Easter Thoughts on Mercy

station-cross-002-todayThis is the first Easter since it was announced that Mother Teresa will become a saint. It’s also the ninth Easter since Sri Chinmoy passed away. That makes it a tenth anniversary of sorts.

Easter means resurrection, but the joy of resurrection comes with a knowledge of crucifixion built in. So in Bach’s B Minor Mass, we are led through the slow agony of crucifixion to experience the overpowering joy of resurrection:

We may think of the B Minor Mass as a long work, yet the crucifixion and resurrection are compressed into a few minutes of music. We know that in the ancient world, the crucifixion of Jesus is said to have taken six hours, with the resurrection occurring two or three days later.

The future is a foreign country — they do things differently there. So in our modern world the crucifixion comes after someone has died. This is true of both Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy. While they both lived, they faced some opposition, true. But their living presence on earth made it difficult for detractors to eclipse their profound achievements. After they died, it became easier for critics to torture them with unimaginable lies. Why do they do it?

For very ancient reasons, as I discuss in “Self-Interest, Self-Giving, Low Ethics, and High Ethics.” Low ethics loves to torture high ethics because low ethics feels it will be shown up by high ethics. It cannot compete fairly, so low ethics cheats or says that the goal is not worth reaching.

What is the goal that both Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy reached? The goal of compassion, mercy, and self-giving. Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy knew each other and understood each other well. It was because they both spoke the same language, the language of compassion, mercy, and self-giving, that they could easily be friends.

Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy

Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy

Sri Chinmoy composed songs honouring Mother Teresa, and some of his students performed those songs for her. Here’s the group Mountain-Silence performing two Mother Teresa songs (link to follow):

In the first song, Sri Chinmoy sets Mother Teresa’s own words to music:

The fruit of Silence is prayer.
The fruit of Prayer is faith.
The fruit of Faith is love.
The fruit of Love is service.
The fruit of Service is peace.

— Mother Teresa

In the second, he refers to her as “Affection-Sister, Compassion-Mother Teresa divine.”

According to Pope Benedict, “Mercy is what moves us toward God, while justice makes us tremble in his sight.” The Pope has declared 2016 a Jubilee Year of Mercy. What better time to stop torturing Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy with unimaginable lies? Let us instead bow to them, to their achievements, to their good hearts and immortal souls.

Mother Teresa receives a visit from Sri Chinmoy and his students

Credit:
The image at the top of this post is a child’s drawing of the Stations of the Cross, from “3 ways to teach your children the Christian meaning of Easter,” by Rachel Campos-Duffy. What an interesting piece of art!

See also:
“Easter Reflections” by Sumangali Morhall
“The Sound of Music in Bengali!” (about the group Mountain-Silence)


Sidebar: David Amram on the B Minor Mass and Religious Experience

Source: Vibrations: The adventures and musical times of David Amram, 1968, The Viking Press

During that summer with Holly I had my first conscious religious experience in music. Although my background as a Jew conditioned me for a whole other kind of expression much later on, at this point in my life I was not aware consciously of my Jewishness in any musical sense. With the exception of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and an occasional record of Near Eastern or Jewish music, I cannot remember being aware of music in any way evoking a specific religious feeling until the summer of 1948 when I was performing in the Bach B Minor Mass at the Carmel Bach Festival.

I was allowed to take ten days off from my job as a carpenter’s helper to go with Holly to this exciting festival. I played horn for some of the concerts and sang in the chorus the rest of the time. Although I had sung the choral music of Bach all through high school and had performed the trumpet parts in many of his cantatas, I only thought of the music as music and had never had any apocalyptic visions. In fact the only apocalyptic vision I ever had was at the age of seven on the beach in Florida with my mother at sunset when I told her I saw God in the sky and went racing up and down the beach until she calmed me down.

During the final rehearsal of the B Minor Mass, I noticed the pause following the unearthly harmonic progressions of Bach’s musical invention during “Crucifixus,” the part of the text where Christ is finally nailed to the cross and dies. These harmonies had always moved me in a peculiar way since the first time I had heard them, but I never gave it much thought except as part of the wealth and genius of Bach’s mind and music.

During the following section, the “Et Resurrexit,” the trumpet players had taken it easy during rehearsals because of the extremely difficult entrance for the three trumpets in D. The first trumpet player that summer was so temperamental that he would not play the part most of the time. At the final rehearsal, however, the trumpet players decided that they would really do it and after we sang the final chorus of the “Crucifixus,” there was an unearthly silence. Then the trumpets came soaring in with the great golden sound that seemed to come from heaven.

