The Apocalypse as an ‘Unveiling’: What Religion Teaches Us About the End Times
For people of many faiths, and even none at all, it can feel lately like the end of the world is near.
Shamain Webster, who lives in the suburbs outside of Dallas, has seen the signs of a coming apocalypse for a while now, just as the Bible foretold.
Kingdom would rise against kingdom, Jesus taught his disciples in the Book of Luke. Ms. Webster sees widespread political division in this country. There will be fearful events, and great signs from heaven, he said. She sees biblical values slipping away. A government not acting in the people’s best interest. And now this — a pandemic.
But Ms. Webster, 42 and an evangelical Christian, is unafraid. She has been listening online to one of her favorite preachers, who has called the coronavirus pandemic a “divine reset.”
“These kinds of moments really get you to re-evaluate everything,” she said. As everyone goes through a period of isolation, she added, God is using it for good, “to teach us and train us on how to live life better.”
For people of many faiths, and even none at all, it can feel lately like the end of the world is near. Not only is there a plague, but hundreds of billions of locusts are swarming East Africa. Wildfires have ravaged Australia, killing an untold number of animals. A recent earthquake in Utah even shook the Salt Lake Temple to the top of its iconic spire, causing the golden trumpet to fall from the angel Moroni’s right hand.
But the story of apocalypse is an old one, one of the oldest humans tell. In ancient religious traditions beyond Christianity — including Judaism, Islam and Buddhism — it is a common narrative that arises in moments of social and political crisis, as people try to process unprecedented or shocking events.
The original word in Greek — apokalypsis — means an unveiling, a revelation.
“It’s not just about the end of the world,” said Jacqueline Hidalgo, chair of religion at Williams College. “It helps us see something that is hidden before.”
As a pandemic thrusts the United States and much of the world into a new economic and social order, those who study and practice religion see deeper truths being unveiled.
The crisis is revealing health care inequalities, class divisions and the fact that the most important workers in American society are among the least paid, said Jorge Juan Rodríguez V, a doctoral candidate in the history of religion at Union Theological Seminary.
The void created by this crisis may be an unexpected gift.
My church is empty this Easter. In lieu of greeting the usually joyful parishioners this day, my clergy colleague and I celebrate the ancient rites of our religion six feet apart from each other, as an iPhone live-streams to self-isolated viewers at home.
Like so much else in this bizarre time, the emptiness is foreign and unsettling. Yet we all know the urgency of this disruption. The church, like every other gathering place, has emptied itself so that we may live.
The images of empty public spaces around the world are shocking outward signs that reflect the interior emptiness so many feel right now. Millions are being deprived of the chance to work, socialize and support one another in person. Physically isolated and emptied of our usual lives, we are being forced to face ourselves in a way that few alive today ever have before.
Yet the void created by this crisis may be an unexpected gift. This emptiness presents to us a mystical and uncluttered view of life as we have been living it until a few weeks ago. Life will never be the same. Each day, it becomes more apparent that this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to consider a fundamental question about the spirit and morality of our way of living: Having emptied ourselves, what do we really want to fill our world with once it is time to rebuild?
In all religious traditions and cultures, prayer is a universal expression of worship and piety. It is the most elementary manifestation of religious life. In a hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) states: "Everything has a face and the face of religion is prayer".
"Your Lord says: Call for Me and I will answer you"
Holy Qur'an 40:60
"Prayer is a daily necessity, a direct communication of the spark with the universal flame"
- Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, Memories of Aga Khan
Conducted individually and collectively, prayer, in its infinite varieties and manifestations, provides believers with regular and direct means to find and communicate with the sacred. It is through this language and these recurring conversations of the soul that the relationship between the sacred and the human is nourished and sustained.
"Therefore, remember Me," proclaims Allah in the Qur'an-e-Sharif, "(e) I will remember you" (2: 152). Prayer is, therefore, the most basic expression of faith and the recognition of the existence of a higher power to which one is intimately connected and imperatively dependent.
Forms and Functions of Prayer
Like religious practices in general, prayer encompasses a wide variety of forms and types in the world's religious traditions. It is performed formally and spontaneously, individually and collectively, privately and publicly, loudly and quietly, at home or in specially designated spaces. Prayer can take the form of reciting verses from sacred books, the singing of religious songs and poetry, the repetition of sacred words, the movement of the body at a particular pace, or silent contemplation.
Formal canonical prayers usually take place at prescribed times and places and follow a fixed set of rituals. They are usually held in the context of a congregation, a meeting of believers, but they can also be recited on their own.
This multiplicity and plurality of forms and expressions of piety and prayer has existed in the Muslim context since the time of the Prophet and continues to this day in the diverse geographical, linguistic and cultural contexts in which more than a billion Muslims reside. There is a coexistence of an incredibly rich variety of prayers and other devotional practices that have evolved throughout Muslim history that fostered the connection between an individual and what he / she considers sacred, be it God, Prophet, Imam, etc.
