Holy Thursday & Good Friday

MAUNDY THURSDAY – INSTITUTION OF THE EUCHARIST AND THE WASHING OF THE FEET
(Brother Martin)


Christ said to Pilate ‘ I came to bear witness to the Truth’. The truth that Jesus bore witness to was the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the fullness of the love of God manifesting in the fullness of the love of neighbour. It is the transformation of our normal day life into actions of God, into the life of God. The Eucharist represents this truth of the kingdom of God. Jesus took the bread and wine, the symbols of finite and ordinary life and elevated them into divine, into the manifestation of God, into the body and blood of God. He shared that manifestation of God to his disciples. Transformation of bread and wine is the fullness of the love of God. Sharing that manifestation with our neighbours is the love of neighbour. In this sense our whole life becomes a continuous Eucharistic celebration, twenty four hours of the day. Every human being, both male and female, become priests. To become priests is the universal call of all human beings.

In St. John’s gospel we have the washing of the feet. This is also another version of celebrating the Eucharist. To raise our consciousness to the level of the Son of God or the Daughter of God is the fullness of the love of God. This transformed consciousness lives for the welfare of the others, washing the feet, the love of neighbour. Hence the washing of the feet is also bearing witness to the Truth, the kingdom of God. Jesus invited everyone to do the same: do this in memory of me.
These two rituals reveal also a God, who is humble, who comes to serve humanity, a saviour who comes to serve his fellow human beings. We are all invited to grow into the fullness of the love of God and into the fullness of the love of neighbour and bear witness to that truth by making our daily life into a continuous Eucharistic celebrations and washing the feet of our brothers and sisters and allowing them to wash our feet. Jesus said, just as I have washed your feet so also you must wash one another feet. Relate with one another from the fullness of the love of God. This is the message we receive today for Maundy Thursday.

Good Friday: the day when Jesus Christ was crucified.


One day I was travelling from France to Spain in a train. There was a french lady who was sitting in front of me going for holidays in Spain. I told her that I am a catholic monk travelling giving some seminars on spiritual life. She told me that she cannot enter the church because of Christ hanging on the cross and blood flowing. It is a very disturbing scene, she said. This might be the expression of many people today. How do we understand the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ?  Shall we remove crucifixions from the churches?

The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the Crucifixion of the Truth. This is not only an historical event which happened two thousand years ago but a cosmic event which is happening all the time, before Jesus Christ and after Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ represents the fullness of Truth. The fullness of Truth means unity. The fullness of Truth breaks down all the artificial boundaries made by the human mind and brings unity, peace and non-violence in the world. There are four levels of truth: individual truth, which makes individual boundaries; collective truth which makes collective boundaries, universal truth which makes a universal boundary between God and creation and finally divine truth which creates harmony among all these. In Hindu tradition, the first truth is called Kali Yuga, the second truth is Dwapara Yuga, the third one is Tretha Yuga and the fourth one Sathya Yuga. In the first three yugas there will be good and evil but in the fourth yuga there will be only absolute good without evil. Jesus Christ lived in Sathya yuga, the fullness of Truth. He invited everyone to grow into the fullness of Truth, which he described as the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the one hundred percent love of God manifesting in the one hundred percent love of neighbour. It is the transformation of our life into God’s life and transformation of our actions into God’s actions.

The crucifixion of Jesus is the consequence of the refusal on the part of Jesus’ listeners to grow from the relative truths into the fullness of Truth, into Sathya Yuga. His listeners were in the collective truth and Jesus invited them to grow into the divine truth. To the persons who lived in the collective truths the fullness of truth appeared to be blasphemy.

There are two ways we can crucify the truth: one by refusing to grow from the relative truths into the fullness of truth; second by reducing the fullness of truth into the fragmentary belief systems. These crucifixions were happening before Jesus Christ and they are happening after Jesus Christ. The fact that humanity was divided in the name of truth before Jesus Christ was the sign of the Crucifixion of Truth and the fact that today humanity is divided after Jesus Christ is the sign of the Crucifixion of Truth. Truth means unity. Where there is unity there is peace and non-violence. Where there is division there is the crucifixion of truth. Unfortunately Christians have crucified Truth/Christ by creating thousands of divisions in the name of Truth of Christ. Division brings violence. Wherever people are killed in the name of nationality, in the name of ethnic groups, in the name of race, in the name of religions there Truth is crucified, there Christ is crucified. Wherever there is bloodshed in the name of the things mentioned above there is the crucifixion of Truth, there is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, there the blood of Christ is flowing. Christ or Truth is still being crucified. Everyone who suffers for the sake of unity, who sheds his/her blood for the sake of unity is participating in the crucifixion of Truth/Christ. Jesus Christ died for unity, for peace and for non-violence. As we remember the death of Jesus on the cross, the Good Friday, as we look at the crucifixion where the body of Jesus is hanging with blood flowing, we need to reflect whether we are living from the fullness of the Truth of Christ or we have crucified the Truth into fragmented belief systems,whether we are living in unity or in divisions, whether we contribute for peace or for violence, whether we live in wisdom or in ignorance?

It is very disturbing to see some one hanging on the cross but when we realise that we are crucifying the Truth within us and that crucifixion manifests in the blood shed in the world outside then the crucifixion invites us all to break down all the artificial boundaries that we have created in the name of God, in the name of religions, in the name of scriptures, in the name of nationalities, in the name of race, in the name of colour, in the name of ethnic groups and enter into the fullness of Truth,the kingdom of God, where we find unity, peace and non-violence. May this Good Friday be a day of repentance from divisions to Unity, from violence to Peace, from ignorance to wisdom.
(Crucifixion is not an end itself. It opens the door to the victory of Truth or Unity or peace over relative truths, over divisions and violence. This we shall see tomorrow.)

thoughts about meditation

MEDITATION
(Br. Martin)

The ultimate purpose of meditation is to go beyond the positive and the negative projections of our mind and to discover our true self. It is then we see God as ‘I am’, without any mental projections. The categories of the mind are like the clothes we put on, covering our true self. When we are free of the mental images, we have a much deeper relationship with God. God is within us. In silencing the mind, we go beyond the images and the non-images and we unite with God. We see reality.

According to the sages, our identification with ourselves is so strong, and our minds are so conditioned, that we cannot be free from self-identification without certain processes of purification, such as meditation. Inner silence takes place when we go beyond self-identification and projections and when our mind is free of all personal desires and ambitions. As long as we are preoccupied with our own projects, we are not open to listen to the projects of God. Only when I am empty of all my projects, will I be able to ask God ‘What can I do for you? ‘The will of God manifests according to God’s plan. We shouldn’t be violent within ourselves by asking this question of God before we feel ready. It is normal that at the beginning of our spiritual growth we have our own goals and projects. God allows that. But the day will come when I have realized all I want to realize and I don’t see any projects before me anymore, and then I can surrender myself completely to God.

The purpose of spiritual exercise, such as meditation, is nothing more than to purify this sense of separation and individuality, and to bring us to unity with God through discovering our true self. It can happen that when we find our true self, we find great fulfilment there. Saint Paul said ‘I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain’ (Phil. 1:24-25). When we find our true self, it is as though our journey has ended and there is nothing more to achieve, but then we discover that that is the point at which God’s work begins.