Suddenly it was as if I had seen a vision. The moment that the trumpets came in, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that someone who died had been resurrected by a God in heaven. I realized it was a combination of the impact of the harmony at the end of “Crucifixus,” the very crucial silence during which time I was able to feel Christ being taken from the cross, the sadness of all those believers who watched him and then the great glorious moment that all the believers must have felt when they knew he had been resurrected.

I went back with Holly to the broken-down rooming house we shared with other young hopeful musicians and singers. We talked about this amazing moment in the Mass for most of the rest of the night. Holly was Christian, but her religion was nothing more than a kind of relaxed area of social life. Church was a place for her to go for weddings, funerals and get-togethers. But because of that unconscious near-madness that so many Jews possess and because of the necessity to discover everything in and out of music for myself as a personal experience, I actually had a vision of what the first Christians must have felt when they discovered that Christ had been resurrected. It was the closest I ever came to being converted to Christianity.

During the performance of the B Minor Mass I waited for this moment to see if it would happen again. It occurred even more strongly this time, but after the first few measures, the first trumpet player in his excitement and egomania played so loudly and ferociously that he missed about five notes in a row. He turned to his right to the other two trumpet players as if to indicate that it was their fault and they began missing too, and his face, which had begun to turn purple from overblowing, now began to blacken with rage. Still, the moment was there and has remained in my mind ever since.

Most of the rest of the Mass I felt was much more eloquent than any speech or sermon that could be preached. I began then, at seventeen, to think seriously of how I could write a piece someday that would lend itself to my religious convictions, even though I was not sure what they were. I knew that they were Jewish, but I was not sure what the Jewish experience was and more important what my Jewish experience was or how it could be expressed through music.

David Amram

 See also:
“Bach’s St. John Passion: Crucifixion”

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Father Tom, The God Squad, and Sri Chinmoy

Monsignor Thomas J. Hartman was known affectionately as “Father Tom.” He was a super nice guy who gave up his childhood dream of playing baseball to gain a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. Later in life, when he developed Parkinson’s disease, he raised enough money to found the Thomas Hartman Center for Parkinson’s Research, which opened in 2013. I can’t believe he passed away just a few days ago. (See this New York Times obituary.)

He was a champion of ecumenism and interfaith harmony who shared a spotlight with his good friend Rabbi Marc Gellman. Together, they formed “The God Squad” — a dynamic duo that team-preached religious tolerance and high ethics.

Father Tom and Sri Chinmoy met on a number of occasions. They became friends and even played tennis together, back in the day. In 2001, Sri Chinmoy honoured The God Squad in one of his lifting ceremonies. Rabbi Gellman recalls:

There are days when my hope wanes and when doubts corrode my faith. On those days I say that faith without reason is blind. But there are other days when I see miraculous things, and on those days I believe that faith without miracles is empty. When I awaken I am never certain what kind of day it will be. However, today I am standing behind Sri Chinmoy. On this day I remember the miraculous day of May 23, 2001, when Sri Chinmoy lifted me, my pal Father Tom Hartman, and a platform up into the air. Together—with the platform—we weighed more than 500 pounds (I had a very heavy cell phone in my pocket!). Sri Chinmoy took a seat underneath us and pushed up. With his two 70-year-old arms, he lifted us up into the air. Fourteen years earlier Sri had lifted 7,040 pounds with his left arm. Fifteen years earlier, at age 55, he lifted 7,063 pounds—with his right arm. Sri Chinmoy lifted airplanes and elephants and over 7,000 people. In fact, we were told Sri had postponed lifting Al Gore that day in order to lift us, the God Squad. Sri believed in “Lifting Up the World With a Oneness Heart.” It was part of his belief that “the physical and the spiritual must go together. They cannot be separated.” The weightlifter and body builder Bill Pearl said, “I have learned from Sri Chinmoy that the size of the arm does not make the man; the size of the heart makes the man. Nobody on earth has done what Sri Chinmoy has done.”

