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

The Hidden Life of Jesus


(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… 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.


teacher of the oppressed.png

“teacher of the oppressed”
Jyoti Sahi

The Continuing Quest….a new book about Bede


In June of 2006, the Camaldolese Institute for East-West Dialogue invited a group of monastics and scholars to New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur to participate in a conference on the remarkable contribution and enduring legacy of Fr. Bede Griffiths. The culmination of that gathering is summarized in a new book, The Continuing Quest: Carrying Forward the Contemplative and Prophetic Vision of Bede Griffiths. The book is like an invitation into that 2006 conference, allowing the reader to explore, along with each author, the wisdom that Bede gained and utilized along his winding path from England to India. The contributors approach Bede and his all-inclusive vision with great reverence, offering a deep bow to the work he completed before his death as well as to the ongoing efforts to continue that work in the years since.

The Continuing Quest was superbly compiled by two Camaldolese monks, Frs. Joseph Wong and Thomas Matus, like a delicately tuned orchestra of contributors in its 12 chapters in three parts: Theologian: Integration of East and West; Prophet: The Growing Vision; and Teacher and Friend. Each chapter, from beginning to end, provokes one to see the consistent urgings of the Holy Spirit in Bede’s own life, but also gently nudges the reader to be present to those same urgings in one’s own path. Bede was keenly attuned to these directives of the Spirit and honored each one of them as sacred. He understood that wisdom and truth could be harvested from all authentic faith traditions, that the interior journey is one to silence and stillness, and that contemplation is a common aspect to any journey to the Divine.

Bede believed intensely in the perennial value of the monastic path. St. Benedict defined the monk as “one who is truly seeking God,” which Bede interpreted to mean a direct experience of ultimate reality. But this “seeking God” has produced a striving for such an experience in people from all walks of life, whether they be vowed, cloistered or lay. As evidenced in his life and his work, Bede held dear the perennial truth of both the monastic journey and universal call to contemplation.

The Continuing Quest explores various topics, both rich and compelling. Joseph Wong, for example, writes about Bede’s grappling with the Vedantic notion of advaita–non-duality, a theme that emerged and remained a main focus throughout much of Bede’s life. Bede had high hopes that his articulation of advaita as “not two/not one” would serve two traditions in dialogue. Dr. Michael von Bruck, on the other hand, writes about Bede’s “Interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita.” On the Western side, Thomas Matus writes about Bede’s relationship to Thomas Aquinas and the Inklings, and Bruno Barnhart’s contribution deals with “Science, Mysticism and Christ” based on Bede’s New Vision of Reality.

Cyprian Consiglio, current prior of New Camaldoli, shares a chapter entitled “Bede Griffith’s Anthropology: Toward an Integral Christian Spirituality.” What he considers to be the most significant contribution Fr. Bede left us was a new articulation of a spiritual anthropology, an understanding of the human person wrapped inside an ancient cosmology. Fr. Cyprian points out that this was actually Bede’s recovery of an ancient understanding of reality: the recognition of the spiritual, psychological, and physical aspects of all created reality and, following on that, a realization that the human person is at once spirit, soul and body. Fr. Bede was convinced that as we entered this new age Western science was slowly recovering and re-discovering the perennial philosophy, the wisdom that had prevailed throughout the ancient world.

There are also contributions by such notable scholars as Sr. Donald Corcoran, OSB, Francis Clooney, SJ, and the late Beatrice Bruteau, among others.

Fr. Cyprian concludes his chapter with the insight that Bede Griffiths’ explorations, both in his study and in his lived spirituality, in the latter part of the 20th century in India has provided a bridge from traditional Christian spirituality and its lexicon to the sensibility and vocabulary of informed seekers of the early 21st century, hungry as they are for and informed by contemporary incarnations of integral spirituality. As Laurence Freeman notes in his introduction, how Fr. Bede described the prophetic teachers that he was studying while writing his last book, New Creation in Christ, also applies to Bede himself: “So often one person can change life for thousands or millions. So often one person must break through and then everything else follows from that.” Bede Griffiths lived his life with grace and reverence, and intentionally followed the path of truth and peace. The Continuing Quest is testimony to that life well lived and to his lasting legacy.

