Sponsored by North American Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries of men and women.
By Judson Trapnell
New York, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2001; 269 pp. + xvii; $16.95 paper
Completing the reading of this book was like having swallowed a fire-ball! Its contents are much and weighty and still burning within. Judson Trapnell, the author, was fascinated with the mind and heart of Bede Griffith, and he traveled far to India and other places to question this wisdom figure who drew forth such awe from him. These interviews, questions he and others asked, and the in-depth responses received, play an invaluable role in understanding and interpreting the sacred history of Bede Griffiths, both individually and collectively and in the writing of this book.
This volume, Bede Griffiths: A Life in Dialogue, is an ingenuous spiritual biography of Bede Griffiths, tracing the evolution of much of his thinking, his intuitions, and resulting changes in lifestyle from youth to death, spanning most of the twentieth century. Trapnell begins and ends the work with a moving description of Bedes life in climax, his final total surrender; then the author shares throughout the volume insightful indications from Bede of his lifelong, unswerving intention to surrenderbody, soul, and spiritto the Lord at every step along the Way. Viewing the monks life in three definitive stages of this lifelong surrender: God in nature (his conversion); God in Christ and the Church (his encounter with Hinduism and Sannyasa); and advaita or nonduality (the new scientists and his strokes), the author draws from books, articles, unpublished manuscripts, taped talks, and interviews to lay bare and share the most pertinent and deepest intuitions and convictions in Bedes heart. Given the primacy of experience in his method of inquiry, surrender is, for Griffiths, not only an intellectual act; it is necessarily holistic, engaging body, mind or soul and spiritan anthropology he derived from the apostle Paul and from the early Fathers of the Church (6).
With his own profound literary questions the author challenges Bede, posthumously, in every chapter, anticipating and responding to the inevitable critics of our day. Perhaps some will find the authors prolific literary questions off-putting, but they do serve as a litmus test in this journey so unique and blessed, so pain-filled yet ultimately rewarding. Perhaps some of these same questions were unconsciously purifying the prophet of whom he writes. Judson sees Bede as a true prophet of our times, who, while loving the Church as the Body of Christ, was undeterred in recognizing and openly lamenting her faults.
Judson further sees Bede with St. Augustine as a veritable culture bearer for our times. Fr. Bede was a bridge between the East and the West, Hinduism and Christianity, the masculine and the feminine, the rational and intuitive, science and religion. The author finds a vibrant dialogue that went on in this English Sannyasi between each of these facets of his own life, dialogue being the praxis through which that surrender was fostered (7). The forms of this dialogue were multitudinous and simultaneous, interdependent and vibrant, on levels of the intrapersonal, intercultural, interreligious, and cosmotheandric. Fr. Bede, writing of interreligious dialogue insisted:
For Fr. Bede and for the author, dialogue constitutes full engagement in mutuality as a means to surrender to a truth that is greater than and incorporates self and others. Judson provides helpful insights into Fr. Bedes intrapersonal inquiries even pre-dialogical: Inquiry into his experience of God in nature thus ignited a conflict (not yet a dialogue) within him between rational and nonrational forces that would later be recognized as an intercultural tension as well. One notes insufficient clarity for the surrender at such stages. Yet, at the end of the first period of Fr. Bedes journey Judson discovers that by surrendering to the dialogue inherent in relationship at several levels in his life, Bede opened to new possibilities of insight (40). Fr. Bede envisioned a marriage of East and West not only within himself but also in his ashram at Shantivanam, in the Catholic Church, and in the entire global community. The individual living in dialogue thus becomes a symbol of the collectiveeven for Fr. Griffiths, according to Judson, a symbol of the divine, expressing and communicating Gods nature and activity. And for Fr. Bede that divine nature and its activity are experienced as a communion in love, a dance of self and other that is reflected intrapersonally, interpersonally, interculturally, interreligiously, and cosmically for the person and through the person who surrenders to that love (8). Judson learned in his pursuits of Fr. Bedes spiritual journey how central symbols are to human knowledge, and how vital religious symbols are to the surrender that alone brings spiritual transformation. Symbols, he agrees with Fr. Bede, are signs through which a reality becomes present to human consciousness.
While without TV or radio, Fr. Bede remained in touch with Western cultures through his lecture tours in Europe, the United States, and Australia, as well as through his reading of current books and periodicals (53). But this same monk entered with both fascination and suspicion the flowing life of ideas that defined Western societies(55).
One must read the book to glean its riches from Fr. Bede, and the author reflecting on Bede. To conclude, Judson identifies Bede as a culture-bearer, using the language of Christianity and Bedes understanding of symbols:
book for monastics and scholars, laity and clergy, well
worth the effort to swallow the fire-ball!
Pascaline Coff, O.S.B.
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