Monday, January 31, 2011

Postcolonial Spirituality?

I am teaching a course on Spirituality of Contemporary World in the spring semester. I have 16 students in my class and we will be reading Christian authors (e.g. Sandra Schneiders, Marjorie Thompson, Owen Thomas, Michael Battle) as well as the Dalai Lama's Toward a True Kinship of Faiths and Thich Nhat Hanh's Teachings on Love.

We are very fortunate to have a colleague Katherine Stiles, who had an audience with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala in northern India in January. She is going to share with us her exciting pilgrimage with the EDS community later in the spring.

I have long admired the work of Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and have introduced him to my students. I visited his Plum Village near Bordeaux in southwest France some years ago and had a most tranquil and transforming experience.

Postcolonial spirituality must be interfaith, fluid, hybrid, and not be boxed.

This I know. What I am less sure is how traditional Christian practices fit into the picture.

For example how can you go back to the pre-critical stage of reading the Bible "spiritually"? The Christian tradition has the venerable tradition of Lectio Divina, which has been practiced for centuries. The four basic phases of this spiritual reading consist of lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. You can read more about this in Thompson's Soul Feast.

This method of reading is meant to inculcate submission to the authority of Scripture as the Word of God. But this can be "dangerous to your health" both physically and spiritually, if you were a woman and a postcolonial.

How can communal worship be a source of spiritual sustenance when Rite Two of the Book of Common Prayer (the most often used rite for Eucharist in the Episcopal churches) is full of androcentric language? Even though the priest can inclusivize it, your mind is still constantly distracted.

What about the hymns we sing--still so full of Christian triumphant images, and sometimes very militaristic.

As this semester progresses, I would like to reflect more deeply on how we can reclaim and reconstruct the Christian spiritual practices, so that they are no longer relics of the past, but joyful guides for Christian living.

I wrote this poem in 1992 when I attended the Third Assembly of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians in Nairobi. I asked the theologians present images that had come up for them during the conference and built a poem around them. Together we read this during our first spirituality class.

We see the Spirit in the ancient gong
Calling us to silence, to listen
The embryonic rhythm of life
Vibrating, resounding, all-embracing

We see the Spirit in the water
Cleansing our body, healing our soul
We drink from the same cup
Renewing, sustaining, replenishing

We see the Spirit in the fire
Errupting with passion, like a volcano
Our anger against injustice
Burning, glowing, fast-spreading

We see the Spirit in the circle
Learning Miriam's dance, taking first steps
In solidarity with all women
Dancing, chanting, spiraling

We see the Spirit in the colors
Taking pride in our culture, our rites
Black, yellow, brown, and white
Celebrating, living, rejoicing

We see the Spirit in our bonding
Confessing our brokenness, our division
Hope we offer to each other
Visioning, struggling, empowering