If papal trips around the globe do anything at all, they attract crowds. Or they don’t. So reporters routinely use the size of the crowds that turn out to see a visiting pope as a mark of the health and vibrancy of the church. Pope Benedict XVI’s recent trip to Africa, for instance, measured in numbers and headlines, must surely signal the spiritual impact of the church as the world struggles to find a moral compass in an age riven by competing forces and values in contention.
From Where I Stand
One thing is for sure: I never in my life expected to be in an interfaith meeting like the one that ended in Switzerland Feb. 26. After all, I grew up in a world in which every religious denomination was very, very sure of its uniqueness, its absolute monopoly on truth, its special status, its need to protect itself against heretics and infidels, against indifferentism and syncretism, against the great and wild "others." Whoever they might be. And those lines, one did not cross.
A lot of things went through my mind last week when I read the first formal announcement of the Vatican visitation of U.S. communities of women religious. Some of it was surprise. Most of all, I could hardly bear the delight of it. We were finally going to get what we deserved.
Editor's Note: Sr. Chittister has been on a sabbatical from her Web column to finish another writing project. But we received this column and a note today that said: "I'm back online." Welcome back Joan.
"Stealing is a sin," we teach to our children and preach to our converts and enshrine on the tablets of Ten Commandments we display in our public institutions. But don't worry, we don't really mean it. We don't believe it. We don't practice it; we don't argue for it and we don't protect it. In fact, use enough legislation and enough god-talk and, in certain well defined arenas, it can be absolutely virtuous to steal. Ask any woman.
Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois is under threat of excommunication for giving a homily at the unauthorized priestly ordination of a woman sponsored by the group Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The question, especially for those who know this priest to be a justice-loving, selfless prophet of peace, is how Fr. Roy’s “case” will be handled by the Vatican. No doubt about it: The situation is an important one -- both for him and for the church who will judge him.
The looks on their faces as they went round and round me were something I had never seen before in my religious life. I realized as they all went by that something very different had just happened in this assembly. The Sufi drum beat an even pace while the group sang “La-a-illa-ha” over and over again, then, alternatively, “al-le-lu-i-a,” and then “Amazing Grace.” All of them sung rhythmically, softly, persistently -- full heartedly. Which a person could surely expect of Sufis.
But the people at this zikr, dancing and chanting around the Sufis who were leading it, were not members of one of Islam’s Sufi orders -- religious groups much like Christian religious orders around the world. They were Buddhist monks, Jewish rabbis, Hindu swamis, Christian monks, Muslim imams, Indian Sun Dancers and lay practitioners of all the world’s great contemplative traditions. This zikr, this particular sufi devotion of praise, was suddenly a universal one, truly a prayer of all these peoples from all these separate traditions praying one same prayer -- but differently.
The election that the numbers said ended almost a month ago -- whether anyone really noticed or not -- is just hours from being over. And not a day too soon for a country whose mental health has been taxed over and over again for the last four years. It's time for someone to start cleaning up the mess rather than simply go on creating it. We hope.
Sometimes it isn't just one thing, sometimes it takes a confluence of things to make the invisible visible and the dark light. Things like butterflies and somebody else's mortgage and Irish bookies and attitudes all coming together, at once, and apparently independent of one another. But, underneath, not really isolated or unconnected at all. In fact, together, they say something very important to us all.
This is, they tell us over and over again, "The most important presidential election in our lifetime." And they may well be right. After all, we are fighting two wars and facing the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression of 1929. If that weren't enough, we have major social issues -- health, education, job creation, energy -- to deal with on the side. Not to mention an obligation to be a good citizen of the planet, as well.
With the political conventions over for this electoral season, I found myself haunted by the memory of an old child’s game called “Pickup Sticks.” In the game of “Pickup Sticks” somebody throws a bundle of long, thin pieces of balsa wood into the air. What had been an orderly assortment of wire-thin skewers is now a higgledy-piggledy mound of wood with each stick of different value.