Water Buffalo Theology

26 April 09 | Posted in Animals, Arts and Letters, Spirituality

The Rev. Dr. Kosuke Koyama, a Japanese Christian theologian who was a proponent of contextual theologies rooted in the experiences of everyday people, died March 25, 2009 in Springfield, Mass. Koyama, 79, taught at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

His 1974 book, Water Buffalo Theology, was “one of the first books truly to do theology out of the setting of Asian villages,” said Donald Shriver, president emeritus. kosuke-koyama-2

As a missionary in northern Thailand, Koyama said he was inspired to write the book as he listened to the “fugue of the bullfrogs” while watching farmers working with water buffaloes in the rice fields.

“The water buffaloes tell me that I must preach to these farmers in the simplest sentence structure,” he wrote. “They remind me to discard all the abstract ideas and to use exclusively objects that are immediately tangible. ‘Sticky rice,’ ‘banana,’ ‘pepper,’ ‘dog,’ ‘cat,’ ‘bicycle,”rainy season,”leaking house,’ ‘fishing,’ ‘cockfighting,’ ‘lottery,’ ‘stomachache’–these are meaningful words for them.”  water-buff-3

Directed at the concerns of peasants, the book points out that Christianity and Buddhism do not communicate; rather Christians and Buddhists do. Rev. Dr. Koyama advocated seeing God “in the faces of people” to achieve good neighborliness among religions.  He spoke of trying to “season” the Aristotelian roots of Western theology with Buddhist “salt.”

Besides Water Buffalo Theology, Dr. Koyama wrote 12 other books including Three Mile an Hour God (1980) which reflects his thought that God moves at walking speed through the countryside.

Kosuke Koyama was born on December 10, 1929 in Tokyo.  In 1945, as American bombs rained down on Tokyo, he was baptised as a Christian. He was struck by the courageous words of the presiding pastor, who told him that God called on him to love everybody, “even the Americans.”

Once, in discussing death, Rev. Dr. Koyama recalled the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. He said Jesus would be with others the same way: “Looking into our eyes and heart, Jesus would say: ‘You’ve had a difficult journey. You must be tired, and dirty.  Let me wash your feet. The banquet’s ready.'”

Sacred Epiphany Dip

8 February 09 | Posted in Events, Spirituality

In the snowy silence of a Moscow park, a 26-year-0ld businessman, Aleksandr Pushkov, stood naked except for his bathing suit, a column of steam rising from his body. His clothes were piled up under a tree, and he had just climbed out of a hole in the ice.

It was the 7th time he took part in an Epiphany ritual: the trance-like preparation, the electric shock of the ice-cold water and and 20 0r 30 second wait for a feeling he described as “nirvana.” As cross-country skiers picked their way through the woods, Mr. Pushkov stood by himself in the snow, barefoot and steaming.

On Russian Orthodox Epiphany, roughly 30,000 Moscovites lined up to dunk themselves in icy rivers and ponds, city officials said. The annual ritual baptism, which is believed to wash away sins, is enjoying a boisterous revival after being banished to villages during the Soviet era, said Boris F. Dubin, a sociologist with Moscow’s Levada Center. The immersion ritual satisfies a public hunger, he said, for “something that is truly Russian, ancient, real. For what distinguishes us from other people.” russian-ritual.jpg

“Each country has something that is instrinsic to it,” said Aleksandr Gorlopan, 43, who was warming himself with a combination of hot tea and Captain Morgan rum. Mr. Gorlopan, who gave his profession as “traveler,” said the tradition dated back to the tiny Slavic tribes that scattered south from Scandinavia–nomads, he said, with “wild souls.” “We are made of water,” he said. “Without water we cannot survive.”

Galina Burasvetova, a 50-year-old hairdresser in a red bikini, said she had first taken part in the ritual during an agonizing period in her life, when she was raising three children on a vanishing income. Afterward, she felt she had the moral strength to go on.

