The Sanskrit word Satsang literally means ‘gathering together (sang) for the truth (sat)’ and, although Satsangs are popular among Hindus and people of South Asian origin, they can also be an expression of Christian spirituality. One Tuesday evening a group of around 50 people gathered at London School of Theology to take part in a Christian Satsang led by Resonance Arts which is part of WEC International. The college chapel was decorated with bunting and swathes of material and there were blankets and cushions on the floor. We were invited to leave our shoes at the door.
The evening was led by Suneel Shivdasani and, after a welcome we watched as the Diya (lamp) was lit and some words of scripture were read. In Hindu culture light symbolises knowledge and it is the light itself which is worshipped but, at this Christian Satsang, we weren’t there to worship the light but Jesus who is the light of the world.
The style of music was South Asian and the songs were in languages unfamiliar to me so I was grateful that Claire and Gill sang in a leader/response style so we could all be involved. Their beautiful singing was only enhanced by the instrumentalists who played sitar, flute, manjira (small hand cymbals) tabla and dholak (drums) competently but without overpowering the voices. One of the features of Asian music is the drone – often provided by a tanpura – which is heard underneath all the instruments. Ian Collinge (WEC International) explained that this reminded us that the presence of God is always with us.
As we sat on cushions and blankets on the floor, with those leading us slightly higher on a platform but still seated, I was struck at how different the attitude was to Western worship events. Here there was an air of humility, reverence and service which is so often lacking from our Christian celebrity culture with its loud music and complicated song structure.
Worship is more than singing and, during the Satsang, Scriptures were read, prayers were said and silence was kept. Suneel shared some thoughts and experiences based on Romans 12:1-2: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
An important part of Indian culture is ‘prostration’ where one shows respect to parents, elders, and teachers by touching their feet. This is a way of humbly acknowledging the greatness of another and symbolises their selfless love and sacrifice. Following Suneel’s reflections we were invited to find a space on the floor and lie down to prostrate ourselves before God and were led in prayers to offer our whole selves to Him as living sacrifices.
During the evening we spent time in silence as we meditated on The Dalit Madonna a painting by Jyoti Sahi (b.1944). Dalit, meaning ‘broken’, is the current name of the caste previously called ‘the untouchables’ and the painting reflects the circular shape of the traditional Indian grinding stone. This consists of the “Mother Stone” which is fixed and stable and has a hollow carved out of its centre containing a smaller egg-shaped “baby stone”. The baby stone is free to move thus grinding the various food stuffs placed in the hollow of the Mother Stone. As the picture was explained further we understood more of the links with Jesus and Indian culture. The picture is part of a modern art collection owned by the Methodist Church and you can see the image and read more about it here.
The Christian Satsang was a new experience for me but certainly one that I would repeat (despite my knees aching for a couple of days afterwards!). There is so much that we can learn from expressions of spirituality which are different from our own and, if we take the time to do it, then our lives will be richer.
Article by: Rosey Johnson (Communications Manager, South Asian Concern)
London School of Theology have produced a video of the event which you can view here.