interfaith dialogue


Inter-religious Dialogue, a daily Reality in life
by Fr. Sebastian Thottippatt (India),

Inter-religious dialogue is a subject that is much in vogue today. By the very fact that society is composed of people belonging to diverse religious traditions and practices, it becomes incumbent on all to interact with one another avoiding confrontations and enhance one’s life through it. We are constantly engaged in inter-actions with one another in every field. In fact we are inter-dependent on one another all the time for the fulfillment of our basic needs and growth in every area of life. Most people profess affiliation to one religion or another by dint of their birth. However, whatever values and traditions a religion contains and passes on to its followers, it is not complete in itself for the simple reason that no religion can exhaust the fullness of truth. Religions have certain belief systems, code of laws and rituals which come to take shape over the years through the influence of culture, perception of values and the means of living it out in accordance with what one understands as consonant with the teachings of a religious founder or leader. Unfortunately, in course of time they get solidified with their local cultural expressions and become less amenable to change. The followers of all religions have had the tendency to carry with them wherever they go all the externals of their religion such as the specific rituals, dress code and their particular theological understanding of the perennial truths. This has led to much tension in human history. People from different lands meeting together find themselves contradicting each other when they view their religious practices against that of others who live side by side with them following a different religion or a different understanding of the eternal reality. This has necessitated inter-religious dialogue in some form at least among people for a peaceful co-existence. The conviction has been gaining ground in enlightened circles that no religion is the embodiment of truth but only the finger pointing to it in an imperfect way. Hence every religion has in it only segments of truth. One must delve deeper into one’s own religion and explore the perceptions in another’s religion too in order to arrive at complete truth and be built by it. Inter-religious dialogue does not imply compromising one’s beliefs and adopting another indiscriminately. It is rather the meeting together of human beings as they are and sharing together the best of doctrine, tradition and life style they possess. There is no evaluation of each other as good or bad but of appreciating each other’s assets for what they mean to them. No name given to God is his real name because God has no name or form. It applies also to the qualities that one attributes to God. Hence no one can say that he/she is right or wrong in whichever way he or she names God or speaks of him. The plan of God for each human person varies and it ought to be respected while sharing one’s own experience of religion. The town of Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, India, where I live, is a meeting ground for people from all over the world who are drawn here by the life and teachings of Sri. Ramana Maharshi, a sage who lived here in the first half of the last century. He belonged to a Hindu Brahmin family from Madurai but came here drawn by the grace of Shiva who has been considered embodied by the Mountain of Arunachala at Tiruvannamalai. Living for two decades in the caves of the mountain in silence with his altered state of consciousness, he grew into an enlightened sage whom people sought after from near and far. Going beyond the tenets of religion, he led those who came to him to seek and find the real self hidden in each one under various external expressions. Having an Advaita approach to life, Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi left behind him at Tiruvnnamalai an aura of spirituality and God-seeking which continues to draw tens of thousands to the town every year. Today people from all walks of life and rooted in diverse religious affiliations come here, stay at Ramana Maharshi ashram or anywhere around and do the pilgrim walk around the mountain. No one is keen to learn about the religion the other pursues but all are united in seeking to discover the self within which was the clarion call of the Maharshi. All the guest houses in Tiruvannamalai are booked up to capacity by Western seekers by and large from November to February every year. Most of these are followers of Christianity. A minimum of 100,000 people do the Girivalem walk around the Mountain of Arunachala at every full moon. The vast majority of these are Hindus but there is no distinction among the persons who constitute this crowd that walks around. The follower of any religion can sense the presence of God on that Mountain as well as in the crowd of pious pilgrims. At different points along the route, the pilgrims are served free food or snacks by groups of kindly volunteers from anywhere who bring cooked food ready to serve. No one is asked his or her religion. Everyone is accepted as a devotee of Shiva or a seeker of God. It is inter-religious dialogue taking place on a high level. People learn to go beyond one’s religion to recognize the humanity of the other and serve him or her with joy and humility. I have seen Muslim women in their purdah go into Ramanashram premises and experiencing the atmosphere of spirituality and acceptance prevailing there. The gate is open to all throughout the day and nobody is ever turned away unless evidently he or she is a public nuisance. Inter-religious dialogue takes place where men and women meet together on the common ground of their humanity and share each other’s spiritual, intellectual, artistic and other humanistic riches. Every form of talent present in any man or woman is a gift of God, under whichever name or form one perceives him. When we recognize that and appreciate it with thankfulness we render glory to God and make our lives more human and enriched. It is not our distinctions in religion that we need to share but rather what our religion has led us to on our spiritual journey. When we enter into true dialogue and listen to each other intensely, we shall pass on to each other even unknowingly the gift of God’s presence and love. This indeed is the ultimate aim of inter-religious dialogue. Fr. Sebastian Thottippatt (India)