(EXTRACT FROM THE FOUR O’CLOCK TALKS Discussions with John Martin Sahajananda compiled by Carrie Lock P.202)

remembering Sr. Mary Louise

Sister Mary Louise Cutinha (1933-2017)

Having entered the Franciscan Servants of Mary in 1953, Sister Mary Louise Cutinha served long years as a Franciscan in the rule of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis. She eventually followed Father Bede and joined the Camaldolese congregation in 1994. She did her monastic formation with the FSM sisters (est. 1852) in Blois, France, just south of Paris where she trained as a nurse and served for ten years. When she returned to India in the mid-1960s, she was put in charge of the FSM novitiate at Salem, Tamil Nadu. It was here that she discovered an element of spiritual dissatisfaction in her monastic life. But unable to identify the problem, a breakthrough came only when an English monk-priest, unknown to her then, came to give a day of reflection at the novitiate. Later, speaking of this day when she met Father Bede Griffiths, she exclaimed, “I felt an energy, like that of a gazelle passing through me”.

She was then sent to Switzerland for a two-year course on spirituality and there read something Father Monchanin had written about Shantivanam. Once back in India, she contacted Father Bede and in 1975, visited Shantivanam. She came again for a follow-up visit but when the agreed-upon time expired, she found herself unable to take leave of the forest Ashram she had already come to love. Thus, instead of returning to the relatively comfortable life of the FSM sisters in Bangalore, she chose a life of poverty on the banks of the Kaveri. Fr. Bede blessed her simple kutir made from Shantivanam earth on Easter Sunday in the Eucalyptus grove adjacent to the Ashram. In the months that followed, she gathered firewood from the surrounding forest and brought water from the river to cook her modest meals. Friends that came from France to visit were astounded at the severity of her meager living conditions. When the river broke bank in 1977 and her mud-hut was completely inundated, Father Bede turned up with a torch at 5am in the morning. Word reached well-wishers in France that she had fallen on hard times and offers were made to purchase the land to establish a small Ashram with proper living quarters. On 10th October, 1977, Father Bede laid the foundation stone, and on 26th March, 1978, Ananda Ashram was formally established.

Mary Louise cleared the brush and removed non-productive mango trees, planted coconut palms and banana trees, and registered and fenced the new parcel of land. The endowment from France allowed her to build a cowshed, more substantial living quarters and simple huts for visitors. A budding retreat ministry brought visitors from Europe and elsewhere. Together with the modest income her 8.5-acre plantation generated, she engaged in social outreach among local villagers. She hired those desperate for work out of concern for their well-being. The material aid she rendered was greatly enhanced by a loving heart and the personal concern she showed those who sought her help including the many pilgrims who came from around the world in search of a deeper encounter with their faith.

Her retreat ministry and outreach thrived for nearly four decades until the spring of 2012 when she suffered a heart attack. Cardiologists in Trichy said the condition (myocardial infarction) was serious and that beyond bedrest, no viable treatment protocol could be recommended. After several months of rest, at the end of 2012 she resumed some of her former duties. In April 2016, however, she suffered another medical setback and was bedridden.

The final year of her life was spent principally in her quarters under the care of Sister Neethi, Sister Mercy and Sister Sanjeevani where she received occasional visitors. On Friday, 10th March, Sister Marie Louise, affectionately called by all who knew her ‘Amma’, became very weak. On 11th March, when her close friend Fr. X. D. Selvaraj celebrated Mass in her room together with Sr. Neethi and Sr. Mercy, Amma received communion and managed to swallow a few drops of water. But this was the last she ate or drank. The next day, on Sunday, 12th March around 8.45 pm, she peacefully breathed her last.

The funeral mass took place in the chapel at Shantivanam on Tuesday, 14th March with most Rev. Anthony Devotta, Bishop of Trichy presiding and Fr. Selvaraj giving the homily. Br. Martin offered an introduction and Sr. Neethi presented the eulogy. Gathered were 150 friends, monastic sisters and brothers and family members. Her remains were interred at a site in Ananda Ashram, just opposite the entrance to the chapel at Shativanam.

Born Carmin Cecelia to a devout Catholic family in Mangalore, Karnataka on 12th July, 1933, Sister Mary Louise was the third of four children. She is survived by her younger brother, Edward Cutinha, and is mourned by the many who came to know and love her over the years of her long monastic career.

[The foregoing is based on the eulogy delivered by Sr. Neethi (and other sharings from the funeral Mass) on 14th March, 2017 as well as on anecdotes from community members, family and friends; compiled and edited by Michael Highburger]
Black/white photo taken by New York photographer James Nicholls, Jan 2009

Bede Griffiths & C.S. Lewis

rons-lewis-griffiths-book-cover

                           C.S. Lewis and Bede Griffiths: Spiritual Friendship

           It was through him (Lewis) that I really discovered the
meaning of friendship….When we last met, a month
before his death, he reminded me that we had been
friends for nearly forty years. There are not many things
more precious to me than that friendship.
–Bede Griffiths
“The Adventure of Faith”
_________________________________________

           A man should keep his friendship in constant repair.
–Samuel Johnson

(Ron Dart)

C.S. Lewis was one of the most prominent Medieval and Renaissance scholars at, initially, Oxford then Cambridge, from the 1930s until 1963 (when he died). Bede Griffiths was, as a young man, a student of Lewis, and, both men came to Christianity together from about 1929-1932. The relationship, as time unfolded, changed from teacher-student to, through many a trying moment, pure gold friends. It is somewhat significant that Bede Griffiths gave Lewis a copy of Aelrid of Rievaulx’s Spiritual Friendship (acknowledged by Lewis in a letter to Griffiths: May 26 1943). Aelrid was the much loved Abbot of Rievaulx and his missive on “spiritual friendship” is a classic in western spirituality. It is quite appropriate that Lewis and Griffiths (both immersed in the mother lode of the classical and western tradition with a generous openness to the East and Orient) would have held high the notion of friendship and Aelrid’s beauty of a text on the subject.

I have, for many a decade and for different reasons, been attracted to both Lewis and Griffiths, and my small book, C.S. Lewis and Bede Griffiths: Chief Companions (2016) highlights the layered friendship between Lewis and Griffiths over many a decade. Griffiths, after the death of Lewis in 1963, often came to the defence of Lewis in The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal. The fact that few Griffiths keeners know much about the many letters by Griffiths to The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal means a significant aspect of both Griffiths’ and Lewis’ friendship is not known about. The more the letters by Griffiths about Lewis to the Journal are read and pondered, the richer becomes our understanding of Lewis and Griffiths (and their friendship). And, as Griffiths noted, “There are not many things more precious to me than that friendship”.

It is somewhat interesting that many a fan of Lewis knows little about the Lewis-Griffiths friendship and, equally so, many who have the highest admiration for Griffiths know little about Griffiths’ close friendship with Lewis. Why is this the case? There are tendencies, of course, to freeze thinkers and activists within certain time frames, then reduce their complexity and nimbleness to simplistic categories. Creative, thoughtful and innovative thinkers can rarely be cabin’d, cribb’d and confin’d in such a way, but often followers and interpreters do this for the purpose of comparing and contrasting, highlighting who best reflects their agendas. Lewis and Griffiths, decidedly so, elude such caging and embalming. Lewis certainly cannot be reduced to an apologist for reformed and evangelical Christianity no more than he can be defined as a conservative/republican in politics—sadly so, this has often been done. Lewis is much more catholic and spacious than his followers and adherents make him out to be. The same can be said about Griffiths. How is Griffiths to be interpreted? Was he, at day’s end, a sophisticated syncretist or a Roman Catholic with an achingly high view of common grace? Was Griffiths merely a post-Vatican II progressive or more of a patristic contemplative theologian that applied Classical Christian meditative thought to comparative religions? How are we to read and interpret the nuanced and subtle insights and wisdom of Lewis and Griffiths? The danger, as mentioned above, is to simplify their thinking for the purpose of too easy categorization.

