non-duality, and dismiss any mystical experience and language that doesn't convey that as somehow "less than." This was a tendency in Ken Wilber's earlier writing, though his language has modified a great deal (I wonder how much influenced by wise old Fr Thomas Keating?). Again, I brought up how impressed I was by these two things in her work and that of IKON and Areopagus: the triple focus on spirituality, study and dialogue; and how they are intentional about including "alternative spiritualities" in their dialogue. I think that this is something I have been trying to articulate for some years, that we needn't go to India or Japan or Saudi Arabia to be in dialogue with Buddhists and Hindus and Muslims. Perhaps the more important work is being in dialogue with our neighbors who are already well steeped in a philosophical matrix and language, unknowingly or not, that is post-Western Christian, a language that often conveys and fills in some of the gaps in the practical application of Christian spirituality and anthropology, particularly about relation to earth, to bodiliness, and to spiritual psychology.

And then came what I think I will look back on as the highlight of the day and the week. For all the work I do, what these trips are really about is meeting these remarkable kindred souls from all over with their beautiful tapestry of stories. Per his invitaiton from last Tuesday, we showed up at Suhail's Marakesh Kitchen for dinner around 6 o'clock. As it turns out, oddly enough, we wound up being his only customers that night, so he was free to lavish us with his presence as well as his hospitality and food. He had cooked up for me a vegetarian dish that included, at last count, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, carrots, prunes, a pear, tomato paste, lemon (pickled with vinegar), corainder, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon. Tremendous, that combination of sweet and savory with the density of those spices. Of course there was bottomless pot of mint tea, and a delicious creme brulee style desert with mint and rose water, but the main course of the evening was the conversation. Suhail told us more about his own fascinating life, the son of an Indian mother and Pakistani father, raised a kind of secular Muslim, though he has been a spritiual seeker for many years. We talked about the Shi'a and Sunni spiritual differences, his experiences with the Sufis, and about the state of Muslims in Denmark. He was also quite well verses in various meditative traditions, especially Ramana Maharshi and Brahmakumari, and he and I had a good long talk about my favorite topic, spiritual psychology and integral spirituality. At one point while we were talking about prayer I mentioned dhikr ("rememberance," what Muslims call the style of worhsip they do that inolves a kind of ecstatic repetition of the name of God) and the tasbih (the Muslim prayer beads that accompany the 99 Beautiful Names of God), and Suhail sort of leaned back and looked at me through half-closed eyes saying, "So you know these words... It is very good to understand other peoples' words." That became the theme of the night for me: It is very good to understand other peoples' words.

We were then joined by another friend of Agnete's, who I had met once already, named Elizabeth, who is a cultural sociologist by training, but also, Agnete claims, a very good theologian besides. After working with HIV/AIDS patients here in Denmark, she moved to San Francisco in the late 1980's to work with the same there, and now is back in Copenhagen doing the same still, offering counseling and help wherever she can. And then after the creme brulle, while Suhail was serving a pot of ginger tea he had brerwed up specially for Agente, we were joined by two more friends, Thomas and Lotus. We had all met Thomas the other evening when he happened upon the concert/event at Helligandskirken. He had said that he was going to come for night church on Friday but never showed up. When we got to the resturant, I had asked Suhail if he knew him, and Suhail pulled out his mobile phone, and called and invited him as well. His lady friend Lotus was a tall beautiful girl of Danish and Gambian heritage. Then the conversation took on another depth altogether. Thomas himself has a rich background for such a young man. I may get this wrong, but he is the son of a Spanish father and Dutch mother. I never suspected that Denmark woul dhave such a beautifully rich variety of ethnic groups! Thomas is currently specializing in Disaster Management, the kind of folks who go in to a place that has been devasted by a tsunami or a flood. But before that he spent a year studying in the Rudolph Steiner school (and so a connection with the Theosophists), some time studying theology, and has been to Tiruvanamalai. After I got more of the dope on him, he, like Sunhail, started asking me some pretty in-depth questions about spirituality and monastic life. At one point he said something like, "I have so many questions, but this will have to do for now." We finally closed up the Markesh Kirchen around 10:30, having exhausted ourselves and probably Suhail's hospitality as well.

