“Beyond our words”

I have to give Heather King a big tip o’ my hat for bringing Claire Ly to my attention yesterday. She posted this video and with only a few lines recommended her readers watch. I’m glad I did. I also lack the gift of brevity that Heather deftly wields. But you know this.

First, I do echo Heather when I say that if you can set aside 48 minutes it is well worth your time to watch Claire Ly speak. Ly is a journalist and writer, and a professor at the Institute of Science and Theology of Religions (ISTR) in Marseille, France. She has a compelling story to tell.

I sketched out an outline of notes while I listened to her talk through a translator and am going to provide them below in case you do not have 48 minutes. Still, I hope you do. Listening to Ms. Ly is much better then reading my sketchy notes.

My notes:

  1. Encounter with the God of Westerners (April 1975 – post-war Cambodia. Her father and husband were shot and killed by the Khmer Rouge, along with 300 “notables” from her small village)
    a) As a Buddhist, she experienced the “3 Poisons of Life”: Hate, Anger and Revolt
    b) She named her scapegoat the “God of the Westerners”. She equated this god with Marxism & Communism, which came from the Judeo-Christian West.
    c) Began to realize that she was not alone in her suffering. It was all around her in those who were related to the more than two million murdered in Cambodia.
  2. Encounter with the Gospel of Jesus Christ (France in 1980)
    a) She was a political refugee – always relied on the charity of others
    b) Met a priest from a Catholic Church, who provided her with magazines and books because she was too poor to get any herself. He was always careful to remove anything for her that was “too Catholic” since he respected her as a Buddhist. She was impressed that he never tried to convert her.
    c) She read the encyclical letter on mercy (Dives in Misericordia, or Rich in Mercy) by Pope John Paul II in a newspaper the priest provided. Immediately she wanted to read the source for this writing, the gospel, and asked for a copy from the priest. There she met Jesus of Nazareth and was “seduced by his humanity.” He was “an asylum seeker like me.” An exile.
    d) Ly was no longer afraid of the French as she had been when she moved to France, but like Christ, was a “free” human being.
    e) In 1980 she “became the preacher of Jesus” and sat at his feet to listen to his lessons.
  3. Encounter with the Eucharist/Holy Communion – the encounter that led to her baptism (France in 1980)
    a) Was intellectually curious and asked the priest if she could go to Mass to observe.
    b) Began to follow the movements of the congregation during the Mass (standing, kneeling, praying)
    c) At the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament she encountered Jesus Christ in a moving experience that stirred inside her soul.
    d) Realized that Jesus would allow her to say “yes” or “no” to him. There would be no forced compulsion to become a Christian.
    e) She desired to not just listen to the Master, but to be a follower of the Master. She wanted to become a Disciple of Christ, and asked to be baptized, which she was in 1983 after two years of preparation.
    f) Received a “letter from Christ” in the silence whispering to her to become a disciple outwardly as she was an immigrant, a person of two cultures.
    g) Wrote The Mangrove: Crossroads of cultures and religions in 2011: a reflection on the dialogue between religions, between cultures, and how each with their differences, can support each other without ever despising each other. She does this by telling the story of the imaginary journey of two Cambodian women, Ravi and Somaya, who live in exile in France and return to their country after many years.

I looked back at my journal notes written during my Ignatian retreat a year ago. When Ly said in Note 2d that she felt free when she encountered the gospel of Jesus Christ I was reminded of something I’d written down and went back to find it.

You will either plunge into the freedom of Christ or plunge into slavery.

Clearly Ly was seeing the choice before her. And she’d already lived the life of a Marxist slave.

I saw something else I’d written: a quote from Julian of Norwich (1342-1416). She said

And thus I saw him, and sought him; and I had him, yet I wanted him. And in my view, this is, and should be, our common work in this life.

This brief article will introduce you to Claire Ly and the pull quote below will give you an idea about her experiences and the content of her talk.

… Ly never let go of her Buddhist roots, an experience she does not see as merely accidental. “In my Christian life in France, I have come across many words and a lot of noise,” she says. “So my Buddhist soul told me: go back to silence, because Jesus Christ is beyond our words.” About the image of the mangrove she says: “I think it’s an image that also speaks to us of the meeting and the intersection of cultures in terms of hope. Like Jesus’ disciples we are called to become bridges between cultures and traditions. Remembering that Jesus is always waiting for us in Galilee, the crossroads of nations.”

claire ly 01I’ve heard it said that there are windows to the Truth of God and Jesus Christ in all of Creation. Different cultures, even religions, all have elements of this Truth contained within them. While I have come to believe through research involving my head and mind, and experiences involving my heart that Christianity, in particular Catholicism, the fullness of that truth is realized, I have seen these windows appear in other facets of this life. All of the light that is let in from the various windows, large ones and small ones, is the light of Christ. Christ is the universal (catholic with a small “c”) commonality. Claire Ly is but one of many, many examples of someone who has discovered this truth for herself.

While finishing up my reading of Lumen Fidei last night I read the following passage from Pope Francis:

54. Absorbed and deepened in the family, faith becomes a light capable of illumining all our relationships in society. As an experience of the mercy of God the Father, it sets us on the path of brotherhood. Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure. We need to return to the true basis of brotherhood. The history of faith has been from the beginning a history of brotherhood, albeit not without conflict. … As salvation history progresses, it becomes evident that God wants to make everyone share as brothers and sisters in that one blessing, which attains its fullness in Jesus, so that all may be one. The boundless love of our Father also comes to us, in Jesus, through our brothers and sisters. Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters.

How many benefits has the gaze of Christian faith brought to the city of men for their common life! Thanks to faith we have come to understand the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity. … At the heart of biblical faith is God’s love, his concrete concern for every person, and his plan of salvation which embraces all of humanity and all creation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without insight into these realities, there is no criterion for discerning what makes human life precious and unique. Man loses his place in the universe, he is cast adrift in nature, either renouncing his proper moral responsibility or else presuming to be a sort of absolute judge, endowed with an unlimited power to manipulate the world around him.

Despite her Buddhist upbringing and convictions Ly could have become consumed with hate and indeed she mentions succumbing to the “3 Poisons of Life” in her talk. Where hate sees monsters where there are men, and fear sees enemies where there are brothers, Claire Ly saw the light and love of God’s face in her fellow man.

The God she thought she knew reached out to her through a simple curate of a Catholic parish in France. He treated her as a sister through the love of his actions, and she responded. Using the tools given to her in her Buddhist background (silence) she listened and received a “letter from Christ.” Claire Ly found not only the light, but ultimately the Source of that light.

A source beyond words.


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