THE SPIRITUALITY OF INTERFAITH DIALOGUE1
Karl M. Gaspar CSsR
Peace to you all my brothers and sisters who are gathered today in this conference. Owing to the circumstances that went beyond my control, I could not be here with you to read this paper myself. I apologize for that. I had begged off from Fr. Toots and Weng when I realized there was a conflict of schedules. However, they insisted that I still write my paper and they will find someone else to read it here today.
Owing to my human limitations, specifically, my inability, unlike angels and saints, to be in two or three places at the same time, I could not be at Titus Brandsma this morning. Being a Redemptorist, my first priority is with my congregation. Today, August 1, is the feast of St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, our beloved founder. The Davao community – as a way to celebrate this feastday, as well as the golden anniversary of the Davao foundation and the centennial of our presence in the Philippines – is sponsoring a symposium where I am one of the speakers. So while ________ is reading this paper, about the same time, I am delivering a talk at the Davao symposium. However, I hope to catch up with you here in this Conference tomorrow.
The invitation for me from the Center of Spirituality – Manila was to share my thoughts on A Spirituality of Interfaith Dialogue. When I asked them what were their expectations of my talk, they wanted me to share my own lived experiences in this field as well as conceptual musings on the topic. I had the impression that the organizers of this conference wanted a more personal account, bordering on a narrative, rather than a highly scholarly presentation that would cater more to the cognitive rather than the affective.
RECOGNIZING THE NEED FOR REFLEXIVITY
This suited me fine. Since turning fifty and having engaged the theories of Jurgen Habermas, Anthony Giddens, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel De Certeau and Filipino scholars who have privileged the agency-structure framework, my own bias in the field of research and documentation has been towards a greater sensitivity to reflexivity.
There are various consequences to such a stance. (*) It demands taking into serious consideration the perspective and views of actors in the socio-cultural setting and what accounts for their agency even as they are located within social structures. It highlights the workings of the self and the issues of the self. It requires of the researcher and author to be self-reflexive, that is, to factor him/herself in the process from conceptualization to textualization. This requires of the researcher-author to be continuously conscious of one’s lifeworld, habitus, capital, interests and trajectories.2 It also acknowledges that one’s analysis and conclusions constitute only one of the possible ways of interpretations; one can never be so arrogant as to assert that this is the interpretation that has to be valorized.
Which brings me towards the rather embarrassing need to inform you where I am coming from. My father’s ancestors are from Capiz; my father’s father was a small landowner who joined the Katipunan when it spread to Panay. That meant the Gaspar clan became active members of the Philippine Independent Church or the Aglipayan Church. My mother’s ancestors are from Pangasinan but she grew up with her grandmother in Tondo where the post-Katipunan fervour was integrated into both the nascent labor and nationalist culture movements. My mother belonged to a theatre group where she sang in zarzuelas staged across what is now Metro Manila. Her religiosity was very much nurtured by her grandmother’s devotions to the Sto. Niño, the Nazareno of Quiapo and the Birhen sa Antipolo.
Both departed their homes and moved to the deep south, as part of the big wave of migrants who sought their fortune in what was then referred to as Land of Promise just before the outbreak of the Second World War. They met in what is now Davao City where I was born. However, I grow up in Digos, a small town sixty kilometers south of Davao City. There – long before I knew there was such a thing as a dialogue of life and faith with peoples of other cultures and faith traditions – my family and neighbors were “dialoguing” with Muslim Tausogs (who were originally from Jolo), the indigenous Bagobo (the aboriginal people of this coastal area) and the Chinese businesspeople (who were most probably Buddhists) in the “everyday reality of a small town.”
The Tausogs lived on the other side of the road in our part of the town which was nearest to the river. The Bagobos resided in the hills to the north of the poblacion; they had to walk a few kilometers to the town market where they sold their products and since our house was along the route, I would get to see them almost every Sunday. And when I needed to buy bread and other stuff, I needed to go to the Chinese stores which were just a ten-minute walk from our house. Since Digos did not have an Aglipayan church, my father eventually embraced my mother’s Catholicism. There were two Protestant chapels in the town; the one of the UCCP was across the elementary school where I studied and the other was that of the Seventh-Day Adventists which was across the high school where I was later enrolled. Our parish priest, the Brothers who run the high school and the sisters who administered the local hospital were French-Canadian missionaries who came to Davao from the l940s to 60s.
I guess that if the child was the father of the man, my current interest and practice in the field of interfaith dialogue developed very early on since I was a boy growing up in Digos. Since my childhood, I’ve had the singular privilege of being exposed to various cultural and faith traditions. And I have my parents to thank for that; if they did not migrate to the south, I wouldn’t have that kind of a background. What also contributed to my habitus - which made me quite open to a Christian theology of religious pluralism later on in my adult life - was my own parents’ attitude to and behavior with the multiple ethnicities in our town. My father – despite the average Christian settler’s bias against the other – was quite gregarious and, given his gift to learn other people’s languages, went out of his way to inter-act with them. My mother’s sense of good neighborliness and generosity made her quite approachable to both the Tausogs and Bagobos.
