Marlene Perera – « Inter-faith communion for life fostering culture »

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English: Wisdom and People’s Theology

Marlene Perera – « Inter-faith communion for life fostering culture »

Asian religions, rooted in the spirituality of her people, drawing from their survival wisdom, delving into the wealth of vast, varied Asian philosophies and world views, have much to offer in posing a definite threat to mammonic culture. Christians too are part and parcel of this process making “the joys, the griefs, the hopes of this age their very own”[1] Their endeavor is to realize that hope that Paul expresses so beautifully in Rm 8, 20-23. “Up to the present time, all of creation groans with pain like the pain of child-birth. But not just creation alone; we who have the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for God to make us His people and set our whole being free.”

Small inter-religious communities are engaged in various parts of Asia, going beyond existing boundaries, striving to respond to the call of the Spirit emerging from the deep anguish of her masses to create new ways of being in the world, of reciprocal, mutually enhancing relationships, in the search for a more humane culture. They express the hope of humanity that God’s Reign be established among us as expressed in Isaiah: “Nation not raising sword against nation with no more training for war” (Is 2, 4); “the wolf living with the lamb, the calf and lion cub feeding together with a little boy to lead them…” (Is 11, 6). An awe inspiring vision of life in harmony! Affirming the sacredness of all life and inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of all forms of life in creation!

In Sri Lanka, we are at a very critical period of our history. The State has been at war for nearly thirty years with a minority group of her own people in the North and East, who had taken up arms against her demanding their right to self-determination. This aspiration of the Tamil community had been a simmering issue for several years due to the failure of the State to address the needs of all her different communities with due respect and justice. By 1984 there were several militant groups who were just getting armed and at first they resorted to guerilla war fare with intermittent attacks on  State Institutions or army camps in  those areas.

In 1985, Tissa Balasuriya OMI made a tremendous effort towards a peaceful resolution with justice towards all communities. He reached out to the intelligentsia and leaders of all communities, the Centre for Society and Religion[2]  becoming the forum where such groups met almost every week in friendly encounter for several years, seeking durable solutions to this problem. It was a heart-rending experience to all involved, to realize the incapacity of these educated elite of good-will to break through narrow domestic walls of one’s own group.

Violence escalating further, war broke out. In 2006, the State sending the military against the militants, all territory held by militants were brought under State control in 2009. Since then, much is being done where re-construction and infrastructure are concerned. Yet, finding solutions acceptable to all communities tends to be an arduous journey. After all the destruction, suffering, anguish and wanton  loss of life,  especially among the poorest on all sides, the inability to move away from previous polarizing positions and failure to be introspective are big obstacles to reconciliation and peace. Being a small Island strategically placed in the Indian Ocean, aggravates this problem further due to geo-political power struggles of the mighty, making it extremely complex.

 Yet, it was different among down-trodden, urban poor where I had been engaged simultaneously. They were a mixed population of all religious and ethnic groups. Though struggling for survival, aspiring to be accepted with dignity for what they were, they would never attack any community on religious or ethnic bias. Instead, they would support one another organizing together festivals important to each different community, living in solidarity, mutual concern, peace and harmony. Having no real possessions, being more open to wisdom and truth they were able to go beyond, overcoming all boundaries to embrace everyone.

The world turns on  the axis of power, prestige and might, a world of craving, maneuvering, deceit, built on accumulation of excessive wealth through ruthless exploitation of all that is, bringing about the dispossession of the weak, causing immense anguish through wanton destruction and death to millions of people and degradation of nature. In this global system, money pretends to be the all-powerful God, controlling all life and is fast becoming the mediator in human relationships, the human becoming alienated from nature, other humans,  one-self and from God, the loving essential unity in all existence. The end result is fragmentation, wars with the thrust to demonize anything posing a threat to the Status quo. This, in Biblical terms, is mammon’s work, submerging people in the glitter of the golden calf. The contemporary crisis is then cultural and spiritual in the midst of rapid scientific and technological advance. The cry of the suffering masses and mother Earth seem to fall on deaf ears as the march towards greater power gathers up, driving, peoples, nations and nature apart. 

