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Most books available on twentieth-century Christians who traveled to India from the West, either as missionaries or as pilgrims, focus on the life of one particular individual. One thinks of biographies and memoirs of Swami Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux), Bede Griffiths, Sara Grant, and Klaus Klostermaier. What is different about this book is its focus on a married couple with its special dynamic and particular existential demands. Murray (1917–2006) and Mary (1916–2007) Rogers arrived in India from England in 1946 as Anglican missionaries and eventually lived in Jerusalem, Hong Kong, and Canada. The heart of the book is about their experiences in India and the unexpected spiritual transformation they experienced there.
The topics of this beautifully written book are many, but perhaps the one overarching theme is the gradual and expanding awareness of what it means to [End Page 347] follow Christ. The Rogers couple started out as fervent missionaries, supported by a missionary society from which they eventually broke. They founded an ecumenical Christian ashram in northern India and embraced a Gandhian lifestyle of extreme simplicity and poverty. Working the land as simple laborers, they shared the lives of the Hindu and Muslim poor. This resulted in a deep appreciation of the charity and spiritual wisdom those other religions inspired. Clearly, the Holy Spirit was at work beyond the institutional church. In coming to such a realization, they were ahead of their time, true pioneers of the Spirit and of interfaith relations. In fact, they came to the conclusion that Christians should cease formally attempting to convert people of other religions to Christianity. To follow Christ meant to promote unity in the Spirit by living out the truth wherever God revealed it, under whatever form.
One of the surprises of the book is to discover the close friendship the couple had with two of the twentieth century's greatest spiritual luminaries, Swami Abhishiktananda and Raimon Panikkar. Murray went on pilgrimages with both men, thereby deepening his awareness of nonduality. He eventually became world-famous as a spiritual leader in the World Council of Churches and in interfaith dialogue. Mary, the trained linguist, collaborated with Panikkar on his massive commentary on Hindu scripture, Mantramanjari. Even more important for Mary was that Panikkar was a trusted friend to whom she frequently turned in her letters and private conversations to receive counsel about the strain in her marriage with Murray and their lack of intimacy. Panikkar was the only person in whom she could confide her private sufferings. He, the celibate, surprises the reader with his depth of understanding and advice.
Cattan is especially suited to write this book, as she was a personal friend of Murray and Mary Rogers for over twenty years and has herself been involved in extensive interfaith spirituality and service, as well as being a trained marriage and family therapist.
This book will be of interest to a broad readership and has much to offer our contemporary world, especially for those Christians interested in learning first-hand what other religions are about and the positive impact the encounter with people from other traditions can have on one's own Christian faith. It presents an expansive view of Christian spirituality, both traditional and new, Anglican and Catholic, and it offers spiritual insight on virtually all facets of human life: marital and parental, solitary as well as communal, male and female, introvert and extrovert, and intergenerational—addressing the passion [End Page 348] of youth as well as the decline that comes with the passing of years. The book is both intellectually stimulating and spiritually nourishing.