One week already in Shantivanam and I find that I have quickly become accustomed to a lifestyle of reading, prayer, walks, and cows. Course, it is not too different than my life in chicago, but for the cows and the indian context. Still, it hasn't been the retreat experience I had perhaps hoped for. In part, with an absence of spiritual direction (though if I asked, I might find that) and with too frequent engagement with texts that may be less than devotional (though all has opened up exciting horizons on familiar theological territory).
Still, what seems most lacking in the ashram experience is a face to face encounter with the other beyond me. The ashram instead seems more focused on a realization of the other interior to us.
Is this a danger in the mystical journey? can the mystical contemplative play a role in pushing us towards the other, when it is centrally focused on the encounter with god in the depths of the interior? Still, abishiktandas work has pushed me to a new appreciation for the other as a manifestation of God. Does this totalize the other, or does the realization of the ultimate other and the ultimate same (God who is abyss and who is at the core of our being... distant and incarnate) present not only in ourselves but in ever manifestation push me beyond the silence of my veranda? In this respect though, this is an encounter that ceases to be interfaith relations. It ceases to be a meeting of the other in the other and instead the other in the self.
As Sanyassis (hindu "monks" who renounce everything in pursuit of God), Monchanin and Le Saux must have had constant engagement with the hindu religious other both in their daily lives, in their study and in their studies. Bede also welcomed such an encounter in the interior of the ashram itself, inviting all, while also participating in local festivals and meeting with religious leaders. I still wonder what role the ashram now plays.
Michael Le Chevallier
MDiv candidate 2011
University of Chicago