A Time for Prayer: A piece written for the Brahmo Samaj, India following the 2005 7/7 London bombings and offered again, today, after the suicide attack in Manchester

My Brahmo Samaj Manual of Devotions & Rituals & Brahmo Dharma
Naturally, the dreadful suicide bombing in Manchester this week brought back memories of the last suicide attacks here in the UK in London on 7th July 2005. At the time I wrote a piece for a sister liberal religious organization to our own, the Brahmo Samaj. It was called A Time for Prayer and I reproduce it for you below although, should you wish, you can read it on their own site at this link.

I started this blog in 2007 so the piece has never been reproduced here. Regular readers of this blog will quickly see that it uses a way of talking about God that I would not, perhaps, generally employ today. However,  for all that, I still find myself agreeing with it's overall spirit and, in the light of my posting a few days ago of something said by Paul Wienpahl (1916-1980), I thought that I could risk offering it up to you in exactly the form I wrote it twelve years ago. It's basic themes and hopes remain as relevant today as they did then.

—o0o—


The dreadful upsurge in violence around the world perpetrated by religious fundamentalists presents a particularly difficult challenge to liberal religious traditions such as the Brahmo Samaj and the one which I serve as a minister, Unitarians and Free Christians.

Given that both our communities have a natural desire to engage seriously with the “other” in order better to understand not only God but also ourselves, the difficulty is that we are suddenly realizing that the bombers and their support organizations are people whose religious beliefs do not allow them to engage in dialogue of any sort. In fact, through such violence, we begin to see their desire definitely to rule out the possibility of any further dialogue.

Our own desire to engage with the “other” developed because both our traditions independently came to believe that God is One (the Infinite and Perfect Being). This belief enabled us to experience a further insight which is that our entire world is also created, sustained and unified in and through One God. Illuminated by this Divine Light it was inevitable that we should quickly come to see that in all faith traditions there have always been men and women who have brought and continue to bring humankind great and valuable insights about God and the way in which we know Him in our daily lives.

Such is one of the fruits of the sublime yet powerful faith we share. At all times and in all places this faith must be expressed humbly and gently but we must also acknowledge that there are other times when we must express our faith far more strongly and clearly. I believe that the current religious and political climate is calling us to be more visible and active in courageously and confidently taking our liberal religious message to the world.

The Six Principles of Brahmoism (see www.thebrahmosamaj.org/liturgy/diksha.html) remain a powerful tool in helping us to do this and to begin effectively to counter the evil we are seeing in our present world.

1) I believe in God as the one and only Creator and Sustainer of the world. I believe him to be infinite in power, wisdom, love and holiness. 

Humanity’s future depends upon it being able to discern that, underlying the apparent diversity of our world, there is a Divine Unity that that holds all things together and makes us all children of God. Knowledge of this Divine Unity also helps us realize our interdependence with the whole of creation and we come to know that our duty is to love, not only our neighbour in human form, but to recognize that our neighbour includes everything in the natural world. This helps us counter the claim of those who perpetrate violence on the basis of there being a fundamental difference between people of different faiths. Our answer to this must be a resilient “No!” Whilst we acknowledge that there are many important and valuable distinctions between faiths we resolutely stand against the idea that there is a fundamental difference between us. God’s Unity absolutely precludes this.

2) I believe the human soul to be immortal and eternally progressive.

We must also be teaching clearly that listening for God in an individual’s soul (which is the concern of the third principle below) is a process that lasts eternally. The dialogue with God is never completed in a single human-being’s earthly lifetime. This belief helps us stress the continuity of the moral life and we know that if we are to be moral beings in the future we need to be moral beings now! Our faith is one of continuous moral progress through eternity – we say an absolute “No!” to those who believe that moral perfection can ever be reached through a moment of extreme, explosive suicidal violence.

3) I believe that God manifests himself directly to the soul of man and that there are no mediators between God and the soul in the shape of prophets or scriptures.

4) I honour and accept all religious teachers and books so far as they are in harmony with direct revelation of God in the soul.

These next two principles help us challenge any person or tradition which claims to hold all truth and which additionally claims to be able perfectly to teach it to another human-being. All the great spiritual masters of humankind (men and women) have been concerned to help individuals relate directly to God without “mediator or veil.” They do not in fact teach us anything except how to learn and come before God ourselves! Our religious teachers and traditions are necessary only in so far as they help the individual soul to attain union with God. This means that, whenever we encounter religious teachings and traditions which deny this basic insight, we must be prepared openly to counter their claims. Moreover, we need to stress that the process of learning to encounter God directly results, not in an increased selfish individuality, but instead in an ever greater union with the One God and a deeper understanding of creation. The result, is not the reinforcement of personal prejudice and opinion (what “I” or one or two other people think God is saying) but the slow dying to self so that only God’s will shines through our actions and words. It helps us reveal the Divine Unity to our world.

5) I resolve to worship God daily and to practise holiness with all my heart and soul.

6) I abjure caste and idolatry, and resolve to perform all domestic ceremonies according to the principles of the Brahmo Samaj. May God help me in being faithful to the vow I take today.

The final two principles help us address how we come to know all of the above. We cannot begin to transform our lives and attain union with God without the discipline of spending time with God. Only by constantly bringing ourselves back to an awareness of the One God through worship will we slowly begin to move away from the mere human opinion of what God is like and attain an ever truer knowledge of God as God. Liberal religious people across the world need to come together more and more in worship – this itself is a public stand against the evil and exclusive forms of faith we see growing in our world. But we must be practising our faith, not only in our churches and mandirs but also at our desks, at home and as we play. Our every activity, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, can be an effective counter to the evil claims of violent fundamentalists. Let our very being be a strong and gentle protest against all evil.

Standing thus, in the presence of the One God both our traditions have come to see through many of the obstacles humankind puts in the way of true peace and harmony and of unity with God – obstacles such as “caste and idolatory.” The simplicity and radical openness of our faith beyond conventional barriers is yet another effective counter to the exclusivist claims of violent religious fundamentalists.

The sixth principle is obviously concerned to speak directly to members of the Brahmo Samaj itself but it stands as a reminder that all of us who find that the principles of Brahmoism form the core of their faith must try and live them out in some form of visible community; to be human is to live in community. We must not forget that even the concept of the hermit or rishis would have no meaning or purpose without community. I simply recall to mind that “Brahmo Samaj” means in English the “Society of Brahma” (or “God”) and that such a society is present wherever and whenever the principles of its faith are lived out. I find these principles to be wholly in accord with my own liberal Unitarian Christian faith and I hope it is not too arrogant of me to count myself as being, ultimately, a brother with you in the same faith.

In these difficult times our Divine duty is simply to preach these principles ever more clearly and confidently in our own time to all whom we meet whether that is in our places of worship or even in the queue for a bus. The world’s future will depend upon our success.
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