"Contours of Contemplation: Unveiling the Reflective Layers of Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe"

In my recent writings, including last week's column, I delved extensively into the legacy of my uncle, Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe, marking the fortieth anniversary of his passing on October 23. While my focus primarily touched upon his humanitarian vision, his pioneering role in human rights advocacy, and his compassionate pastoral care, there exists another dimension of his character that warrants exploration to comprehend the profound impact he left behind.

Amidst his bustling engagements, Bishop Wickremesinghe carved out extended periods for introspection, delving into the depths of his own soul and contemplating his role in the grand tapestry of existence. This aspect of his persona, often overlooked, played a pivotal role in shaping his influence. He not only championed a pluralistic vision uncommon among social and religious leaders of his time but also actively promoted a contemplative life, reminiscent of monastic ideals, intertwined with a profound connection to the rural landscapes housing the ashrams he ardently supported.

Reflecting on his tenure as the chairman of the Civil Rights Movement, my sister, in her contribution to the SCM reflections, shed light not only on his leadership but also on the 'residential seminars at Devasaranaramaya in Ibbagamuwa.' This tranquil haven served as a retreat for dialogue and discourse within the Kurunagala Diocese, managed by Sevaka Yohan Devananda, another distinguished Anglican clergy. She highlighted the camaraderie and intellectual exchanges between Bishop Wickremesinghe and Yohan Devananda, emphasizing their shared commitment to simplicity and advocacy for the rights of the underprivileged.

However, there were other ashrams that held a place in my uncle's contemplative pursuits, notably one in Jaffna founded by the visionary Sevak Selvaratnam. Contrasting with the simplicity of Devasaranaramaya, this ashram in Jaffna added a unique dimension to Bishop Wickremesinghe's spiritual journey.

Although I never experienced Devasaranamya firsthand, I was fortunate to stay at the Jaffna Ashram during a circuit with Hope Todd from the Tourist Board. Todd, eschewing conventional accommodations, favored the unassuming environment of the ashram, offering me a glimpse into a facet of my uncle's life that extended beyond the mainstream narrative.

In essence, Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe's profound impact cannot be fully grasped without acknowledging the deliberate pauses he took for self-reflection, connecting with his spirituality, and fostering intellectual exchange in the serene embrace of ashrams. These moments of contemplation added layers to his character, enriching his advocacy for human rights and dedication to the less privileged, making him a truly dynamic force in Sri Lanka's Anglican clergy.

"Sacred Bonds and Shared Holiness: Rediscovering Connections in Rural Retreats"

Discovering an old school friend, Gordon Mayo, in an unexpected rural haven was nothing short of astonishing. In the midst of that serene setting, a rekindled friendship blossomed, and the unfolding narrative became even more enchanting as I engaged with Peri Annan, known as Selvaratnam—a man who radiated holiness in every aspect of his being.

Immersing myself in the tranquil embrace of that rural sanctuary, basking in the blissful dry sunshine of the north, left an indelible mark on my memory. The days spent there, sharing stories and laughter, were a testament to the power of connection in an environment that seemed untouched by the chaos of the outside world. It was a place where Gordon, Peri Annan, and I forged a bond that transcended time and distance.

Lakshman Wickremesinghe, driven by a profound desire for his community to taste the simplicity of such a life, orchestrated not only retreats but also labor camps. Suranjith Peiris recounts a vivid episode from a work camp in April 1959, where they endured the scorching sun while engaged in eight hours of labor, finding solace in the evening by the nearby stream. It was in these moments that Fr. Lak, as affectionately referred to, led them in Bible study and prayer, grounding the group and fostering spiritual connection.

While I never personally experienced such labor camps, my mother introduced a similar camaraderie through the Girl Guides' camps for Guiders. Evenings of shared stories and laughter followed days of hard work and learning, creating a sense of community that lingered in the memory.

For Lakshman, it was more than just retreats and camps—it was about expanding the horizons of those with a limited perspective on life. This philosophy extended beyond local borders, as seen in his encouragement of overseas trips for charitable work. One notable instance was when Sydney Knight, later the chaplain at Peradeniya University, ventured to a work camp at Kumbalgud organized by the Bangalore YMCA.

