“Faith is necessarily ecclesial; it is professed from within the body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers.”
Lumen Fidei #22
I had a conversation today with two colleagues, one is writing her dissertation on silence/stillness, and the other a budding Scripture “expert”. Our conversation mainly revolved around the seeming vacuum of contemplative culture in the Philippine context so that the closest prospect for scurrying this expression of religious life would be the local shamanism. We agreed over the possibility. But the more catchy part of our conversation was on geography and faith. Ms. C the Scripture “expert” opined that Christianity’s monotheism in the first place has a Herculean time and task of penetrating the Asian consciousness in general and the Filipino consciousness in particular. This reminds me of the “failure of evangelization” that the Second Plenary Council honestly admitted: the Philippines has been more sacramentalized than evangelized. In a dissertation defense I attended last Monday where my colleague defended on the topic of economic personalism and the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs), one panel member went as far in her comment that even the poster community of the Second Plenary Council, the parish-based BECs are in a moribund state especially in urban areas like Metro Manila. To my observation, this is true as parishioners are becoming trans-parochial along with their growing preference to attend Sunday masses in churches adjacent to malls.
Back to the observation of my colleague. She further argued that Western Christianity’s monotheism remains a strange cat because it was birthed in the harshness of the desert. My mind jumped to monotheistic Islam, its birth in the desert and how the enigmatic unity of Muslims circling the Kaaba in Mecca during the holy Hajj showcases this monotheistic conviction. But the Philippines has no desert! To which I added that what the Philippines has is the diversity of nature – from forests to falls, rivers to hot springs so that the idea of a variety of nature-spirits is closer to polytheism than monotheism. “The sea has many gods; many gods and many voices,” wrote TS Eliot. Japan and its indigenous Shinto beliefs and rituals came to mind. Shinto, which has largely shaped the Japanese sense of social order and modesty, did not emerge due to external evangelizing forces but as spontaneous response/s to the splendor of Mt. Fuji and the imposing magnificence of nature that plays with human consciousness, giving birth to the figurative and literal belief in the 8 million kamis or spirits inhabiting almost every cranny of the land. The same is the case with the Chinese Taoism and its birth out of the mystique of Wudang mountains. How capitalism and the idea of private property are killing the harmonious dance between nature and human consciousness is a different story to regurgitate.
The quote from Lumen Fidei above behooves us to ask what faith could else be in our age of ecological turmoil. Is it enough to profess faith from an ecclesial point of view, to hold on to a kind of religious trust on the Church as the locus of expression of personal faith, that “ecclesial” means the human bodies of community or the Church? That when we talk or use the phrase “the body of Christ,” our knee-jerk reference is necessarily the Church, the deeply divided, hierarchical Church? And because the Church, the ekklesia, is the body of Christ, hence, God couldn’t be more tangible anywhere else outside this body?
One important theological voice providing an alternative way of thinking is Sallie McFague. Though I disagree on how she delegates the whole task of rectifying our traditional nature-wreaking doctrines of God to the professional theologians like herself, she makes a point though that the whole world, including natural environment must be treated as the body of God. Another important voice post-Berry period is Norman Wirzba who argues on “the character of nature, its moral and cultural significance” inviting us to see what our proper place in the created order should be, that creation describes “a moral and spiritual topography, an ethos that situates humans with each other and with the earth before God their creator.” There is also an ongoing trend in the critical social science questioning how the discourse on the human body or the concept of the body is turning into a static between normal and disabled, slowly giving rise to the concept of the “flesh” as a way of cogitating on the human limits or of any creature in general, capable of joy and pain or suffering.
One thing is sure – the anthropocentric way of thinking and behaving is turning destructive and manipulative of the environment and must be dumped to the recycle bin. Faith as a human enterprise, I suppose, must likewise undergo some refinement.
Sallie McFague, Falling in Love with God and the World: Some Reﬂections on the Doctrine of God, The Ecumenical Review, World Council of Churches, ,2013.
Norman Wirzba, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (Oxford University Press: 2003)