  The importance of the inter-religious dialogue as an example for reaching tolerance on political views.
by Zen Moraes and Marcos Mohan Das, São Paulo – Brazil (

Unfortunately, the past few months have been full of political turmoil in our country and one of the social behaviors that struck us the most was the extreme expression of hate. It is surprising to see how once apparently close people get to be so segregated by a passion for defending each one’s own political thought. While popular social movements should be encouraged, it was clear to see people’s differences and their distance of reaching a medium ground where opposite views could be at least accepted as freedom of expression. Looking from a spiritual point of view, moments like this must be carefully lived by those who can see the Divinity in all. While it could be difficult not to get somehow involved in society; the person in the spiritual path must attain a state of tolerance and amplify the feeling of love and generosity. Our sangha group in São Paulo has been a common ground for friends not only of different religious traditions, but also different political ideologies where the dialogue can be embellished by the desire of joining in the name of the Lord. We are most pleased to see the influx of new people and young minds interested on the quest of a broader living experience of spirituality and of what is truly Sacred. After our return from India, in 2016, as on previous years, we continued receiving the presence of guests and spiritual seekers from the Orthodox Church, the Order of Franciscan Friars, Buddhists, Kardecists on Spiritism, Hare Krishnas, spiritual yogis, and a group of Progressive Christians brought up by the Oblate of Shantivanam, Angélica Tostes. A variety of themes were studied and discussed ranging from inter religious prayers, introduction to Tantra, Christian Mysticism Theology and spirituality, the Bhagavad Gita commented by Bede Griffits (River of Compassion) compared to the Gospels and all the traditional prayers and bhajans from Shantivanam. We would like to invite friends and Oblates from everywhere to visit our sangha and get to know a little more about our country and culture. All are welcomed.” Zen Moraes and Marcos Mohan Das, São Paulo – Brazil


(Tina Goodchild- Cape Town, South Africa)

“There are various situations where people of different religions come together to share with each other. We may join in interfaith sharing among friends or Interfaith dialogue, which requires a deep knowledge and experience of one’s religious tradition. Our small group in Cape Town have weekly interfaith meetings which could be considered more of an experience of ‘Satsang’ which translates into ‘sat’ Truth and ‘sang’ being in the company of. We get together and each shares their experience of Truth or shares readings from the Holy Scriptures with commentary or writings of a particular saint or sage. Those of us who meet together are mainly Hindu and Christian although we have also had Islam and Buddhist practitioners join us. We always commence the meeting with the Om chant followed by singing of The Lord’s Prayer, then the Universal Prayer of Swami Sivananda and the chant from Shantivanam Om Jagadishwara. We follow it with sharing, a short meditation and prayers for healing etc. We have all been connected to the teachings of Bede Griffiths and the founders of Shantivanam and/or the teachings of Swami Venkatesananda and Swami Sivananda. Satsang is held at Ananda Kutir Ashrama in Cape Town twice a week and is based on the Satsang of the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh. It is a spiritual food – something that fills us with faith hope and love and encourages us to continue on our spiritual journey.”


on dialogue between people of different religious traditions

(by Bishop Joao Noe Rodrigues – (Diocese of Tzaneen – South Africa)