I grew up witnessing the manner in which they inter-acted with those of other cultures. Naturally, I internalized their attitude and easy ways of dealing with peoples of other faiths. If there were activities in the parish then which correspond to those being initiated by inter-religious dialogue groups today, I’m sure our family would have been drawn to such initiatives, especially if these took place in our neighborhood.
This was why, ten to twenty years later, when finally, the Church in Mindanao-Sulu began to have initiatives in the early pioneering years of a “dialogue of faith and life” with both Muslims and the Tribal Filipinos3 it was very easy for me to see the importance, validity and imperative need for such a dialogue.4 However, it was mainly through the eyes of Bishop Bienvenido Tudtud, that I was better able to read the realities of potential intensified conflicts between the settlers and the Moro people but also the hope that could come with a process of healing and reconciliation. It was through his heart that I internalized the need to embrace the shadows of the humanity of the Muslims and the Lumads as well as the richness of their cultures and faith traditions. And it was through his spirit that I realized that an engagement in such a dialogue would demand a selfless lifetime commitment.
Those of us who were lucky and privileged enough to be associated with Bishop Tudtud before his tragic death would be one in claiming that we became different persons after encountering him in our lives. We were never the same after literally sitting at his feet as we listened to his musings on why he made the missiological shift and as he invited us to share his dream. My own life’s trajectory changed radically after spending time with him from l974 to l985, especially during the years when he was chair of the Board of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference and I was the Executive Secretary.
THE ADVANCES IN INTERFAITH DIALOGUE SINCE BISHOP TUDTUD’S DEATH
There are those who would differentiate the use of inter-religious and inter-faith dialogue. I am not going to dwell on the distinction between these two terms in this paper. Jacques Dupuis in his book, Towards a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, used the two terms interchangeably. Bishop Tudtud, since he made the shift, coined the term “dialogue of faith and life”5; his preference then would be inter-faith dialogue. In this paper, like Dupuis, I use the two terms interchangeably.
Today, interfaith-dialogue has become very popular and acceptable. There have been a lot of researches, studies and documentations on the various inter-religious dialogue (IRD) initiatives. All sorts of literature – from the biblical, missiological, theological and pastoral perspectives – have appeared as theses and dissertations, manuals and books. Unfortunately, there is far more textualization from the theoretical framework and biblico-theological perspectives; there is yet very little that has been written in terms of actual and concrete lived experiences especially coming from the base. Subjects on IRD are taught in the seminaries, various conferences and workshops have tackled this subject especially all over Asia. Both religious congregations and dioceses are allocating resources for what is considered today a most important pastoral priority.
This was not the case when Bishop Tudtud began to assert his prophecy in this field in the mid-70s to the early 80s. Despite some of the writings that came out of Vatican II, it took a while before Local Churches picked up some of the ideas leading to IRD.6 I remember what happened at an MSPC meeting which was meant only for the Mindanao-Sulu bishops sometime in l977 or l978, the very first time that Bishop Tudtud formally offered his thoughts on this kind of dialogue. This was a meeting that took place more than a decade after Vatican II. An RGS sister and I were allowed to attend this meeting to be available for technical needs.
Up to this day, I can still distinctly remember the reaction of practically all the bishops. Practically all of them did not understand what Bishop Tudtud was talking about. Perhaps they did have an inkling what was in Bishop Tudtud’s mind; however, the ideas were so new and radical and the consequences so unacceptable that they had difficulties owning the ideas. The questions that immediately surfaced during the open forum revealed where most of the bishop’s were at: Do you mean to say that we have to leave our residences and live simply among the Moros? Do you mean to say we have to close our schools, radio stations and hospitals? Do you mean to say that we stop building churches?
Fortunately, the Spirit was at work at that very moment. Despite what could have been a most frustrating and disappointing session, Bishop Tudtud went ahead concretizing his vision in the newly-erected Prelature of Marawi. As the cliché goes, the rest is history. Today, what happened in the Prelature of Marawi since the late l970s has become a prototype of how a Local Church should respond to the challenges of interfaith dialogue. A growing number of bishops all over Asia has since embraced this pastoral thrust even as the late Pope John Paul II became a major voice promoting dialogue.