The fact that Lewis and Griffiths had a decades long friendship should caution one and all about studying one to the exclusion of the other. There are more than forty letters between 1929 and 1960 that Lewis wrote about Griffiths or to Griffiths. Most of these letters cover the main themes of faith, contemplation, literature, politics, war/peace, ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, Biblical criticism and church life. After Lewis died in the autumn of 1963 (Griffiths was in India by that time), Griffiths wrote two articles on Lewis (“The Adventure of Faith: 1979” and “Forty Years’ Retrospective: 2001”) that described and discussed their ever deepening friendship. “The Adventure of Faith” is a much longer, in depth and detailed article, whereas “Forty Years’ Retrospective” (originally published in The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal, Summer 1984) is shorter and more poignant. I’m quite fortunate to have the only hard bound editions of The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal that Stephen Scofield started in 1979 and passed onto Roger Stronstad in 1993. I also have the letters by Griffiths to Scofield in a file, including his final letter to the Journal (April 21 1990) in which Griffiths defends Lewis against unnecessary remarks by both the Bishop of Oxford (Richard Harries) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (Robert Runcie). The friendship of Griffiths towards Lewis did extend until near the end of Griffiths’ all too human journey in 1993.

It is somewhat significant that when Lewis published his first rather abstract faith autobiography, The Pilgrim’s Regress, in 1933, Griffiths charged into the book review fray and attempted to correct his former teacher on his use of “mother kirk”. Lewis, in a couple of letters to Griffiths in 1936, cautioned the too triumphalistic Griffiths to be less confrontational and more ecumenic and irenic—their friendship was sorely tested by Griffiths’ review but Lewis made it clear that friendships that cannot weather the storms of ecclesial schism need much pondering. There can be no doubt that the young Griffiths (then in his late twenties) learned much from the gracious mentoring of Lewis. It is understandable, therefore, near the end of Griffiths’ life why he came to Lewis’ defence in The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal. 

The publication in 1948 of Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain sold well and in haste. Both Lewis and Griffiths were ripe to tell their tales given the success of Merton’s autobiography. The publication of The Golden String and Surprised by Joy (which was dedicated to Bede Griffiths) were both published in the early years of the 1950s. Lewis was much better known than Griffiths at the time, but Griffiths was definitely emerging into his vocation. India was yet before him, the seeds were in the soil and within a decade Griffiths would leave England and settle in India. But, both men in their sensitive and probing autobiographies made it abundantly clear that their pilgrimages to Christianity took place together between 1929-1932 —-Lewis, in fact, called Griffiths his “chief companion” on his pathway to Christianity. Needless to say, their faith journeys would take them on many an unanticipated trail after 1932, but it was their friendship that knit them together. Probably, one of the most significant issues for Lewis and Griffiths after their conversions was the needful pondering of contemplative interfaith dialogue. Griffiths would take the lead on this in the 1940s and 1950s (and, in time, become a definite elder, abba and pioneer in the area). But, in the 1930s and 1940s, the seed was still in the soil awaiting the appropriate season to break through its constricting skin and, in time, bear much fruit.

It should probably be noted at this point that as Griffiths was deepening his contemplative journey the leading lady in England of the mystical and meditative way was Evelyn Underhill. It is somewhat interesting that Underhill is never mentioned by Griffiths in his autobiography given her prominence in unearthing both the breadth of the Christian contemplative way and her interest in Indian thought. Underhill, in her waning years, did correspond with Lewis from 1938-1941. I suspect some work needs yet to be done on Griffiths-Underhill and Baron Von Hugel (Underhill’s Roman Catholic spiritual director).

It is valuable to note that Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975) was the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford from 1936-1952. Both Griffiths and Lewis have been well aware of his significant position and interpretations of Hinduism and Indian philosophical and religious thought. Radhakrishnan served two terms as President of India. It is equally import to not that when Radhakrishnan left for India, R.C. Zaehner replaced Radhakrishnan as the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics from 1952 until the time of his death in 1974. Radhakrishnan and Zaehner were both highly qualified scholars, but they could not be more different in their reads of Indian thought and culture. Lewis was the point person in the Socratic Club at Oxford in the 1940s-early 1950s (when he was left for Cambridge), but he had Zaehner lecture to the Socratic Club. When Griffiths left for India, and year after year wrote more articles on Christianity and Hinduism, he sent them to Lewis who cheered him onwards. Lewis, as I mentioned above, died in 1963, but he had read most of Griffiths’ articles with much keen interest that were eventually published as Christian Ashram or in 1966, in the American edition as Christ in India: Essays Towards A Hindu-Christian Dialogue. Those who are unaware of Lewis’s interest in interfaith issues do need to reflect on his journey with Griffiths, his friendship with Zaehner and the fact of the presence of Radhakrishnan at Oxford in Lewis’ prime years there. There are a variety of leads in Lewis’ writings that point to his commitment to the larger interfaith issues, and there can be no doubt his friendship with Griffiths contributed significantly to such a commitment.

I had much interest in the early 1980s, when doing an MA in Religious Studies at University of British Columbia, in studying Zaehner. In fact, I did my graduating essay on Zaehner. My interest in Griffiths was very much front and centre in such years also. It was in the late 1980s that I corresponded with Bede Griffiths about Zaehner and many other issues—he was quite generous in his reponses. I was quite gratified to read, a few years ago, a PHD by Albano Fernandes called The Hindu Mystical Experience: A Comparative Philosophical Study of the Approaches of R.C. Zaehner and Bede Griffiths (2004). There tend to be those who pit Zaehner against Griffiths and Griffiths against Zaehner, but both men need to be read and pondered together to get a good fix and feel for the layered level of contemplative interfaith dialogue. Fernandes, in his meticulous thesis, does such a deed well and wisely.

Bede Griffiths, as monk, would have lived through and internalized the Psalms once a week. C.S. Lewis, ever faithful to the Prayer Book and morning, midday and evening prayers, would have, in a lectio divina manner, have meditatively walked through the confessional nature of the Psalms once a month. Both men were drawn to the deeper and more perennial theses of the Psalms but both were concerned with some of the more war like, vindictive and violent psalms. Lewis and Griffiths published, for different reasons and from different angles, books on the Psalms. Reflections on the Psalms and Psalms for Christian Prayer are Lewis and Griffiths at their insightful and probing best and must reads. It is easy to see, when reading these missives, how their souls were knit together in a friendship on the deeper issues.

There have been many biographies, articles and booklets published on Lewis and Griffiths (more on Lewis than Griffiths), but none have yet dealt with, in any serious or substantive way, the many letters that passed between Lewis and Griffiths and their endearing friendship. My book, C.S. Lewis and Bede Griffiths: Chief Companions (2016), is the first missive of sorts to deal with this much neglected topic, and I will be doing a four part “Preached Retreat” at New Camaldoli Monastery from April 21-23 2017 on the topic. I’m quite grateful and gratified that I will have the honor and privilege of staying in Bruno Barnhart’s cell when at New Camaldoli. New Camaldoli has been at the forefront of holding high Bede Griffiths significance for 20th century and 21st century spirituality, and Bruno’s tome, The One Light: Bede Griffiths’ Principal Writings (2001) is a must read in such a contribution as has the writings of Thomas Matus, Robert Hale and Cyprian Consiglio. I anticipate my conversations with Thomas, Robert and Cyprian when I remain at New Camaldoli until April 30, Bruno’s cell being an obvious inspiration and ikon of sorts.

Fare Forward
Amor Vincit Omnia
Ron Dart

Meister Eckhart according to Bede

 

bede-image-2

Bede Griffiths with Cardinal Basil Hume and Roland Ropers

Meister Eckhart
The great master of mystical theology, who is a model for the church today
(Bede Griffiths O.S.B., Kreuth 1st April 1992)

Meister Eckhart is coming to be recognized to-day as the most
important spiritual master of the Middle Ages. In his lifetime he
was involved in controversy, which led to the condemnation of
some of his writings, but to-day, as we see him in the wider
context of the medieval world as a whole and the spirituality
which is emerging through contact with Eastern spirituality, we
can see that he is not only fundamentally orthodox as a catholic
theologian, but is also a pioneer in opening the church to a deeper
understanding of the Christian Mystery.

