Managing Director’s Note: beginning in the Spring of 2013, all Contributing Scholars will answer the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions?
“You are the first human rights worker who came down to meet us here in the desert and to listen to our story.” A Ghanaian refugee, squatting in the rocks outside Tam(anrasset) in the south of Algeria, told me this some time ago. He added: “We only keep hoping by praying together.” Tam was one of the stops on my mission to several countries in Africa. For a Christian NGO I traveled to collect testimonies of people facing danger, desert, dust and Death for their dream: getting to Europe.
Years of work in humanitarian NGO’s filled me with hope about mankind’s capacity of living together. When it comes to service, I experienced that religions and spiritualties usually aren’t a problem. Facing the persons and populations in need, (wo)men emulate each other in exemplary ethical behaviour based on their diverging traditions.
I’ve been out in the humanitarian field, but “music was my first love”… As a singer and choral conductor, I have occasions to work together with others on artistic projects. This generally fills me with the same hope. The language of art transcends, it seems, opens minds and hearts. Art also makes boundaries between the natural and the supernatural look fluid (does it wipe them out?).
Thus, according to my experience, service and art facilitate “connections.” As a musician I would say: they enhance (wo)man’s capacity to listen to the o(O)ther. For me, this comes very close to what I experience in a disciplined practice of mindful meditation and prayer: opening my mind and soul to the sounds of the world, to the Words of Holy Scripture and the sharing of Life within a fraternal community, seem to give growth to my capacity of becoming a listener and to be transformed by that.
Then, why don’t faith communities in Brussels find each other more easily? What is it that keeps people away from a dialogue which could bring about positive changes in society? I guess the saying “unknown, unloved” is valid. There are also the theological problems. On 27 February theologian S. Wesley Ariarajah elaborated on his new book “Your God, My God, Our God.” The book asks “How does theology come to terms with the fact that our neighbours pray and believe differently from us?” For Ariarajah, an authentic contemporary faith must search for new concepts to articulate its central mysteries. It must be willing to re-conceive itself in ways that answer the actual – religiously plural – context.
To my humble opinion, it’s all about transformation. “Kenosis.” I believe that faith has a real capacity to positively transform (wo)men. Not without listening encounters with others who believe differently though. According to my tradition, the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The concept of God incarnate in Jesus Christ is paradoxically important. It implies that the one God (wise men call by many names) became flesh in all of us. Therefore, it is my desire to devote myself to listening to the o(O)ther.