I took to heart Bishop Tudtud’s words at that meeting. After joining the Redemptorists and being engaged in popular missions in Mindanao, I have sought to promote dialogue wherever I found myself along with the members of our itinerant mission team, made up of Redemptorist priests, Brothers and lay missionaries. We have dialogued with both Maranaw and Maguindanao Muslims in Lanao and Cotabato, with Subanens of Zamboanga del Sur and Dulangan Manobos of Sultan Kudarat. I have joined various gatherings of church workers – from the Asian Journey to the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) – to extend my IRD experiences outside of the country. And lately, through the auspices of the CSM, I did a research study on the spirituality of Mindanawon religious engaged in urgent pastoral ministries such as IRD to have a deeper inkling into the spirituality of inter-faith dialogue.7
THE DEMANDS OF A SPIRITUALITY OF INTER-FAITH DIALOGUE
While doing a review of related literature for this research study, I encountered various understanding and definitions of spirituality. Conn refers to it as both “a lived experience and an academic discipline” (1991: 972) which is descriptive and analytic (rather than prescriptive and evaluative) and which involves an approach which is interdisciplinary, ecumenical, cross-cultural, inclusive and holistic. For purposes of a definition, I list down the ones that resonated with the study I just finished:
It is the “experience of consciously striving to integrate one’s life in terms not of isolation and self-absorption but of self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives” (Schneiders l989: 684 as cited in Legazpi 2002: 106). It is the “path that leads to self-transcendence (Au and Cannon 1995: 10). It is a “kind of ‘framework’ or ‘set’ of values, symbols, doctrines, attitudes and practices which persons or a community sets about trying to make their own in order to able to cope with a particular situation, to grow in the love of God and self-transcendence, and/or to accomplish a particular task in life or in the world” (Bevans 2000: 134, cited by Zabala 2004: 178).
This particular task is IRD or interfaith dialogue. By now practically everyone knows the different forms of IRD to include: the dialogue of life, action, theological exchange and religious experience.8 In terms of the actual pastoral initiatives and sustained efforts on the ground, these have remained quite limited – owing to various factors including “deep-seated fears and hurts; prejudice and ignorance; the politicalization of religion; the disintegration of the Asian socio-cultural fabric by the forces of globalization and consumerism; rise in communalism and religious fundamentalism; and bigotry and self-righteous attitudes” - and need to be more promoted, systematized and better coordinated.9
We in the Christian Churches could also be critiqued in terms of our location in the various parts of Asia which in itself could serve as block for the intensive promotion of IRD. FIRA V made this critique in explaining while the Church has remained slow in responding to what they referred to as “the need of the hour, the call of he time”, namely, that many churches in Asia continue to “be disengaged from the local cultures and religions”, they view “other religions as competitors to be displaced rather than as allies to be in partnership with”. FIRA V called on the Churches to be more “rooted in the Asian socio-cultural matrix and remained grounded in Asian soil”, to be in “direct contact with the peoples and religions in Asia” and to be “not only respectful of the peoples and surroundings of Asia but also (to) be very much identified with them … especially the poor and common people”.10
Dialogue presumes communication; in turn, communication, presupposes actors or agents talking to one another. However, there are IRD advocates who speak of a dialogue “beyond talk” which highlights the “dialogue of life as the locus of non-verbal IRD” (Hensman 1999: 323). This is why it is imperative for the Church to move towards a greater rootedness and groundedness in the localities of peoples of various cultures and faith traditions. Those of us engaged in IRD will need to be located among the ordinary people and not isolated in our ghettoes if our IRD initiatives were to produce more seeds. This, too, was highlighted by Bishop Tudtud since the start of the articulation of his vision and this was why he insisted on “dialogue of life” before faith.
The taxonomy of IRD involving the four forms shows that those action, theological exchange and religious experiences tended “to occur in formally organized and planned events” which have “a degree of predetermination”.11 It is in the area of dialogue of life that a dialogue “beyond just talking” could take place. Such experiences have been taking place for decades and they continue to unfold which provides us with a hope for the future such as those taking place among Christians and Buddhists in Thailand, Muslims and Christians in Indonesia and the Philippines, Hindus and Christians in India and others.12
There are a number of new insights into evolving realities and dynamics among people’s intra- and inter-personal relationships that need to be taken into consideration in our IRD efforts.
Highlighting agency, all of us who want to be involved in IRD will need first to face ourselves and search our hearts to find out how ready we are for such an engagement. We need to begin with some kind of an “interior dialogue” with ourselves which involves assimilating “the ascetic and contemplative traditions whose seeds were sometimes already planted by God in ancient cultures prior to the preaching of the gospel” (Ad Gentes as cited by van Leeuwen 2000: 48).
The first form of interior dialogue is instruction that help us to counter whatever negative views, prejudices and stereotypes we have of peoples of other faiths. It also makes it possible for us to understand the place of other religions in the “economy of salvation, their values, symbols and practices” and to find these “indispensable” (Leeuwen 2000: 48). Again, this process is better facilitated and nurtured if our everyday contact with those of other faiths is greatly enhanced by our location in the communities where we converge. Prayer further intensifies our need for interior dialogue.
A very important task of a person who wants to have an IRD practice is to find out one’s tendency towards ethnocentrism. There is hardly a faith tradition in the world that is not embedded in a particular cultural context. There is no religious system that is situated in a cultural vacuum. There are no believers that manifest their religiosity and spirituality without the use of cultural myths, artifact and symbols. Whether belonging to the great religions of the world (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam) or social-religious traditions (Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Sikhism, Shamanism and the like), the believers manifest their belief system through cultural materials and expressions.
It is therefore important to integrate an effort to have a better understanding of other peoples’ culture in our IRD. This way “through dialogue and collaboration with followers of other religions… (we are able to ) acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values of their society and culture”.13 By being converted into a mindset that makes us more sensitive and appreciative of other peoples’ cultures, we are empowered to distance ourselves from an ethnocentrism that serves as a major block towards greater harmony and solidarity with other ethnicities.