Eckhart was a Dominican Prior, a disciple of St. Thomas Aquinas,
and a leading figure in his order. His genius lay in his profound
insight into the deeper levels of human consciousness. He
expressed these insights not only in his Latin sermons, but in his
German sermons, preached before simple people, which were
actually an important stage in the development of the German
language. But he expressed himself with great freedom and often
in paradoxical language, which could easily lead to confusion. But
behind his paradoxes lay an extraordinary insight into the
working of the human mind.

One of these insights was his distinction between GOD and the
GODHEAD. He saw that most people in their prayer project an
image of God, which, though it may be a useful aid to prayer, falls
immeasurably short of the divine reality. This divine reality
beyond name and form, beyond word and thought, he called
GODHEAD. The Godhead is known not by the rational mind with
its concepts and judgments, but by the scintilla animae, the spark
of the soul, where the human being encounters the divine reality
in its eternal ground. Eckhart was thus able to lead the church
beyond the conceptual understanding of a personal God to a
mystical experience in which the Godhead itself is encountered in
its infinite, transcendent reality.

He thus remains the great master of mystical theology,
who is a model for the church to-day in its encounter with
the mystical traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam
and other religions of the world.”

(Used with permission from Roland Ropers)

Giving Birth to God- Fr. Cyprian’s Christmas homily

Giving Birth to God
(Part I)

(Cyprian Consiglio)

I remember back in 2012, after the massacre of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, people were wondering if it was okay to still celebrate Christmas. Fr. Raniero mentioned the other day that some folks were wondering the same thing this year, is it okay to celebrate Christmas with all the rotten things that have happened lately, including even just this week. I have this wonderful group of friends up in Santa Cruz and besides meditation and music the two biggest things we were involved in were interreligious dialogue and environmental issues, two issues whose stocks have plummeted drastically in this current cultural political atmosphere. I wrote to one friend who was a little dismayed by all this that our new mantra should be, “Now More Than Ever!” And I think the same thing about Christmas. Now more than ever is it important for us to understand the implications of this great mystery, the manifestation of God in human form, and to understand the dignity of what it means to be a human being in the light of that.

Vigils, our prayer at 5:30 AM, is a liturgy at which it can sometimes be hard to pay attention. As our Br. Bede likes to say, Vigils can be rather “prolix.” (I used to think that that word meant that it had a lot of words, but I looked it up. It actually means “lengthy and tedious”!) But every now and then a line will really pop out at me, and I’ll want to elbow the guy next to me or whisper to someone as we’re taking our robes off right afterward, “Did you hear that?!” And one morning recently one line stuck out to me. It’s from the Discourses of St. Anselm. He wrote: “All nature was created by God, and now God was born of Mary! God had created all, and Mary gave birth to God!”[i]

Now this is language that we are somewhat used to hearing, but somehow it sounded brand new and shocking to me. I saw this great cycle revolving around the word “nature”––nature created by God, and God born of Mary. If you’ll excuse me dabbling for a moment into evolutionary theory: All of nature is created by God––you might even could say it pours out from the God who is the ground of being, the womb of possibility. And nature gets set in motion, and the minerals and chemicals become life, teeming with life––single-cell creatures, organisms, then plants and fish, amphibians, birds, mammals. And then that life takes another leap and gives birth to thought and self-reflexive consciousness, and this glorious creature called the human being emerges, in God’s own image, we are told. And then in the fullness of time (as Paul says[ii]), this one particular human being––Mary, this woman, who herself is nature reaching a certain level of perfection––returns the favor, completes the cycle and gives birth to God.

God gives birth to nature, nature gives birth to Mary, and, by giving birth to Jesus, Mary gives birth to God.

One of the things that is interesting about this is that––did you ever notice?––we normally don’t refer to Jesus as “God” in the Christian tradition. Normally we say Jesus is “Lord” but not “Jesus is God.” It’s almost as if we’re embarrassed to say it. Fr. Bede Griffiths wrote about a rare instance in the Syriac tradition where Jesus is actually referred to as “God,” but the exception proves the rule. We usually reserve the word “God” for the transcendent godhead that we, following Jesus, traditionally have called the Father. God is the name we give to “the absolute, eternal, infinite, transcendent Being”; God is the one who is above all thought and word; God is “the Holy Mystery beyond human conception.” Jesus, on the other hand, is the manifestation of that absolute, eternal, infinite, transcendent Being, above thought and word. If God is an incomprehensible mystery, then Jesus is “the manifestation of [that] incomprehensible mystery, the self-revelation of this incomprehensible mystery.” [iii] Paul writes several times in his epistles, Jesus is the “mystery hidden for ages,”[iv] as if God is saying, “This is what I meant all along.” Jesus is the human being “who makes known what this ineffable God is like.” In other words you might say that we don’t usually say, “Jesus is God” because it’s not enough to call Jesus God; Jesus is not simply God. Jesus is God-In-A-Human-Being; God is the Human-Person-in-God. Jesus is God-the-Word-Made-Flesh. That’s what we celebrate in marking Jesus’ birth.

For Christians this is the completion of revelation, in Jesus revelation is brought to perfection, and so to see Jesus is to see the Mystery of God as far as it can be seen. But to see Jesus is also to see humanity, humanity brought to its perfection. As Thomas Aquinas taught, Gratia perfecit natura––“Grace perfects nature,” grace brings nature to its perfection. That’s why Jesus is referred to as the “Second Adam.” As Adam, the first human being, was the archetype of humanity, so this child is the blueprint for a new humanity. But just as it’s not enough to call Jesus “God,” it’s also not enough to just call Jesus a human being: Jesus is the Human-Being-Totally-Open-to-God; Jesus is the Human-Person-Totally-Transparent-to-the-Divine-Reality, which the rest of us, unfortunately, are not––at least not yet. In order to understand the mystery of Jesus, in order to understand the majesty of the Incarnation, we have to hold this tension together. It’s not enough to call Jesus God––he is always God-made-flesh. It’s not also enough to call Jesus a human being: he is never not also always divine.

God gave birth to nature. And Mother Nature, with God’s inspiration (literally), gave birth to humanity. And now humanity completes the cycle in Mary and gives birth to God. What I’m trying to say is that maybe this is supposed to be the norm now. If Jesus is the final revelation of what God is like, then from now on we should always think of God as God-With-Us, as God-Made-Manifest. We’re never supposed to think of the Divine One, we’re never supposed to think of God, without thinking of God-the Word-Made-Flesh. And we’re never supposed to think of humanity without assuming that it is and we are meant for perfection in divinity. We’re supposed to assume from now on that there is no breach between heaven and earth, or between God and creation, no gap between the Creator and the Created, except in our own mistaken skewed clouded view of Reality––the breach, the gap, has been overcome by God’s own initiative, by God’s own incarnation. But, you see, that was the plan all along, and this is its fulfillment, if only we have the eyes of our hearts enlightened by the mystery––the shock, the scandal, the majesty––of this God-the Word-Made Flesh.

We always have to think of divinity and humanity together. Our most ancient mystics and writers understood this. I was so astonished the first time I read what Saint Basil wrote, that, like Jesus, “through the Spirit … we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations––we become God”![v] But that’s just to affirm what Saint Augustine taught: that God became a human being so that human beings might become God.[vi] And as soon as we wrap our heads around that we have to hold on to another seeming contradiction, because Irenaeus of Lyons also chides us, in case we think we’re gonna escape this whole messy thing called humanity: but “how could you be God,” he says, “when you have not yet become human?” Christmas is all about gratia perfecit natura––grace bringing nature to its perfection.

