January 2011


 

I thought this worth pondering upon..

A leading commentator on Middle East issues has said that faith and civic leaders in the region have a responsibility to challenge “regimes that muzzle and polarise their peoples” along with the “religious totalitarianism” that fuels violence, discrimination and hatred towards minorities.

Writing on the website of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, which promotes nonviolence and conflict transformation, Dr Harry Hagopian says (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14037) that the Middle East as a whole “stands on shifting sands” because of the interconnected growth in toxic religiosity and rejectionist politics.

But although the situation is serious, with murderous attacks against Christians and others, Dr Hagopian says that a fragile hope remains. “The overwhelming majority of ordinary Arab men and women of all persuasions – Christians, Sunnis, Shi’is, Kurds, Druze, Baha’is and others – are inherently decent people who simply wish to earn their daily bread and are eager to co-exist with their neighbours.”

This is why, he suggests, popular movements to challenge top-down political rule and concerted efforts by faith communities “to educate their peoples to accept and respect the other, rather than kill or ostracise” are both vital.

In his research essay, ‘Politics, Religion and the Middle East’, Dr Hagopian (an ecumenical, legal and political consultant who is a former executive secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches) unpacks eight factors which are exacerbating the drift towards violent exclusionism and the marginalisation of minority communities in the region.

These are the decay of secular Arab nationalism, the brutal suppression of freedom and dissent, the feeding of regressive religious radicalism, the distorted and hegemonic policies of some Western countries, the failure to address the Israel-Palestine question justly, an inhospitable environment that alienates Arab Christians from others, wrangling and abuses of power within religious communities, and the aim of movements such as al-Qa’eda in provoking a confrontation between the Arab world and the West.

It is the combination of these factors, rather than blaming any one in isolation, which is so important, says Dr Hagopian. “Middle East Christians remain an indispensable alloy in the fabric of Arab societies. Historically predating Islam, they have as much claim to the region as any other religion, ethnicity or belief. They are co-equal citizens with their Muslim compatriots, with Jews in Israel and with those in the occupied Palestinian lands.”

The true diversity of the region needs to be acknowledged, celebrated and protected by law, Dr Hagopian concludes.

One of the most frequent ways in which this(sin) becomes visible, they suggest, is inattention, the failure to see what is truly there in front of us – because our own vision is clouded by self-obsession or self-satisfaction.

There are several variants of a story in which some young monk goes in despair  to one of the great ‘old men to say that he has consulted an elder about his temptations and been told to do severe and intolerable penance, then the old man tells the younger one to return to his first counsellor and tell him that he has not paid proper attention to the need of the novice. If we don’t really know how to attend to the reality that is our own inner turmoil, we shall fail in responding to the needs of someone else.

 And the desert literature suggests pretty consistently that excessive harshness – readiness to judge and prescribe – normally has its roots in that kind of inattention to ourselves. Abba Joseph responds to the invitation to join in condemning someone by saying, ‘Who am I?’ And the phrase might suggest not just ‘Who am I to be judging?’ but ‘How can I pass judgment when I don’t know the full truth about myself?

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Silence & Honey Cakes

Rowan Williams

Learning by suffering—pathei mathos in Aeschylus’ phrase; but this means more than being undeceived: ‘what a man has to learn through suffering is not this or that particular thing, but the knowledge of the limitations of humanity, of the absoluteness of the barrier which separates him from the divine. It is ultimately a religious insight—that kind of insight which gave birth to Greek tragedy. Thus experience is experience of human finitude. The truly experienced man is one who is aware of this,, who knows that he is master neither of time nor of the future …’.

 Understanding is, then, an exploration of the dimensions of human finitude.

Discerning the Mystery

Andrew Louth OUP (page 37)

In a way that seems to be more and more crucial to the modern quest for the spiritual, cathedrals can offer a transforming experience. If religion appeals to duty, it seems spirituality must deliver a tangible personal intuition – ‘the tug of silver’.Cathedrals welcome the visitor, whether as worshipper, wanderer or the indifferent perplexed, and they deliver an experience. That experience may be about height, depth, colour, sound, scale, space, history or story. The sheer scale of things, the beauty of holiness, the rumour of faith, the drifting tones of evensong from remote choir stalls scarcely discernible, all allow the skirts of mystery to be touched. For a moment, people for whom too close a definition of what is happening would turn their wonderment to ashes may know the spiritual.

 All this has been captured by Ronald Blythe when he refers to cathedrals and the old-new numinosity’. Les grands projets are part of that mission and that order of thinking.

Cathedrals also witness to something beyond our experience and place us in a greater context. It is not fanciful to sense in the multi­lingual literature at the cathedral door, in the exhibition about Fair Trade, in the prayers which gather concerns from across the globe left by the candle stand, in the resonances of regional celebrations and in the scale of the building – in all this it is not fanciful to sense the call of the universal creator.

 The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ finds witness in the hewn stone, in the smell of the herbs in the monks’ garden, in the play of light in the cloister, in the record of the generations and the word of greeting at the threshold. Doors of wonder are opened by walking into a cathedral. That is the ultimate justification for these great projects.

Basing theology on the lived experience of God has another important benefit: by including the experience of the whole person, rather than just their intellect, it allows for a theology that is as much of the heart as of the mind.

Theology is not compartmentalised, kept separate from the rest of the spiritual life, but becomes part of our everyday reflection on our relationship with God. In this way, it becomes the task of the whole people of God rather than only those with higher degrees. It also becomes the  task of the whole person rather than the intellect alone.

This sort of theology is not locked away in esoteric textbooks but is to be found in every church that takes its Christian living seriously.

 

Lord, said David, since you do not need us,
why did you create these two worlds?

Reality replied: O prisoner of time,
I was a secret treasure of kindness and generosity,
and I wished this treasure to be known,
so I created a mirror: its shining face, the heart;
its darkened back, the world;
You might like the back, if you’ve never seen the face.

Spirit, find your way, let gravity draw you in.
Reason, tread the path of selflessness into eternity.

Remember God so much, that you are forgotten.
Let the caller and the called disappear.
Be lost in the Call.

Rumi

 

Worth Pondering!

  • Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves; they will have no end of fun.
  • Blessed are those who can tell a mountain from a molehill; they will be saved a lot of bother.
  • Blessed are those who know how to relax without looking for excuses; they are on their way to becoming wise.
  • Blessed are those who are sane enough not to take themselves too seriously; they will be valued most by those about them.

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