As I mentioned, I have had a worse bout of jet lag than usual on this trip, so with that added to the stimulating conversation and all that tea, I was up 'til well past 4 AM, tossing and turning, but all the while marveling at what a wonderfully small place this world is when people meet heart to heart, deep calling unto deep, like pure water poured into pure water. These are where the real "dialogue" goes on, in friendships, well worn paths between huts, when there is nothing forced about or exercised about it. It's just friendship.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

the Divine Pathos

Claim nothing: do not covet God's property.
Then hope for a hundred years of life doing your duty.
No other way can prevent deeds from clinging,
proud as you are of your human life.
(Isha Upanishad)

13 november, 2009

I've just returned to Copenhagen (pronounced, by the way, "koop-en-haugh") from Aarhus (pronounced "ow-hoos"--I'm just barely starting to make some sense of Danish. Fr Thomas, here from Kerala says all the vowels are in the throat, trouble for an Indian when all the vowels are in the tongue). It has been dreadfully dreary here and there, even the Danes say that it is unusual to go this long without seeing the sun. The days are short this time of year this far north as it is--barely light at 7:30 AM and now almost twilight at 3:30 PM; add to that overcast, windy and raining, not quite cold enough to snow but with the wind pretty bone-chilling, at least for this Californian. I love the fact that Danes like to light candles all the time, to supplement the electric light and to add a little warmth to the ambiance of the indoors. They are well aware of the depression that can come from this much time without sun.

On my way to Aarhus, Agnete (pronounced "awg-neeta", though I am not entirely sure of that...) took me over to Danmission, what I had been calling "the mothership." Indeed I now have a pretty good connection with that institution, the work I did for JP in Tiruvanamalai and now this trip here. It is an impressive sunny place, a real missionary deployment center full of casually dressed intense but friendly people. I led a small morning devotion in their main conference room with readings and music and a short meditation, but then came the main reason Agnete had brought me there. I met in another conference room with her "team." All the members of Danmission are divided up into smaller teams, kind of like the missionary equivalent of small faith communities. Agnete's job on her team is interfaith dialogue, though she usualyl just refers to it as "dialogue." And she wanted me to hold forth about my approach to dialogue, some of the things I had shared with her when we met in Tiru and during these past few days here. I pretty much used the presentation I had prepared for the school for spiritual directors at Pecos two months ago, and like that presentation, again here going into this I felt underqualified. I mean, these folks are professional missionaries! But I know enough about what I know that I have been able to string together references from what has influenced my thoughts and also wisdom I've gained from my own "work." There doesn't seem to be an adequate word for what I do--work? apostolate? ministry? life? Yea, I think that's best: it's just my life. And so I tried to share what I've learned from my own life experiences especially these past years from the wonderful array of people with whom I have been surrounded and interact. I mainly spoke about my understanding of the perennial philosophy, my uinderstanding of the trajectory from the Word to the logos to Jesus to Christ, and how wherever we discover the Word being manifest... Well, William Thompson says it better than I can:
The transcultural Christ is co-present wherever the Divine Pathos is authentically mediating itself, whether through some cultural form of religion or through some 'personal religious experience.'

I talked about Panikkar's notion of the three energies of the Divine that are revealed in the Trinity, energies which are also manifest in other traditions such that we can teach one another, one tradition to the next, about those energies. Then I laid out my whole telos-scopos-praxis schema--I am getting a lot of mileage out of that and better copyright that soon. We don't indeed agree on the telos-the end, but oddly enough we do agree on the proximate goal-the scopos, as well on the practical way to that goal, the praxis or spiritual practice, sadhana, upaya. The staff seemed to like it a lot, even got excited about some of it and were undoubtably hearing the whole thing expressed in a different way then usual. One woman said to me, and she prefaced it by saying, "And I don't mean this as a negative thing," that my approach was very "Catholic," and/but she liked it. It was one of those occasions when a) I was wondering if I would have anything worthwhile to say to fill up an hour and wound up talking non-stop for 45 minutes; and b) when it was a worthwhile thing to be stretched a little bit, called to swim in water about an inch over my head. I think that's how we get called: you've shown that you can do that much, and we'd like you to do this much.