From now on, this is the norm. The birth of Jesus, the Word-Made Flesh, the Manifestation of the Mystery of God in this tiny child means God is with us, God became one of us, so that humanity can share in divinity.

That’s why Mary is not simply called the mother of Jesus, but the Mother of God. Maybe we need to be more specific there too: the Mother of the God-Made-Flesh in the Word-Made-Flesh.

One more step: Augustine wrote, “Do you wonder how you can be the mother of Christ?” and “shall I not dare to call you his mother?”[vii] God is born in us through revelation, through the Word sown in the garden of the deepest part of our inmost being. Well, then, shall we not go all the way and say that we are called to be mothers of God, to give birth to God in the world? I understood that first of all when I heard the German mystic Meister Eckhart’s famous aphorisms that speak of the “eternal birth of God in the soul.” But somehow it’s not enough for God to be born in us; we have to give birth to God, too!

And, remember, this is now the norm: God is always God-with-us, God manifest, Word-Made-Flesh. So that doesn’t mean that we become totally spiritual; it means that our flesh becomes totally divinized. God is born in us, and we give birth to God. How do we give birth to God? By being God-like, by reflecting the image of God in whose image we are made. May as well bring the last person of the Trinity in here too. How do we give birth to God: by manifesting the fruits of the Spirit, which Paul lists in the Letter to the Galatians: every time we manifest love, joy, peace, or patience, God is not just born in us, but we are bearing God to the world. Every time we are kind, generous, faithful and gentle, self-controlled, God is not only born in us, but we are giving birth to God.

[i] From the Discourses of St. Anselm, BDP, 1690.
[ii] Gal 4:4.
[iii] Quoted in Wayne Teasdale “In What Sense is Jesus Called God?”, 12.
iv] Eph 3:9; Col 1:26.
[v] “Treatise on the Holy Spirit,” Cap. 9, Office of Readings, 632.
[vi] Sermo 13, Office of Readings, 125.
[vii] Sermo 25; Office of Readings for Feast of the Presentation, 1641.

Radical Love- Eucharist

RADICAL LOVE – EUCHARIST: THE LOVE OF GOD extract taken from THE FOUR O’CLOCK TALKS Discussions with JOHN MARTIN SAHAJANANDA compiled by Carrie Lock (pg. 171)

by Brother Martin

‘How can we understand the Eucharist?’

The most important symbol that Christ left is the Eucharist. He said, ‘Do this in memory of me’. The Eucharist explains Jesus Christ and it explains Christianity. The essential teaching of the Eucharist is the radical love of God and the radical love of neighbor. Through the Eucharistic celebration, the human grows into the Divine and the Divine becomes human. The bread and wine of the Eucharist is the sign of Jesus who died to himself and then ascended to God and became one with God, the body and blood of God. Jesus has to descend again in the form of love of neighbor: “’Take and eat; this is my body. Then he took the cup gave thanks and offered it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you …’”(Matt.26: 26-27). The Eucharist is about giving and receiving and that is the essence of Christianity. We have to grow into God radically through 100% love of God and 100% love of neighbor. Jesus is the archetype of that radical love of God and neighbor, and this is what we see in the Eucharist.

I remember a short story I read in school which contained a very powerful symbol and which can assist us to understand the Eucharist. It has stayed with me my whole life. The story is about a father who was about to die. He had four children. He called his children to him and he said ‘Go and collect a stick each and bring them back to me’. When the children returned, the father told them to each break the stick they had collected. They broke the sticks and then the father told them to each bring one more stick. This time he told them to tie all the sticks together in a bundle and then to break the bundle, but they were unable to do so. Then the father said, ‘Do this in memory of me.’ I’m adding that last bit; he didn’t really say that in the story. Then the father died. Suppose every morning these four collect a stick, break it, and then go and collect another stick and tie the sticks into a bundle and try to break the sticks again. What message would this bring? What was the message of the father to his children? Yes, where there is unity there is strength. He was telling them, ‘be united’. If you are divided, you can be broken very easily but if you are united, nobody can break you. Do this in memory of me.

In the same way, Jesus knew that he was about to die and he wanted to say something to his disciples, something very important about how he lived his life. He was worried that they would forget his message so he showed them through a symbol, a ritual. He took the bread and said ‘Take and eat’, and then he took the wine, ‘Take and drink.’ He then said, ‘Do this in memory of me.’ What does it mean? For me this image has two aspects: the ascending and the descending aspect. To understand this, we need to go deeply into the relationship between God and creation. Every scripture, every great person and every ritual reveals one important message that we have to discover: who we are and how we have to live our life. To understand what the Eucharist is telling us about who we are and how we are to live our life, let us consider the nature of God and creation.

In the Hindu tradition, it is said that creation is the manifestation of God. Creation comes into being by the performance of a sacrifice: maha yagna. This sacrifice is the infinite becoming finite, one becoming many, the unlimited becoming limited. This sacrifice is not a painful act; it is the abundance of God’s love. In Hinduism, they say creation is the divine manifestation of God.

In the life of Jesus, we can say that creation is the body and blood of God; it is the manifestation of God, but creation is not aware of the origin. In order to discover that origin, what do we have to do? We have to perform a sacrifice We have to do yagna. And what is that yagna? It is sacrificing the lower so that we discover the higher. We have to sacrifice our limited identity for the sake of the infinite identity, for the sake of the Divine.

The way to God is to know our true self and to renounce or expand our ego. One aspect of the Eucharist is this aspect of renouncing. The bread and the wine, the finite, are elevated to the level of the Divine so that they become the body and blood of God, the infinite. This is possible through sacrifice. Sacrifice means renouncing oneself so that the lower becomes the higher, humanity becomes the Divine. This is the ascending aspect. But of course, as long as we live in this world, we need other identities also in order to relate to one another, and for that reason we have to come down again and that is the descending aspect of the Eucharist. That is the second yagna, the second sacrifice that we need to make in order to relate, to give and receive: ‘This is my body, take and eat. This is my blood, take and drink’. It is only in giving and receiving that we are fully alive.

The true self needs to use the limited self as the door through which to go out to others through relationships. Without the body, God cannot manifest. The body, the finite, is the door of the infinite. We need both the finite and the infinite; without one, we cannot have the other. God is both. The two sacrifices we have to make are to sacrifice the higher for the sake of the lower and to sacrifice the lower for the sake of the higher. This is really the meaning of the Eucharist.

Spiritual transformation, yoga and the body

Spiritual Transformation, Yoga, the Rainbow Body and Resurrection 

Dr. Andreas Reimers)

When, in 1974 on my pilgrimage to India, I came to meet Fr. Bede in Shantivanam, it was a unique experience that formed my further life. The natural surrounding, the simplicity of the huts, the Sanskrit mantras sung in the liturgy, the waving of the light at the end of the prayer and the yoga classes created an atmosphere of stillness, peace and serenity. Fr. Bede radiated a kind of love, peace and a natural humility that touched my heart and made me feel at home in a deep spiritual sense. I felt myself being blessed with a vision of how the „new creation“ could be. This experience I carried with me till I got the chance to take oblation in 2014.

All the years the question behind my search was, how we can follow our destination to find GOD and bring this experience into our daily life. Looking at all the conflicts in the world and in our mind I found that many attempts to find solutions on a practical level don´t have good results. What is needed, is a spiritual transformation that includes the mind, soul and body as well as our social relations and the way we live in our environment. As long as we don´t open ourselves for this transformation, the attempt of changing our surrounding will create new troubles. What does spiritual transformation mean, and what are the ways to undergo it?

