Friday, June 3, 2011

Meeting God with our Gestures

"Meeting God by our gestures" is the title of one of a series of lectures on religion and culture given at one of our Catholic shrines by a professor of Korean Religious History. The series appears in the Catholic Times.

He begins his lecture on the generally accepted rituals of a culture by dividing humanity into two groups: Those who are not keen on expressing what they have inside and those who feel that more is gained by outwardly expressing what is inside.

In our present society, ritual is not considered important. What we have inside us, whether expressed or not, is what is important. In the West there are many who do not believe we need the formal gestures of ritual to approach God, that the Mass is not necessary, that each of us can go to God with our personal prayers. This was the thinking of the Protestants in the 15th century: there was no need of a mediator; we can meet God directly. The communion service was merely a remembrance  of the Last Supper of Jesus.

We can express our  ideas with  words but gestures are not  easily  given meaning and life by words.  Consequently, the gestures accepted and used by different cultures are varied and unique. Is this not the reason, our lecturer asks, that past  generations have tried to keep this alive with books and teachings and other ways?

But these are not the only ways that a religion is maintained. To make a conviction our own requires actions that make it a part of us. We do this, for example, when intending to show respect by appropriate gestures, and by the way we cultivate ascetic practices. These gestures have to accompany us to  make our religion part of who we are.

In many cultures there are ways of showing a passage from one stage of  life to another, such as the child becoming an adult. One of the most dramatic of life passages is the separation of the dead from the living in our rites for the dead. According to a custom observed in some parts of the country, when mourners leave the room containing the coffin to go to the cemetery they put at the door vessels made of gourds or earthenware that are shattered by the bier as it is taken from the house--a fitting gesture showing the separation of the dead from the living.  Similar rites can be observed at many of the critical stages in life.

There are  many diverse ways that we make ourselves known by employing an appropriate gesture. It's a way of becoming joined with others and of being helped to overcome the different crises in life. The  ritual of gesture gives us information on the way to live. With these sacred movements we dream of becoming one with God, expressing  our  worship and taking ownership of who we are as a believer.
In the  logic of gestures we find how religion and culture  are intertwined. The lecturer feels that if we consider and live life as a drama, it will help us find peace. And if we at each stage of life were to live the  role we have been given as completely and faithfully as possible, we could then leave the rest up to God.

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