12/23/2009

Reflections on the Incarnation of God: Christmas with Hindu friends.

After 12 days in India I know much less than when I started. Still, this time of conversation and experiences with friends and with the friends of friends has confirmed for me why it is that I am a Christian. At the same time I am convinced anew that, regarding people of other faiths, we Christians need to listen more and be more open to God's gracious intent in what has been revealed to other peoples.

In terms of the worlds "great" religions, Hinduism is the third largest group. More than a billion people are Hindu, some 900 million living in India. Hinduism is hard to describe from the outside. It is a large collection of the thinking of seers, sages, poets, philosophers, and the actions of a whole huge people constantly distilling the experiences of each day into a recognizable but multi-leveled religious perspective.


In the past days, traveling with a devout Hindu family, I have come to appreciate with greater depth the "deity drenched" world in which they live. Although there are many gods in Hindu literature and practice, it seems there is at the core the one God under / behind / pervading all of Creation and all the varied religious and spiritual practices of Hindu faith. And if we listen well we will hear much of our own spiritual sensibilities echoed in this great cloud of witnesses that make the whole of the Hindu people as people of faith.


From the outside it seems to me that Hindu religion is incarnationalism gone mad. They certainly have got the incarnational sensibility: God is present in Creation, lives through the lives of people, all living creatures and even the stones shout out at times. There are such strong echoes of what we know and particularly remind ourselves of at Christmas:


My sense is many Hindus would resonate with the great incarnational hymn at the beginning of the Gospel of John,


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth"


The notion that that God is light and life, and that in that Light we too shine with the Light of the World in us as well is not far from Hindu thought.The light of "enlightenment" and the attainment of self realization is not different in kind from the "light that enlightens."


So I am inclined to keep listening and to hold myself ready with an open heart and mind to receive the wisdom this incredibly ancient religious tradition brings to the world.


Ganisha, a very wise man we met in our travels, commented that our relations with one another, and particularly about religious matters, would be improved if we lived into our discussions on a different level, in conversation that grew from respectful listening instead of responding to the other in debate, where our forceful presence is seen not in the strength of where we stand, but in the ability to win a contest. Debate makes listening a strategy. Telling the truth as we experience the truth is a stance, is a way of being God's incarnation in the world.


Being here in India the debates in Congress on the health bill, the various local issues which concern those of us who live in Lewes, Delaware, the progress of the Eagles, and a whole host of concerns having to do with the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church take second place, mostly, to loafing about (as Walt Whitman was given to saying) at my ease.


Still, I can't help but think that hanging out with Hindu folk has been of great value as I also begin to think of return to the issues that only two weeks ago loomed large in my life.


This Christmas we will in all likelihood not be at Church. St. Georges Cathedral in Chennai, part of the Church of South India, will have a grand do on Christmas Eve, with the Bishop preaching. It starts at 11:30 PM and will go on for some time. But we and our hosts take off early on Christmas day for New Delhi. We will not be exchanging presents Christmas or Christmas Eve, save for some for the children. We ARE our presents for one another, our companionship deepening every day.


But we will indeed celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation. We will tell it our way, and others will tell it theirs. We will all I think give thanks to God, the source of all we are, that God has not left us without the knowledge of his presence among us. For me, at least this Christmas, Hindu people have helped me see anew just how powerful a thing it is to say that in Jesus all the fullness of God is pleased to dwell.


As for the struggles in the Anglican Communion: several hints from Hindu spirituality -


(i) Mahatma Gandhi wrote that the matchless way to attain self-realization, is renunciation of fruits of action.That's the core center around which the Bhavagad Gita is woven. The self-realization attained is our participation in incarnational living. We live incarnationally to the extent that we both work to act with justice, compassion and stand in the truth as it is given us and are willing to live even as God does among us in Jesus Christ. Even Jesus did not call down the forces he might have in order to guarantee the results he wished.


So the Gita and Gandhi suggest, do what we do with the deepest reverence for truth, for life, and for justice possible, but do not be overcome by attachment to the desired end. We must learn to let our "yes" be "yes" and our "no," "no." Everything else, for example, having "our way" will eventually become an obstacle to enlightened action.


If we want the Anglican Communion to be inclusive of men and women in all orders of ministry, open to all who qualify, and we want to clearly state that persons in committed relationships with another of the same sex are not disqualified from such inclusion, then what we must do is show it in our actions and not be so attached to the inclusiveness of the Anglican Communion that we would either do anything to make it happen or alternately refuse to act because we might loose the Anglican Communion all together. The truth of our actions must stand on its own, not on the success of turning the Anglican Communion towards our vision for it.


(ii) The "Listening Process" needs to be totally rethought. So long as listening is listening to arguments for or against, or to recounting of experiences that support or do not support a particular position regarding human sex expression by faithful people, the process is a prelude to judgment. Judgment makes listening a listening FOR. We will listen for words that support our claim, or go against the claim of others. We will listen for the "therefore" at the end of statements, rather than the content of the statement itself. We do need a listening process, but the process we need is not a way into deeper decision, but deeper respect and love.Perhaps a better listening is not receiving statements from people and groups, it is people and groups engaging one another in respect and love.


