Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Ground Zero Papal Prayer Service . . . and a Reminder of the Spirituality That Transcends What All the Religions Claim to Represent


Above: Some of the participating faith leaders in the interfaith prayer service at Ground Zero in New York City on September 25, 2015. From left: Ms. Yasuko Niwano, Venerable Bhante Kondanna, Ms. Gunisha Kaur, Archbishop Demetrios, Dr. Sarah Sayeed, Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, Pope Francis, Imam Khalid Latif, Pastor A.R. Bernard, Dr. Satpal Singh and Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

One definite highlight for me of last month's visit to the U.S. by Pope Francis was the interfaith prayer service at the 9/11 Memorial in New York on September 25.

About the setting of this prayer service, Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post writes:

The ceremony in the late morning, after Francis had spoken to the United Nations, was dramatically set in the soaring Foundation Hall, against a World Trade Center retaining wall that stayed up despite the [terrorist] attacks [of September 11, 2001].

The choice of the spot in the 9/11 Memorial’s museum represents a “new urgency” for religious tolerance, said James Massa, a Brooklyn bishop who has been a national Catholic leader on interfaith work and who designed the ceremony.

“That’s the wall that holds back the Hudson River. If that had fallen on 9/11, even greater chaos would have happened. It held. It’s the wall that holds back the chaos. I think these leaders with the pope are gathered, like the conscious of our time, that holds back the chaos of war and violence and hatred that afflict segments of humanity,” Massa said.

Francis selected Ground Zero as the place in the United States he wanted to have an interfaith gathering, Massa said. Pope Benedict visited Ground Zero and prayed there in 2008 but the memorial and museum were not yet built. [NOTE: To view the program of the service, click here.]

As powerful as this event was, it wasn't without its issues. For one thing, there were no indigenous and/or mystic wisdom traditions represented. Also, while there where women as well as men representing the Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths, no women were present representing either Judaism or Christianity. In her October 1, 2015 National Catholic Reporter column, Christine Schenk muses on this second issue, though goes further by questioning the lack of women presiders at any of the official prayer services of last month's papal visit.

Since four of the eight papal prayer venues were not Masses, would it have killed us to have a female presider at one or two prayer services? This is permitted under current liturgical guidelines. Female lay ecclesial ministers preside at prayer services in parishes all the time.

Why couldn't a woman (gasp!) have preached at a papal prayer service? This is also permitted under current guidelines.

Most embarrassing was the multi-faith service at Ground Zero. Here, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists included both men and women prayer leaders. Only the Judeo-Christian traditions did not. This is surprising since there are many female rabbis and Protestant ministers. For Catholics, again, this was not a Mass. A Catholic woman minister could and should have been invited to help lead prayer.

I was consoled by the beautiful rendition of "Let There Be Peace on Earth" by a mixed choir of boys and girls at the interreligious service. The girls wore multicolored stoles but not the boys. Was this a silent witness? Rather than the usual "With God as our Father, brothers all are we," the choir sang an inclusive: "With God our Creator, family all are we." A small comfort, but I take it where I can find it.

Another issue for me is this: In response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks which killed 2,996 Americans, the administration of then-President George W. Bush instigated a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that would see almost 1,500,000 innocent Iraqi men, women and children killed for something they had absolutely nothing to do with. In my mind, the deaths of these Iraqis and the deaths of those killed in the 9/11 attacks are inextricably linked. All the lives of these people, whether in the U.S. or Iraq, were precious, none are "expendable." The loss of each and everyone of these lives remains a great and terrible tragedy. At last month's Ground Zero papal prayer service, I think all should have been honored.

With all of this in mind, I share now an excerpt from Diarmuid Ó Murchú's appropriately titled book, Reclaiming Spirituality: A New Framework for Today's World. In this particular excerpt, Ó Murchú highlights the archetypal values that are foundational to all human yearning – love, truth, honesty, integrity, peace, liberty and the creative complementarity of the Yin and the Yang. These values, Ó Murchú writes, comprise an understanding of spirituality that "transcends what each and all the religions claim to be about." (I should say that for me, this understanding of spirituality is deeply embedded in many expressions of indigenous spirituality and is also what I've come to recognize and call "the Sufi Way" – a way that I discuss and explore here, here, here, here and here.)

Throughout the ages spirituality has been associated with a particular set of convictions and values, embraced within a particular lifestyle and celebrated regularly in devotion, prayer, ritual or worship. A Christian spirituality is based on those values and virtues which are highly prized in the Christian Gospels: love, compassion, service, justice, right relationships and suffering in the cause of right, a central statement of which are the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12). How these values are to be appropriated and lived out has been the subject of the church's teachings and laws down through the ages. Finally, he Christian church also provides a repertoire of prayers (personal and communal) and a sacramental system, to enable Christians to engage more meaningfully in the central experiences of personal and planetary life.

Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam – each of the religions has evolved a similar tripartite system around central beliefs, congruent behaviours and a ritual repertoire for prayer and worship.

Over the centuries, a subtle and at times quite overt competition arose between the different religions, each giving priority and superiority to its vision and praxis. In recent decades, however, a growing coming-together – in dialogue and mutual engagement – has been evidenced, especially in Christian cultures.