We also need to understand not only the cultural context of the ethnicity of our dialogue partners but also their socio-historical background. For us in the Philippines, for example, if we want to have a more sustained IRD with the Muslims in the south, it is important to understand that the Muslims constitute the Moro ethnic community in a sense that they are a “self-perceived group of people who hold in common a set of traditions not shared by the others with whom they are in contact “ (De Vos and Romanucci-Ross, 1975: 9 as cited in Che Man, 1990: 2) and who share “’primordial’ ties around which to build a sense of community” including “traditions as common myths of descent or place of origin, sense of historical continuity, and distinct cultural practices” as well as religion and language (Che Man, Ibid).
While having a firmer historical grasp that makes us see the residue of colonization in how we relate to each other as different ethnicities, we also need to be better able to deal with the workings of the political economy so we can see that processes leading to IRD involve maneuvering through the asymmetrical relationships between and among groups and sectors of society. Appropriating Bourdieu’s habitus-capital-field triad (Bourdieu and Pilario 2004) (*), there is need to acknowledge that the different would-be dialogue partners have differences in their hold of social, symbolic and cultural capital. Access or in-access to such capital may facilitate or block participation in IRD as well determine its direction in the future.
So also how dialogue partners should be dealing with contemporary politics. Of special consideration is the ongoing dialogue between Muslims and Christians in what is now referred to as “the time of terror” following the events that have unfolded since 9/11 that has somehow lead
to the demonization of Islam14 and the consolidation of religious fundamentalism on both the side of Muslims and Christians.15
All these are required input into the exterior dialogue which consists in the “actual meeting with people of other religions for a common witness to and sharing of basic religious values and for working together for the common concerns of the human family”.16 Some suggestions on how this exterior dialogue could take place are sharing in common enterprises, having common study and reflection, conduct of common prayer and dialogue in “live-together” sessions and through participation in inter-religious dialogue.17 Common enterprises could be in the area of justice, peace and integrity of creation. Attendance at each other’s religious ceremonies, rituals and faith celebrations could help cement the relationships in the context of IRD. The ideal would be for the dialogue partners to understand the “language” used by both, not just in terms of the meaning of words but also of symbols.18
Still, for those whose IRD practice is among ordinary folks in very ordinary sort of grassroots settings, it remains important to emphasize the key role of dialogue of life beyond talk. By adopting this incarnational model of dialogue, “the Word is made flesh” as the people make a difference in their everyday situations; “despite their differences” they are able to communicate “about the things that matter on a day-to-today basis” and in so doing, “they communicate what is central to their world view” (Hensman 1999: 334).
More and more, it has become important for us to dialogue with our fellow Christians even as we seek to be in dialogue with those of other faiths. And for us Catholics, we need to have such type of dialogue among the members of the Basic Ecclesial communities themselves, both those who are pro- or anti-IRD. In a recent conversation with Fr. Bert Layson OMI, the parish priest of Pikit in the Archdiocese of Cotabato where IRD has been sustained for close to a decade already, he lamented the fact that the ones who can have such negative impact on promoting mutuality and harmony among Muslims and Christians are the members of Base Ecclesial communities (BECs) themselves. This requires a more creative way of forming the BEC members in such a manner that they would embrace the IRD vision.
Even as there seems to be an upsurge of interest in interfaith dialogue, the fact of the matter is that those engaged in facilitating, sustaining and administering IRD remains a small number of church people. And the number of those engaged full-time in this pastoral ministry is not increasing rapidly. In a recent study I made in Mindanao as to the number of religious men and women engaged in IRD (involving both Muslims and Lumads), the number was only about (*) 30 involving 14 religious congregations including the OMI, OFM, MJ, CMF, PIME, CSSC, SSC, OND, FMM, RSM, MA, DC, OP and RGS. Among the dioceses in Mindanao, only those of Jolo, Zamboanga, Marawi, Cotabato, Iligan, Kidapawan, Marbel, Butuan, Ozamis, and Isabela have church people doing IRD.
It is a difficult ministry to be engaged in. The terrain of one’s apostolate is rough, dangerous and prone to violence. One has to be ready to operate without the benefit of comfort zones, back-up institutions and availability of expertise. There are only a few existing successful paradigms that one could just adapt into a new setting; one has to evolve a model that works. There are no long-term successes, only short-term accomplishments that could easily be irrelevant within a short moment. And one has to grapple with the imminent prospect of being caught in the crossfire as one stands in harm’s way practically all the time. This is the only pastoral ministry today that has yielded a number of martyrs from Bishop Ben de Jesus to Fr. Salvatorre Carzedda PIME, from Fr. Rufus Halley CSSC to Fr. Rhoel Gallardo CMF.
For this reason, it is very important to empower those who are interested to begin and/or sustain their engagement in interfaith dialogue. A spirituality in IRD is therefore very necessary and timely. For this reason there is need to articulate what this spirituality is all about.
