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A Theological Reflection on 'The Baptism into the Deep' and its Missiological Implications for the Asian Catholic Church

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This article represents a germinal effort in the field of contextual theology in Malaysia and employs a critical correlation method, facilitating an interface between the indigenous cultures and the Christian faith. At the onset of the theological reflection, this article identifies as its locus theologicus the kenotic experience of 'baptism in the deep' sacred mysteries of life, although this practice has been preceded by other renowned Asian theologians and amongst them, Aloysius Pieris of Sri Lanka no less. This 'epiphanic moment' is made possible through a reputable shaman who ritualized one of the religious beliefs and cultural practices of the Muruts, an indigenous people living near the Southwestern border of Sabah (former British North Borneo) and Northern Kalimantan on the Borneo Island. Yet this baptismal experience is all the more poignant because of the apparent poverty of a believing Murut community who embodies a little known spirituality of the marginalized poor in Asia. For reasons of its social marginality and subliminal sacrality, the corpus of the Muruts' beliefs and practices is described (for want of a better term) in the meantime as the subaltern spirituality of suspect. However, in correlating a context-specific religious experience to the papal teaching Novo Millennio Ineuunte, especially with regard to its underlying mission theology epitomized by the Lucan phrase 'put out in the deep' (Luke 5:4), its inadequacy becomes evident when transposed to Asia, a continent that abounds with pluriform yet distinctive cosmologies, cultures, psychologies and spiritualities. What is proposed as central to 'doing mission' in Asia is a dialogic process that involves a reciprocal mutuality of learning and unlearning, receiving and giving, enriching and critiquing. Resulting from this correlatonal interface is the enumeration of three indispensable criteria (power of distinction, sacrality of the rites of passage, rituals are efficacious), with an additional 5 theological principles (related to creation, Christ, Incarnation, Resurrection, the Spirit and sound fruits) for the re-valuation and evaluation of indigenous shamanism. These foundational principles become crucial for the subsequent explicitation of nine missiological strategies by which the Catholic Church of Asia become more efficacious in its mission amongst the indigenous peoples.


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