“Interfaith dialogue only makes sense if the participants themselves are genuine believers and practice their particular faith, a faith which is generally known and respected in our society by all people of good will. The spirit of the dialogue should be fundamentally a spirit of listening, of trying to understand what the other is actually saying. Any questions or comments by others should aim at clarifying what the speaker is seeking to communicate. Participants should refrain from criticising what others have shared concerning their faith and religious practices because it is not a debating session nor an exercise in comparing and evaluating religions.”   “The work of the Holy Spirit is not confined to Christians or the Church. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God who can “touch” and inspire any human being of good will irrespective of his religious tradition. It is this sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit that we should seek to encourage among all people irrespective of their religious faith – and this work of the Spirit is shown in our peace-making efforts, in respecting one anothers’ sacred dignity,in being merciful and helping one another in our real human needs, in “doing unto others as you need others to do unto you.” In this universal perspective of the work of the Holy Spirit in humanity, it is possible for the Christian to “see” in faith Christ present in our midst and in people of all religions and even of no formal religion… The late Nelson Mandela got it right when he wrote: “Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished”.


Religious Images & Statues

(Brother Martin)

(extract taken from THE FOUR O’CLOCK TALKS – Discussions with JOHN MARTIN

SAHAJANANDA compiled by Carrie Lock (pg. 114)

In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there is a strong sense that God is transcendentand that we should never make an image of God. ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol’(Gen 20:4) is one of the Ten Commandments. In Judaism they do not have any image of God. In Islam there is also no image of God; Muslims are completely against any idol worship. In Christianity, we do not have any image of God. God may be presented as having a long white beard, but it is not a real image of God.

Sometimes, others accuse Catholicism of a type of idol worship due to the prevalence of statues of Christ, Mary and the saints. In Christianity, we have to distinguish between worship and veneration. There is a subtle difference between the two. Worship only belongs to God. What we need to do is to ensure that our symbols have universal value so that others can also understand and follow the meaning; otherwise our symbols become a narrow type of mentality which excludes others.

In Hinduism, there are a lot of statues, especially of the gods such as Vishnu, Ganesh and Shiva. Hindus believe that when you concentrate on a statue of one of the gods, the spirit of God comes and dwells in the statue and that the idol is worthy of worship. In my view, we cannot take sides whether this is absolutely right or wrong. There is something positive in having the idols. The danger is when we make these images absolute.

Especially in the Western mind, it is thought that Hindus believe in many gods. This is called polytheism. We have to be very clear about this: Hindus do not believe in many gods, they believe in only one God, and this one God has infinite attributes. The term is sahastra nama. Sahastra means 1000, which means infinite. God allows individuals to have an image according to his or her need. For God, it is not a problem. God is the same even though there are many images; what is different is only the external form or expression of God according to people’s needs. We should not see the differences but instead we should focus on the unity, and then you don’t worry about the image.

Temples, like images, can also represent attributes of God. Whenever we go to a temple, we should ask, ‘What is the meaning of the name of this god?’ and consider whether this name is OK with God. For example, there is a famous temple in the state of Orissa called Jagannatha Temple. God is worshipped as Jagannatha. Jagath means ‘the world’ and Natha means the Lord. God is being presented as Jagannatha, ‘Lord of the world’. Is not God Lord of the world? Another example: there is a temple called Vishvanath in Varanasi. Vishva means universe. God is being presented as ‘Lord of the universe’. Is not God the Lord of the universe? We have a temple here in the nearby city of Trichy called Sri Ranganatha. God is called Sri Ranganatha. What do we mean by ‘ranga’? Ranga means stage. Nadha is the Lord.

So God is the director of the stage. People are acting on stage and God is the director. In the state of Andhara Pradesh there is the famous temple Sri Venkateswara Swami. This means ‘The Lord who removes sins’, We say Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, this is Venkateswara. In Islam, they may not have an image of God, but still they have attributes of God. They have 99 attributes of Allah. Likewise in Catholicism, there is only one Christ, but he is given various attributes such as ‘Christ the Healer’, ‘The Sacred Heart’, ‘Divine Mercy’ and so on. What the Hindus do is they make the attribute into a form.How do they know God is merciful? They put it into visual form. For example at Jagannatha Temple, God as ‘Lord of the world’ is an attribute. It is difficult for some people to understand God as the Lord of the world, so an image is created so that people can relate with God.

