четверг, 3 марта 2016 г.

Your name is Allah, your name is Ishwar

One of my favourite films is the 1980 classic, Gandhi, starring Ben Kingsley as the leader of the movement for Indian independence from British colonialism. There are many great moments in the film which will remain in my mind and imagination for ever, showing the victory of soul power over the brute force of the British Empire.

One of the aspects of Indian independence and indeed of India to this day is the religious diversity which it encompasses. While not limited to these two religions, India includes both Hindus and Muslims (possibly this is the significance of the colours on the national flag). Gandhi's own fight against state-sponsored racism and for self-determination included a spiritual/religious aspect which both celebrated Indian spirituality and sought to unite the polarised opposites of Hinduism and Islam. No more potently is this expressed than in the bhajan (spiritual
chorus),
Allah tero naam, Ishwar tero naam 
Sab ko sanmatii de, Bhagwan

Your name is Allah, your name is Ishwar
Bless everyone with equanimity, God
(Allah is the Muslim name for God and Ishwar a Hindu name for God.)

If only the intensity of religious devotion could be directed not towards tribal division, but towards harmony and acceptance India would be united and the world a better place.

The sentiment is really powerful. If I may paraphrase for a moment, underneath all the unnecessary divisions there is a simple universality: we are all searching for the same One, however me might name that One. (I suppose it is made more appealing by the possibility of a single individual being known by different names in the same way as, for example, the same person might be Soph, Sophia, daughter or sister.)

However it also seems to me that the variety of names given to the One reflects not the universality of religious experience, but precisely its diversity, a range of different, mutually exclusive answers. It is a nice thought that in the search for meaning 'Everyone is a winner' and therefore religious experience is universal, especially if there is the additional spin-off in terms of national unity and social harmony. For one thing tolerance and harmony is not about all believing the same thing, but about giving someone else space to believe (or not believe) differently, especially if I don't like how they believe or think they are wrong (if we all believe the same thing there is no need for tolerance). But that is a different issue than my spiritual search. If we are genuinely searching for what as a Christian I call God, then I wouldn't want to be too hasty to call off the search, content with what I have found (or think I have found). Who is to say that I have actually found what I am looking for? Who is to say that the name on my lips and in my soul is the One? Maybe that name is an expression of my own search or my own imagination rather than anything more objective than that. If I am engaged in a genuine spiritual quest, then I need there to be a Something the other end, what as a Christian I would call revelation, an epiphany and not merely the rebounding 'ping' of my own prayers and cries.

Jesus' answer is that our spiritual search has failed and that God has himself come to find us uniquely in his person. Jesus is not just one revelation among many. He said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me." In his name the nations (in all their cultural diversity) will put their hope. Indeed far from being the figurehead of western cultural imperialism Jesus has been worshipped in places such as India and Central Asia for far longer than in the 'traditionally Christian' English- or Russian-speaking worlds. It is in the light of this that the Apostle Peter boldly declared, "There is no other name given to people under heaven by which they may be saved." The Apostle Paul in a similar vein exclaimed, "At the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father."

In the haunting film, Changeling, a single mother played by Angelina Jolie, returns from a day at work to find her young son missing. She searches desperately. Days turn to weeks and the police efforts to find the boy fail to come up with anything. Then one day the news comes that the boy has been found. The reunion is covered by the press and the successful search celebrated. But it is not her son. Another boy has been talked into pretending to be the lost son in the hope that the distraught mother can transfer her affections and forget her loss, giving the orphan a home into the bargain. However the mother will not be consoled and continues her search, although sadly to no avail (she eventually finds the place her son was held and killed, succeeding only in saving two other boys).

The moral of the story is that for the mother is not enough for her search to find a boy - she needs to find her boy. So also in my spiritual search I don't just want to have a spiritual experience or 'get religion'; I want to find God, I want to know if he is really out there and to hear from him. And if I do hear from him, I don't want to keep that to myself, I genuinely want others to share that experience. A Christian hymn-writer expressed this sentiment over 200 years ago in the following words: "O, that the world might taste and see the wonders of His grace, that the arms that compass me might all mankind embrace." 

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