Once in a while life is kind. We meet someone, not from a distance, but having a moment to share and actually sharing it. It can be as simple as a moment in an elevator, a courtesy extended while waiting in line, or a real smile that springs &om the soul. If you are lucky, these things happen. If you are very lucky, you may even have a chance to touch and be touched at the soul level. I recently had such a chance.
On April 14, 1996, Japan was visited by His Grace, Archbishop Lufti Laham, Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem. He was here at the invitation of the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem, the Grand Priory of Japan. This is the first time anyone of his stature from his church has visited Japan, and the members of the order considered it a great honor.
I am a member of the order and serve as I am asked. It was in that capacity that I suddenly found myself in the back room of St. Alban's Anglican Church in Tokyo with a most imposing man. Sometimes meeting someone leaves you with nothing to say. You know nothing you are, have done, or will do can be of interest to this person, although he would smile and say you were wrong.
I stumbled forward and asked if he would like to sit down. I grant you this is not monumental conversation, but it was taxing my coordination of mind, body, and tongue. He said yes and told me to pull up a chair.
I complimented his staff, inspected the jeweled medallion he wears, tried to help with his vestments, and altogether felt foolish and ineffectual. He replied that his things were bright and shiny but not of real monetary value, and explained their meaning and significance. He told me how pleased he was to have the opportunity to come to Japan. He said he carried with him the blessings of his church and of his God to a land he had never before had the opportunity to see. He expressed his disappointment at not having the chance to see more of Japan and to talk with more Japanese people firsthand. Time and schedules afflict us all.
I explained to him my involvement with the Sikh faith and the reason I wear a Kara, a bracelet that is a symbol of that faith. We talked of the war in India between Sikhs and Hindus. He talked of all wars of faith and with special sadness of the war that has ravaged Beirut. He talked of the confusion of faith, religion, and politics and of how politics uses faith to build an army of the faithful if not of the wise. He spoke of how many faiths had lived for centuries side by side in Beirut only to have politics now pit neighbor against neighbor. He spoke of Bosnia and similar divisions made by those who would build political walls on foundations forged in smoldering hatreds.
Strangely, by this time I was sitting in a completely defensive position, sideways, arms and legs crossed against this man. I was steeling myself.
Earlier in the day I had spoken with my Knight Commander concerning the receiving of Holy Communion. To his surprise, I said I could not receive the host from this man without consulting him first to be sure he would want to give me communion. In the end I would not take communion, nor would anyone else, for it would be decided that His Grace would give a simple blessing to the assembled, who were of many faiths. But I did not know this then.
So, having prepared myself, I said, "Sir, I have a question I must ask. Where do you stand on homosexuality?"
"Are you a Christian?" was his reply.
Those who have nearly drowned will retain a fear of water, and those who have been railed against by those who would seek simple answers to difficult questions will have a certain defensive posture to this question.
"If you mean by that, do I believe in the principles of love, compassion, and under-standing put forward in the teachings of Jesus?, the answer is yes. If you mean, do I believe Christ is the one way, the only way, and that those who do not know of or believe in Christ do not have continuity of life after death?, the answer is no. I believe paths are many, truth is one, and all religions lead to God. Some just take longer and require more trips through life."
He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his hands playing with his staff, fingering the jewels in the handle. The hands were the hands of a worker, a doer. They were short and strong, and gnarled with the passage of time. They were remarkably strong hands fingering the delicate filigree. I paraphrase what he said, and only hope I do justice.
"I live in Jerusalem. It is the center of the world. It is a land of Arabs who are Muslims, Arabs who are Jews, Arabs who are Christians, and people from all over the world. I am a Christian. One of about 130,000 among millions. This is my faith. I am lucky. I know this, so I don't have to explain my answer to the question as you do. This is my path and I choose to live it. The only reason to be different from others is to be of service to others. I run a hospital and a school, not for Christians, but for those who need a hospital and a school. I try to keep Christians in the Holy Land so we can be of service to those who live there. Religion does not belong to us, we belong to it. That is why I am a Christian. That is why I serve. And that is why it is not for me to judge the path of others. I live my path and others must live theirs."
I was by now sitting with my elbows on my knees and my head close to this man. This was not a sermon, it was a benediction, a blessing. I was also aware of the tear running into the collar of my shirt. Others were entering the room. Brother Damon was circling at a wide berth. The initiates were being led in.
"I am not a homosexual. It is not my path. But I do not judge the path of others. My faith is to serve."
Brother Roe stepped through the door to inform us all was ready.
I wiped my face, thanked him for his words, and tried to steady myself to walk in and prepare a way for the procession that would escort this truly remarkable man to the altar. I was in the front. He was near the back. I stood in his shadow.
Sometimes to stand in the shadow is to stand in the light. --Ralph Parks
Ralph Parks is currently employed as a teacher at Wailalak University in Thailand. He has studied both Eastern and Western mysteries for over 30 years, including Western Kabbalah, Sikhism, Spiritualism, and subtle body work.
Summer 1997 / Gnosis Magazine