zenpundit.com » 2012 » November » 25

Archive for November 25th, 2012

The Church of England stress-tested

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — of integrity and flexibility in that most curious chameleon of a religious institution, the Church of England, of which I am still fond at a distance ]
.

.

The Church of England is run, if that’s the word, by the three houses of its General Synod, and just this week the the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy voted to approve the ordination of women bishops, while the House of Laity voted against the idea — and since all three houses have a veto, carried the day.

Be it noted that there are in fact women priests in the Church of England, and women bishops in other parts of the Anglican Communion of which the Church of England is the mother province.

In the Church of England, however, a woman is still barred from being ordained a bishop.

**

There’s a Church of England blogger I follow to catch the more conservative slant on things — he calls himself Archbishop Cranmer after a celebrated Anglican divine — and in a recent post titled Church of England remains a bit more Catholic, His Grace remarked:

The Church of England is historical and so mortal. It is a creature of continual creation; of adaptability in religio-political fluidity. It opposes immutability in theological expression, recognising that mobility is intrinsic to mortality: as believers are continually converted to God, there must be continual conversion to the nature of the Church, and those confessional bodies must be mutable, for none possesses exclusive ownership of the identity of Christ.

The Church of England was never designed to be Protestant, though it has elements of that movement within it. And it was certainly not Roman Catholic, though it drew on the strengths of that denomination to manifest the Church in a visible society. Its struggle has ever been how to permit freedom of the Spirit within ancient structures: how to put new wine into old wineskins.

This is why the Archbishop of York is right when he says there will be women bishops, because Anglicanism is a communion, and in that koinonia is toleration of mutual exclusives.

That’s an interesting formulation: toleration of mutual exclusives.

Cranmer winds up that particular post with the words:

You may hear talk of splits and schisms, but these are nothing more than the spats of human mortality. For as long as we can examine what sort of church we are and question our core principles and values, there will be discussion, debate, tears and joy. The moment we cease to disagree and hurt each other is the moment the church ceases to be church.

And that too is interesting — especially in view of St Paul‘s exhortation in Philippians 2:2:

Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

**

I believe Cranmer is right, and that the Church of England was indeed intended to house a variety of views, some of them tending Catholic, some tending Protestant.

But what I find most interesting here is his sense that the church quite properly opposes immutability in theological expression, recognising that mobility is intrinsic to mortality — because here we are coming very close to Christ‘s identification —

I am the way, the truth, and the life…

read in the light of Lao Tse‘s dictum —

The way that can be put into words isn’t the true Way.

**

And remembering always that CS Lewis once asked:

Is not the Tao the Word Himself, considered from a particular point of view?

and that Fr. Thomas Merton quotes with approval Dr Wu‘s “well-known Chinese translation of the New Testament” in which the Prologue to St John’s Gospel begins:

In the beginning was the Tao.

**

One other point.

A day or two after the vote in General Synod, His Grace posted an extensive excerpt from the parliamentary questions raised for Sir Tony Baldry MP to respond to, as Second Church Estates Commissioner. One such question was raised by Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): ‘

Does he agree that when the decision-making body of the established Church deliberately sets itself against the general principles of the society that it represents, its position as the established Church must be called into question?

To my minds, that’s an extraordinary question, and in the comments section of His Grace’s blog, one D. Singh said:

Your Grace

It is written: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’

Romans 12:2

One would have thought that after the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the hands of the Nazis for his unwillingness to go along with “decision-making body of the established Church” — in his case, the Lutheran Church in Germany at the time — a little more thought might need to be given before such a question was raised…

**

Oh, and somewhat amusingly, if you are inclined to be amused at such things — when Sir Tony Baldry addressed the House of Commons on the topic of women bishops — an idea whose time he clearly believed was long overdue — he was wearing the tie of London’s distinguished Garrick Club.

A private club close to London’s theatrical district, where:

‘actors and men of refinement and education might meet on equal terms’, where ‘patrons of the drama and its professors were to be brought together’, and where ‘easy intercourse was to be promoted between artists and patrons’…

Oh, and which to this day does not admit women as members.

Share

Ashura: the Passion of Husayn

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — today’s solemn commemorations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in comparative religious perspective ]
.

I was listening to Mozart‘s Requiem last night, and it is rich in grief shot through with glory. That’s the thing about mourning celebrations in which death is accompanied by the “sure and certain hope of the Resurrection into eternal life”.

One such observance is found in Shia Islam, and falls this year on the 25th of November — today. It is the day of Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar, and its epicenter is at Karbala in Iraq. As the saying goes:

Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala.

For the Shia, Ashura commemorates the martyrdom of Husayn, grandson of the Prophet, at the Battle of Karbala, when he refused to give allegiance to the Umayyad caliph Yazid. Husayn’s martyrdom is dramatized in Ta’zieh, passion plays, giving us a hint that the martyrdom of Husayn at Ashura figures in the devotional life of the Shia much as the passion and death of Christ figures within Christianity, both in passion plays such as that at Oberammergau and in Catholic rituals such as the Stations of the Cross. This may seem a far-fetched analogy to some of my readers, but both deaths are viewed as redemptive. As another saying has it:

A single tear shed for Husayn washes away a hundred sins.

**

As you can see depicted in the lower panel above, Shiite mourning can include flagellation with chained blades, not something that sits easily with most westerners — yet as Roy Mottahedeh has said (quoted in SA Hayder, Reliving Karbala: Martyrdom in South Asian Memory):

Self-mutilation in emulation of the “passion” of heroes who are human yet divine is no stranger to the West: flagellants who whipped themselves both in penance and in remembrance of the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus appeared in almost every western European country in the Middle Ages…

The upper panel above depicts Husayn’s horse, riderless and bloody, and can perhaps give us some sense of the dark ceremonial beauty of the occasion for those whose grief transcends time and unites them in aspiration with Husayn himself — their flagellation attesting to their wish that they themselves could have stood beside him on that day so long ago, standing for truth against an army of injustice.