(iii) The goal of all our efforts to keep the Anglican Communion alive is not orthodoxy and collective agreement on terms of engagement with one another. The goal of our efforts is to be yet another effort to make God's presence known in the world, not in what we do, but in how we love one another and the world in Christ's name. If our actions are of the Light of the World, then we need not worry about desired ends, for the Light is already here. If we listen in love, then the Light that is present in each of us will shine forth, and we will see the light of Christ in it.


Perhaps then the Anglican Covenant is a worthy exercise in telling the truth about who we are, but a terribly mistaken instrument of unity. Our unity is not in ourselves, but in our actions to the end that all people know themselves as people of Light and Life. And to the extent that the Covenant attempts to bring conformity it is simply untrue to the multiplicity of ways in which we experience the light of the Gospel.


The point at Christmas is simple: The Light does indeed shine in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. In Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and Jesus calls us to be that light as well. So off to a Hindu Christmas. Of to church, then...


May your Christmas be blessed, the Incarnation known, and may all the sages jump for joy.

Christmas, Chennai, India.

14 comments:

  1.      "...do what we do with the deepest reverence for truth, for life, and for justice possible, but do not be overcome by attachment to the desired end."

         This reminds me of what Ignatius said about "Holy Detachment". I need to practice this more in my life.

    Godspeed!

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  2. It was an interesting read. I had few thoughts along the line in one of my blog entry.

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  3. Fortunately, when St. Ignatius' friend and disciple St. Francis Xavier came to India, he didn't look at the poor souls locked into Hinduism with "Holy Detachment" but baptized them by the tens of thousands to claim them for Christ. God bless Indian Christians, many of whom are being martyred by Hindus.

    FrMichael

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  4. "...but baptized them by the tens of thousands to claim them for Christ. God bless Indian Christians, many of whom are being martyred by Hindus."

    And of course we made thousands of Hindu martyrs (and Muslim martyrs, and Sikh martyrs) when we massacred those unregenerate heathen at the foot of the Cross. Then we stole their country right out from under their feet and made them tenants in their own land.

    The Great Commission was used as license for imperialism in India and around the world.

    We loved the Indians so much that we loved them to death.

    Christus Vincit indeed.

    Which religion again was spread by the sword?

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  5. Many blessings this holy feast of the Nativity and Incarnation to you so far away.

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  6. Which European empire in India converted the locals at the point of a sword?

    Methinks you have used your PC talking points for the wrong country.

    FrMichael

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  7. And one isn't a martyr for dying for a false religion. The proper words are "sap" and "victim of homicide."

    FrMichael

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  8. "Which European empire in India converted the locals at the point of a sword?"

    Let's run down the list: Portugal, France, Spain, and Britain.

    "And one isn't a martyr for dying for a false religion. The proper words are "sap" and "victim of homicide.""

    As I always say, the only real difference between our mad fanatics and the mad mullahs of Islam is a shave. Same bird, different plumage.

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  9. Thank you, Mark. As one formally involved in the Listening Process as it has evolved, I can assure you that the intent for the coming years is not conversion or debate, but mutual listening with respect. That will not always be possible, but in those places it is possible I think we will see the fruits of the Spirit. If only the "institutionalists" would quiet down for a while to allow this work to proceed to a stage where we might actually be in a position to work on the institutional side of things!

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  10. Counterlight:

    Now that you've named European countries that have established empires of varying lengths and sizes in India (what's with Spain being on the list?), which of these converted Indians to Christianity forceably. For all the evils of European imperialism in India, I'm not aware that any of them had a "convert or die" approach to missionary work.

    FrMichael

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  11. How about the Dutch, Danes, Swedes and Russians?
    Anonymous wants a crusade; Counterlight wants to surrender. Religious extremes always mirror each other, in the tedious dance of sadist/masochist.

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  12. "Anonymous wants a crusade; Counterlight wants to surrender. Religious extremes always mirror each other, in the tedious dance of sadist/masochist."

    If you folks want to refight the wars of the 12th century, then be my guest. I will not be participating. You can murder each other in the name of your gods as much as you please.

    When your war is all over, there won't be any Christianity or Islam or Hinduism, or anything left.
    All will perish in the grief and infamy that you will have loosed upon the world.

    And a Happy New year to you both of more suicide bombers out to destroy the same thing that you and everyone fundamentalist, from Pope to preacher to mullah to holy man, hates, evil Western liberalism.

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  13. The Portuguese certainly engaged in coerced conversions of Hindus and, because they feared Goans were simply adding Our Lord to the pantheon of gods already being worshipped, they brought the Inquisition to India. Many were tortured and some were burned alive as a a result. Generally speaking, however, other colonizers did not force conversions at the point of the sword in Imdia.
    George

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  14. I thought the Doctrine of Discovery was repudiated by the GC. There were forcible conversions by the Portuguese in Goa, India through confiscation of land and properties from 1560 -1812 by Inquisition. Even though St.Francis Xavier died before that, he was the architect of the dogma.

    It is interesting even though India was under Moslem rule for more than 500 years and western rule for more than 200 years, only 13% are Muslims, and less than 1.5% are Christians.

    Unless you follow the Pauline approach to Athenians in reaching out to the Indians, I doubt the numbers will ever exceed the current Christian population count. What Mark is doing now is a good start.

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