by Fateah Alice Saunders (Oct 2013)
I would like to share this unusual yet positive little episode, which seems to show that a great openness and acceptance of others exists in delightful ways in some (apparently) conventional establishments.
In July I visited a rural Christian retreat centre in a beautiful part of England. I loved the Elizabethan half-timbered building – loved the well-kept gardens with stately ancient trees and the wilder grassy slopes with wild flowers leading down to a swift-flowing river – appreciated being wined and dined on local produce during my 24-hour stay. But best of all – and surprising to me, as I’m not a churchgoer – there was an immediate rapport with the Minister, who I discovered had already attended the Wild Goose Zen Sangha. It seemed that whatever either of us said, it rang bells or resonated for the other.
The main bell was an Aramaic one! In the grounds is a chapel, a lovely and unusual modern building, and my Revd friend told me he had on display the Lord’s Prayer in different languages. I was about to mention Aramaic, but he beat me to it, saying “including Aramaic”! I got to my feet, saying I wanted to fetch something from my room – and returned with a gift for him, which I’d been holding back, waiting for the right moment (not knowing of course that there would be one). It turned out he had borrowed a copy of Prayers of the Cosmos from a friend some weeks ago and was reluctantly due to return it. Now he had his own copy.
By the time of my departure the following afternoon I had said aloud the AP during morning service, and been invited to contribute to the centre’s programme three times during the year ahead.
One such occasion has already come and gone – in September, when I provided a Sufi perspective to a week’s residential event on Mysticism. Following my session on HIK one morning, there was time that evening for the DVD “The Way of the Heart”. Both were well received, although the emphasis of the week was mainly on Christian Mystics. To my relief I felt at home with these, either as a result of my DUP/Sufi background and/or personal interest, and was able to contribute to discussions and experiential work on mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen, St John of the Cross, the more recent Father Bede Griffiths and various contemporaries.
The programme included optional (well, it was all optional) morning service, and the week was scheduled to end with Eucharist in the chapel. The Lord’s Prayer was spoken by me in Aramaic during morning service and on the last day I was asked if I intended going to the Eucharist service. I’d not received communion for years, but found myself saying “yes” – the Minister had already told everyone that whatever their religion – or none – they were welcome to take part. Later he drew me aside into his room. “I’d like you to help me with it” he said while I looked at him uncomprehendingly. And he asked me to offer the communion wine. No big deal, no rehearsal beforehand, just a reminder of what to say and a warning that for very good reasons it might be refused by some people. “As I offer the bread, just follow along behind me offering the wine” he said. And so, to my utter astonishment that is what I found myself doing: “The blood of Christ”.
I’ve shared this story with a few friends. It’s been met with incredulity, delight and the wonderfully warm, spontaneous response: “Tell this man I’d like to meet him!”
As for me, I can’t wait for my next visit. I really enjoyed introducing what I love to totally new people in a totally new environment. I’m due to be there again at the end of November to lead a weekend on the Aramaic Prayer, and sometime next year for a weekend of DUP. Ya Shakur – grateful thanks for these opportunities.
And meanwhile the Revd Ian and his 9 year-old daughter are learning to say the words of the Aramaic Prayer with the help of Saadi’s teaching tape!