Agente took me to the train station then where we had lunch in a little cafe. How I love train stations! I kept remembering how when I have stayed in Rome I always loved to walk to Roman Termini each day, just to hang out a little, watch the people, maybe have a caffe, but just kind of delight in humanity. Train stations, I must say after this many trips, are so much more civil than airports, and trains much more humane than airplanes. There is something so un-natural about the whole airport experience, especially now with the incredible security precautions on top of hurtling through the air at 300 miles per hour in an air conditioned tube six miles over the earth. I can see why some great thinkers--Carl Jung and Krishnamurti among them--thought there was something psychically damaging about the air travel. Anyway, I digress... It was a beautiful train trip from Copenhagen to Aarhus. I was met at the train station by Johnny--yes, his real name; he was a post-World War II baby when folks all over the world liked to name their kids after the American soldier who was always known as "Johnny."

Johnny and his wife Pernilla were to be my hosts for the next two days. They are a wonderful memorable couple. They too had been a part of Danmission for some years, but also part of a Christian commune in the 70's, and founding members of IKON, another Danish group dedicated to dialogue, besides being members of Areopagus, which I mentioned earlier, as well. Pernilla is the daughter of two famous Danish Lutheran theologians, especially her father was well known for some of the earliest work in interfaith dialogue, though his style tended to be more of a provacateur, confrontation rather than conversation. They picked an especially harsh fight with Scientology at one point, for example. Johnny is the son of a Danish father who was a sailor, and a southern Spanish mother, and he has a little of the fire of each of them in him. There was a pciture on their kitchen cupboard of a swarthy, gangly guy with hair down his back and a scraggly beard down to the middle of his chest dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans next to a peachy cheeked Danish girl with flowers in her hair, and I asked hesitantly, "Is that you?" It was they indeed! At the wedding in 1978. Their home is filled with books, of course, but also artifacts from mainly from Nepal and Hong Kong, where they worked as missionaries, and contemporary sacred art from all over Europe and the Mideast. And a huge sheep dog named Fritz, besides mementos of their two grown children, and their adopted Vietnamese daughter and grandchildren and their Somali son. Pernilla is still working (for the Christian Labor Union now), but Johnny is pensioned and was free to devote all of his time to me for 48 hours. He was a great host, full of stories and edgy opinions that he is unafraid to offer to anyone anywhere. He referred to himself as a jester, and that is a pretty good description.

My first event was a full-on concert. I say it that way, because most of the other things here have been a combination of speaking and singing. Every now and then it is so nice to just do a plain old concert. The only hard part of it was that English was not the first language of this audience, so I had to speak slowly (and not MUMBLE, pace Leonard Ong...). Every now and then someone in the audience would give me a good gesture with a hand to the ear saying, "Slowly and louder, please!" Other than that, there was a good crowd--a combination, as Johnny said often afterwards, describing it to others, of "a few Catholics and a bunch of New Agers!" That is because our friend Soren Hauge of the Center for Living Wisdom had done a great deal of advertising among his people. I had also met Soren in Tiruvanamalai, and he was quite happy with the various things I had been able to do for that same tour group back in '08, which was a combination of his folks and more mainstream Christian folks. But the best part about it, for me anyway, was that it was a beautiful space, the Catholic church of Our Lady. It was perhaps an 18th century Neo-Gothic building, but modifed very tastefully, chairs arranged choir style in the lwoer part of the church with the upper area around the high altar set up as a Eucharistic chapel, the whole place full of plants and art and tasteful lighting. Best of all it had a scrumptious acoustic, like I haven't had since the concerts in Italy. They had placed a clip-on mic on me to supplement a little, but after the first song I removed it with the assent of the crowd and simply used the space. I had saved Awakening until two songs in, so by the time I got to that I was ready to let loose and I could send the voice soaring all around, and even could hear myself harmonizing with the overtones that were left hanging in the air. Unusually, I did not have a set list drawn up, but just brought a pile of cheat sheets out with and me and decided one after the other what song I felt like singing next. The audience didn't applaud at all until the very end--I'm finally getting used to that--but quite often I could feel all of us sort of sigh together after a piece. The reason I mention the "New Ager" thing is because apparently there is some tension about that among Catholics in Denmark, and I overheard that one of the priests of the parish (none of whom came to the concert), after hearing from Johnny who had been there for the concert, wondered out loud if I myself was sufficiently Catholic. I certainly don't want to ever cause a stir some place, but I hope that in the end he was happy that some folks who ight never set foot in a church of any kind actually did come to one and spend an evening with a monk. After all:
The transcultural Christ is co-present wherever the Divine Pathos is authentically mediating itself, whether through some cultural form of religion or through some 'personal religious experience.'

