ENLIGHTENMENT IN ALL WORLD RELIGIONS

“The enlightenment you seek in other religions

has been present in Christianity from the beginning.”

– Richard Rohr

 

The word “mystical” is often equated to “magical”

in secular/scientific contexts and so easily dismissed

but true mysticism – direct experience of God –

is the essence and starting point of all world religions.

And awe in the face of mystery

is the starting point of science.

Our God is an awesome God

who indwells everything – in the lab and in the temple.

 

Jesus lived as the spokesperson for Temple and Torah

the all-powerful symbols that the transcendent God

dwells within Israel and orders Israel’s life

the two most central and never-ending Jewish beliefs.

 

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) –

a meeting of 2500 Catholic bishops for four years –

the largest and longest meeting of Church leaders ever –

had only one goal – to carry forward the work

of the Jewish man/God, Jesus the Christ

who came to rescue not judge

to give witness to the Truth

to serve and not be served

to give his life as a ransom for many.

When your little “I am” becomes “We are”

you know instinctively: life is not about you

you are about life. You are here to serve like Jesus:

“I live yet not I, but Christ lives in me”

– St. Paul in Galatians 2:20.

 

“To dare to do what is right,

to not float about in the realm of possibilities

but to seize what is real and to take action,

this is true freedom.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

and this is the true fulfillment of religion whether

Christianity/Judaism/Islam/Hinduism/Buddhism –

to not be so heavenly bound

you are no earthly good.

If there are no charitable works

there is no enlightenment in any religion whether

Christianity/Judaism/Islam/Hinduism/or Buddhism.

LIVING IN BABYLON

Major structural injustices in which we

live/move/have our being

create haves/have-nots

and are hugely immoral – but most religions

while preaching personal and interpersonal ethics

ignore systemic evil and most believers accept

massive injustice as “the way things are” never asking

“How can individuals be moral in an immoral culture?”

 

The typical response of Christians living in

our Babylonian culture, in exile, is:

try to be faithful husbands and wives

raise virtuous children who are

compassionate/contemplative/seek justice

and who kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.

 

Catholics adopt Protestant practices:

daily Bible reading/speaking in tongues

and Protestants adopt Catholic practices:

praying the Divine Office and trying out

Benedictine/Franciscan/Ignatian prayer styles

and perhaps this is the Holy Spirit

weaving the entire Church together

so we all may be one

or maybe this is just rearranging

the deck chairs on the Titanic

as long as the structural injustices persist.

 

Hopefully, the Contemplative Way

will save and transform us:

because sometimes contemplatives

as they are liberated from all addictions/attachments

gain psychic powers/siddhis such as

telepathy and clairvoyance – genuine contemplatives

always hide these super-powers

but maybe they could use them to fight injustice?

 

In any case, the ultimate secret of the spiritual life:

“ever-present divine awareness” is not hard to attain

for anyone and is impossible to avoid

according to Lao Tzu/Shankara/Paul/Augustine/

Plotinus/and Teresa of Avila because it is always there

and awareness of the divine is the only thing

that makes living in Babylon bearable.

LOVE CONQUERS ANXIETY

There are three main sources of anxiety:

death/meaninglessness/condemnation.

These anxieties do not belong to abnormal psychology/neurosis

because they are existential anxieties –

they belong to existence itself –

a product of being alive as a finite, mortal being.

 

Christ knew our anxiety, knows our anxiety now.

The Christian imagination has pictured Christ as a Cosmic Joker

for centuries, but thinking of the Joker as

“dancing in the jaws of the dragon”

opens up new meanings of the Cross and discipleship

in a culture of chaos/war/climate change.

 

We live in chaos, but we are not bereft of dreams –

the Second Vatican Council proclaimed the highest destiny

of humanity is the “sisterhood/brotherhood of all people”

and offered the power of the Church as a champion of this.

 

Catholicism’s positive view of human nature/

liturgical symbolism/philosophical theology/appreciation of mysticism

has attracted many outstanding converts

from Protestantism/atheism/paganism.