In Hinduism, they have different names for different aspects of God; according to that name they build the statue or temple for worship. It is not the stone but the presence of God in the stone that is being worshipped. The most important thing is not to say don’t worship these idols. If you don’t want to worship, don’t worship, but if this stone is able to awaken devotion in millions of people, that is really a great miracle, no? We human beings are not able to awaken devotion in the people but this stone is able to do so. The important thing is whether this stone is helping people find devotion. We should not just find fault. We should not blame people, as long as their form of worship is benefiting them to be more spiritual and move closerto God then there is something good there.

In the Prophetic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, God is portrayed as transcendent and that you should never have any image of God, but then people can identify God with the scriptures and say ’This is God’. That is also a type of idol worship. Idol worship isn’t only related to statues; it can also be in the form of a book. That we forget. Any image of God can be an idol, even the ideas we have of God in our mind can be idol worship. We can use the idols and symbols but we have to go beyond the idols and symbols to the reality. The real nature of God is love and compassion.

Jyoti Sahi and the Art Ashram

(cyprian consiglio)

Recently I had a correspondence with a gentleman who is rather well known in the lore of the life of Bede Griffiths, Jyoti Sahi, an artist from South India. My good friend John Marheineke was visiting his Art Ashram near Bangalore as he was chaperoning a trip with his high school students, not knowing Jyoti’s background. At the end of Jyoti’s presentation to the students, John casually asked him if he knew Fr. Bede, and Jyoti lit up, telling John that not only had Bede written an introduction to his book on Indian art (The Child and the Serpent), but had also witnessed his marriage to Jane. John later emailed Jyoti to thank him for the visit and copied me. Hence began our own correspondence, which I have edited and offer here, with his kind permission, to introduce him and his work to our readers.

* * *

Dear John,

Thank you for your message. I must say that both Roshan [Jyoti’s son] and myself enjoyed the meeting with you and your students. It is refreshing to have an encounter with young people who are interested, and happy to be here in India.

As we tried to share with you all, Roshan and I have been very interested in folk culture which we have been looking at and thinking about around where we live, but also in India generally. I have been very much studying this folk culture ever since I wrote the book “The Child and the Serpent.” The symbols that we find in the primal culture of people who live close to the earth, and respond to the symbols that constitute the special meaning of the land, represent something which is archetypal and common to all cultures. However, each landscape has its own “spirit of the place” and in that sense is also unique.

I have also been very much influenced by the ideas of Rabindranath Tagore. The person who taught me art as a child, whose name was Suddhir Khastigir, was among the first students of Tagore at Shantiniketan. Roshan spent three years at the Santiniketan Ashram art school which Tagore initiated.

Sudhir Khastigir encouraged me to take up art as a life work, and suggested I focused on arts in relation to crafts. So I went to a school of arts and crafts in London, and it was while I was studying there (between 1959-63) that I was also thinking of becoming a monk. It was the novice master of the monastery that I was going to who suggested I meet Dom Bede Griffiths, who was visiting England at that time, talking about his experience setting up a Christian Ashram called Kurisumala. At art school I had been reading the works of Ananda Coomaraswamy, and it was in connection with his son, and a group inspired by Eric Gill who published a magazine called “Good Work” in America, that Fr. Bede had also been in the USA in 1963. Fr. Bede was interested in the connection between art and the monastic life, and had helped to establish a small community of artists and craftspeople near his Abbey in England, called the Taener Community. So Fr. Bede suggested that when I returned to India, I could visit his Ashram, and live near the monastery.

