TELEPHONES FOR ONE THING …

Bede Griffiths (17 December 1906 – 13 May 1993), born Alan Richard Griffiths and also known as Swami Dayananda (Bliss of Compassion), was a British-born Benedictine monk who lived in ashrams in South India.

I READ FR BEDE GRIFFITHS’ A New Vision of Reality way back in 1989 when it was published. Formerly a Benedictine monk at Prinknash Abbey, Fr Bede, the book’s dustjacket informs, left England in 1955 to travel to India to assist in the foundation of Kurisumala Ashram, a monastery of the Syrian rite in Kerala. In 1968 he moved to Saccidananda Ashram in Tamil Nadu by the sacred river Cauvery. This Ashram (founded in 1950) was a pioneer attempt to found a Christian community in India which would incorporate the customs of a Hindu ashram and the traditional forms of Indian life and thought. It seeks to become a centre where people of different religious traditions can meet together in an atmosphere of prayer and grow together towards that unity in Truth which is the goal of all religions.

I’m a devotee of Brother David Steindl-Rast whose website Gratefulness pointed me to the old VHS tape footage of Fr Bede (above) which is simply priceless …

You see, for me, coming to America from India – the complexity of life! All these telephones for one thing, you know, and cars and tv and so on. It’s very wonderful in its way but [in India] in the simplicity, you seem to get an integrity, your whole life becomes more whole … if people can learn to simplify their lives, you know, at least in part – some sphere of simplicity where you can let go and be simple in the presence of God …

Bede Griffiths never lost his grip of the most fundamental requirement for a child of God: living in the presence of God. His / her entire life story arises therefrom. But we human beings are forgetful as Bishop Kelvin Wright of Dunedin (another prophet possessed of “a new vision of reality” in our own day) wrote a day or two ago …

These empty worship shells scattered around the countryside are the signs of the death of a particular religious infrastructure. I look at them with such fascination, I think, because they represent a process which is still continuing. A particular way of meeting the spiritual needs of our society is disappearing because it no longer meets the needs of our society, and still we are preoccupied with preserving it: keeping our buildings open and making sure our functionaries are paid and making sure the committee structures which kept the whole system turning over are filled with the fewer and older and wearier people who still give us allegiance. I think we have missed – are missing – the point.

The role of the church is to introduce people to the Living God and open them to the transforming power of the presence of God. Gradually we have forgotten to do this. We have forgotten how to do this. We have forgotten, even, that we are supposed to do this. And quite naturally, and quite rightly, the infrastructure we have created precisely to help us to do this crumbles and dies.

The old churches tell me one thing and they tell it to me clearly and loudly: The church must facilitate personal transformation or it must cease to exist. It is time to forget the infrastructure except to the extent that it facilitates the one essential task of the Church. As my Lord tells me, “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all the rest will be added to you as well.”

Personal transformation before ecclesiastical transformation,  that’s the secret. Jesus changed individual hearts before he changed church. Personal transformation begets ecclesiastical transformation, and thereafter societal transformation. Bede Griffiths, Roger of Taizé, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Kelvin Wright … might all have worn the name badge Swami Dayananda (Bliss of Compassion). And that’s where personal transformation begins: in compassion, first for oneself, and then for all other created persons and things, and that (Christ-like) compassion leads to “some sphere of simplicity” where we can “let go and be simple in the presence of God.”

In other words, we re-member. How lovely that an old VHS tape (oh, the simplicity of such things!) should bring Fr Bede to hearts and minds in 2011. How glad he might be to read Kelvin’s Available Light, even from the perspective of his now living entirely within it. Brother David, I’m grateful.

TWO-EYED TRUTH

ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER … yesterday Bishop Robert Atwell asked “What is your vision of God? Be sure it will be reflected in the way you live your life” … and because he went on to recall his Cambridge days and Bishop John Robinson, I scuttled home to my bookshelves in search of the latter’s 1979 publication, Truth is Two-Eyed. Here with one eye on Christianity and the other on Hinduism John Robinson tells of his belief “that looking at reality with two eyes can enrich faith and understanding; it can also be a challenge, particularly to those who have taken the uniqueness and finality of Christ and Christianity too much for granted”.

What a gift Bishop Robinson was to the Church, and what a gift his words might yet be to contemporary synod or convention …

By temperament, training or tradition most of us have allowed ourselves to become one-eyed or so monocular in our vision of reality that effectively our ‘lazy eye’, spiritually speaking, contributes nothing. And some people, not least religious people, deliberately close that other eye, because, in a sense that Jesus did not mean it, it is a cause of ‘offence’. They would rather be blinkered and bigoted. And if in that mood they pluck it out, it is scarcely likely to save them from hell, and their vision of ‘life’ will certainly be mean and narrow.

… Readiness to look at reality through both eyes at once brings the promise of extra-dimensionality and depth, but presents the labour of a fresh learning and focusing progress. It also, as we shall see, brings the danger of a mixed or syncretistic vision, which in dealing with Hinduism is again always very present.

… But this book is written out of the conviction that neither the labour nor the danger should be allowed to act as a deterrent. For to live in a society of competing one-eyed men represents an impoverished and, in an inescapably unified world, an increasingly dangerous condition.

“Every generation should have its prophet” said Martyn Percy in 2003. “John Robinson is one such – and he is not without honour”. (see Honest to God – 40 years on, SCM Press, 2004, page 36)

PS: Just read Bishop Nick Baines’

… plea to myself as well as others for what I call a confident humility – that however sure I am about the ways of God and the world, I must reserve the possibility that I have a partial perspective and that this might change in the future.

Every generation …