But Thomas Merton took the Church Triumphant

with a grain of salt – he caricatured the popular conception

of saints, which puts holiness for the average person

beyond possibility: “saints are always impeccable/

never tempted/will throw themselves into fire

to avoid even the remotest occasion of sin.”

 

It is easy for Christians to forget the heart of Christianity

is that we love one another

and “everyone who loves is born of God.” Everyone.

 

If Christians do not practice love within Christianity

that is, between churches, there is no way

dialogue with non-Christian religions will happen

and without peace between the world’s religions

the sisterhood/brotherhood of all is impossible

and anxiety will never end.

 

 

 

 

INTERFAITH PANDEMIC LESSONS

INTERFAITH LESSONS FROM A PANDEMIC

    In Falling Upward Richard Rohr talks about the “spirituality of subtraction,” the value of letting go. The first half of life is about gaining: an education, job, home, marriage, and children. The second half is about subtraction: the kids move out, we downsize our housing, retire, start to lose our health, friends or spouses die, etc. 

    In a spirituality of subtraction, we learn four main spiritual values: humility, gratitude, simplicity/poverty and solidarity/community. A number of spiritual leaders from various traditions have noted that a crisis can speed up this process. 

    Humility. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, stated in a talk in our city a year ago, that we all tend to be “cultural snobs,” that is, we think our culture is superior to all others. There may have been famines, wars and plagues throughout history, but this couldn’t possibly happen to us because we are so scientifically superior. 

    The point was to not get too self-assured. My priest in Winnipeg, Fr. Firmin Michiels, similarly told the congregation “Don’t pray for success, pray for strength when everything falls apart.” This is a frequent theme in every religion. “When people say ‘peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them” (I Thessalonians 5:3). COVID-19 has subtracted the illusion of our cultural-scientific omnipotence.

    Gratitude. Omar Ricci, an imam at the Islamic Center of Southern California, gave a talk titled “Thank God for the coronavirus.” Not that God caused the virus, but we should thank God for this reminder we are not in control and always depend on God. Thank God for this reminder to be grateful for all things, particularly things we take for granted like groceries and good health. Thank God for reminding us life is fragile and “we had best appreciate the miracle of life God has given us.”

    A rabbi at Chabad Lubavitch, a Hasidic community in Bozeman, Montana, noted that “Jews have always said that for every breath we take, we should thank God.” In light of the respiratory problems caused by COVID-19, “it’s become very real.”

    The Buddhist attitude of gratitude towards any crisis has been summed up in four words by the well-known monk Thich Nhat Hanh “No mud, no lotus.”

    Simplicity/Poverty. In Hinduism, the goal at the end of life is to become a “sannyasin,” a holy man or woman who renounces all the trappings of society and chooses to be reduced to nothing but his or her relationship with God. 

    All this stripping away is mirrored in Christianity in people who take religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Jesus himself emptied and “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

    The spirituality of subtraction is about emptying the ego of self-centered pride so that God can fill you. In general, a good day for the ego (a day of gain) is a bad day for the soul, and a bad day for the ego (loss) is a good day for the soul. Subtraction is meant by God to edge the ego out, reversing Wayne Dyer’s definition of “ego:” “edging God out.”

    Solidarity/Community. Churches are experiencing what they have always given intellectual assent to – that the church is not buildings but the “ecclesia” – the community. They are reaching out online far beyond their normal congregations. Adam Ericksen, a United Church of Christ minister in Milwaukie, Oregon has noted that “the role of the church in this moment is to make sure no one falls through the cracks.”

    Beyond churches, mosques and synagogues, God’s work is going on everywhere, in every single person who makes the decision to love their neighbor as themselves: health care and grocery workers and everyone sacrificing themselves in inconvenient self-isolation in order to keep others healthy.

    This time of subtraction will hopefully continue to be a time of great spiritual growth.

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage preparation specialist and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com