Isn’t this innate drive in the human to be more than what he really is, the root of all this violence and misery in the world? How succinctly, the Biblical author brings home this craving in the human in Gen 3, 1-5?  “After opening up a dialogue with the woman, the serpent finally says, ‘you will not die; but God knows that the day you eat it… you will be like Gods.” They ate of the fruit to be like God! The Buddha, through his enlightenment discovered the same truth: ‘Craving is at the root of all dukkha,[3] and true freedom and joy in communion is in liberation from all sorts of cravings.’

God, Life, through God’s self-emptying love, pours out God’s very being, in an unceasing, dynamic, creative life-giving movement, leading life to evolve and blossom in diverse, exotic ways and expressions, all so freely, according to God’s divine intent.   Humans, though called and gifted to be co-creators with God, have opted for self-agrandissement.

Today’s basic struggle then is between God and mammon. Mammonic culture tending to banish God from God’s own temple, creation. “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” (Math 6, 24) The Biblical option is clear: There can be no compromise between God and mammon and all it stands for.

Jesus, the actualization of God’s faithfulness, God’s self-emptying love, to God’s people in their alienation from God, is the symbol of the eternal conflict between God and mammon, the crucial on-going struggle between God’s covenant people who accept God’s Reign on earth and those who endeavor to assert their own power and empire.

With the earth becoming a huge market-place where money-changers go on speculating and generating more money to boost their power at the expense of God’s people and creation, God’s little ones have the firm hope that Jesus would someday overturn their tables as he did once in the temple at Jerusalem. (Mt 21, 12-13). Jesus exhorts us that the earth which is God’s dwelling place is to be a place, where all God’s people in their diversity are bonded together to pay homage to God in the joy of genuine communion. For us Christians, Jesus, being the human in whom God’s plan was fully realized, is the Way, the Truth and the Light.

“God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certainty from created reality by the light of human reason”.[4] God’s spirit is dynamically active in the chaos of human reality, challenging the human conscience, through His chosen ones of old and of today.  All religions show the path to liberation, having as their original core, deep truths on life, relationships and transcendence. Couldn’t religions be considered as God’s voice, calling on groping humanity to turn around from evil ways?  In the East, religious experience is a deep inner reality of the heart and the whole being. The West may put the accent on the intellect. Both forms need to be assumed as valid, respecting the richness of diversity, as in nature, remembering that these experiences cannot be fully expressed in human language, idiom, symbol and concept. I need to enter the sacred space of the other with deep reverence and respect, to be able to widen my own sacred space in communion. Then we realize that God, being Spirit, is flowing on as God wills, like fluid, invigorating all life, and we need to lovingly embrace this Spirit as or how she comes, to revitalize us from within, towards fullness of life – Communion. This indeed is faith, going beyond mere religion, devotion, rite and dogma. Unfortunately does not the same drive for power, captivate religions in competition and rivalry?

Among poor peasants in Polonnaruwa[5] I was enraptured by the breath-taking panoramic vista of the environs of the Parakrama-Samudra[6], with the sky-line broken by distant hills and tall trees, interspersed with the bright green paddy fields dancing in the soft breeze and narrow winding lanes across wide open spaces. It was full of life with elephants bathing in  waters, monkeys frolicking on  trees, cattle grazing silently, with birds of every hue filling the atmosphere with their lively song; slithering reptiles, farmers placidly ploughing their fields, with peasants living in harmony with nature they love so profoundly, quite content with the little they have. A glorious spectacle of harmony! What a deep sense of contentment! Manifesting so vividly the Buddhist ethos overshadowing all flora, fauna and humans engaged with their daily mundane tasks, leaving space for the other! A witness to what is aspired surely!


[1] Gaudium et Spes, n. 1.

[2] This is a center initiated by theologian and social leader Tissa Balsuriya OMI to harness all values of religion for realizing a just and peaceful society. 

[3] Dukkha means suffering, evil. See Pali Canon with Buddhist Theravada teachings.

[4] Dei Verbum, no. 6.

[5] Polonnaruwa is a small town in the North Central province, and is the cradle of Buddhist civilization.

[6] This is a big artificial lake built by ancient kings to irrigate the dry zone connected with canals. This region is full of lakes and canals.


Author

Marlene Perera is a Franciscan Missionary of Mary and theologian from Sri Lanka. She has worked on various projects that have to do with solidarity and multi-faith communities. She worked with Tissa Balasuriya in his many endeavours for many years.

Address: Marlene Perera, St. Joseph’s Convent, Piliyandala. Sri Lanka.