Prayer is necessary for the practice of faith, according to the Qur'an. His prayer verses demonstrate the relationship that the Qur'an expresses between Allah and human beings. Believers are urged to remember their Creator and to be constant in offering prayers. Being All-Hearing and Omniscient, Allah receives the prayers of those who invoke Him:
“I am close to answer the call of the caller, when he calls me…” (2: 186)
In Shi'a Ismaili tariqah of Islam, under the guidance of the Time Imam, we find a variety of prayers through which we can submit to the Divine. This includes collective practices that we observe in Jamatkhanas and individual practices in which we can get involved at any time of the day.
Mawlana Hazar Imam explained the importance of prayer in a speech at Peshawar University in 1967, warning that:
“The day when we no longer know how, nor do we have time or faith to bow in prayer to Allah, because the human soul, which He told us is eternal, is no longer important enough for us to spend an hour of our daily time in search of profit, it will be a day without sun of despair. "
Through our personal prayers, we find hope, comfort and courage to face our difficulties and adversities. We can draw strength from prayer, practiced alone or with our family, and seek divine grace, mercy and assistance.
What does a supposedly secular world want with the creepy (and probably fake) remains of medieval saints?
The market for this kind of item is not limited to Christianity. Buddhist monks in several countries fight against the stealing of sacred artifacts, and during the last decade the authorities in Thailand put in place stricter measures to protect temples from tourists and smugglers. The illegal traffic of Hindu idols is widespread.
The growing demand for items whose essential value is devotional rather than material is hard to reconcile with the classic narrative of the secularization of the modern world, summed up by Max Weber about a century ago: “The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world.’” The main feature of Weber’s vision was its irreversibility — but a world ineluctably rationalized and intellectualized shouldn’t have much interest in venerating eerie remains of medieval saints, fake or not.
The digital exhumation of the age-old relic business may seem more in line with the theory of the “desecularization” of the modern world, pioneered in the late 1990s by the Austrian-American sociologist Peter L. Berger. According to him, the contemporary world is “as furiously religious as it ever was.”
Professor Berger’s hypothesis applied universally, but he also cited faster demographic growth in the religious global South as evidence of an accelerating trend in certain areas of the world — and indeed by 2050, a Pew study projected, the religiously unaffiliated will decline significantly as a share of the world’s total population. But it’s hard to square a world of religious fervor with the decades-old crisis of organized religions, especially in the West.
Both the long-accepted secularization theory and the more recent desecularization one have significant supporting evidence, but neither of them fully captures the strange mixture of religious yearning and rationalist tendencies that seem to characterize the contemporary world.
We might be able to draw a different narrative. In this story, religious impulses didn’t just vanish with modernity, to be fully replaced by the secularizing forces of enlightened rationality. Instead, perhaps, they sank miles below our collective consciousness and waited there, dormant, only to resurface more frequently than we might think, in unconventional forms.
“We are just at the beginning of a new age of religious searching, whose outcome no one can foresee,” wrote the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor at the end of his monumental 2007 book “A Secular Age,” in which he attempted to chart an alternative path to the binary clash between belief and unbelief.
The fragmented contemporary religious landscape in the West, at least, looks to be quite in line with Mr. Taylor’s observations. While organized religions are shrinking, religiosity is in full force.
Mysticism in East and West
The Concept of the Unity of Being
Proceedings of the First Loyola Hall Symposium,
held on 20–21 February 2013 in Lahore, Pakistan
Thomas Würtz and Christian W. Troll, S.J.
Foreword to the Loyola Hall Symposia Series
The Jesuit Centre Loyola Hall in Lahore was founded in the year 1962 by Father Robert Bütler S.J. from Switzerland and two German Fathers Alphonsus Schockaert, S.J. and Heinrich Schulz, S.J. In 2012 the Jesuit community celebrated its 50th jubilee.
During the quarter century of his activity in Pakistan, Fr. Bütler dedicated himself to Christian-Muslim dialogue at a scholarly level. For this purpose he founded the Metaphysical Society in which Muslim and Christian thinkers debated about philosophical and theological questions, with a focus on Muslim and Christian mysticism.
A few years after Fr. Bütler’s return to Switzerland in 1986, the Jesuit Superior Fr. Vernon Buyser took the initiative to preserve the scholarly work of Fr. Bütler. This wish was highly appreciated by Mr. Ikram Chaghatai, who then published Fr. Bütler’s writings, including his translations of Islamic mystical literature, in a single volume called Trying to Respond (1994).
It was Fr. Bütler’s wish that Loyola Hall continue to promote interreligious understanding. Since the Jesuit community living at Loyola Hall today shares the vision of Fr. Bütler, the Francis Xavier Foundation in Zurich and the Institute for Social and Development Studies in Munich provided a
scholarship, which included field study in Pakistan as well as the arranging of an interfaith dialogue event.
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