- Collective Flourishing:A Response to Anantanand Rambachan
marriage, religious diversity, commitment, lifelong friendship, interreligious togetherness, interreligious friendship, lokamitra
While I (Kate) sat, across the continent from my Canadian home in an Episcopal church on my wedding day, with my chosen one beside me, I was engaged in a ritual that invited us to comprehend love in its divine depth. I was becoming married, engaging in sacrament, participating in divine love, hunting transformation.
In order to help us appreciate the meaning of this ritual, we had called on our Hindu brother and invited him to give the wedding sermon in our [End Page 439] church, St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery, the oldest site of continuous worship in Manhattan. Anantanand Rambachan, a Hindu theologian speaking in a Christian ceremony,1 stood amid vapors of frankincense in the ninety-onedegree heat of downtown Manhattan (Lenape, Manahatta: island of many hills) and spoke of the possibility of our "collective flourishing."
His was not only a call to my beloved and me; it was also a call to our collective identity as religious communities. Rambachan was speaking to several collectives. On that day, it would mean, first, the newly emergent collectivity of the married couple. Second, it would extend to the assembly of the gathered congregation. Now, on this page, the collectivity addressed here includes readers who define their identity through interest in inter-religious engagement. In this context especially, what if we were to hear Rambachan's words anew as pertaining not only to marriage but also to relationships between people across religious traditions? We find ourselves hearing his words as directed not only to one couple but, instead, to all those who seek to live in interreligious friendship.
The inclusion of a Hindu theologian who offers his tradition's wisdom to a Christian couple enfleshes a possibility that we cannot help but hear in Rambachan's words. In a world wherein religious communities are inextricably wedded to each other, what if we dared to hear Rambachan's call to husband and wife as extending also to the mutual care, love, support, and friendship that religious communities are called to grant to each other? Together, communities of interreligious friends can support each other's flourishing. We can be living organisms that help one another to grow or develop in healthy and vigorous ways. Just as Rambachan has done for us by offering a sermon, we can offer one another divinely inspired words and so open the door to the new interreligious community of communities that we are becoming together.
But, is this a stretch too far? Surely, Rambachan is right to ask partners in a marriage to nourish each other, but can religious traditions nourish each other? Should they? Does the very notion that a Christian has something to give to Hindus or, as in this case, a Hindu to Christians, imply a deficiency in the one who receives? We who hear Rambachan's words say [End Page 440] no, no more so than in a marriage. No thought of deficiency is implied in the notion that a wife has much to give a husband and vice versa—so, too, with our traditions and the work of interreligious giving and receiving.
Our traditions are constituted by their particularities even when we share symbols in common. Although we share the same symbol—in our wedding sermon, the symbol of fire came into play—the uses and meanings of the symbol are distinctive. This is one reason for our confidence that we have much with which to nourish each other. Christians, by and large, do not walk around fires. Hindus do. Nonetheless, fire is a precious symbol in Christian traditions also. Rambachan taught us that Hindus celebrate God's presence in and as the fire. He evoked fire from the Hindu marriage tradition where it is likened to Sacred Love.
This prompts me to recollect the symbol of fire within Christian tradition and hope to consider how fire marks our relationship with the sacred and calls to mind encounter with the light of divine presence. In the New Testament, fire consumes, baptizes, and transforms; tongues of flame danced on...