The next day, Johnny was my tour guide. Of the few choices I had, I picked the Viallge Museum as my destination. The city of Aarhus has re-constructed on a large piece of land historical houses from all over Denmark from different eras. Some of them are open, some of them are set up like active shops--booksellers, cafes, etc.--but many of them are simply sitting there to be admired in all thier architectural wonder. It was pretty cold and damp but we made a good go of it; but I especially liked when we pulled into the tea house and drank hot chocolate and ate typical Danish pastries. Then that evening I had an event at Soren's center, The Center for Living Wisdom. Soren was raised up through the Theosophist school and is well known throughout Scandanavia, traveling extensively giving lectures on various spiritual topics. They wanted some music, as always, but mainly he arranged for the evening to be a conversation. I have noticed a number of times that Danes are particularly fascinated to meet a monk--Soren introduced me by saying, "It is not often that you get a monk in a package!"--so he asked me a number of questions about monasticism and my own life. I always begin by stressing that I am not a typical Western monk. After talking about the desert monks, Benedictine monasticism and then the Camaldolese reform, I talk about Bede and Abhishiktananda, and then refer to myself as a bit of an eccentric among eccentrics. Folks are fascinated by specifics, exactly how I spend my day when I am home, what kind of prayer life, what do you eat? It feels odd to have such personal things on display but kind of moving and inspiring all the same, a good motivator for me to examen.

I'm back in Copenhagen now. I'll try to add one more entry before leaving on Monday for England.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


There are hundreds of thousands of worlds below and above ours,
and scholars grow weary of seeking for God's bounds.
The Vedas proclaim with one voice that God is boundless.
The Semitic books mention eighteen hundred worlds;
but the Reality behind all is the One Principle.
(Sikh Morning Prayer)

Wednesday 11 November, 2009

Yesterday was a particularly interesting encounter and event that I had been looking forward to. It took place at the Helligandskirken, Holy Ghost Church. Though not the cathedral, it is probably the best known Lutheran church in Copenhagen. It was formerly, before the Reformation, the home of a religious order that did hospital work, and was also the place where the famous Danish philosopher Soren Keirkegaard was baptised. (It was hardly a "leap of faith" at the time; he was baptised as an infant.) The church complex went on and on, room after room after hall and corridor and chapel.

There we met Rev Dr Shanta Premavardhana, who is the head of the dialogue department for the World Council of Churches in Geneva. Dr Shanta is a very erudite man, originally from Sri Lanka, as he says, a minority Baptist growing up among Buddhists and Hindus. That is what led him to have a passion for dialogue, and in his present position he travels all over the world engaging in interfaith dialogue and fostering programs where there is tension. Before we met he and the others were discussing a new initiative in Pakistan, for instance, where tensions are so high between Christians and Muslims. After doing his graduate work in Hinduism and Buddhism at Northwestern University in Chicago, Dr Shanta stayed on there as a pastor in Hyde Park, living about a block away from the Obamas, whom he knew. He told a story of then State Senator Obama being late for a community organizing meeting that Dr Shanta had organized. He had to call Senator Obama and scold him for being late (he had actually forgotten the meeting). He loves telling folks how he had to scold the President of the United States. He also said that they all said about Barack Obama that one day he was going to be President. He knew the infamous Reverend Wright too, and scolded Mr Obama again because he had to drive right by Dr Shanta's church on his way to Rev Wright's. "You should go to church in your own neighborhood!" he said.