THE SPIRITUALITY OF INTERFAITH DIALOGUE
Reading through the literature that I collected before writing this paper yielded a number of important insights.
There is an expanding literature on dealing with the spirituality of the various religious traditions from the Christian perspective. Vineeth underwent a search into the Hindu approach to spirituality within the backdrop of “realizational knowledge” largely based on the Upanishads, “the ancient Sanskrit text belonging to the Vedic literature” (Vineeth 2003: 64). This spirituality has an etymological base, as God and the human being are both referred to by the same word Atman, meaning the self. Self “is the being in whom awareness is centered in consciousness” while God “is the supreme Self whose all-pervading awareness is centered in supreme consciousness, which makes him also supremely personal”; in a unique manner this “supreme Self dwells within the human self” and as “God is the ultimate Self, the Atman within us and this Self is to be experienced and realized” (Ibid: 63). For Vineeth, this spirituality should bring us back to the experience of the “ancient Christians” who “believed that every Christian is another Christ”; this dictum was “a clear clue… that their understanding of Christ was more realizational than rational” (Ibid: 73).
Mercado sought a communion with Islamic spirituality. He needed to retrieve the common spirituality ground of the three Semitic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – which was the desert. This setting gave birth to the spirituality of the Desert Fathers which – given its harsh realities – was grounded in asceticism; in such an “environment, the sole reliance is on God” (Mercado 2003: 58-59). This spirituality recognized that the invitation was initiated by God and one’s journey began in God. One, however, needed a guide to be able to discern God’s call. Then the journey begins through “the path that leads to Life” which requires a “state of purity” which is similar to the biblical call in Mt 5:8 – Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see God. (Ibid: 60). In the Qur’an, one encounters this sense of true piety in Sura 2:172 – “to believe in God and the Last Day, the angels, the book and the prophets, to give of one’s substance, however cherished to kinsmen and orphans, the needy, the traveler, beggars, and to ransom the slave to perform the prayer, to pay the alms”. This is why it is imperative for Christians engaged in IRD to discover the liberative elements in contemporary Islam (EATWOT Consultation on Religion and Liberation, New Delhi, l987).
Mananzan did a research study on women and religion and in her study she came up with the different elements of an inter-religious spirituality to include the following: it is integral in the sense of being able to transcend “the dichotomies and dualisms such as matter and spirit, sacred and profane, contemplation and action”; it is life-affirming because it is a “celebration of life” filled with “awe and gratitude at the wonder of one’s being and the beauty and the grandeur of the universe”; it is contemplative as its “deepest insight is that God is not only everywhere but is primarily within one’s own heart”; it is prophetic because “it announces the good news and the bad news” and has a “passion for justice and opposes injustice whenever it rears its ugly head”; it is compassionate with a “sense of oneness with all beings” and with “a passionate empathy”; it lives in the present “without denying one’s past and making reasonable provision for the future”; and it is “committed and carefree” (Mananzan 2004: 252-255).
Cragg highlights the element of patience as he calls on our needs for patience: “patience with our partners in the Christian fellowship; patience with monumental misunderstanding that must somehow be removed; patience with the massive external deterrents; patience with inward spiritual unlikeness; patience with ourselves and our proneness to hasty ways and incomplete devotion; the patience of hope and resolve.” (Cragg 1992: 325). He also exhorts us to embrace a spirituality that allows us to actually see many things in Muslim society that are “compatible with … Christian influence and can be served by it” to include “hospitality, cleanliness, moderation, simplicity, discipline, dignity, family affection, sensitivity to the poor and many other traits that characterize Muslim attitudes at their best”. This insight develops only if there is patience in dealing with them from the perspective of understanding the “Christian liability to one’s neighbor” (Ibid 198). He underlines this call to a human neighborhood as it should be sustained in an “open practice… on the ground here and now” in order to neutralize the “not so human neighborhood there and then in the past” (Ibid: 207).
Dupuis’ brings in the element of hope in a spirituality of IRD. He claims that in the process of dialogue where the partners engage in questioning one another while providing answers, explanations and information, the Christians need to give “an account of the hope that is in them” (1 Peter 3: 15). Witnessing to their faith, they “will hope and desire to share with others their joy in knowing and following Jesus Christ, even as the “followers of other religions are animated by a similar desire to share their own faith” (Dupuis 1997: 368). For Dupuis it is imperative that a dialogue partner must not “on the pretext of honesty in the dialogue, bracket one’s faith… even temporarily, against the expectation… of eventually rediscovering the truth of that faith through the dialogue itself” as it is important for dialogue partners “to enter upon it and commit themselves to it in the integrity of their faith”. This is so because “the basis of an authentic religious life is a faith that endows that life with its specific character and proper identity”… as it is not “a commodity that can be parceled out or exchanged; it is a gift received from God, of which one may not lightly dispose”. (Ibid: 378). Indeed, those who are engaged in IRD enter into a dialogue between equals in the context of their difference. However, “if dialogue supposes the integrity of personal faith, it also requires openness to the faith of the other in its difference”; this involves “the spiritual technique consisting of ‘passing over” (meaning:
“encountering both the other and the religious experience which that other bears within”) and returning’” (Ibid: 380).
