My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Originally I had posted the following message on my facebook page. However, a few people suggested that I share this message with all of you as well.
This past weekend was an interesting and exciting one. It culminated the first hundred days of my episcopacy in the New England area. These were meaningful, hopeful, and joyful days centered around the prayer that God will help all of us – clergy, laity, Prema, and me – to continue our journey in the same spirit and joy.
The weekend events started on Saturday with clergy and laity from the Connecticut Western Massachusetts District of the New England Annual Conference sharing many touching, joyful, and reflective moments. One among them was a powerful devotion led by a clergy member who shared the following story:
“Daoud Hari, a native of the Darfur region writes about the Sahara but he might also be talking about leading a church when he says:
‘The Sahara is an impossible place. All the trails are erased with each wind…You are modern and think your compass and your GPS will keep you from trouble. But the batteries will give out in your GPS, or the sand will ruin it. Your compass may break or become lost as you try to put away your bedding one morning in a hard sandstorm. So you will want to know the ways that have worked for thousands of years. If you are good, like my father and brothers, you will put a line of sticks in the sand at night, using the stars to mark your next morning’s direction of travel.’” – from The Translator by Daoud Hari
As we continued to reflect on this powerful story, Prema and I spent a joyful evening with a colleague and her spouse at their house. Afterward, they were kind enough to lead us to the main road, so we would not lose our way. Can you see? They were our stars in the journey!
Early Sunday morning, Prema and I were watching parts of a live stream of the 150th Anniversary of the Church of South India (CSI) Shanthi Cathedral in Mangalore, India where I went to church occasionally, preached on a few occasions, and where I preached my trial sermon for my ordination process in 1977. One of the many highlights of the celebrations which we watched through the live stream was a welcome dance by one of my great nieces, a fifteen-year old, in the classical Indian tradition of Bharata Natya. I have seen her performances many times, and this was one of her best! Her dance was in a Christian setting and in Indian tradition, but the way in which she communicated allowed us to feel her soul, mind, and body – all synchronized to welcome the gathering. (If you have time, kindly watch the video.)
From that powerful experience, Prema and I worshipped with the saints of the Open Table of Christ in Providence, RI. The Church of the Open Table is made up of people from all walks of life, from different cultures and orientations, where people from different regions of the world are invited to stand with the pastor and children as the advent candle is lit. We heard transformational stories from people of the Christian faith tradition, other faith traditions, and people from no faith traditions at all. A radically welcoming congregation indeed!
On my journey back, as I reflected upon all the things I heard and saw over the weekend, I wondered what it means to be “John the Baptists” in our own settings…where our cries may sound like a cry in the wilderness – cries like that of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and others, no matter from which faith background we come. However, in this advent season, may we, the children of God, join together with one another and “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33)
In order to achieve this, we need to listen to the wisdom of the brother in the Darfur region and other places in the world where the political, selfish greed generated by human beings continuously tries to block us and confuse us as we call for a transformation of the world as people of God.
What may we borrow from the traditions of other faiths and adopt into our journey of faith as Christians being faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? What may we use from those rich heritages and traditions for the glory of God? May we be as powerful a witness as a fifteen-year old girl who articulated it through her gift of dance?
No matter where we live, we can still come together as people of God where our tables are truly open to those who do not talk or act like us, to those who are radically different from us. May we live the words of one of the hymns of the season when we sing, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Yes, it is possible, if we stretch our tents…and truly demonstrate, not just through slogans but with our actions and deeds, that we are indeed a Church with “open hearts, open minds, and open doors.”
May our prayers be in the words of Walter Brueggemann, “Come be present even here and there, and there and there. Move us from our sandy certitudes to your grace-filled risk. Move us to become more rock-like in compassion and abidingness and justice. Move us to be more like you in our neighborliness and in our self-regard. Yes, yes, yes – move us that we may finally, stand on the solid rock, no more sinking sand.” (Ed. Edwin Searcy: “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann,” Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 2003, p.17).
May God continue to bless you in this holy Advent season.
In Christ’s love,
Bishop Suda Devadhar