Monday, June 27, 2005
An Anglican Mossie
Am I talking about a Shaykh? An Imam? A sufi?
Yes, he was a Shaykh in that he was quite elderly at the time. He has now deceased.
He was an Imam in that he led a congregation. In fact, he was the leader of one of Sydney’s largest religious congregations.
In many ways, he was a sufi. He had a deep consciousness of God and a profound spiritual presence which was felt by all who were fortunate enough to meet him.
He was also an Anglican minister. But not just any Anglican minister. He was the Dean of Sydney.
Dean Lance Shilton passed away peacefully on March 12, 1998. I first met him as a student at St Andrews Cathedral School in 1980. He was a regular feature at Chapel services, and a regular visitor to the school.
The Dean was also involved in an evangelical venture in which he invited members of the public to ask questions. These sessions were held outside the entrance of the Cathedral in the Town Hall Square. All sorts of curly and unusual questions would be thrown at the Dean, and he would patiently deal with all of them.
It was at one such session that myself and a few Ahmed Deedat enthusiasts gathered after completing our Friday prayers at the Surry Hills Mosque. I prepared a lengthy question which I thought was a refutation of just about every Christian doctrine under the sun. The monologue ran into a whole 2 pages. I am too embarrassed to reproduce bits of it here as it will reflect on the immaturity I suffered from at the time. We are all embarrassed when the follies of our youth are mentioned.
To his credit, the Dean read out the entire question. He tried to answer it all, but admitted he did not have the time. He also made a startling admission. He said he simply did not know all the answers.
I thought I had won the battle. But Dean Shilton went onto explain how all of us could win the war.
“Look, I don’t know all the answers. But neither does anyone else here. None of us knows everything. We cannot possibly have knowledge of everything. But what counts is not to know all the answers. What really counts is to know the Person Who knows all the answers. And that means knowing God.”
I challenge any of the 1.2 billion Muslims across the globe to find a single error in the above-quoted sentiments. Just one.
These words have stayed with me ever since then. They were a defining moment, a profound religious experience comparable to other similar experiences.
God has blessed me with many amazing experiences.
In 1985, I was a 16 year old schoolboy who would get up in the middle of the night and pray for God to change the mind of a young girl I had met on the train. Within 3 months, she wrote me a letter saying she loved me. I was enchanted and my adolescent romance took me to new spiritual heights.
(Sadly, 3 months later, our parents stage-managed our separation. Such is life!)
In 1998, I was an idealistic 28 year old who travelled to Brazil and performed a conversion ceremony for a young female doctor. We hoped to have the ceremony done in a mosque, but could find no mosque in her home town of Aracatuba. We therefore had to settle for a building that looked the most like a mosque. It turned out to be the shopping centre! It was the only building with a dome.
In 2004, I was a burnt-out 35 year old lawyer who felt on the fringes of Ramadan, suffering from an illness and needing medication in regular intervals. Fasting was impossible. I then met a friend who told me of her late father who was Muslim and whom she had never met. I wrote about that conversation in a Muslim magazine. She read my article, and at 2am she sent me a delightful text message that lifted my spirit amd corroded through my cynicism.
These 3 incidents represented profound spiritual moments in my almost 36 years on this planet. And my conversation with the Rev Canon Dr Lancelot Rupert Shilton on that fateful Friday in 1986 will also be counted among those experiences in my closing submissions on the Day of Judgment.
Lance Shilton was instrumental in changing and refining my faith and my perceptions of Christianity and Islam. His patience and softly-spoken manner helped a young firebrand like myself to calm down and listen for a change. He really was a true reflection of the saying attributed to Jesus: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”.
The meek may not inherit political power, but they certainly can win the hearts of all people. And as an Anglican Minister, as Dean of Sydney and as a humble soldier of Christ, Lance Shilton won the heart of at least one Muslim.
(The author is a Sydney lawyer and a a proud Old Boy of St Andrews Cathedral School.)
© Irfan Yusuf 2005