So in 1964 I travelled to Kerala and met him at Kurisumala Ashram. There was an architect called Laurie Baker, a Quaker, who was also living next to the Ashram. And so for a few years I worked with this architect who was also British, and had been designing a number of churches and other buildings using local materials, and what was being called “vernacular architecture.” It was in his house that I met my wife Jane, who also comes from a Quaker family background. In 1970, when Fr. Bede had already moved to Shantivanam Ashram, taking it over from Swami Abhishiktananda, Fr. Bede married Jane and me, after baptizing Jane standing in the river Kaveri next to the Ashram!!

Later that year we came to Bangalore, as I had been invited to work at the National Biblical and Liturgical Centre, which had been set up just after the Vatican council, to implement some of the ideas about relating the Church to Indian culture. And in 1972 we came to live in this Christian village of Silvepura.

Roshan and I have been thinking of perhaps setting up a website to explain the kind of workshops that we are interested to do with those who would like to think about folk culture, and the spirituality underlying an art that is close to the earth. This culture has, we feel, much to do with ecology, and a respect for the earth and the landscape. When I started what I called an “art ashram” in 1983, I called it “INSCAPE,” inspired by the ideas of Gerard Manley Hopkins. We have always been inspired by the landscape, and the ideas of Joseph Campbell on the “Inner reaches of Outer Space.”

As you saw, we do have some space, and are trying to construct more studio areas. One of our ideas is to offer the possibility for those who would like to explore the imagination through visual art forms, to perhaps think of a residency programme in which to engage with the creative imagination in the context of Indian spiritual traditions. As I said during the workshop which we had together, I really believe that “the artist is not a special sort of person, but every person is a special sort of artist,” which was an aphorism dear to both Eric Gill, and Andanda Coomaraswamy.

Like you I was very inspired by Tagore’s work on Sadhana, and have been telling those who have come here to work with us from time to time, that I believe that all forms of art are a sadhana or spiritual search. I am happy that we could meet, and hope that we can share more on these themes, and a common interest in the contemplative tradition, in the future.

I will be very happy to also learn more about what Fr. Cyprian is also doing in the way of relating music to contemplation.

Yours sincerely, Jyoti

Later, after I wrote to him…

Dear Cyprian,

I do not know if you have heard of a person called Stanley Jones? He was an American Missionary who came out to India and was inspired by the life and work of Gandhi. He created a Christian Ashram in the North of India, in the Himalayas, not so far from where I was brought up near the River Ganges, and Rishikesh and Haridwar. Anyway, Stanley Jones wrote a book about his approach to Christian Indian spiritual dialogue in which he took the theme of the Pilgrim wandering Jesus, and Walking with Jesus on the Indian roads. Stanley Jones had been close to the Pad Yatra or foot pilgrimage movement that Gandhi initiated, and which was carried on by Vinoba Bhave.

For Stanley Jones an ashram was not just a place; it was a process of walking together. Originally the word ‘ashram’ meant a stage in life (there are traditionally four ashramas). And so Stanley organized “ashram retreats” in different places, including in America, which you could say were part of a “vision quest,” a time of searching and sadhana.

For various reasons I have also been rather disinclined to think of an ashram as a place, though I did buy a plot of land encouraged by Fr. Bede and others, to set up an Art Ashram. We call this place “The Land,” and I found that after trying to run, or at least look after this land, was taking more of my time and energy than I felt able to give, especially as I was being asked to travel myself quite a bit, in connection with what I was calling “art retreats” and also commission work in designing, and also decorating churches in different places both in India and abroad.

It was in 1999, after struggling to administrate the art ashram as a registered society that I called the Indian School of Art for Peace or INSCAPE, that I finally decided to hand over this place to my two sons Kiran and Roshan, who had studied art and design and wanted to set up a design collaborative, and got together various young artist and designer friends to live together and be involved with craft work, mainly ceramics. Kiran also got married to a British girl, called Imogen, and they have three children. Roshan is the one who spent three years with the art school at Santiniketan (founded by Tagore) in Bengal, and then spent another three years working with the mentally challenged in a L’Arche community in London (linked as you must know to Jean Vanier). Roshan is very concerned with art practices as healing, and has been thinking of “earth art” which started with pottery and ceramics, but then developed into garden and vegetable planting, which he also sees as “earth art.”

