; charset=UTF-8" /> ECUMENICAL AND INTERFAITH NEWS – July : Connecting Voices
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(Submitted by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Pacific Southwest Region, DOC, and the Southern California Nevada Conference, UCC)

Refreshing Our Christian Memory

     Recently there has been a debate among some religious intellectuals on the extent to which contemporary Christianity has been influenced by the arrival of the Buddhist and Hindu religions from Asia.   A prayer practice which has become common among some Christians of many denominations is called “centering prayer.”  It is a way of being still with God, deciding to let the Holy Spirit do his thing within us as we simply sit or stand in silence.  One begins by selecting a “sacred word” which represents our desire for God, or for that matter God’s yearning for us.  This could be “Jesus,” “Father,” “Spirit”, “love,” “peace,” “beloved.”  Or some other word.  Find the right, relaxed body posture for you.  Silently and gently offer your sacred word to God as a sign of your desire and consent to God’s presence with and in you.  Don’t let the inevitable flow of thoughts and feelings distract you or pull you away from this simple, repeated offering of your word to God and your awareness of your own availability to God’s action within you.  This practice should last for 20 minutes.

     Some of us, aware of practices in other faiths, have noticed strong similarities between this “centering prayer” and the practice of Transcendental Meditation introduced to America by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, of India, in the 1960’s.  TM, as it came to be referred to, has attracted a great many followers in our country.  It involves the choosing of a “mantra,” a Sanskrit term for, in effect, “sacred word,” and using it in meditation as a way of transcending the ego and coming into contact with the divine.  “Mantra” has entered the general American vocabulary as a word or phrase that characterizes what is exceptionally important to a person, what they fall back on a lot, etc.   It turns out that the man who developed the centering prayer practice, Roman Catholic Father Thomas Keating, was in fact substantially influenced by his knowledge of the TM movement.  So here is a concrete instance in which Christian life has been enriched by a practice present in an entirely different religious tradition.  It also turns out, however, that a similar practice was characteristic of the centuries known as the patristic period in Christian history, from 200 A.D. to 500 A.D. or so.   But we Christians forgot that we were doing this!   So depending on how you look at it, our Hindu sisters and brothers have brought something new and extremely helpful into our Christian spirituality.  Or they have, unwittingly, just refreshed our Christian memory about what our own forebears in the faith were doing many centuries ago.

The Value of Diversity Vs. the Value of Taking a Stand

     Recently members of the Disciples clergy (and possibly some lay leaders?) received a letter from our General Minister and President, Dr. Sharon Watkins.  In her role as shepherd of all of us, she wanted to reinforce our affirmation of diversity, especially in welcoming all persons to the table of the Lord.  She spoke of her distress over the current polarization in the Christian Church in regard to issues of marriage and ordination in relation to sexual orientation.  People on both sides of this very controversial matter have been speaking to her of their feelings of being “disenfranchised” in our church.   Each side “thinks the other rejects the authority of Scripture or holds a legalistic interpretation of select passages.  Each believes the other is setting the agenda.”   Sharon Watkins herself, however, credits each group with sincerely “trying to be faithful to the Gospel as we understand it.”  And she calls us to reaffirm our commitment as Disciples to welcoming everyone to the communion table, no matter how passionately we may differ with them on this same-sex question or any other issue touching on how we should live and arrange our affairs as Christians. 

     The Disciples partner denomination, the United Church of Christ, also affirms diversity, the desirability and right of individuals and congregations to make their own decisions about how they believe the Gospel of Christ directs us to live, as individuals and in community.  But in the UCC, this upholding of diversity is counterbalanced by another value: stating where the church comes down on vital matters affecting not only church life but society as a whole.   So the General Synod of the UCC, and many individual congregations, have adopted “open and affirming policies” toward people of other than heterosexual orientation.   This “taking a stand” tends generally to be more common in the UCC than in the DOC.  And for that reason, today’s UCC may not be as diverse in its membership as the DOC is.   Disciples congregations call their people to the table of the Lord every single Sunday.  It’s possible that this sacramental act in itself may make Disciples more acutely aware and respectful of the Gospel command to accept diversity in religious and political views and life-styles.  On the other hand, the UCC’s willingness as a denomination to make a clear public commitment on this matter,  may be faithful to the prophetic tradition of biblical witness.  In any case, this can be a point of tension, and a need for prayer, between the two denominations as each strives to be faithful to its commitment to unity-in-diversity both internally and in relation to each other. 


     Pastors and lay leaders: Please note in your calendar and prepare to send a delegation from your congregation to this day, led by leaders of other (non-Christian) religious faiths in Southern California and designed to acquaint our people more deeply with these faiths, to enter into dialogue with them, and to accept from them what they can offer us spiritually.

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