Conundrum: do I receive a blessing from the holy woman who prays in the Hindu temple at the foundation of the mall? We wander down in the early hours of the dawn to see if it is unlocked, and discover a trio of devotees gathered around a cup of flaming fire under the visages of Vishnu and Shiva and their countless manifestations. Another rings a bell that sounds like the clang of a buoy warning ships in a fog of a jagged coastline. There is a deep beauty in their movements, in the sounds and in the symmetry and harmony of the dance before me. Is all beauty Christ’s beauty, as all truth is Christ’s truth?
And there, in a corner, stoically yogic, sits the holy woman. I see others kneel reverently before her to gaze into her eyes before she marks their forehead with a black dot and a white line in ash. There is a holy presence emanating from her - a sense confirmed by a worshipper we meet as he leaves, who shares that this is one of the most powerful temples in the city. Is it not meet and right that, just as Catholics and Protestants bless one another without partaking of one another’s communion tables, so we who are contemplatives across the lines of faith and pantheon should nevertheless share in the fellowship of prayer?
I decide that it is not. Not beneath the presence of the images of other gods - what they would surely call infinite manifestations of the one God, surely, but nevertheless, images that are not the one who our Scriptures declare to be “the icon of the invisible God.” Blessings may happen in conversation, in dialogue, in admiration, in participation in spaces of common prayer and devotion tailored towards unity and cooperation. But not in a temple, under statues of Siddharta, Krishna, and Shiva the Destroyer. To do so, for me, would be to be unfaithful to my betrothal to Christ in my baptismal vows. The black dot represents marriage for Hindu women. My forehead is sealed with the cross of the Bridegroom, and I will wear no other sigil or ring.
I have always loved the line in Fiddler on the Roof in which Tevye muses on tradition and Torah and declares that "because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects him to do." There is a deep struggle, sometimes, to value inclusivity so highly that in doing so, we take for granted (and so fail to wonder at) the beauty and mystery of the covenant into which we ourselves as Christians have been invited. I do not know what God has required of Hindus, or what God has been up to with them for the past several centuries before the Jews were even a twinkle in the eye of the Father. I do know what God has required of God’s covenant people - that we worship under no other god, that we kneel under no graven image, that we take up the cross, regardless of the consequences. Such a knowledge is not a judgement - bearing the cross of water and ash, we simply have no other choice than that we trust that grace is enough, that there is no blessing greater than that of the love of God in Christ Jesus, and none more sufficient.
I think it is a false generosity which calls such a view narrow, judgmental, or simplistic, a false liberalism which believes that for all to respect one another, all must become one another. I honor the existence, marvel at the beauty, and respect the mystery of the movement of God’s Spirit throughout time and across the world, not by being less of who I am called by God to be, but, in being faithful to the calling I have been given, affirming the uniqueness, particularity, and ultimate difference inherent in it. The Torah of God is not a weapon with which to judge, but a gift by which to walk, a life-giving limit that trains we who are circumcised and baptized in the ways of the abundant life by which God has called us to witness God’s good glory in creation to all nations. It is in this light that the light of God’s image in all humanity shines brightly, and by the flame of its love that love, wonder, admiration and blessing between us may be shared without violence, coercion or judgement. I know who I am. Tell me who you are. Now let us learn from one another.
I honor our respective uniqueness by affirming our distinctive particularities, and by being willing to say “no thank you” as well as “yes Lord.” I hold tightly to St. Paul’s declaration in Romans 2.14-15 that for the righteous Gentiles, the law is written on their hearts and they are a law unto themselves, as well as his declaration to Timothy that “God desires all to be saved.” I will not deign to speak for God in denying that God has ordained other itineraries for other pilgrims to arrive at the glorification of God’s Son. But by some mysterious grace of God’s eternal will, God has made me Christian, to live in the service of God’s Son alone, and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus with my entire heart, mind, body and soul. It is not calling in which I have any say, nor would I change it for all the religious technology and wealth in the whole of all the worlds.
There is undoubtedly a power in the prayers from which I turn to journey home. I hope with all my heart that they are indeed pleasing to Jesus - and I pray that mine are as well.