About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


New Faith Idiom

    Right before I left for a vacation this spring, I had a unique religious experience that was special, peculiar, and at the same time emblematic of our current times.
    I was asked to officiate at the wedding of Agus and Jeremy. Jeremy is nominal Episcopalian and Agus is Muslim born in Indonesia. They came to us at Rutgers encouraged by our mutual Jewish friend Wendy who attends meditation classes in our community programs, sings in our Church choir and is familiar with the inclusive and welcoming spirit of our community of faith and our deep respect for diversity and the unique.
    Thus, in the service we read from the Hebrew Bible, from the Greek Testament, and also from Al Qur’an in an exquisite celebration of deep genuine love. I have read from Al Qur’an in Church on several times before, but it has always been to illustrate a point in sermon. This time it was different, not intellectual, but worshipful. The reading from Al Qur’an was an integral part of liturgy. You most likely know the Song of Song and the Song of Divine Love from Corinthians, our Bible readings, but American knowledge of Qur’an is not to be automatically expected, so here is the quotation from Surah 30:
       “Among divine signs is that God created you from earth,
       and you are now human beings dispersed everywhere.
       Another of divine signs is that God created mates
       of your own kind of yourselves
       so that you may get peace of mind from them,
       and put love and compassion between you.
       Verily there are signs in this for those who reflect.
       Among other divine signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth,
       and the variety of your tongues and complexions.
       Surely there are signs in this for those who understand.”
(And I care little that the original Arabic, being a genderized language, has “mates” in female form, it is just a legitimate hermeneutic shift to apply it in our modern times and gender neutral culture to same gender relationships.)

    The same spirit of appreciation of love and diversity shaped this unique worship throughout. Jeremy and Agus now live in Bali and thus for the wedding processional and recessional music they chose the Gamelan Semar Pegulingan. It’s a special music played in honor of local Balian Hindu god Semar, a deity of good fortune and love.  I had never really known it and it instantly caught me by my heart, it is so different and ethereal. This music is played on ancient instruments and in very unique archaic seven-tone scale. This particular live recording even had Balian crickets chirping along on the background! (This link does not lead to identical composition or recording but can give you some idea.)
    Even further in this inclusive spirit, we opened the worship with an old Asian tradition of burning incense to honor ancestors and include all the distant and absent friends and relatives who could not join this celebration. We used the singing bowl to mark this important transition in their lives and entrusted the couple to each other and to AGAPE - the divine love in all this diversity of religious traditions, readings, accents, sounds and smells.
    I find this joyful worship experience symptomatic and hopeful. Nolens volens (like it or not) the world is getting more and more global, interconnected and complex. Jeremy and Agus are almost an embodiment of this reality. World religions, each with its own exclusivist claims, struggle to accommodate while alienating individual people in the process. (Can you imagine any imam marrying a gay couple?!). Hardly anywhere else is this reality more evident than in the cosmopolitan metropolis like NYC. Fundamentalists of all different stripes might try, but they cannot stop it. It is a tectonic shift in the cultural global scale.
    In our church we are now entering process of listening and gathering insight from our broader community and discerning what God is calling us to be and do. This might be an important spiritual part of this process. Where is the balance between exclusivist doctrines and rituals and the inclusive spirit of broad welcome? Where is the balance between doctrinal and ritual integrity, as important as they are, and the disarmingly inclusive spirit of Jesus, who did not care about human labels, but cared for the well being of people beneath the labels of Samaritans, Phoenicians, Romans or Jews? While a dwindling number of traditionalists inside as well as outside might like the church “as it always used to be,” a growing number of people are left outside to their own devices, alienated, spiritually hungry and searching with very little help.
    The Divine Spirit is as always at work among people,  and She is steering the hearts of people. Do we have courage to learn, to listen and to love (AGAPAO) with open minds?

By the way, conservatives in our own Presbyterian denomination are all worked up about preserving the purity of what they call CHRISTIAN marriage. Our wedding ceremony certainly did not fit their narrow definition of “Christian”. How should the inter-religious marriages be categorized and celebrated? In our ceremony we all tried our best to be faithful to the inclusive spirit of Jesus and his deep respect for human longing for wholeness, acceptance, and divine presence.


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