— Marc Gellman, “Are Miracles Real?” Newsweek

A year earlier, Father Tom had written the introduction to a compilation of Sri Chinmoy’s writings, The Wisdom of Sri Chinmoy. Here’s some of what he said:

Sri Chinmoy’s deep love for God is known worldwide. Long revered as a spiritual force for peace at the United Nations, this humble God-directed author asks people of this planet to look within, to rediscover the essential truths of spirituality that have so blessed his extraordinary life…

He is a champion of peace, attracting believers from all religions to see the oneness of the world. He suggests that true religions are recognized by forgiveness, tolerance, compassion, oneness and brotherhood. His work lends itself to a wide audience. Christians, Jews, Muslims and other believers will find many passages in his works of deep insight and helpful suggestion…

I find his works to be personally helpful. In an age when stress is real and it is hard to find the proper amount of time to pray, Sri Chinmoy reminded me that placing God at the center of my life, my work and my prayers will help me to make this a better, more peaceful world and to become the person of faith and love that I am called to be.

Monsignor Thomas J. Hartman

Father Tom also very kindly conducted an extended interview of Sri Chinmoy for the Telecare Network. Here’s the video of that interview:

It was natural that Father Tom and Sri Chinmoy should have become friends. They both expressed a keen and abiding interest in interfaith harmony. Years earlier, in November 1977, Sri Chinmoy had held a meditation and tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the United Nations. This was filmed by WPIX-TV.

Father Tom embodied all that is deeply good in the human spirit and all that is good in Catholicism. He will be missed by millions of viewers who knew him as the gentle voice of tolerance, and the gentle face of God.

Michael Howard

Jesus is Born–in a world of many faiths

An interfaith sermon by Revd Canon Barbara Moss

we-can-learnIntroduction

At a time when political candidates may seek to divide the faithful, I’m reminded of this wonderful sermon preached by Revd Canon Barbara Moss at St. Mary’s Church, Cambridge in December 2001. After many years, it eventually disappeared from the Internet; so in reposting it on Christmas Eve 2015, I feel I’m reviving a lost treasure. I sincerely hope that Canon Moss would agree.


Jesus is Born–in a world of many faiths

When I started thinking about this sermon, it seemed to me that what the title called for was not just one, but a whole course of sermons, and that I was not qualified to preach any of them. However, I was fortunate enough to attend a special celebration, almost exactly two years ago. It was organized by Westminster Interfaith, to mark the new millennium with readings about Jesus, not from Christian sources, but from writers of other faiths: from the Qur’an to religious leaders of our own day such as the Dalai Lama. It is not only Christians who have drawn inspiration from the life of Jesus.

The secretary of an inter-faith group received a telephone call from a woman from a local church. “We don’t get out much any more, we’re all in our eighties, but we’d love to have a Muslim speaker who can tell us all about Islam.” The secretary put her in touch with a speaker, but about a week before the date of the meeting she received another phone call. “We’re really looking forward to Mrs Khan coming, but there’s just one thing. We’re all Church of England, but none of us believes in the Virgin birth, and we understand that Muslims do. Will she be very offended?”

The Qu’ran does indeed tell of the message of the angel to Mary. Joseph does not seem to play a part in the story; Mary gives birth alone, and when the people accuse her of having “brought an amazing thing,” she points to the baby, who speaks in her defence.

They said, ‘How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?’ He said, ‘I am indeed a servant of God. He has given me revelation and made me a prophet. He has made be blessed wheresoever I be, and has enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live. He has made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable. So Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life again.

The Qu’ran also honours Jesus as a worker of miracles, while making it clear that his wonders are the works of God:

Then will God say: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount my favour to you and to your mother. Behold! I strengthened you with the holy spirit, so that you did speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught you the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel. And behold! You made out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and you breathed into it, and it became a bird by My leave, and you healed those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold! You brought forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from violence to you, when you showed them the clear signs, and the unbelievers among them said: “This is nothing but evident magic.”‘

I found that this passage helped me to come to terms with the miracles, and the key is one that it is not mentioned in the bible, though it comes from early Christian tradition. According to the story, Jesus as a little boy of 5 made sparrows out of clay and breathed into them, and they flew away. I had thought that this story showed the young Jesus as rather too much of an apprentice wonder-worker — a bit like Harry Potter. In the light of the Qu’ran, I see it, rather, as a parable of that life which was in Jesus, who came so that we might know what it is to enjoy life in all its abundance.

For all the great honour it ascribes to Jesus, the Qu’ran condemns two central teachings of Christianity: the crucifixion, and the divinity of Christ. Muslims, and Jews, have difficulty in understanding how Christians can claim to believe in one God while talking as if there are three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. According to the Qu’ran, it is absurd that God should have a son, and an offense to suggest that God would allow his prophet to suffer the shameful death of crucifixion. The Qu’ran was given to Muhammad, on its own account, because the words of Moses and Jesus had been misunderstood.

Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu, and for him the problem with Christianity was its claim of exclusivity. He could not believe that Jesus was the ‘only son of God,’ nor accept that ‘only those who believed in Jesus would have everlasting life.’ For him, Jesus was a great teacher, and, in his teaching of non-retaliation, ‘a beautiful example of the perfect man.’ Gandhi’s Christmas message has much to teach us about what it means to follow Christ:

As long as it remains a hunger still unsatisfied, as long as Christ is not yet born, we have to look forward to him. When real peace is established, we will not need demonstrations, but it will be echoed in our life, not only in individual life but in corporate life. Then shall we say Christ is born. Then we will not think of a particular day in the year as that of the birth of Christ, but as an ever-recurring event which can be enacted in every life… It consists in the living of life, never ceasing, ever progressing towards peace. When therefore, one wishes “Happy Christmas” without the meaning behind it, it becomes nothing more than an empty formula. And unless one wishes for peace for all life, one cannot wish for peace for oneself. It is a well-evident axiom like the Axioms of Euclid, that one cannot have peace unless there is an intense longing for peace all round. You may certainly experience peace in the midst of strife, but that only happens when to remove strife you destroy your whole life, you crucify yourself. And so, as the miraculous birth is an eternal event, so is the cross an eternal event in this stormy life. Therefore, we dare not think of birth without death on the cross. Living Christ means a living cross, without it life is living death.

So Gandhi accepts the crucifixion as an essential part of his understanding of Jesus. He also addresses that central tension of Christianity: God’s kingdom has already come, but it has not yet come. In the words of the Lord’s prayer: “Your kingdom come; For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever.”

Many of the contributors to Celebrating Jesus came, like Gandhi, from the Indian subcontinent or from the Indian religious traditions. Some write of Jesus as a divine manifestation alongside Krishna and the Buddha. The Sikh statesman Dr Gopal Singh wrote an extended poem, “The Man Who Never Died,” which won the approval of the Pope as speaking of Christ in a way that Christians had failed to do in two thousand years. The Dalai Lama, who responded to Pope John Paul II’s invitation ‘to come together and pray and fast for peace’ at Assisi in 1986, sees parallels in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and the Buddha. But for my third reading I have chosen an extract from a poem by Sri Chinmoy, founder and leader of a religious tradition related to Hinduism and based on meditation, in his book Brother Christ.

I see an empty church.
Where is the Christ?
Where has he gone?

I see an empty temple.
Where is Sri Krishna?
Where has he gone?

I see an empty heart.
Where is God?
Where has He gone?

I saw the face
Of the suffering Christ.
I cried and cried.

I felt the heart
Of the forgiving Christ.
I smiled and smiled.

I clasped the soul
Of the illumining Christ.
I danced and danced.

Sri Chinmoy illuminates the paradox of our age: the abandonment of formal religion, witnessed by empty churches and death-of-God theology, while at the same time there is an intense spiritual thirst. His response in this poem, however, is not to deny the revelation of God in Jesus, but to take inspiration through meditation on Jesus.

The CMS missionary Max Warren once said that whenever you encounter anyone, of any faith or none, you are standing on holy ground; God has been there before you. The readings we have heard this morning show that we can indeed learn from the traditions of the world’s faiths, not only about their own beliefs, but also about our own — sometimes because we find ourselves in agreement with them, sometimes because clarifying our disagreement helps us to understand how it is that God speaks to us. Like the pilgrim entering the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, we enter into dialogue humbly and with bowed heads.

I finish with the world peace prayer, originally from the Hindu Upanishads, then popularized by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and frequently used at interfaith gatherings.

Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.

Note:
The quotations from the Holy Qu’ran translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, from Mahatma Gandhi’s The Message of Jesus Christ, and from Sri Chinmoy’s Brother Christ, are taken from Celebrating Jesus, edited by Daniel Faivre et al., and published by Daniel Faivre SG, 2 Church Avenue, Southall, Middx., 1999.

— Revd Canon Barbara Moss

Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20080917012003/http://www.ely.anglican.org/parishes/camgsm/sermons/S2002l/bm1sermon.html

Correction: The book by Sri Chinmoy is actually titled Brother Jesus.


Sri Chinmoy, collage from videos by Niriha Datta

Sri Chinmoy, collage from videos by Niriha Datta

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See also: Christmas Music: The Rare and the Beautiful