For the last 6 years Roshan has been back here at The Land, working with groups mainly from the USA and UK who are interested in alternative approaches to education. My wife has also been involved with this since 1975 when she started a school here for village children. Her school has also changed and has become more of a learning centre for children with special needs, and teacher trainees who want to think about other approaches to learning that include the arts. We have two daughters who are also here, one involved with woodwork, which she calls “the wisdom of the hands,” and the other who is a dancer and teacher of mainly folk dance. (She studied classical Indian dance at Kalakshetra in Chennai founded by the famous dancer Rukmini Devi.)

However, of late I have been thinking more of returning to our interests in folk culture and in what we have also been trying to develop as an “eco-theology” and spirituality. Maybe later we can give more flesh to that understanding. Just now I am working with Roshan on a website, in which we are trying to put together various ideas that we have been involved with, and which we also hope can be interactive and the basis for further “art retreats.” Roshan and I are interested in relating to the folk culture that we have around us. This folk culture is, I am afraid, changing very fast, as a process of Hindu nationalism is now remodeling the Indian cultural and religious identity. Later, I will write to you more about this process of Hindu nationalism which I am afraid has very much affected the kind of work I have been doing over the last 50 years.

When Fr. Bede was at the last Ashram Aikya (Ashram fellowship) meeting that he was able to attend before he had his first stroke, he expressed his anxiety and sorrow over the way that the Indian spiritual landscape was changing. In a way that all began with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992, and the movement that initiated what we now understand as a Hindu Nationalism, which has now come into political prominence. Perhaps fortunately Fr. Bede did not have to struggle with what that political initiative has meant in terms of Hindu-Christian dialogue, and in fact what it is doing to the cultural and spiritual diversity of the Indian social fabric. These are certainly profound issues that we are trying to address, as various forms of fundamentalism are changing the whole world. It would be important I feel for your website to take cognizance of this, as the future of the Ashram movement. Indeed spiritual dialogue and diversity will be possible only if we recognize what is happening in the fractured world around us.

Anyway, let us continue this correspondence, and reflect slowly and with prayer on current socio political issues. I think that was the great insight that Thomas Merton had, and the new direction that he gave to the contemplative understanding of the monastic tradition.

In a common spirit of searching and friendship, Jyoti

Jyoti and Roshan’s mailing address is: Art Ashram, Silvepura P.O. Bangalore North 560090, Karnataka, South India. Check out Roshan’s blog, <> or the website that Kiran has developed for visiting teachers, <>.jyotijohn Jyoti Sahi with our friend and Camaldolese Oblate John Marheineke on his visit to Bangalore.


Oblates of Shantivanam

Summer 2016

On the 21st March 2013, the 63 rd anniversary of the opening of Shantivanam, the website Oblates of Shantivanam went officially online. The site was created for friends and oblates and for all those who follow the teachings of the Founders of Shantivanam. Fr. George said in his message “On this occasion I am pleased to announce that we have opened the website for oblates of Shantivanam to be in communication with each other and with our community. I am sure that this website will help us to deepen our spiritual pursuit and promote the communication between Shantivanam and oblates.”

“Our ashram’s mission is simultaneously spiritual and social, encompassing 100% love of God and 100% love of neighbor”.
(Extract from a message from Br. Martin taken from the website of Oblates of Shantivanam)

In addition to a deep contemplative life that we live daily ourselves, we are committed to providing a conducive atmosphere for anyone who wishes to deepen their spiritual journey, and, quite importantly, we are engaged in inter-religious dialog, a vocation that we inherited from our founders Jules Monchanin, Henri Le Saux and Bede Griffiths. And we, like them, are inspired by Jesus himself, who said, “Blessed are the peace makers for they shall be called the children of God”. Our world, as you know, is in conflict largely because of the lack of understanding and harmony between religions.