Engaging in IRD with those of the Shamanist or primal religious tradition, one enters into a spirituality that embraces “the world (that is) alive with psychic power” (McDonagh and Busch l986: 87). This spirituality enables us “to see the finger of God in the natural world and to realize that the primary revelation of God on which all subsequent revelations – historical and verbal – depend, is in the natural world”. One can refer to a “book of the Cosmos” which can be considered a “common heritage of all humankind and thus can provide the basis for fruitful religious dialogue and action to preserve the natural world so that this religious experience is not lost for future generations” (Ibid: 89). Like the desert with its foreboding landscape, the wilderness and forests provide “uncontrolled, untamed places” needed by “the human spirit in its search for the ultimate mystery of life” so that it does not “become intoxicated with its own power and is continually called to reach beyond itself” (Ibid).
In dealing with primordial spirituality, Waaijman deals with the indigenous and secular spirituality of Israel, native-American spirituality and African spirituality. He identifies five interlocking lines to connect these: a deep personal relationship of extended families with the divine reality as experienced and mediated through stories, rituals and the like; the goodness of life - being a gift of the Creator - is the site where the divine-human relationship is lived; the community itself is able to develop the discernment processes that help them see the contrast between ways of life and death, the path of life and destiny and the gap between superficial and deeper knowledge; the community is very much part of creation along with the rest of nature that make up the entire cosmos which is experienced as divine; and that the community embraces both the living and dead (2004: 99).
Tinker provides his own reflections on the spirituality of the aboriginal or indigenous peoples of North America or the Native Americans. For him, their “spirituality, values, social and political structures, even ethics are rooted not in some temporal notion of history but in spatiality”; thus, “without understanding the spatiality of Native American existence, one cannot understand Native American spiritual traditions” (1992: 29-30). This spirituality “is deeply rooted in land”; it is manifested in nearly all aspects of their existence, in “ceremonial structures, symbols, architecture and symbolic parameters of a tribe’s universe” (Ibid: 32). As each individual “recognizes herself or himself as a combination of qualities that reflect both sky and earth, spirit and matter, peace and war, male and female” while struggling “individually and collectively to hold these qualities in balance with each other”, the “fundamental symbol of Indian existence is the circle, a polyvalent symbol signifying the family, the clan, the tribe, and eventually, all of creation.” (Ibid: 33). For Tinker it is important for the Native Americans to “live spiritually every day and every moment – in balance within ourselves and with the people around us; in harmony with our tribal communities and their aspirations; and in balance with all our relations in this world, including our nonhuman relations – the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the winged, and all the living-moving-things, from rocks and trees to mountains and fish” (2004: 28).
As a spirituality of IRD, Tudtud proposes “a spirituality of the Kingdom” or the “spirituality of total surrender” (Ziselsberger l990: 48). It is a spirituality of the “here and now” as Christians are challenged to “being faithful to the call of the moment”, because the “kingdom of God is a decision to be faithful NOW, not in the future”. It is through the spirituality of the here and now that those in small Christian communities can show that “the Church is an instrument for the actualization of the Kingdom” through the process of “self-emptying or kenosis” with the aim of discarding “their prejudices towards the Muslims and non-Christians, as well as towards Christians of other denominations.” (Ibid: 50).
It is also a spirituality of the “setting-out” towards a horizon and a vision owing to a “thirst for growth and perfection” and a “search for goodness, beauty and truth”. In involves a process of “becoming” as well as leaving behind “inhuman living conditions.” This requires discovering “the face of God” in the “marginalized” as well as adopting a style of life consistent to this vision. It is also a spirituality of perseverance, of “hanging”. If it is a life that is faithful “to the here and now and of a constant setting out to new horizons” it is strenuous and demanding and could only be sustained through perseverance that comes with “deep spirituality and even asceticism”. Tudtud believes that in one’s life-long conviction one should not expect to see any result in one’s dialogue efforts; one is committed because of a conviction that this “fundamental attitude of Christian life makes all the difference”. He posits that “if you believe in what you are doing, you’ll do it because you believe in it, not because you are expecting results… even to the point of death” (Ibid: 53).
In a study I just recently finished on the spirituality that empowers Mindanawon religious engaged in pastoral ministries such as IRD, solidarity work with indigenous peoples and JPIC, some of the elements constituting their practice of spirituality include the following: it emerges from concrete lived experiences of being with the poor, demands a commitment to service and dialogue among the poorest of the poor, flows from creation and the lifeworld of indigenous peoples, deepened by a prayer life, experiencing God’s presence among the peoples of various cultures and faith and in creation and intimately encountering God in mystical moments.19
MY OWN PRACTICE OF SPIRITUALITY IN INTERFAITH DIALOGUE
As I end this talk, I must humbly acknowledge that my own practice of spirituality in interfaith dialogue is really still that of a child. I may be advanced in chronological age, but my lived experience in which is embedded this practice of spirituality is but a drop in the proverbial ocean. Still, I thank God for the invitation to follow this path and to embark on this spiritual sojourn. I am fortunate that I was born and grow up in a place like Mindanao and where I continue to be situated in terms of my vocation and mission.