In different traditions there are various descriptions of the way and the implications of the spiritual transformation. As Fr. Bede (Meditation, Perth, 1985) mentions, there is a worldwide spiritual awakening where more and more people want to find their real self, their own identity leading to a deeper experience of God. People are seeking for practical methods of prayer and meditation to find their inner centre. Fr. Bede made Shantivanam a place where the interreligious dialogue is lived and the Christian spirituality is open to Hindu and Buddhist ways and methods of meditation and self-realization.

In the traditional yoga practice attention is given to the functions of the mind, breathing and the body. Strengthening and relaxation of the body (asana), control and observation of the breath (pranayama) and concentration and meditation (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana) are main aspects to open oneself for the transcendence and reach samadhi or nirvana/sunyata.

Mindfulness meditation without judging and suppressing our thoughts, emotions and feelings leads to the experience of pure awareness. This experience that is beyond all sensual experiences has a great transformative potential. It is this potential that makes mindfulness meditation an important method in modern psychotherapy. More than a thousand studies were made on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR by Jon Kabat-Zinn) showing that by regular practice even the structure of the brain and different parameters of the body are changed, influencing mental, emotional and behavioural disorders in a positive way.

In Christian tradition meditation is the reflection on a religious text and putting it in relation to one’s own life. Meditation can pass over into contemplation that can be described as the experience of the divine love in the depths of the heart. Thus contemplation can lead us to our deepest centre, awaking a deep unconditioned love that enables a new relation to God, the others and the whole creation. When we begin to recognize the divine spirit everywhere, then the whole creation becomes sacred for us and we don´t abuse it as done so often in our time. In this process Jesus himself can be our model: totally open to the Father and totally surrendered. He gave his life for the world, overcoming death in his resurrection.

As described by Christian saints and Hindu and Buddhist yogis the meditative experience and contemplation has the capacity to transform the way of thinking and feeling and the subtle and gross body.

In the Hindu and Buddhist Tantra the subtle inner energy (kundalini, lung) is essential for the transformation and integration of the emotional level and the physical body. Different centres (Chakras) and channels (nadis) connect the mind with the body. By the yoga practices (posture, breathing, imagination…) the energy is activated and directed to integrate the different levels of the human being. In the course of this transformational process often occur inner and outer conflicts, pain and sickness. Fr. Bede (Contemplative Prayer, Osage Monastery, 1991) says in accordance to the tantric tradition that by the flow of the energy from the base of the spine through all chakras the feminine energy (kundalini / Shakti) and the pure consciousness (Shiva) are united and every aspect of our being is integrated.

In the Dzogchen tradition (The Great Perfection) the attainment of the rainbow body is the highest realization. The realization of the rainbow body is the expression of the complete transformation and control over the elements of matter, energy and mind. It is said that accomplished yogis dissolve their body at the end of their actual life in pure light accompanied by the appearance of rainbows. There are quite a few descriptions of this phenomenon, also in our time. Francis Tiso, a Catholic priest and former Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, did extensive research on the rainbow body and compared it with the resurrection of Christ (Rainbow Body and Resurrection, Berkeley, 2016).

In the Christian view the spiritual way is a transformation by the grace of GOD. By meditation and inner prayer we purify and open ourselves for the Holy Spirit to penetrate all levels of our being. As Theresa of Avila says, that even involved in activities, she was blessed with the presence of the Holy Trinity. At the end we have to go beyond all images and concepts, receiving the uncreated light, as seen by the apostles on Mount Tabor. For Christian saints changes of the body like levitations, emitting light, stigmatisations and an uncorrupted corpse after death were described. All these changes can be seen as the expression of the inner transformation and a deeper union with GOD and the creation.

Dr. med. Dipl. Biol. Andreas Reimers
FA f. Neurologie und Psychiatrie
FA f. Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie
Hansell 19, 48341  Altenberge
andreas.reimers@web.de

The Hidden Life of Jesus

 

THE HIDDEN LIFE OF JESUS IS
THE HIDDEN TREASURE OF OUR LIFE:
(The discovery by Br. Charles de Foucauld)

Jyoti Sahi

The uniqueness of Br. Charles de Foucauld lies in his discovery of the profound mystery of the hidden life of Jesus at Nazareth as the hidden treasure which he was constantly seeking   to discover in his own life, and which he made the parameter for his own spiritual journey. For the contemporaries of Jesus, living in Nazareth, the son of Mary and Joseph was just an ordinary boy maturing  into  adulthood, involved in the life and works of a poor carpenter. There was an extraordinary dimension in the ordinary chores of life lived by Jesus in these hidden years of his life. Unless one makes an effort to search for the unknown treasure of our own ordinary life, as Jesus of Nazareth himself did, we will not be able to discover the inner richness  of our life, and realize the spiritual meaning   of human life. Here is an attempt to portray Br. Charles’ unique understanding of the hidden life of Jesus by Jyoti Sahi, an artist-theologian, one of the founding members of the Asian Christian Art Association, and father of five children, together with  his wife Jane Sahi, and an intimate friend of the Little Brothers of Jesus in Bengaluru (Editor)

Jane and I were first introduced to the spirituality of Br. Charles de Foucauld when we came to Bangalore in 1970. The group of Little Brothers—Shanti, Arul, and Michael—living in a village called Alampundi, not far from the Ramana Ashram of Thiruvanamalai in Tamilnadu—had close ties with the Christian Ashram movement, especially Shantivanam Ashram, founded by the French priests Monchanin, and Le Saux (later known as Abhishiktananda). Swami Abhishiktananda, who became increasingly drawn to the spirituality of Ramana Maharishi, had lived in a cave on Arunachalam (the holy mountain that can be seen from Alampundi). In fact the life of Swami Abhishiktananda has been compared with that of Br. Charles de Foucauld. Both were drawn to a kind of contemplative Christian life, lived amidst people of other Faiths. In the case of Br. Charles, it was the deep spiritual life to be found in Islam. For Abhishiktananda, it was the Sanyasa tradition that has been an essential aspect of Hindu spiritual life.

However, despite the fact that the small group of Little Brothers of Jesus, following the path of Br. Charles, were involved with a Gandhian ashram working with leprosy patients, the Little Brothers never actually joined the Ashram Aikya, though Br. Arul did attend a few of the early gatherings of the Christian Ashrams, and there was an important exchange of ideas, and patterns of life, between what the ashrams were trying to find in an Indian way of life, and what Br. Charles tried to live in Nazareth, and later the Sahara.

What was of particular interest to us as a married couple, trying to find a spiritual dimension to our efforts at setting up a home in a rural Indian context, was the importance that Br. Charles gave to the witness of a family, lived in the spirit of the family of Jesus in Nazareth.

The Image of the Holy Family

Recently I have been reflecting about some of the early paintings of the Indian artist Angelo da Fonseca who was invited by the Anglican Jack Winslow to live in the Christa Prema Seva Ashram which he started in the outskirts of Pune in1927. For Angelo, who married late in life (he was 50 when he married Ivy, another Goan, who was much younger than him) the figure of the elderly Joseph, and his young wife Mary, and their child Jesus, gave a special significance to their own marriage. They had a girl child, and they lived a very simple life inspired by the Ashram. Angelo made a number of sketches and paintings of the family life he and Ivy were living, with their baby, and these became the basis for his depiction of the life of Mary and Joseph, and their child Jesus, imagined in an Indian cultural context.

Many artists have been drawn to the infancy narratives of Jesus. I am thinking of the frescoes of Giotto, for example, inspired by the spirituality of Francis of Assisi, who had the idea of creating a crib scene of the birth of Jesus, where a real baby was placed in a manger, with real animals nearby, to make the mystery of the incarnation more tangible, and imaginable. Little Sister Madeleine, who founded the Little Sisters through her own understanding of the spirituality of Br. Charles de Foucauld, had a special devotion to the child Jesus, having had a personal spiritual experience when she felt that Mother Mary had entrusted to her the baby Jesus which she held close to her heart. The hidden Jesus is the Divine presence that is born in the cave of the heart.

