Mercy Seminar 2023

A Christian Exploration of Indian Spirituality

With Father David Peck
and Professor Randall Zachman

Entirely on Zoom

The Mercy Seminar explores a theme related to the understanding of mercy in various religious traditions in order to reflect on the relationship of human life to ultimate reality, including the themes of illusion, suffering, compassion and prayer. The focus for 2023 will be on the themes of love, devotion and liberation in the Hindu traditions of India. Each of the 3 terms run for 6 consecutive Thursday nights. New participants join each term and the Seminar does not presume prior experience or knowledge. It is fully online and is recorded for asynchronous viewing.

In a highly accessible study, that includes reading short passages of a primary text along with brief practices of yoga and meditation, participants will explore the central texts informing Hindu spirituality.

The first term will examine selections from the Upanishads, which focus on the relationship of the true Self to ultimate reality, which the texts call Brahman. In the second term, we will read The Bhagavad Gita, which builds on the thought of the Upanishads in order to inspire the reader both to love all creation and to have supreme love for God. The third term will examine the fruits of contemporary Hindu-Christian dialogue and interaction, focusing on the understanding of Jesus Christ as Guru, as well as the challenges that Christian communities face in India.

For instance, the Hindu spirituality expressed in the Upanishads and The Bhagavad Gita inspired the non-violence of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi in turn had an impact on Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King, Jr., who brought his vision of non-violence and liberation to the United States. George Harrison of the Beatles was also profoundly influenced by Hindu thought and practice. His song “I, Me, Mine”is based on a quote from The Bhagavad Gita.

Professor Randall Zachman and Father David Peck welcome all those who want to make deeper connections between mind, body and spirit through sustained engagement with Hindu spirituality in ways that help us to deepen our own Christian spirituality through both texts and practices. Now in its fourth year the Mercy Seminar via Zoom builds a rich sense of community as we bring a “beginners mind” to the study of holy texts and the mystical path that deepens Christian understanding and expands our understanding of other faith traditions and cultures that we would otherwise never really appreciate.

Term 2 (May 4 – June 8)

Term 2 will include reading the whole of the Bhagavad Gita, “The Song of the Lord,” which, along with the Upanishads, is one of the most important writings in the Hindu tradition. The Bhagavad Gita has been regarded as an Upanishad itself, with Lord Krishna as the teacher and Arjuna as his student. As Krishna tells Arjuna: “Do not get angry or harm any living creature, but be compassionate and gentle; show good will to all. Cultivate vigor, patience, will, purity; avoid malice and pride. Then, Arjuna, you will achieve your divine destiny.” The Bhagavad Gita speaks of three ways to attain liberation from suffering and death: the way of wisdom (as in the Upanishads); the way of selfless work; and the way of complete devotion.  All are welcome, including those who did not participate in previous terms of the Mercy Seminar.

Six consecutive Thursday evenings from 7 – 8:30 PM in Zoom format only.

Each session will be recorded in Zoom and available for viewing for those who have completed their registration.

Cost: $75/term; scholarships available; please email Nancy LeVasseur for more information.

Click here to register for Term 2.

Term 3: October 5 – November 9

Term 2 Readings

Course Readings
Session 1: Reading II.1
Session 2: Reading II.2
Session 3: Reading II.3
Session 4: Reading II.4
Session 5: Reading II.5
Session 6: Reading II.6

Opening Comments
Session 1: Opening Comments II.1
Session 2: Opening Comments II.2
Session 3: Opening Comments II.3
Session 4: Opening Comments II.4
Session 5: Opening Comments II.5
Session 6: Opening Comments II.6

Father David Peck
The Rev. David W. Peck is the twenty-third rector of Saint James. Prior to his arrival in 2008 from the United Kingdom, he served the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, at Lambeth Palace as his Secretary for International Development. In this role he focused on building partnerships with church leaders, UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations in order to provide food and education in post-conflict zones in sub-Saharan Africa.

Born in Indiana, David was educated in the United States and England, earning his Theology and Ministry degrees from Cambridge University and Westcott House.

David’s prior peace building and reconciliation work led him to study in Jerusalem in 2013. There he began a new focus on how the rich theology of mercy could help Jews, Christians and Muslims explore their own and each other’s texts and traditions more deeply.

His work in Africa and the Middle East and his completion of a 30-day Ignatian silent retreat at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA drew him more deeply into the practice of contemplative prayer. Since then he has taught meditation in school, hospital, hospice and prison settings. He lives with his wife Dr. Cordelia Moyse, a church historian, and their daughter.

Prof. Randall Zachman
Randall Zachman is Professor Emeritus of Reformation Studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he taught undergraduate and graduate courses in theology for twenty-six years, and is currently an adjunct instructor in theology at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is a lifelong Episcopalian. Randall received his undergraduate degree in religion at Colgate University, his Master of Divinity at Yale Divinity School, and his PhD at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

He is the author and editor of several books on Martin Luther and John Calvin, and has also published articles and chapters on the theology of Søren Kierkegaard and Karl Barth. He has spent his career teaching the history of Christian theology, including seminars on the Old and New Testaments.

For the past fifteen years, he has been a member of the International Theology Conference at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem in which Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars study and dialogue together. He lives in Lancaster with his wife, The Rev. Dr. Carrie Call, who is the Transitional Conference Minister of the Penn Central Conference of the United Church of Christ. Their son Johnny lives in Austin, Texas.

The Urban Well is a registered trademark of Saint James Episcopal Church.

Term 1 Readings

Opening Comments
Session 1: Opening Comments II.1
Session 2: Opening Comments II.2 
Session 3: Opening Comments II.3 
Session 4: Opening Comments II.4 
Session 5: Opening Comments II.5
Session 6: Opening Comments II.6

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Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem

Pricing available later in 2021
Dates to be determined
The Mercy Seminar concludes with an optional week-long trip to the Tantur Ecumenical Institute. Situated at a beautiful location on a hill in Jerusalem, it serves as a welcoming place in the Holy Land for visitors who come from all over the world to stay at this oasis of learning, community and hospitality.