I have actually seen with my own eyes the majesty of creation from the very top of Mt. Apo. I have swam in Mindanao’s lakes from Lake Lanao to Lake Sebu, took in the sun on the beaches of Samal to Camiguin Islands, flowed with the currents of Bankerohan and Pulangi Rivers, penetrated the tunnel caves of Sultan Kudarat, walked the deep forests of Bukidnon and Zamboanga Sur and watched migratory birds fly across the Mindanao sky.
Since my college days, I have taken to the streets to demand from the State the services it should render the citizenry. I have walked with landless peasants seeking a title to the land they tilled; marched with workers demanding their just wages and the urban poor to resist ejection from the small space they occupy in the cities. I joined ordinary folks barricading the streets to put an end to the destructive logging of remaining forests. I have stood behind the indigenous peoples as they demanded control and ownership over their ancestral domain and as they sought to take advantage of the IPRA law. I have stood side by side with the Moro bakwits as well as the Women in White in Davao City demanding an end to the war in Mindanao. At one juncture, owing to this solidarity engagements, I paid my dues spending almost two years of detention as a political prisoner.
I have had glimpses of God’s presence in all these wanderings across creation and the poor’s struggles. Even more so, this divine manifestation entered my realm of consciousness as I joined the Mindanawons as they invoked Dios, Allah, Nemula, Magbabaya, Manama, Apo Sandawa and all the others names that God is called across this island. Attending all sort or rituals, ceremonies and liturgical celebrations – in mosques, Buddhist shrines, Protestant chapels, around a tambara,20 in Catholic cathedrals, cemeteries, under ancient trees in the forests, people’s homes and wherever people gather to commune with the sacred – have been occasions to collectively embrace God’s grace. In these gatherings, there is as much interiorizing as well as exteriorizing with chanting and dancing, eating and drinking, laughing and weeping. Life’s passages are remembered fondly, faced squarely and celebrated exuberantly precisely because here the divine and human encounter each other intimately. These have also been the occasions where I deepened relationships with family, friends, confreres, colleagues and co-sojourners as bonding is enriched, as a sense of community is deepened. Truly, these are privileged moments of actually seeing the possibility of God’s reign unfolding in the magic of the moment.
Thus, my own practice of spirituality integrates my engagement in interfaith dialogue. This spirituality could possibly be summarized in terms of the following statements:
My own experience of a “conscious striving to integrate my life toward the ultimate value I have perceived” flows from creation as I continue to experience divine presence – God’s own face, breath and warmth – in everything that constitutes Mother Nature.
The path that leads my journey to “a beginning experience of self-transcendence” is spatially grounded. Located firmly on land (lupa, yuta, tana) – embodying my ancestry, connecting me to those whose remains sustains its enrichment and providing a terrain that impacts my aesthetics – my spirit soars from this base.
My spirit is further enriched by a sense of mutuality and inter-dependency with human beings with whom I share a sense of space and the consequences of history. I seek them out in the spirit of good neighborliness as our humanity is affirmed as we show compassion for one another as well as seek to serve each other.
Situated within a reality of societal asymmetry, inequality and the poor’s inaccessibility to resources required for the fullness of life, I embrace a spirituality that demands a “setting-out” from such marginalization. I seek an option that demands of me to be with them at the margins and to follow a lifestyle congruent with a desire to witness to this solidarity.
Encountering the rich tapestry of a society constituted by a plurality of cultures, I embrace the myriad expressions of the face of the human family painted with bright colors. It is a spirituality that delights in the wonders of people’s cultural constructions in their languages and communicative skills, music and architecture, rites and governance systems and manner of responding to their needs. It makes no judgment of the differences but rather rejoices at convergences.
It does acknowledge the realm of difference but not in a manner that reinforces ethnocentrism by alienating the other. Instead, grounded in the richness of one’s own cultural-ethnic identity and faith tradition, one desires to dialogue to share one’s faith while being utterly open to listening to the dialogue partners to share theirs and in the process mutually experiencing the “passing over” or the encounter of both “the other and the religious experience which that other bears within”.
It is, indeed, the spirituality of the “here and now”; it captures the magic of the moment, it is embedded in the everyday reality.
It acknowledges the difficulties and frustrations owing to the complexities involved in interfaith dialogue. It demands a lifetime’s commitment; and even if one persists through a lifetime, one may not be blessed with immediate results. Nothing could be accomplished despite all the time, energy and resources poured into the efforts. It is thus, a spirituality of patience and perseverance. In this spirituality of “hanging”, hope is imperative.
The hope comes with a deepening realization that one’s engagement in IRD comes as an invitation from God. One is called to follow the path towards this vision and is, then, sent on a mission to preach the Reign of God that brings humility, forgiveness, healing, reconciliation and community. Following the biblical metaphors, it is a road less traveled, it is a trail with thorns, it is path that could lead to Calvary.
