Thursday, May 15, 2008

Participation as a spiritual discipline at Mar Thoma

Just a quick post. I was not crushed by my grading responsibilities -- I passed Teaching 101 (although one of my students failed :-().

I just want to share an excerpt from my Syro-Malabar paper, to be presented in Heidelberg this fall:

The following answer on the questionnaire expresses the conviction [that participation in the liturgy is a skill which relates directly to ability to commune with God] perfectly: “While saying prayers and singing . . . is a major part of [participation], in the end I feel it is the physical, mental, and spiritual mode one maintains that places them in a spiritual union with the Body of Christ that is the Church and Christ that works through the Church.” [Answer to the question “What does it mean to participate in the Qurbana?” received April 10, 2008.] Compare this with Marcel Mauss's observation on body techniques, quoted by Asad: “I believe precisely that at the bottom of all our mystical states there are body techniques which we have not studied, but which were studied fully in China and India, even in very remote periods . . . . I think that there are necessarily biological means of entering into ‘communion with God’.” [Marcel Mauss, "Body Techniques," quoted in Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion, 76.] The questionnaire answer suggests, similarly, that ritual techniques consisting of physical and nonphysical actions can conduce to a spiritual experience marked by a perception of divine presence.

I can't get over the phenomenal liturgical and theological sophistication revealed in that boldfaced quote. Granted, this is one of the older youth I interviewed; nevertheless, his response is mostly more articulate than the other answers I got -- it's still representative.

What a lovely project I've been blessed to be able to do.