Peter, in his epistle speaks of a “light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the daystar arises in your hearts” (2 Pet 1:19) and in another letter of “the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit”(1 Pet 3:4).  Mystics like Meister Eckhart spoke of an inner birthing of the Incarnation within the heart, like an inner light. This Christ who is born secretly in our hearts, is the spiritual meaning of the “hidden life of Jesus”, which is not simply the time Jesus spent unknown to the world in Nazareth, but is also his inner presence in the secret place of the contemplative heart.

The idea of the Holy Family at whose centre is the child Jesus, gives another dimension to the concept of a “fraternity”—or in the Indian tradition, the “Gurukula” or family of the Guru. It appears that in the mind of Br. Charles this “family” extends beyond the traditional understanding of an “order”, to embrace the whole community, envisaging what was seen in the early Christian community as a “house Church”. In this context a “third order” which includes those who are not a part of an institutionalized religious congregation,  is not something just added on, to accommodate those who are not a part of the “first” or “second” orders specifically intended for men and women dedicated to a spiritual vocation. Rather, if the “hidden life” of Jesus growing up with his parents in Nazareth is taken as a model, this life as part of the ordinary working world, embraces all those who are termed “lay people”; married couples who are part of a secular pattern of life, with children and households. I think that one of the unique charisma’s of the fraternities that try to follow the vision of Br. Charles, is much more inclusive that the way traditional orders have been understood in the Church. This spirituality includes ordinary workers, employed in the secular community, and reaches out to what we understand as the everyday significance of family life.

The Ashramas of Jesus

Thinking in the Indian context of the “Ashramas of Jesus”, the first two Ashramas, or stages of life, that are Brahmacharya, and Grihastha, can be related to the life of the Holy Family in Nazareth. A theme that Angelo da Fonseca liked to depict in his paintings of the childhood of Jesus, imagines Mary teaching Jesus how to read.  The craft life of Joseph, and also Mary who according to the Gospel of James, was employed in the Temple in the making of the Veil which had to be renewed from time to time, links work to an inner spiritual path. For icon painters, and those who have devoted their art to the creating of liturgical objects used in worship, the practice of an art or craft is itself a spiritual path.  The hidden life of Jesus focuses on a creative aspect of Christ, reflecting the Divine work of creating the whole universe, and the wisdom of the hands that continue to participate in the work of creation. This understanding of hand work as a form of contemplation, was very much in the minds of monks for whom work is to pray. This spirituality, which Br. Charles would have been familiar with as a Trappist monk, is given a new meaning by the “worker priest” movement which has been closely associated with the development of the ethos underlying the vocation of the Fraternity of the Little Brothers of Jesus.

A favorite theme in the Middle Ages was to depict Mary working with a spindle, preparing the thread which would be used to make the veil of the Temple. I have seen images of Mary occupied in this fashion when the Angel came to announce that she would conceive the Divine Word. Again, Joseph the carpenter links his physical craft to the fashioning of wood. This was to remind the Faithful of the Tree on which Christ was to suffer and die, for as St Paul insists, when speaking of the death of Jesus, the Cross on which he hung is the Tree that represents both suffering and Life.

This brings us to the third and fourth ashramas, according to the Indian system of the stages of life, which are called Vanaprastha, and Sanyasa. Vanaprastha is associated with pilgrimage to holy places, and Sanyasa to complete self-renunciation. These stages could be a basis for understanding the public ministry of Jesus when he is often described as on the way to Jerusalem with his disciples, and finally his suffering and death. Beyond these stages, the Way of Jesus leads to the Resurrection. Angelo painted a number of pictures of the Journey of the two disciples to Emmaus, when the Risen Lord accompanied them in their agonized searching for the meaning of his earthly life, which ended so tragically. I have thought of these disciples as being like the early Christian witnesses called Aquila and Priscilla, who were a married couple. This couple and their ministry in the early Church was again a theme very dear to Br. Charles, who saw in them the true vocation of marriage as providing the nucleus for a “house Church” . In fact the place in Emmaus where the disciples stopped to rest, and persuaded Jesus to stay on with them, could be pictured as an Ashram by the wayside, where finally they suddenly realized who their companion on the way was, in the moment of breaking and sharing bread. Angelo in one of his paintings of this theme has shown the two disciples as being Gandhi and Tagore, while in another painting he shows the two disciples as a Hindu and a Muslim. The “Oriental Christ” of Indian art is the ‘Christ of the Indian Road’ that the missionary Stanley Jones spoke about. This Christ is one who travels with other pilgrims, of different cultures and faiths, in search of a common experience of the Divine Presence in the world in which we live.

[1]Ashramas are the four stages of life, discussed in the Hindu religious texts:student (Brahmacharya),householder (Grihastha), retired (Vanaprastha) and renunciation (Sannyasa)

The Hidden Presence

The teaching found in the Gospels that the Kingdom of God is already present, hidden in the hearts of those who are committed to Gospel values, has been expressed through the parables of Jesus where he speaks of a hidden yeast that works from within, in an unseen way, in the transformation of the dough; or again as the seed that grows secretly in the earth before coming to light, when the sprout emerges from the dark womb of the mother earth. Finally, there is the parable about the treasure hidden in a field, that a tenant worker discovers and gives all so as to be able to buy the field in which the treasure lies buried.

The Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan, in a study based on the seminal parable of Jesus concerning the hidden treasure,finds that the theme of finding buried treasure can be traced far back to the discovery of precious metals and stones that are mined from the earth, and are believed to have hidden spiritual power. The short parable in Mathew’s Gospel contains a wealth of significance that can be “mined” from the story traditions regarding hidden treasure that we find all over the world.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field. (Mt. 13: 44)

The image of ‘treasure’ that lies hidden under the ground can be traced back to the discovery of metals and precious stones that evolved out of the Stone Age, and is characterized by new technologies of mining. We find reference to this in the Book of Job where we are told:

Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold which they refine……Men put an end to darkness, and search out to the farthest bound the ore in gloom and deep darkness.  (Job. 28: 1, 3.)

Crossan comments on the Jewish tradition that “all the treasures of Israel’s Temple were secreted in the earth from Palestine to Mesopotamia, and must remain hidden.He quotes a Jewish writer who says that the secret of the Kingdom will remain hidden

…until the advent of the Messiah, who will reveal all treasures. In his time a stream will break forth from under the place of the Holy of Holies, and flow through the lands of the Euphrates, and, as it flows, it will uncover all the treasures buried in the earth”.  (Ginsberg: 4.321)

[2]His talks on this subject were published in 1925, Cf. E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Indian Road, published) by Abingdon Press,1925.
[3]John Dominic Crossan, Finding Is the First Act: Trove Folktales and Jesus’ Treasure Parable, Scholars Pr 1979, Wipf & Stock Publishers Paperback, 2008

The Rock that is the Foundation of the Kingdom

We read in the first Epistle of Peter:

Come to the Lord, the living stone rejected by men as worthless but chosen by God as valuable. Come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple, where you will serve as holy priests to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ. For the scripture says,’ I chose a valuable stone, which I am placing as the cornerstone in Zion; and whoever believes in him will never be disappointed.’ This stone is of great value for you that believe; but for those who do not believe: ‘The stone which the builders rejected as worthless, turned out to be the most important of all’ (1Pet2:4 -7)           

Christ is himself the treasure who is mysteriously hidden. He is the rock on which the Kingdom of God is to be founded.  It is this hidden treasure that Mary Magdalene goes searching for.

Very early on Sunday morning, at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they said to one another, ‘who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb? (It was a very large stone). Then they looked up and saw that the stone had already been rolled back…”  (Mk.16: 2-4)

The Spiritual Importance of Mary Magdalene.