Jules Monchanin’s mission was that the ashram be “fully Christian and fully Indian”. Since we cannot separate the spirituality from the culture of India, we are both Christian and Hindu in the deepest sense. This is no simple witness, but one that challenges us every day. Swami Abhishiktananda focused on us bearing witness to the “The Hindu-Christian Meeting Point”. This entails living the mystical depth of two traditions simultaneously. And our dear Fr. Bede Griffiths not only wrote extensively on “The Marriage of East and West”, he exemplified this harmony in every facet of his life urging us to follow suit.

We are grounded in the inspiration of the Gospel as well as the vision of the Upanishads. Our founders worked tirelessly to build bridges among the great world religions and we feel compelled to continue this mission.”

Fr. Bede welcomed people from all walks of life and from all corners of the world who wished to be connected to the spirit of Shantivanam. This was the spirit of the Founders of Shantivanam and Fr. Bede continued as the Spirit led him. Some were accepted as oblates, as brahmacharis and sannyasins and he was instrumental in bringing many of us together.

We had a wonderful gathering of friends and oblates at Shantivanam in December 2015 and there will be another gathering taking place in December 2018 – still a long way ahead but we have already begun discussions, which will be shared on our website for those interested.

Tina Goodchild (oblate of Shantivanam living in Cape Town, South Africa)

Sangha Shantivanam Santa Cruz

Summer 2016

Sangha Shantivanam was formed in 2004 when Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB cam., while living away from The Hermitage in Big Sur, began to teach “The Universal Call to Contemplation” as inspired by Bede Griffiths whom he had met more than a decade before. Santa Cruz, California seemed like the perfect place to gather together a small group of people committed to interreligious dialogue and deepening one’s contemplative practice.

Fr. Bede Griffiths had visited the Monterey Bay area in 1992 when he spent time at New Camaldoli Hermitage. He thought California was definitely where it (The Spirit) was happening! We were in the right place at the right time. Under the umbrella of New Camaldoli, Sangha Shantivanam is an official 501c3 non- profit charitable organization. As our Mission Statement states, we are a “Christian community which aims to promote the Universal Call to Contemplation through shared prayer and spiritual practice and to be a sign of unity and instrument of peace by seeking to understand the experience of Ultimate Reality as found in all the world’s spiritual traditions.”

We meet twice a month, in a space rented from Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz. We use a form of the Syrian liturgy developed by Fr. Bede and adopted by Fr. Cyprian which includes readings from Universal Wisdom, chanting psalms, reading from Christian Scripture and time for teaching, discussion and period of meditation. This is followed by intercessory prayer, a closing metta, and we finish off the evening with a shared soup and simple potluck.

Over the years, we have read and studied the sacred texts from a variety of wisdom traditions as well as contemporary authors writing about non-duality and the evolution of consciousness. In addition to Fr. Cyprian as our lead teacher, we have benefited from a number of nearby guest teachers who have taught on Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Native Spirituality, Christian Mystics, The Divine Feminine to name a few. We have hosted interfaith events, retreats and pilgrimages.

Some of our founders accompanied Fr. Cyprian to Shantivanam Ashram in Tamil Nadu in 2006. We have raised funds for Bless School in India as well as our local Homeless Garden Project. We make two pilgrimages a year to New Camaldoli in Big Sur for a day retreat and conferences with the monks as well as an extended weekend retreat with Fr. Cyprian during the Easter season.

Several of our members make up a small service committee helping to coordinate our calendar for topics of study, guest teachers, field trips to the Hermitage and our growing library. We have managed to acquire an extensive collection of excellent books on many world religions. There is a free will offering from members which helps defray the cost of our room, a small stipend for guest teachers and other organizational needs. Our bi-monthly planning meetings are open to the whole Sangha. There is a core group of about 10-20 regular attendees at our meetings and 160 people on our mailing list who ask to receive updates from the sangha. Many conferences are posted on our website as well as the topic and book we are studying so people who cannot attend meetings regularly can still participate.

For so many of us, Sangha Shantivanam has become a very important spiritual home. The vision of Fr. Bede Griffiths is alive and well. Sangha Shantivanam is a sign of hope and a true place of belonging.

Om Shanti
Ziggy Rendler-Bregman
May 2016