It was just co-incidental that Dr Shanta was in town at the same time I was, and Agnete had the idea that we should do some kind of presentation together. We all met upstairs in one of the many meeting rooms at Helligandskirken and put together a rough outline of what we might do, that he would tell stories about his encounters with various religious groups and I would sing songs from the various traditions, but we would leave it a bit to improvisation. At the event itself we actually did pretty much as planned with little deviation from the order we had picked. He told a Jewish story about the importance of... stories! I explained and sang "Lead Me From Death into Life." He talked about the Bhagavad Gita and then I sang "The Great Mother" from the Tao te Ching. He talked about images of God as mother and I sang "When Israel Was a Child." He talked about God as merciful and the misuse of religion to beat people up, and I sang "Bismillah." He talked about the brahmaviharas of the Buddhism, accenting especially compassion and loving-kindess, and I sang, of course, "Compassionate and Wise" to end. After we finished that part we took a short break before reconvening to field some questions, great questions, I might add, and a lively discussion. There were at least two theologians in the crowd. It was very well received and folks seemed to really enjoy the interaction between the two of us. We both agreed that this would be a great way to spread the message of the World Council of Churches.

Pastor Leif had taken us all across the street for dinner before the event. It was an unexpected delight: a Moroccan restaurant owned and operated by a gentleman named Suhail who was a friend of Leif's. I won't begin to describe the menu but it was authentic Moroccan cuisine with its incredible mix of spices and flowers. Anyway, apparently Suhail was intrigued by what we were up to because I noticed him slip in the room toward the end of the first part, and we had a great conversation about many things during the break. This is the 21st century, and if proof were needed of globalization, here was an Indian Persian man, running a Moroccan restaurant in Denmark. Agnete is supposed to take me sight-seeing on Saturday and Suhail is going to try to join us for some of the day, but for sure invited us to come for dinner again that night.

Tomorrow morning I am going to the mothership of Danmission for the first time, to lead a prayer service and then meeting with the staff in a meeting billed as "seeing the beauty of the religious other and dealing with difficult theological questions." Agnete is quite invested in this particular encounter, to share me with her co-workers and shed some light for them on what it is she does by meeting someone else who does it in his own context. And then I get on a train for a three hour trip to the city of Aarhus where I have a concert tomorrow night and some other work the next day before returning here to Copenhagen on Friday

sewing ourselves together

Our faith is the needle by which we draw the thread of charity through our neighbor's soul and our own soul and sew ourselves together.
(Thomas Merton)

Tuesday, 10 November

These past two days I have had the luxury of the morning to myself. There is a series of four man-made lakes just a block away from the house where I am staying, with a nice bike and running path around them that I am told is 7 kilometres. That's almost 5 miles, so a perfect morning run, crossing over some major streets crowded with morning pedestrians and cyclists on their way to work and school, not to mention cars. (As I finish I go to a bakery around the corner for a chocolate cinnamon bun and a caffe americano, which seems appropriate.) But, speaking of cars, for a large major European city, I've noticed that there are relatively few cars here in Copenhagen. I'm told that is because there is a high tax on cars--300%--to discourage private ownership and encourage public and other alternative means of transportation. I read that 80% of people here bicycle to work each day, for instance. This may be one of the reasons that Denmark is considered one of the eco-friendliest countries in the world, with clean air and water, and why they were chosen to host the international summit on global warming this month.

Did you ever notice how if you want to disparage somebody in public in America accuse them of being either gay, a socialist or a Muslim? (Wouldn't it be hard to be all three?) It's as if somehow simply being one of those three implied that one is "objectively morally disordered," to borrow a phrase, or at least un-American. I'm mainly thinking here of "socialist," since I have heard that one getting bandied around so much this past year in the maddening debate over health care. I've never thought about it much before, but it is one of those assumptions, that socialism is somehow bad and doesn't go with being an American Christian. And yet the past two popes have been pretty harsh in their criticism of capitalism (and indeed it is not an intrinsically moral eocnomic system), and the bishops of the US were so "leftist" in their pastoral letter "Economic Justice for All" that William F Buckley, ardent traditionalist Catholic that he was, felt forced to write the headline "Mater, Si; Magister, No" in response to it--"Mother, yes; teacher, no." I'm thinking of that for two reasons. Here in Denmark they have had socialized medicine for years, and are quite proud of it, and they are a more overtly Christian nation than the USA. (As a matter of fact the Lutheran church is a state church here.) And the other reason I am thinking of this socialist epitath is that suddenly the Roman Catholic bishops' conference of America has shown a little influence in the political realm, and this time in a way that is sure not to please the social conservatives. In forcing the caveat about no public funds for abortions, they also proclaimed that they consider universal health care a right, and even urge health benefits for illegal aliens. What do you make of that? The Gospel is a burr under the saddle of every social system, and has values that transcend political expediency and nationalism. We need to be careful when we talk about preserving our "American way of life."