**

Their grief may be trans-temporal, but the possibility of dying for their faith persists to this day, for Sunni militants of the jihadist sort view Ashura differently — primarily as a day of fasting first performed by Moses and continued by Muhammad — and detest the breakaway sect of the Shia as rafidun, heretics.

In Iraq, Ashura there has seen millions of pilgrims visiting Karbala this year, with comparatively little violence:

Millions of Shiites flooded the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala on Sunday for the peak of Ashura rituals, which have been largely spared the attacks that struck pilgrims in past years. A bomb wounded 10 pilgrims in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, but it was the first such attack since a car bomb against pilgrims killed three people on November 17.

Farther afield, what the Pakstani police describe as a “major terror plot to attack the Muharram processions in Karachi” was avoided this year when “large amounts of explosive material, two suicide jackets and grenades” were confiscated during a raid, with the Minister for Religious Affairs declaring that the Tehreek-e-Taliban were behind the plots. Elsewhere in Pakistan:

At least five persons were killed and over 70 others injured on Sunday when a Shia procession was targeted with a bomb at Dera Ismail Khan in Pakistan’s restive northwest, the second such attack in the city in as many days.

Meanwhile in Kabul:

For the past week, the Afghan capital has been draped with black cloth arches and festooned with huge colored banners. Mournful, pounding chants pour from loudspeakers across the city, filling the air with slow martial intensity.

The dramatic display is all part of Muharram and the 10-day Shiite festival that commemorates the slaying of Imam Hussein, a 7th-century holy figure and early champion of Islam. But it is also a symbol of the growing religious and political freedom that Afghanistan’s long-ostracized Shiites have had in the past decade.

That’s from a Washington Post piece yesterday titled Afghan’s Shiite minority fears a return to old ostracism — and the next two paragraphs bear out the title:

Now, as Western military forces prepare to leave the country by 2014, Afghan Shiites, most of whom are from the Hazara ethnic minority, fear that their window of opportunity may slam shut again, leaving larger rival ethnic groups as well as Taliban insurgents, who are radical Sunni Muslims, dominating power.

“Everything we have achieved, our ability to come out and participate in society, has been in the shade of the international community and forces,” said Mohammed Alizada, a Hazara Shiite who was elected to parliament in 2009. “We are very concerned that once they leave, the fundamentalists will reemerge, ethnic issues will return, and we will lose what we have gained.”

Tribal politics, sectarian issues, the impending departure of US forces, the Taliban, cross-border alliances — and the sheer power of devotion — all these are intricately intertwined in today’s Afghanistan and its future. We may do well to understand something of the meaning of this day of Ashura, in our own calendar, 25th November 2012.

**

Annemarie Schimmel, the great Harvard scholar of Islamic mysticism, has a fine essay on the poetry of Ashura, encompassing both Sunni and (strongly Shia-influenced) Sufi traditions, Karbala and the Imam Husayn in Persian and Indo-Muslim literature. The mindset is very different from contemporary secular westernism, seeing death itself — and the grief that accompanies it — as a prelude to resurrection, and thus part of the timeless love-play of God with those who love him:

In having his beloved suffer, the divine Beloved seems to show his coquetry, trying and examining their faith and love, and thus even the most cruel manifestations of the battle in which the ‘youthful heroes’, as Shah Latif calls them, are enmeshed, are signs of divine love.

The earth trembles, shakes; the skies are in uproar;
This is not a war, this is the manifestation of Love.

The poet knows that affliction is a special gift for the friends of God, Those who are afflicted most are the prophets, then the saints, then the others in degrees’, and so he continues:

The Friend kills the darlings, the lovers are slain,
For the elect friends He prepares difficulties.
God, the Eternal, without need what He wants, He does.

**

The spirit here is not too far from that of the Greek philosopher Plotinus, who wrote in his Enneads [III.ii.15]:

Men directing their weapons against each other- under doom of death yet neatly lined up to fight as in the pyrrhic sword-dances of their sport- this is enough to tell us that all human intentions are but play, that death is nothing terrible, that to die in a war or in a fight is but to taste a little beforehand what old age has in store, to go away earlier and come back the sooner.

together with that of the early Christian Father, Origen, who wrote [De Martyrio, 39]:

And let each of us remember how many times we have been in danger of an ordinary death, and then let us ask ourselves whether we have not been preserved for something better, for the baptism in blood which washes away our sins and allows us to take our place at the heavenly altar together with all the companions of our warfare.

**

In India, indeed, the martyrdom of Husayn takes on an interfaith character in some places, as Hindus and Christians join Muslims in Ashura commemorations, as Naim Naqvi relates:

One can observe the richness and beauty of the diversity of Indian Culture at the occasion of Muharram. Since the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, Muharram ceremonies are observed all over the world including India. Hindus take part in them with great reverence and devotion. The tragedy of Karbala has become the harbinger for interfaith understanding in the Indian sub-continent. Participation of Hindus in the mourning rituals of Imam Hussain has been a feature of Hinduism for centuries in large parts of India. Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and even Christians observe Muharram. In the city of Varanasi which is the holiest city for Hindus many Hindu families participate in Muharram processions.

Describing the participation of one such Hindu family in Orissa, we read:

District police chief Lalit Das said Padhihary family has been doing this every year for the last 338 years, adding other local Hindu families also participate in the procession.

Muslims said it reflected the perfect harmony between the two communities in the area.

Share

Switch to our mobile site