Tuesday, 6 September 2011

"Inter-textuality" and Word of Life

By the term "inter-textuality" I am referring to the heading of a section in a study of the thought and life of Christian de Cherge, the prior of the Cistercian community at Tibhirine. The book is entitled Christian de Cherge - a theology of hope and the author is Christian Salenson. The book is a study of Christian de Cherge's thought and life as an example of Muslim-Catholic dialogue.

The section headed "inter-textuality" discusses the way in which Christian read the Koran as well as reading the Bible, and the way in which he used texts from both of them. There is no sense in which Christian considered the Koran as a supernaturally inspired text; instead there is a recognition of a form of "original connection" of the Koranic text to God within a general providential disposition of other religions towards the truth about God. There is a similarity in the way of reading both texts that reflects the idea of lectio divina familiar to Christian from his monastic background. There is no sense that the Koranic text is used to provide a commentary on the Biblical text or vice-versa.  Instead passages from the Koran can be placed and read alongside passages from the Bible in such a way that they shed light on each other. The study cites a particular example in which Christian de Cherge placed the account of Jesus as the Bread of Life from St John's Gospel alongside an echoing surat from the Koran. "Inter-textuality" is the word used to refer to this kind of reading alongside each other of the two books. I posted more fully on it here: Can a Christian pray with the Koran?.

The Word of Life refers to a particular practice with regard to the Bible that is promoted by the Focolare. Each month a sentence or two from the Bible was chosen by Chiara Lubich, who wrote a short reflection on that passage. One of the inspirations of the Focolare is that of taking a "word" from the Bible and trying to live that "word" out in daily living. When a Word of Life group meets they do so to share their experiences of trying to live out that month's "word" in their daily living; the meeting is not a "Bible study" in a conventional sense. Since Chiara Lubich's death, Word of Life texts previous written by her have been used. The current month's text can be found here (if I have understood the site correctly, this page will update each month with the new text).

One of the testimonies shared during the meeting of the President and Co-President of Focolare with the communities from the UK on Saturday last brought these two ideas together. It described a small group meeting in Wales (I can't remember where in Wales) with the name "From Scripture to Life". Participants in the group are Baptist, Roman Catholic, Muslim, othodox Jew and liberal Jew. For their meetings, texts are chosen from the Koran, the New Testament and the Jewish scriptures. The texts are chosen for their proximity, in a clear parallel to Christian de Cherge's "inter-textuality" in reading both the Koran and the Bible, the example being cited of their different expressions of the "golden rule". These texts then inform the shared experiences of living of the group.

From the point of view of principles of inter-religious dialogue, the question posed by this group is how far it can move from being a sharing of life experiences (no question that this is acceptable) to being a shared prayer or a prayer in common. This raises the question of multi-religious prayer vis-a-vis inter-religious prayer, discussed in my post Assisi 3 and the question of multireligious prayer.

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