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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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

 

Jayanti Tamm Rebuttal, Part 1

Introduction

This is a two-part rebuttal to anti-cult activist Jayanti Tamm which I wrote in 2011 but never published. In coming across it, I realized it says much of what I would say generally about anti-cult groups and individuals who circulate propaganda which demeans and “otherizes” spiritual minorities. We live in a populist society where the majority is increasingly running toward secularism and materialism. That is their right. It’s also why we need strong laws protecting the rights of spiritual minorities — because without such protections democracy becomes just another form of tyranny.

As I discuss in “Therapists, Hubris, and Native Intelligence,” America is vast and consists of many different communities. The normative values of one may be oppressive when imposed on another. That is the underlying sense of numerous cases such as Wisconsin v. Yoder where the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the rights of religious minorities to live their daily lives in keeping with their faith. The right to be different is what makes America great.

I happen to be a liberal, but lately I’ve been observing that there are different strains of liberalism. To me liberalism is about freedom of choice, and finding ways for people who have different beliefs and customs to learn to live together in harmony, with mutual respect. This is the type of liberalism often practiced by mayors of big cities like New York and San Francisco, where the population is steeped in diversity, and forcing everyone to march to an identical set of beliefs and customs would be a prescription for disaster.

Yet, there are people like Jayanti Tamm who stump for conformism based on a constricting set of values set forth by a fringe group of psychologists and lawyers at the American Family Foundation (a.k.a. International Cultic Studies Association or “ICSA”). They would presume to tell us all what is “healthy” and “normal,” or what “the law says” on particular issues.

When psychologists and lawyers start dictating how people should pray, meditate, or conduct their spiritual lives, we have a problem in set theory. However well-meaning they may be, psychologists and lawyers lack the spiritual training to be experts in such matters. It should be up to individuals how to conduct their spiritual lives, which are part of their interior lives and not generally accessible to psychologists and lawyers.

The truth is, neither profession has all the answers; they have (at best) limited solutions to a finite number of (typically secular) problems. Psychology is a soft science; law is not a science at all. Both fields are highly interpretive, and both professions (as popularly practiced) tend to be concerned with normative values, which over time are as changeable as the weather.

Neither psychology nor law “say” one particular thing on complex human issues. Rather, individual psychologists and lawyers decide how to interpret the huge amount of available data, which in itself is often contradictory. Yet, Jayanti Tamm has become a familiar purveyor of dumbed-down “cult checklists” purporting to tell good religion from bad, or acceptable from unacceptable practices. This is so much hokum, and I grow weary of seeing it in liberal publications which should know better than to publish it. She may be a hero at atheist swap meets or cult survivor emote-a-thons, but her views just don’t stand up to critical analysis, and her personal accounts are largely fictional.

A neutral, common-sense reading of history and civilization — as well as any decent textbook on comparative religion — tells us that in every society there are always a few people who feel a spiritual calling which is stronger and more definite than what is felt by the general populace. These people are in the minority just as musical prodigies are in the minority, Olympic athletes are in the minority, and red-haired, green-eyed people with Type O Negative blood are in the minority. None of these groups require deprogramming or exit counseling to make them more like the majority, and neither do spiritual adherents. Continue reading