The reader can readily see that religion and spirituality mean essentially the same thing in he above outline. As a Christian phenomenon, spirituality has been viewed with suspicion and anxiety. For much of the Christian era it was relegated to the closed sphere of monastic seclusion or subsequently, to the post-Renaissance environment of the university where it became a sub-set of philosophical debate and logical argumentation. In the seventeenth century, spirituality referred exclusively to the interior life of Christians, often expressed in bizarre devotional practices. By the eighteenth century, it refers to the perfection associated with mystical states, unattainable by the majority of ordinary people. Finally, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, academic status was granted to the study of the spiritual life, but only in the context of ethics or moral theology.

In every age, the meaning and impact of spirituality has been influenced by factors of global proportion. To understand the emerging spirituality we need to be aware of the global ferment of our time: a growing awareness of our planet as one Earth, destined to be shared equally by all; unprecedented scientific discoveries such as the quantum theory of the 1920s; the growing realization that nothing in our world – religious or otherwise – can be comprehensively understood apart from a multi-disciplinary mode of exploration; the captivating mystical visions of astronauts from outer space confirming our unity-within-diversity in what seems to be an alive planet Earth; finally, the nauseating disgust that after centuries of religious fervor, moralizing and proselytizing, we are left with a world divided, lacerated and desecrated by pain, inequality, barbarity and warfare, much of which is fueled by religious bigotry.

It is these and many other changes that have birthed the sense (perhaps even the science) of the new spirituality. It is a spirituality that belongs to the world and its peoples and not some distant God in heaven or to an ultimate state of nirvana. It is a spirituality that transcends what each and all the religions claim to represent. It is a spirituality that engages with the search for meaning as people struggle to interrelate more authentically in what we progressively consider to be an interdependent world, within an eternally evolving universe. It is a spirituality that invites us to break out of all our anthropocentric enclaves – religious and political – and reclaim the whole of creation as our one true home.

The anthropologist, Mircea Eliade, and the psychologist, C.G. Jung both claim that all values are based on innate universal aspirations which people aspire towards and yearn for throughout the whole of time and creation. These archetypal values are foundational to all human yearning, and include such simple and significant ones as unadulterated love, truth, honesty, integrity, peace, liberty and the creative complementarity of the Yin and the Yang. All the world religions seek to enculturate these values and offer guidelines for their appropriation and integration in various cultural and geographical settings.

Consequently, in the deep story of each religion, we encounter a value-oriented vision upon which the dogmas and institutions of that religion are constructed. The example I offer is the Christian notion of the Basileia (the New Reign of God), with its underlying archetypal values of justice, love, peace and liberation. At this primordial level, Christians connect with the universal sense of spirituality which underpins all religion. Spirituality is older, more enduring and more pervasive than all the religions put together. Spirituality, therefore, engages with the core values, with the foundational value-orientation which belongs to the mutual co-existence of person and planet alike. The values that the religions claim to foster and safeguard – often in the exclusive context of a specific religion, or denomination – belong essentially and primarily to spirituality. Religion is the name we give to the enculturation of such values in the patriarchal culture of the past 8,000-10,000 years.

Not all the values perpetuated in the name of formal religion are congruent with spiritual unfolding. We now understand formal religion to be very much the product – indeed, the icing on the cake – of the patriarchal culture of post-Agriculture/Revolution times. The prevailing culture was unambiguously a dominator one, with the values of divide-and-conquer predominating over all other aspirations. The oppressive end result is all too familiar: market-competition where the poor and weak always lose out; power-acquisition, often reaching compulsive levels; land exploitation, female subjugation, feminine suppression, anthropo-centricizing the divine (i.e., creating God figures in the image of the patriarchal male). These are clearly not the values of the New Reign of God depicted in the Christian Gospels, nor indeed do they even remotely resemble the deep values upheld by other world religions.

And this brings us once again to what may well be the most controversial and daunting claim of the new spirituality: religion is a temporary reality that in all probability has outlived its usefulness. Spiritual engagement for our time is not about revitalizing or renewing religion and its accompanying moral, dogmatic and liturgical practices. Rather, the primary task of spirituality is to enable and empower people to reclaim the fundamental raison d'etre of all religion: the engagement with, and practical living out of, those deep values which alone can assuage the spiritual hunger in the heart of every human being.

– Diarmuid Ó Murchú
Excerpted from Reclaiming Spirituality:
A New Framework for Today's World
pp. 170-173

Related Off-site Links:
Pope Francis Leads Solemn Prayer at 9/11 Interfaith Service – Reuven Fenton, Yoav Gonen and Bob Fredericks (New York Post, September 25, 2015).
Why Wasn’t a Woman Invited to Preside at a Papal Prayer Service? – Christine Shchenk (National Catholic Reporter, October 1, 2015).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Something Extraordinary . . . Again
Whether Christian or Muslim, James Foley Remains a "Symbol of Faith Under the Most Brutal of Conditions"
Pope Francis in the U.S.
Amos Oz on the Essence of Fanaticism
Sufism: Way of Love, Tradition of Enlightenment, and Antidote to Fanaticism
It’s Time We Evolved Beyond Theological Imperialism
In Search of a Global Ethic
A Return to the Spirit
The Source is Within You

Images: Reuters/Tony Gentile.

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