Reflections After The Tsunami Tragedy

Over the last few months hundreds of thousands of people have reached out with genuine concern and hard cash towards the people of SE Asia. The tsunami was no respecter of a person's religion in an area where Muslims and Christians, Hindus and Buddhists, have been killed or traumatised. Our respective religions are an integral part of our self identity but so is the common spirituality that we share as human beings. Surely now is the time to reach out in a new way, with the same love and respect, in order to get to know one another better. Integral to this process is getting to know more about our different religions and learning how to honour each one. We need shared sacred space to help do this.

Anglican Christians throughout Britain in particular are ideally placed to help facilitate such a process, primarily because we already have buildings in every community, sacred spaces set apart for communal use, our 'parish churches'. I see this as part of the unique ethos of Anglicanism. One of my own churches has the prophetic words from Isaiah above its main entrance: 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples'. This is our way of saying 'Welcome' in addition to the religious objects from other faiths that adorn the church and the copies of their holy books available in the sanctuary. In addition, prayers from all faiths are used regularly in our Christian worship. After all, Paul made it quite clear in one of his letters that Christians are meant to be committed to 'the fellowship of reconciliation' (2 Corinthians 5).

Space can and should be made available for regular interfaith gatherings in all our churches and with an increasing number of churches becoming redundant and converted for community use, religious leaders need to meet as a matter of urgency to make sure that one room at least is set apart for use by faith-communities. Many hospitals of our land already have such spaces. Furthermore, the thousands of small rural churches in Britain are also ideally placed to offer living quarters for holy men and women, contemplatives from a wide range of faith-communities, who can pioneer new ways of celebrating our common spirituality in an increasingly secular age. I hope that my Anglican colleagues worldwide share the exciting potential of such an inter-faith project.

Complementing this kind of practical spirituality is the Indian ashram movement, another catalyst to help us think and behave globally with our spirituality. The tsunami has reminded us of the reality of 'Oikumene', the Greek word for 'one world'. An authentic ecumenism is no longer just about different types of Christians coming together but about members of all religions making a fresh start on working together and celebrating their unity-in-diversity.On 1 February 2005, "Hagia Soffia", our Ashram of the Divine Wisdom, was dedicated to the memory of Fr Bede Griffiths of Shantivanam in India. An Anglican who became a Benedictine monk, Fr Bede spent most of his life bridging the great traditions of Hinduism and Christianity. His vision of an inclusive, open church is served by a sangha (community) of men and women committed to the search for truth at the heart of all religions. It is a vision with a long and noble pedigree. One of the early Christian sages, Clement of Alexandria, wrote in the 2nd Century AD that 'One indeed is the Way of Truth, but into it, as into an ever-flowing river, streams from everywhere flow.' Raimon Panikkar, the octogenarian Spanish priest-theologian, puts its even more succinctly 'Truth is many faceted.'

An ashram is about ordinary religious people coming together and although it is not as structured as a monastery, being open and flexible in its orientation, the daily pattern of an ashram is the same the world over. It is as simple as it is profound. People share a sacred space that is dedicated to every religion: they take part in common prayer and share meditation; they listen to each other's scriptures and study them; they share that silence that our world craves, listening to the Divine Wisdom deep within as well as to the needs of our world. They enjoy being together, sharing table fellowship, as well as service in the community at large.

Candlemass Eve this year (01.02.2005), was an extra special one in Pennal, as we re-dedicated Hagia Soffia (burnt to the ground eighteen months ago), the small inter-faith chapel that serves the Ashram. Members of faith-communities came together with lanterns and candles, for the dedication. In the words of Jalalu'l-Din Rumi: 'The lamps are different but the light is the same .... Fix thy gaze upon the light.'

The words above the doorway into our chapel are in Welsh and come from our ancient native literature 'The Mabinogion': "a fo ben bid bont" (the one who'd be a leader must be a bridge). As 2005 gets underway, the challenge to faith communities in Britain is to craft a new kind of sacred space and community to combat religious ignorance, bigotry and tyranny worldwide. Fr Geraint ap Iorwerth

Geraint Ap Iorwerth

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