It is a spirituality that brings one to a desert experience where one faces untamed places characterized by harsh realities. Here “the human spirit encounters the mystery of life” which brings us down to our knees as we realize there is no one else we could rely on to survive but God.
I recall such moments like my experiences in the bartolina right after my abduction by the military during the martial rule, in a boat that traveled across the Mindanao Sea at the height of a major typhoon, in a spot in the mountains of Malindang when the NPAs engaged the military in armed encounters, in a hospital where my mother was dying of cancer and the many “dark nights of my soul as I grappled with my life’s meaning. Such moments provide the push to dig from one’s wells. These as well as quieter moments provide spaces for contemplation. Coupled with modest attempts at asceticism, one is graced with the silence that feeds the soul. And if it is within the realm of God’s grace, a mystical experience could not be far behind.
A FINAL NOTE
It is very clear that this paper is enriched by the spirit of my mentor and friend, Bishop Tudtud. I end by paying him a tribute as I include a meditation that he has left for us to ponder upon:
“to offer an open hand
when there is no one
to grasp it
to wait with increasing longing
when no advent is promised
to sing out what lies deepest
when no ear is in tune
to bear one’s core
when no gentle touch unfolds
to sail into the horizon
without an expected haven
nor assurance of return
to carve an ever deepening space within
for the other to enter
and be at home
to leave that gap open
for the other
to stay or depart
to nourish one’s own wounds fresh
even when the other’s presence
is felt as a soothing balm
to exult when needed and appreciated
without lazing in the glory
of that blissful grace
to be nothing for the beloved
so that the beloved can be all”21
July 30, 2005
Launching of the Redemptorists’ Centenary
In the Philippines
1 Talk given at the Conference sponsored by the Center for Spirituality – Manila, August 1, 2005
2 These are concepts I appropriate from Habermas and Bourdieu.(* Insert the definistions of the terms later….)
3 Tribal Filipinos became the English term to refer to the Lumads of Mindanao in the l970s. Earlier they were referred to by the State as cultural minorities. Later, in the l990s, the name Tribal Filipinos gave way to the Indigenous Peoples, following the popular name adapted from the United Nations.
4 There is a rich literature that has already arisen in terms of this actual pastoral experience in Mindanao-Sulu. Refer to the Bibliography.
5 See Bishop Bienvenido Tudtud, Dialogue of Life and Faith, (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1988).
6 Like the Ad Gentes Divinitus or the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity. There was also the encyclical of Pope Paul VI in l964, the Ecclesiam Suam.
7 Karl M. Gaspar CSsR, “Mystic-Wanderes in the Land of Perpetual Departures”, unpublished manuscript with the Center of Spirituality-Manila, 2005.
8 These were first mentioned in the l984 document of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and cited in Dialogue and Proclamation, Reflections and Orientations on IRD and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, (CBCP and Commission for IRD-CIRD, Pentecost 1991), p. 16.
9 See Final Document, Fifth Formation Institute for Interreligious Affairs or FIRA V: Intereligious Dialogue in Religious Education, held at the Christian Guest House, Bangkok, Thailand, 23-29 May 2004, p. 2. See also the Consultation Statement of the 12th Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference and the Episcopal Comissions on Inter-religious dialogue and on Ecumenical Affairs, 14-16 April 2004, Cursillo House, Davao City.
11 J. Mark Hensman, “Beyond Talk: The Dialogue of Life as the Locus of Non-Verbal Interelgious Dialogue”, East Asian Pastoral Review, Vol. 36, No. 3, p. 323.
12 See Ibid; EATWOT Indonesia, Life Sustaining Spirituality: Learning from Indonesian Moslem and Christian Peasants, in Voices of the Third World, Volume XXVI, No. l (June 2003); and Karl M. Gaspar et al, Mapagpakamalinawon. See also the experiences in the parish of Pikit with Fr. Bert Layson OMI.
14 For a good article on this phenomenon, see William Dalrymple, “The demonizing of Islam,” The Tablet, 11 September 2004, p. 6-7.
15 See R. Scott Appleby, “The New Christian ‘Fundamentalists’” and Thomas Michel S.J., “Roots of Muslim Revival in Asia,” both in Mindev, 1995 issue.
16 CBCI Commission for Dialogue and Ecumenism, Guidelines for Inter-Religious Dialogue, CBCI Centre, New Delhi, l989, no. 57.
18 See a good case study on how language figures prominently in the dialogue process, namely, Edgar Javier SVD, “Some Thoughts on Formation for Dialogue with Cultures: The Pacific – A Case Study,” in Religious Life Asia, July-September 2004.
19 Gaspar, Mystic-Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures, Chapter VI.
20 An altar-like structure, usually made of bamboo, that serves as some kind of a table on which are placed ritual materials as eggs, betel nuts, coins and others. It is common among indigenous peoples like the Bagobo and Manobo.
21Ziselsberger, Inter-Religious Dialogue – A Fundamental Attitude of Christian Life, p. 54-55.
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