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.

 

 

 

 

INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE CREATES HUMANITY

It is impossible to prove or disprove

the denial or assertion of religious beliefs.

Religious belief is a choice

but religious symbols and practices

have given people meaning and strength

to cope with troubles down through the ages:

“O God our help in ages past

our hope for years to come

our shelter from the stormy blast

and our eternal home.”

This hymn provides comfort

when humans are more and more de-centered:

in the universe by Copernicus

in life by evolutionary biology

in our inner core by the subconscious.

In Newtonian physics, physical reality

followed rigid causal pathways

but in Chaos Theory, physical reality

is flexible, open to change and new

spontaneously emerging properties.

Things are out of our control and in God’s control.

Spontaneous revival happened in Hinduism:

decline in the 1800s gave birth in the 1900s

to great spiritual teachers:

Aurobindo/Gandhi/Tagore/

Yogananda who claimed unity

with Buddha/Jesus/Mohammed 

and that all religions are one

since they all seek the same goal: God.

Inter-religiosity may be written off

as postmodern/New Age/goofiness

but the fact is that all of religion’s

key dimensions of

belief/behavior/belonging

are being dramatically transformed

by contact with other major world religions.

Vatican II called for recognition

that all humans are interconnected.

Interreligious dialogue creates

the Beloved Community, humanity.

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