Monday, February 1, 2010

Dangerous Spirituality

Yesterday I was at a training workshop, one of an on-going series offered by Janki Foundation (JF) for Global Healthcare. JF is in my opinion a wonderful organisation, an offshoot of the Brahma Kumari spiritual tradition. JF has developed a training package, used worldwide, to develop healthcare staff in a better understanding of the universal values of whole-person healthcare, within a non-sectarian spiritual framework.

There was an atmosphere of deep attention. We all know each other well, and we have worked together often before. Our work was to test how the training package allowed participants to explore their own experience of spirituality by calling to mind a significant other, to whom a loose 'spiritual' attribution might be made.

My own mind turned at once to a man of my fairly recent acquaintance (about two years or so), an unemployed Scot from Glasgow. I know this man devotes much of his time to campaigning on behalf on beleagured or oppressed minorities, and spends much of what free times remains to him befriending people who 'live on the streets' of a seaside town on the South coast: alcoholics, drug-users and similar marginalised people.

He can't do much to help them materially, but he is always vividly present for them, and a friend. He isn't in any way pious, he's a straight talker, a remarkably poised listener, and in no way a 'bleeding heart do-gooder'. By his own account, which I believe, he has had his own experience of living rough: he was for some years a Forest monk in the jungles on the border of thailand and Burma. Bandit country. And he acknowledges personal brushes with the law.

This man has had an amazing effect on me since we first met. He is, as I know him, entirely without guile. He has an aura of divine innocence about him. Yet I sense that, for me at least, he is dangerous to know.

Not dangerous in the sense that he might murder or rob me, or try to seduce my daughters. Dangerous in the sense that my falsehoods, my vanities, my faithlessness is vulnerable to his presence in my life. Dangerous because, for reasons that leave my understanding and experience behind me like discarded garments, I trust him completely.

I think John the Baptist had the same effect on people who met him, hoarse-voiced and wild-eyed, up to his waist in the River Jordan. They were drawn to him as iron filings to a magnet; they wanted to be held by him and forced into the turbid waters by his mad strength. Certainly, his dangerousness was sufficiently feared by Herod Antipas for him to grant his daughter's wish for the Baptist's head on a platter (Mark 14:8) - that's John's severed head in the Coptic engraving at the top of the blog.

I will write a little more about this chap on another occasion. When I first met him I called him 'Rasputin', for reasons that will be obvious to those who recognise the name - part monk, part witch, Communist and healer (he is pictured above with John the Baptist).

Needless to say, colleagues at the workshop were surprised that I ventured the term "dangerous" as a possible characteristic of spirituality. But I'm sure that many will agree that it's a candidate adjective worth considering.

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