I had my first small event yesterday afternoon. It was at a large imposing convent-like building called the Diakonissestiftelsen. It is originally the headquarters of a womens' religious order of sorts--the diakonisse, literally "women deacons"--but also houses a loose collective of progressive social movemetns and organizations more or less religious in character. Our main contact there was Lars Mollerup who works for an organization called Areopagus. Originally Areopagus was Christian missionary group mainly concerned with Buddhists and Taoists in China and Hong Kong. They early on associated the Chinese notion of "tao" with the Greek Christian "logos." Lars gathered a group of other folks from the building that are working in the field of dialogue and spirituality. I always need to begin by asking my host what exacatly it is that they want me to do. The thing that they seem to be the most fascinated with is that I set texts from different traditions to music and sing them. So that became the bulk of my presentaiton for them, giving them some examples of songs I've written and some of the explanation behind them. They were indeed very interested. Again my new piece "Bismillah" was especially a big hit. That is the piece I wrote using the phrase "bismillah ar-Rahman, ar-Rahim" as a refrain, the phrase that opens up every surah of the Qur'an, and then worte verses based on St Francis of Assisi's Prasies of God, which are said to have been inspired by the 99 beautiful names of God that St Francis learned of from his time with the sultan al-Malik. It worked for us at the Tent of Abraham gaterhing this year (which happened to fall on the feast of St Francis) and also for the 25th anniversary of Mount RIenaeus Franciscan retreat center, for which occasion I had written it. The woman who especially liked it here asked to photocopy the music so that she could use it for gatherings of Jews, Christians and Muslims. What Lars mentioned was that the beauty of music is that it doesn't reside at the intellectual level. I had mentioned that I got the idea from the practice of lectio divina which Fr Bede expanded to include the meditating scriptures of other traditions. And indeed, in lectio divina we don't read scripture with a commentary and Greek lexicon at our side; we read scirpture as a personal encounter with the Word, a love letter from the Beloved.

The main theme that I am carrying with me these days as an explanation of my own work comes from two sources other than Fr Bede, Raimundo Panikkar and Thomas Keating. Panikkar spekas of "dialogic dialogue." That sounds like a meaningless tautology at first, but it means a conversation with those who think differently, the primary purpose of which is for me to learn from the other, for me to cross over into the world of the other and back again. In this crossing over we don't abandon our own tradition; rather, our own tradition is deepened and expanded. Teilhard writes about how these creative encounters give birth to complexified consciousness; Ilia Delio says that in this process "something new is created at the level of human and religious consciousness." What Thomas Keating adds to this is that in the light of the historcial developement of global consciousness that is now emerging, the first duty of the world's religions in our time may not be to propogate ourselves so much as to create communion. The other world religions must first of all be considered "our brothers and sisters, greatly loved by God," with something to contribute to us and the world at large. In other words, whereas Agnete keeps telling me about folks who are forever contrasting dialogue with evangelization, I keep saying this is a false dilemna. Dialogue in this day and age is evangelization, and evangelization is dialogue. Fr Thomas says, "Perhaps for the first time in history we could manifest that all of the human family are the children of God, and that each religion has its part to play in revealing the true God, and that above all it is God's will that we live together in peace."

