One of the options on Facebook for announcing your relationship status is “it’s complicated.” And for some people, entering into interfaith relationships can be complicated, if not downright threatening. Then add in the need for intrafaith conversation and things can get really challenging. For this reason, I love this poem/prayer by C.S. Song.
Choan-Seng Song is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theology and Asian Cultures at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. I had the privilege of being part of a theological discussion group during my doctoral studies there. Professor Song opened my eyes to other ways of looking at Christianity, specifically through an Asian lens. Once I realized how thoroughly western my theology and Christology was, a new way into interfaith thology opened up before me.
But Dr. Song is not just an academic. He’s also a pastor. And, in my opinion, nothing expresses this more than this poem/prayer, which was published in the PSR newsletter. I’ve used it innumerable times in workshops as a way to reassure people just entering into interfaith and intrafaith relationships that discomfort is to be expected, in fact it’s perfectly normal.
A PRAYER: It Is Difficult, O God
It is difficult, O God
it was much easier before
we lived in our own world
we took that world for the entire world
we believed we were your chosen people
with special privileges and advantages
we thought we had nothing to learn
from people who were different from us
in what they believed and how they lived
but suddenly all these people are all over the place
they come to live in our midst
they speak all sorts of languages
they practice different faiths
they even dress differently.
It is complicated, O God
it was much simpler in the past
we lived among like-minded people
we used to understand each other
we ate the same food
we shared the common thoughts
we even acquired the same habits
we seldom ventured out of our compound
we were contented with what we knew
but all of a sudden the walls that separated us from other people crumbled
we have lost control of our life
we are afraid we are no longer master of our own destiny.
But it has never been easy for you, O God
it has never been simple for You
You have always dealt with a world of wonderful plurality
with many people and many nations
with many cultures and religions
with women as well as men
with children as well as men and women.
But instead of complaining, You enjoy it
instead of becoming upset, You delight in it.
Though it is still difficult for us
help us, O God, to enjoy it with all its multiplicity
though it is still too complicated for us
enable us, O God, to cope with it
with the spirit of gratitude and wonder
and inspire us to know ever more deeply
the mystery that is Yours
the truth You alone can disclose to us.