Dilatato Corde 3:2
July – December, 2013

Bradley Malkovsky
Personal Encounters with Faith, Love, and Holiness in Sacred India

Bradley Malkovsky’s God’s Other Children offers a fresh approach at examining how and why a person fully committed to Christianity, the Catholic tradition in particular, is able to learn from, find value, and even enhance one’s spiritual and religious life in the course of encountering other religious traditions.  The book is part travelogue, part spiritual autobiography, and part love-story woven together by a captivating narrative through which the author seeks to convey his experience of God in genuine, but unexpected ways in India. 

Malkovsky lays out his three intentions – 1) to tell stories of Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims in India “intended to give the reader a sense of the value of other religions and their power to heal and transform our lives;” 2) to connect these stories to real people so as to avoid over-generalizations about these religions; and (3) to raise “questions about the relation of Christ and Christianity to other religions.”  Interestingly, Malkovsky does not choose to explore these complexities by way of theological or doctrinal inquiry.  Instead, he clarifies, “By focusing on the human dimension of religion rather than on doctrine alone, I hope to bring the reader to a deeper appreciation of just how much we all share as human beings in our spiritual striving, regardless of our religious affiliation.”

Narrated in the form of story, the book is enjoyable to read, and is thus easily digestible by the ordinary reader.  It is divided into two parts.  Part one focuses mainly on his personal spiritual journey leading up to his arrival and subsequent adventures in India.  Part two is in many ways the culmination of this spiritual search:  he unexpectedly meets his wife.  Here, Malkovsky recounts the many obstacles and fortuitous events involved in the course of meeting and getting to know Mariam.   Further, he relates the tricky path of navigating unavoidable family complexities, cultural and religious issues as he and this Indian Muslim young woman become closer and then he finally proposes. He is surprised to learn that she had already made up her mind to marry him and also, for her own special reasons, plans to become a Catholic. 

Malkovsky sets the scene in the first two chapters by recounting his return to India with his wife and daughter some fourteen years after his initial stay.  While modernization that arrived with the tech boom has changed India in recent years, much remains the same.  “After being away from India for so long, it felt good to be back again in a world where discussions about faith were so easy and natural, unlike the secular West, where the very existence of a transcendent realm was often questioned.”  This is the gateway into Malkovsky’s religious experience in India.

What stands out about this book is Malkovsky’s ability to convey profound spiritual and theological insights skillfully through story telling. The insights he has gained from other religions in India, as a Catholic Christian, come from lived experience, coupled with his studies, but not from mere theoretical musings.  What is particularly enjoyable is that the author does not take himself too seriously in the process.  In the chapter “Buddhist Vipassanā Meditation” the author, on a retreat, tells us that once each day the teacher, Goenkaji, would ask the students to sit, in his presence, for one full hour with eyes shut the entire time.  In full disclosure, Malkovsky confesses that not once could he keep from peeking after the teacher had ordered, at random, the one-hour, eyes-shut meditation.  Nonetheless, much is gained from the retreat.  Malkovsky states, “I learned…that meditation can purify our mind and heighten our compassion, even independently of prayer . . .vipassanā is already valuable in its own right as a spiritual discipline, just as prayer is.”  

Additionally, Malkovsky does not hesitate to take on practical questions one encounters when incorporating religious practice from outside of the Christian tradition.  For example, the author writes in depth about the value of yoga.  However, he admits, according to some Christians, yoga has the potential to open one up to the demonic.  In addressing this issue, Malkovsky reminds us that Jesus himself, and many saints, bear witness to the threat of demonic influence even during prayer.  He articulates that one’s lack of awareness of potential demonic influence is the fundamental issue, not meditation specifically.  Even when one is praying, one must always be on guard. Thus, in response to the charge that yoga is potentially harmful, he clarifies, “. . . A Christian who practices yoga should be more prepared to recognize the influence of the demons, since that person knows of their existence and influence from the Gospels. . . .” 

The author’s chapter on yoga, which addresses the threat of demonic influence, among other topics, is probably his most technical and so a little out of place within the context of the rest of the book.  Nonetheless, for those who have studied yoga it is still a fascinating read. Here, Malkovsky makes a strong case that yoga is a positive form of self-effort in spiritual life, but not a means for experiencing God, which comes only through grace.  While modern teachers who take a theistic approach are briefly noted, it should be mentioned that they are not wholly taken into account.  Elsewhere in the book, he addresses issues of shared prayer, communion hospitality, and adequate theologies of religion accommodating what is true and good among God’s other children.

Malkovsky also makes a point to let the reader know that there are universal indications of God’s presence within other religious traditions.  One of those is the virtue of selflessness.  In “Shivapur and the Miraculous Stone” we hear about service to God within a community of everyday Muslims.  Malkovsky draws attention to a sign outside of the shrine of the Muslim saint Qamar Ali Darvesh.  Among other things, the sign states, “He served the people.”  The author explains, “. . . the saint is not just close to God, but he also makes himself available to address the problems and concerns of the people in his vicinity.” For Malkovsky, this testimony of selflessness is an indication of the authenticity of his sainthood, regardless of religion.

God’s Other Children is a joy to read.  For those of us who have visited India and had similar experiences, the story reads as a kind of affirmation. Likewise, for theologians and scholars of world religions it is a healthy reminder of the importance of interreligious work.  The text is also well suited for the classroom and could be used to introduce undergraduate students to world religions and interreligious dialogue.  The second part of the book, more personally focused on the author’s relationship with Mariam, is a pleasant story.  The chapter on vipassanā, as good as it is, could have told us more exactly what the vipassanā is that he learned. The book also lacks an index, which would have helped since he does mention important terms, names, and texts. However, the real beauty of Malkovsky’s book is that it is written in such a way as to have wide-appeal. He retells his adventures without pretension and with much humility.  Technical language is kept to a minimum.  On more than one occasion he tells the reader of a fantastic first-hand miracle-like event, one in which he is either a witness, or takes part in, but he humbly confesses that he has no rational explanation, and in many cases, it was a one-time experience.  By way of these accounts, throughout the book, the author expresses his thankfulness for experiencing God’s love in the world in ways, in places, and within religious contexts one might least expect.  

The author reflects, “I came to the conclusion many years ago that not only is my faith in Christ a gift from God, a mystery that I do not entirely understand, but that the people I meet are equally gifts of God, each manifesting the presence of the divine mystery in their own unique way.”

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