Monday, November 9, 2009

jesus' heart

The organization of the church, with its doctrines and rituals, has no other purpose than to create a community of love, to unite all in the eternal Ground of being, which is present in the heart of every
person. This is the criterion which the church is to be judged, not by the forms of its doctrine of ritual, but by the reality off the love which it manifests.
(Bede Griffiths, Return to the Center)

I'm in Copenhagen, just beginning a short two-weeks of work here in Europe. Almost three years ago, I had met and done some work for a group of folks from Denmark who were associated with Danmission, a Lutheran missionary group. They are the main benefactors of our friend JP's work in TIruvanamalai in South India, especially his Quo Vadis interfaith center, for whom I did a couple of wonderful concerts and other events. One of the Dane's who was there at that same time was Agnete Holm. She works full time for Danmission as the head of the interfaith dialogue section. As part her job she spends considerable amount of time in India, Syria and Lebanon. We had a number of very good discusisons during that time we were together in India, and she consequently asked me to come to Denmark at some point. And so, after long prepartion, here I am. After this I will go to England where I will spend some time with the other composers with whom I have worked on the Psallite project for Liturgical Press for some years, since two of the composers live there in England and whenever I get "across the Pond" we try to meet there instead of them always having to come to us. That second half of the trip may not be worth writing about, but this week looks to be fascinating, even aside from simply having an experience of a new country.

I am staying at Jesu Hjerte Kirke, a Jesuit parish here in central Copenhagen. That name is usually translated into English as "Sacred Heart," but literally it means "Jesus' Heart." I like that better somehow. I am staying in the very large residence that was built to house the many Jesuits who were stationed here at one time manning both the parish and the non-defunct boys' school next door. At present there are only two Jesuits here, one who is the former bishop of Denmark (there are so few Catholics that the whole country is one diocese) and the other is the current rector, a German Jesuit named Gerhard Sanders. The latter has been here in Copenhagen, in this same house, for 40 years now in various capacities. There also is a Dutch priest here who is serving as the associate pastor, as well as an Indian priest from Kerala who is here on behalf of the Carmelite order to investiage opening a women's monastery here in Copenhagen, and an ex-Lutheran pastor named Wilhelm, who was a missionary in Tonga for years but after converting to Catholicism has not found a permanent place in the Catholic church again, and so lives here, helping out where he can. So, it's quite an interesting mix, throwing in a wandering musician monk from America into the mix. It's a very comfortable old house and I think I will enjoy my generous hours of down time here.

It was cold and dark when I arrived yesterday, and today that is supplemented by rain, too. I wandered around a bit in a jet-lagged daze yesterday; having gotten in pretty early in the morning, I wanted to negotiate as much of the day as possible awake so that I could get right into the time zone. There was Mass at 10. Catholics are about .08 per cent of the population here in Denmark--less than Muslims. The liturgy was sparsely attended and an interesting blend of Danish and Latin. There was a choir singing all the major parts of the Mass in Gregorian chant, with limited participation on the part of the assembly. The choir was quite brassy, their execution of the Gregorian chant more aggressive and brisk than usual. I don't mean any of those descriptors as criticism--I actually enjoyed their style. The congregation was an interesting mix, reflecting the population of the city itself, I assume. There was a good handful of Africans, and many Asian faces as well. And everyone seems to speak English, many of them as good as a native speaker. When I first heard Agnete speak I simly couldn't figure out what English speaking country she was from her accent was so good and her vocabulary to ample. I am assured that that will be the case for all the groups for whom I will be presenting.

Agnete has told me a number of times already that the main reason she brought me here is for inspiration, both for her and for others who work in interfaith dialogue. She and they often feel isolated from and unsupported by other church members, not so much out of negativity or neglect as by incomprehension. I was honored that she asked me, but wondered a bit over these past weeks as I was preparing for this trip and my work here, if I was "qualified" enough to speak to them about interfaith issues. But I realized along the way that folks don't necessarily call upon us because of our credentials, nor for the facts and figures that we have at our command, and none of those things is what they really want us to share with them anyway. They want us. They call upon us because they want us to share with them what we are doing with our lives, because they see someting in us that resonates with something in them. So I don't need to try to be more of an "expert in my field" than I am, I need to merely tell my stories, and share my experiences and how what I have learned has uniquely changed and effected me. And of course, in the course of that sharing I will be receiving as well, their insights and reflections and wisdom, mutually building each other up, learning and teaching.

When I am home in California, life is a little more mundane--the woods, the gym, yoga class, practice guitar, lots of whole grains--not that much to write about. But I've been gently nudged a number of times these past few weeks about my having neglected my blog for so long, so I am using this trip as an occasion to return to it.