Two phenomena, the globalising of our world village and the nowadays wide spread religious shopping, motivated me to spend my sabbatical to the question if in Christian worship comparative sacred reading could be acceptable or even a must.
The first observation is the more obvious one. Like it or not, our society is a multicultural one both for those who travel around and for the inhabitants of our cities and villages. And to overcome at least the idea that religions could lend themselves to fuel animosity or even hostility, becoming familiar with our mutual religious sources will be helpful and important. However will it bring grist to the mill, it should not happen by chance but systematically. Not just hap hazard by an enthusiastic preacher or conversational group leader but in relation to the (common) lectionaries of our churches and hopefully synagogues, mosques and temples.
The second observation is a more complicated one. It concerns us. Since the churches lost their religious monopoly people are gathering in the supermarket of faith their own beliefs. Even church members are more and more susceptible to various alternative forms of spiritual counseling and healing: energy treatments, aura reading, mediumistic therapy by people who hear voices or otherwise become information be it from the spiritual world or from the stars and experiences from former lives to be dealt with in regression therapy. Ignoring that all seems me to be unwise. What are we unmistakably missing in our traditional congregations? In a responsible church people should be encouraged making their own choices but not left alone. For the discerning of spirits is not that easy. In the modern liberal church to which I belong (the Remonstrant Brotherhood) on the one hand we foster individual autonomy and on the other we do utmost our best to combine faith and reason trying to prevent spiritual humbug and hotch-potch in our minds.
Is comparative reading in a biblical frame acceptable?
If both observations are true we may suppose that like all shopping religious shopping happens to gather courses and dishes from all over our global village. And there we are in the very heart of my problem: how to get a reading system that respects the different sources in their own right? In that respect there are already lots of lessons to be drawn from the way many Christian Lectionaries did and do manipulate the OT readings as reference and prediction of Christian dogma. The Worship Committee of the Netherlands Council of Churches, which I'm chair of, is responsible for the Ecumenical Lectionary of the Dutch churches. Generally we follow the (re-)Revised Common Lectionary. Although it (like already the New Roman Lectionary) "opens much more lavishly the treasures of the Bible" than the Tridentine Mass Book ever did, even now the OT-lessons are always chosen to confirm the NT ones. For that reason we replace sometimes several months the OT cuts by continuous or current reading of a whole book. For the typological criterion causes them mostly to ventriloquize and prevents them to speak in their own right and to voice their own message. How to avoid the same mistake in Comparative Sacred Reading?
Is comparative reading in the frame of a theme acceptable?
More or less the same we felt by (ab-)using bible texts for our own preselected themes. Once the theme selected your mind is not free any more to detect the surprising message the text may keep for you in reserve. Who selects a lesson in function of a theme has already decided in advance where the reading is about.
Still one observation is to be made. The above mentioned tendency of many people to seek their salvation in alternative forms of spirituality is often summarised under the name New Age. Until recently New Age was generally estimated to be a collective noun for all the richness collected from Far East Spirituality. But 1996 at the Utrecht University a thesis has been defended by W. Hanegraaff, that clearly demonstrates that the most of New Age happens to root in the own western gnostic or esoteric tradition. So from a pastoral point of view it can certainly be argued that perhaps the now widely available gnostic literature deserves primarily to be considered as suitable for comparative reading in Christian liturgy. Perhaps that can be helpful to detect as well the very old roots of New Age in our western culture as the reasons why the gnostic scriptures were not canonised (rather than rejected) by the early Church.
Some questions you possibly can answer?
I should be very pleased if those experienced in comparative sacred reading could help me to answer the next questions?
Do Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or other traditions have reading systems similar to the Jewish Thora portion or the Christian Lectionaries? And if so, where can I find them? And by the way: do you feel that reading of Holy Scriptures has in all traditions the same function? Are they mainly meant to mediate knowledge, wisdom, divine presence or a beneficial mixture of the three?
And are there still other reading systems in gnostic circles than those published on the website of the Ecclesia Gnostica?
Is it really possible respectfully to avoid in Comparative Sacred Reading the typological mistakes of those Christian Lectionaries that did use the OT exclusively for their own purposes? Continuous reading of not biblical sources in their own right in the context of Christian worship does not seem that easy. My own parishioners, as liberal as they are, were presumably right to reject my more or less naughty proposal to read in our Sunday Services the first week of each month from the Bible, the second week from the Koran, the third week from the Bhagavad Gita and the last week from another source at choice. Our ecclesiastical mission statement declares not just as a principle but also as matter of fact, that we are rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In spite of all possible objections to be made yet it will be important enough for Christians to give the Sacred Readings of other religions a well ordered place in their own worship, even when it happens from a biblical point of view. May others feel invited to do it the other way round. Do you feel that is an acceptable point of view to begin with?
I have got the impression that Bahai and Sufi find their readings from various traditions often around a preselected theme? Is that right? And do you sometimes feel the disadvantage it does the reading ventriloquize on behalf of that theme?
What do Christians in your midst feel about the christological implica tions of Comparative Sacred Reading in Christian worship? What does it mean for your answer to Jesus' question: "Who do you say I am?"
Though questionable my first objective is constructing a register of comparative readings of other religions on biblical pericopes. I will be very grateful to anyone who could help me with information and suggestions, even when they want to criticize my undertaking. Underneath you can find the first draft of the chapters I think about. Mainly for chapter 5 I badly need your cooperation. But any other suggestions are also much appreciated.
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