I seem to remember: in the past few days I briefly dreamed of meeting Claude Debussy.
India is a great passion, in the best sense: that is, as an energy that brings forth an appetite deep in the soul. There is a negative sense of “passion,” used by moralists, which identifies passionate energy as “disordered appetite” — though it be natural, they say, passion always “foments” sin (fomes peccati is a classic definition of passio). But I say, it does not always do so, for if a natural appetite has been repressed, it is good when passion awakens it.
India (known through reading and images and my attempts at imitating the virtues of Yogis) awakened my desire for God. It has done so for many others in America and Europe, where culture and society, for three centuries, have tended to repress the soul’s natural appetite for God. Western culture and Western religion have also repressed the human being’s sexual appetite, and it has often done so by positing a dualism between sex and Spirit.
India and her Yogis have also, at times, tended toward the same dualism. My reading of Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi certainly revealed to me the beauty of his ardent passion for God-consciousness, God-union. Yet now and then, in his teachings, I found the same negativity toward the passion of our flesh that we know from Western moralists, whether Puritan, or Mormon, or Jansenist. The paradox of grace in my life was the demanding gift of my own God-consciousness in Jesus and in the sacramentality of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Those who were born into these churches may have experienced their magisterium as dualistic and flesh-negating. In my case, having been born outside of them and having lived for twelve years without baptism, I knew there was something wrong in this dualism. I converted to the mother-guru, the church of the passionate lovers of Jesus, and she gave me his flesh — not a partial Christ, but the whole, in whom is my wholeness. Grace awakened my appetite, and the energy of this passion made me seek the full meaning of Word-becoming-flesh through my own becoming-flesh.
I had received through Yogananda and his disciples the desire for monastic initiation; during my Catholic novice years at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, I was led by grace and the wisdom of elder monks to resume the practice of Kriya Yoga, which had itself brought me to the threshold of grace.
One of these elder monks was of course dom Bede Griffiths. Last Tuesday, December 17, 2013, we celebrated his birthday with a reading of his words at noon prayer and the thoughts I shared at evening mass, here at Incarnation Monastery in Berkeley.
The day before, on December 16, I and other passionate lovers of music remembered the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven (born in 1770). Music is a great passion, not only Beethoven’s but also the music of Debussy, Bartok, Feldman, Takemitsu, and Gubaidulina. Music — songs my Dad sang to me, music on the radio, recordings of music by Richard Rogers and George Gershwin, and Liszt’s “Dream of Love” number 3, which our cook, a self-taught pianist, played for me when I was four. Music was my first religion and my first passion, and it still is.
The day before Beethoven’s birthday was the naskotago of Dr. Esperanto, Lutwik Zamenhof (born in 1859). Languages are another passion of mine, and I have become more and more passionate about Esperanto in these latter years. I am currently reading Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis in an Esperanto translation. My Polish is no where near good enough to read the novel in the original, but Zamenhof grew up speaking Polish (and Russian and Yiddish and German), frustrated by the linguistic tribalism in his corner of Poland. And so, Zamenhof composed this beautiful language which represents no empire, is spoken by no army, nor does it suppress anyone’s native language.
No one can say how many earthlings speak and/or read Esperanto — were we to know the number, we might be surprised. In any event, 125 years after Zamenhof launched his new language, it still lives on at the margins of this world’s empires, and it troubles no one. I joined a small group of passionate Esperantists who gathered in Emeryville on December 15, 2013, to remember Zamenhof by conversing in Esperanto over lunch and a cake.