Mr. Dubin, the sociologist, said the practice’s popularity had less to do with religious revival than with enthusiastic coverage by Russian television. By others said it proved that 74 years of Communist rule were unable to stamp out the tradition, which holds that a priest’s blessing temporarily transforms water into the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptised.  Even at the height of state atheism, said Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, “the lines for holy water were longer than the lines at Lenin’s mausoleum.” russian-ritual-2.jpg

The Story of the Pelican

2 November 08 | Posted in Animals, Spirituality

 I found “The Story of the Pelican” on the insightful blog, Ad Dominum

The post appeared on September 21, 2008 shortly after Hurricane Ike. It wove the story of the pelican victims of the hurricane with Catholic religious symbols, including a stiking image on a priest’s chasuble of a pelican feeding it young. pel2.jpg

“Many people are surprised to learn that the pelican is a very ancient Christian symbol. It is a symbol of our Redeemer and of the atonement. In those days, people believed that the pelican would wound itself to feed its babies when it could not find food elsewhere.” pelprime.jpg

“Thomas Aquinas even mentioned pelicans in his Adoro Te: ‘Pelican of mercy, cleanse me in thy precious blood.’”

“We now know that this myth that developed around the pelican is not factually true. Pelicans do not feed bits of themselves to their babies, but there are good reasons for people to even mistakenly have believed that they did. One reason for this belief is that sometimes pelicans can suffer from a disease that leaves a red mark on their chests. Also, it may look as if a pelican is stabbing at itself when it puts its beak to its chest to fully empty its pouch.”

“Our Pelican was born, lived, and died with all of us in mind, even us two thousand years later. He showed us how to live in love, and he showed us love in death. And like a mother pelican, he will stay with us even when the sky is dark and the wind is blowing, because that is his love for us.”

Thanks to Thom for this wonderful post.

The Lourdes Grotto

22 October 08 | Posted in Global Catholic, Saints, Spirituality

“According to Bernadette, the apparition asked for a church to be built, and today a vast basilica rises above the shrine, visible testimony to the wealth and power of the institutional Church.”

“Yet the spiritual life of Lourdes is focused on the grotto and its surroundings beneath the basilica, and this topography acts as a metaphor for the relationship between the religious institution and the powerful undercurrent of faith that it can never fully control.” grotte-lourdes-b.jpg

“The rocks around the grotto have been worn smooth by the touch of millions of hands, and there is a sense of something visceral, pagan even, about the way in which Catholic devotions and prayers melt and mingle with the…mystery of a God both veiled and revealed in earth, wind and fire, in rocky wildernesses and the untameable persistence of nature in the face of all our civilizing and controlling impulses.”

“Surely, an incarnational faith is one which situates itself in such a space of encounter between the sublime and the ridiculous – between the inscrutable majesty of God, and the often foolish muddle of our human emotions.” lourdes-boy.jpg

From “An Immense Maternal Presence,” an article by Tina Beattie in the September 13, 2008 edition of The Tablet.

Blessing of Pets and Animals

4 October 08 | Posted in Animals, Events, Saints, Spirituality

Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. It is a day when old and young bring their pets to church to be blessed. pg-bless.jpg

My old parish in Brooklyn got the usual (dogs, cats, hamsters, parakeets) and also the unusual. Someone once brought a wounded toad they found on their street.  Someone else brought their boa constrictor. A boy came with his pet tarantula. A toddler brought his teddy bear. The best was a praying mantis–very appropriate for a Catholic event.

“St. Francis was a lover of nature and animals,” said Fr. Moses Campo, a priest at the Immaculate Conception Church in Queens, New York. “The blessing of the animals has been a practice of the Catholic Church for hundreds of years.”

This rite can sometimes provided unintended comedy. “When I went to bless the horse with holy water, he jumped up and got scared,” said NYPD chaplain Msgr. David Cassato. “He thought I was going to hit him. Some of the police dogs start barking at the other dogs. It’s always funny.”

The Blessing of Pets usually goes like this: “Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth the fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”