According to the ending of the Gospel of St Mark:

After Jesus rose from the dead early on Sunday, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons. She went and told his companions. They were mourning and crying, and when they heard her say that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe her” (Mk.16: 9)

Br. Charles had a special devotion to Mary Magdalene. There has been a tradition in the Church that Mary Magdalene represented a special, one could call it a hidden relation with Christ. Some have even suggested that she was the “beloved disciple” whom John the Evangelist refers to.

An apocryphal Coptic Gospel of Mary Magdalene which was discovered in 1896, and only translated into English by Walter Till and published in 1955, is thought by many scholars to have originally been composed in Greek in the 2nd Century of the Christian era.  However, Karen King, Hollis Professor of the Harvard School seems to believe that this Gospel represents a hidden teaching that goes back to the times of Christ.This Gospel opens with Peter saying to Mary Magdalene:

Sister, we know the Savior loved you more than the rest of the women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember, which you know, but we do not, nor have heard them….

The figure of Mary Magdalene in the reflections of Br. Charles is certainly coloured by a popular French devotion to this Saint, who according to Legend came to France after the Resurrection. There is a Church dedicated to her in Provence, where she is supposed to have landed on the shores of France; and there is also a cave where she is believed to have lived as a contemplative hermit.

It is known that Br. Charles when he visited France was in the habit of going to these shrines dedicated to Mary Magdalene, to meditate there. These places associated with Mary Magdalene have also been linked to the pilgrim route to Compostella which played a very vital part in the spiritual journeys of the Faithful in the Middle Ages.

Mary Magdalene is pictured as a seeker. It is her search, looking for the treasure that the life of Jesus held for the disciples, that brought her in the early hours of Easter morning to find the body of Jesus which was laid to rest  hurriedly in a newly cut tomb that belonged to Joseph of Aramathea.  All the Gospels refer to the role of Mary Magdalene as a devout seeker, who was present, along with Mary the Mother of Jesus, at the foot of the Cross.

It is as the devotee that Br. Charles sees Mary Magdalene as fulfilling the part of the contemplative who discovers the Risen Lord in the cave of the heart. Hers is the way of Bhakti. In the thought of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who composed many sermons on the inner spiritual significance of the Song of Songs in the Old Testament of the Bible, the soul searches and longs to find the Beloved.

Br. Charles writes:

This is the contemplative life, the life of passionate love, of adoring love. This is the ‘Better Part’—the part of the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph of Nazareth; The part of the Blessed Virgin all through in her life, of Mary Magdalene of Bethany in Galilee, in Judea, in Provence….May it be our ‘part’? Let us imitate our Blessed Mother, St. Mary Magdalene, the     passionate adorer of Christ. Only One thing is necessary. Order your activity in such a way that you do not waste your time…..to be able to live in a very contemplative manner while doing everything for everyone, and making yourself available so that you can give to everyone Jesus.

Throughout in his little book Archbishop Rowan William has focused on the theme of “hidden-ness” or secrecy in the preaching of Jesus. Jesus told those whom he cured “not to tell anyone”. When he appeared transfigured before his disciples on Mount Tabor, again he enjoined them to keep this secret. He taught through parables. The disciples (and presumably all those to whom these stories about the Kingdom of God were addressed) were puzzled. What was Jesus trying to teach them through these mysterious stories?

When he was on his own, the twelve and some others with them asked about the parables…. And he said ‘To you the secret of the Kingdom of God has been given. But for those outside, everything gets treated in parables, so that they may see and see, but never understand; so that they may hear and hear but never take it in, in case they change their minds and get forgiven. (Mk. 4:10-12)

According to Rowan Williams, the irony of the Gospel story was that even the disciples never really understood. The life of Jesus was itself the greatest parable.

[4]John Dominic Crossan, Finding: Jewish Treasure Stories, p. 54
[5]Meditations of a Hermit


The Hidden Meaning

Personally, as an artist, I have been fascinated by the hidden nature of the life of Jesus, and the Gospel he came to give. Br. Charles had an intuition that it was the hidden life of Jesus living in a remote, and “no-man’s-land” of Nazareth, that gives us a key to discover the meaning of his Gospel, and a quality of hidden-ness and secrecy even in his final public ministry that led to his Passion and Resurrection from the dead.

Rowan Williams quotes from the so-called Gospel of Thomas:“Jesus said: The Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth, and men do not see it!”

People want to understand what a story, text, or image “literally means”. But the secret of the Gospel is not to be found in this literal interpretation. The meaning of the Kingdom of God lies buried under the surface of the manifest narrative, like a kind of emptiness, or Sunya. This is I feel the mystery of the empty tomb.

As we find in the Tao te Ching

Because the eye gazes but can catch no glimpse of it—it is called elusive.    Because the ear listens but cannot hear it—it is called rarefied. Because the hand feels it, but cannot find it—it is called infinitesimal….”
We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel; But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
We turn clay to make a vessel; But it on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house; And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore, just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.

[6]Spiritual Journal
[7]Rowan William, Meeting God in Mark, Westminster: John Knox Press, 2015
[8]the Chinese classic about the Tao, or Way, a fundamental text for both philosophical and religious Taoism, written by Lao-tzu J. Legge, in 2nd century BC. Translation from “The Way and its Power: The Tao Te Ching and its place in Chinese thought” by Arthur Waley. Unwin, Mandala edition 1977                    

Kenosis—the Empty Vessel

According to St. Paul, Jesus emptied himself, taking the last and lowest place. That was the Way that he followed, and asked his disciples to imitate.  That emptiness is itself a form of fullness that leads us to an experience of the Holy.

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count  equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant….”  (Phil.2: 5-7)

Br. Charles had a profoundly intuitive understanding of the life and teaching of Christ. In a way, he almost literally tried to follow the Gospel, rather like St. Francis of Assisi tried to present the Gospel story of the birth of Jesus very literally by having a real baby in a manger surrounded by real animals, in an attempt to re-construct the original scene of the incarnation.  But hidden in the literal fact of what might have happened, there lies a real mystery.

The Divine is everywhere, in the most ordinary and everyday events. But we somehow do not see that.  Seeing the Holy in the secular requires an art.

For the hidden life of Jesus, working with a craftsman Father, was a life of making ordinary things of everyday use. It is these very tangible things that Jesus starts building his stories around. He is a master story teller, presenting what is hidden through very vivid imaginable narratives.

[9]Arthur Waley, The Way and it’s Power, Ch. XIV
[10]Arthur Waley, The Way and it’s PowerCh. XI

The early life of Jesus which we know little about, rather like the empty tomb at the end of the Gospel, points towards a Reality that is everywhere, but nowhere that we can see, hear, or touch.

What Br. Charles seems to have found, going far out into the emptiness of the Sarah desert, was a new approach to Mission. This Mission is not defined by what is manifest, and powerful. It is not a kind of irrefutable truth which can be proved logically. It is not to be reached by converting big numbers, or establishing impressive institutions. Rather, this is a very naked, humble type of Mission. It is characterized not by strength, but by weakness. Not in giving, but rather in a willingness to receive and respect the ‘Other’.

Br. Charles radically changed his understanding of Mission after his sickness in the desert, when he was taken care of by a Muslim family, which saved his life. He realized that his role of witness to Christ was not only to give, but also to receive, and be healed by those among whom he had chosen to live, and to whom he owed so much.

I believe that it is this approach to Mission that is particularly relevant for our times, when so much importance is given to power politics, and a consumer society. It is a mission that respects diversity of cultures, and also natural diversity. It is an Eco-Mission necessary in the world of today.

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“teacher of the oppressed”
by
Jyoti Sahi