Notably, the refuges he sought, both for himself and his flock, did not align with the conventional Anglican tradition. His belief in engaging with churches outside this tradition stood in contrast to the prevailing Anglo-Catholic tendency within the Church of Ceylon—an inclination shared by his mother. This divergence underscored his commitment to a broader, more inclusive spiritual journey, enriching the lives of those fortunate enough to be touched by his vision.

"Ecclesiastical Echoes: The Unfulfilled Quest for Christian Unity"

In the tumultuous sixties, Bishop Lakshman found himself deeply entrenched in the cause of ecumenism, ardently championing Church Union alongside Bishop Harold de Soysa in Colombo. Their vision was grand: to unite the various minor Christian denominations scattered across the country, despite their relative smallness in comparison to the dominant Catholic presence. Inspired by the successful union in South India, where Lakshman had established connections with Church of South India clergy, the Bishops worked tirelessly, achieving notable success in the Diocese of Colombo.

The initial enthusiasm, even among committed Anglo-Catholics like the author's grandmother, soon faced a formidable challenge. Diehard Anglo-Catholics took legal action against the proposed union, leading to a setback. The sudden demise of the visionary Harold de Soysa further complicated matters, as his successor, Cyril Abeynaike, retreated from the cause. In the aftermath of Lakshman's passing, a poignant letter surfaced, addressed to Bishop Abeynaike, expressing disappointment at the setback and the perceived undermining of the Christian cause in the country.

Lakshman's prescient words hinted at the consequences that unfolded over the next half-century. The failure to achieve unity among Christian denominations allowed fundamentalist churches to rise to prominence, overshadowing the previously established Christian traditions that began to fade away. The Chaplaincy at Peradeniya, once a beacon of interdenominational collaboration, now stands in disrepair, highlighting the erosion of past efforts to bring Protestant groups together.

Despite the setbacks, Lakshman's resilience was evident. His retreats, moments of introspection and spiritual fortification, provided him with the strength to persist in his endeavors, even in the face of disappointment. His acknowledgment of failure in some endeavors did not diminish his commitment or confidence. In his final days, he subscribed to T.S. Eliot's prayer from "Ash Wednesday": "Teach us to care and not to care, Teach us to sit still." These words encapsulate the complex interplay of striving for unity, facing setbacks, and finding solace in moments of stillness—a profound reflection on the challenges and aspirations within the ecclesiastical landscape.

In retrospect, the life and pursuits of Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe unfold as a tapestry woven with threads of noble aspirations and challenging setbacks. His fervent commitment to ecumenism, exemplified by the ambitious Church Union initiative, faced both triumph and tribulation. The initial success in the Diocese of Colombo, marked by enthusiastic support even from staunch Anglo-Catholics, was overshadowed by legal disputes and the untimely passing of the visionary Bishop Harold de Soysa.

Lakshman's unyielding spirit, however, emerged as a guiding light, reflected in his poignant letter expressing disappointment at the retreat from unity. His acknowledgment of failure in some endeavors did not diminish the enduring impact of his retreats—moments of solace that fortified him to reenter the fray with renewed commitment and confidence.

As the decades unfolded, the repercussions of the thwarted Church Union became apparent, paving the way for the ascent of fundamentalist churches and the gradual decline of established Christian traditions. Even institutions like the Chaplaincy at Peradeniya, once vibrant with interdenominational collaboration, now stand as silent witnesses to the erosion of past efforts.

In the final chapters of his life, Lakshman found solace in the wisdom encapsulated in T.S. Eliot's prayer from "Ash Wednesday": "Teach us to care and not to care, Teach us to sit still." These words, echoing through time, encapsulate the nuanced dance of aspirations, setbacks, and the enduring strength found in moments of contemplative stillness.

Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe's legacy is not just a narrative of challenges faced but a testament to the resilience that can be found in spiritual fortitude. His pursuit of unity, though met with obstacles, leaves an indelible mark on the ecclesiastical landscape—a call to reflection and a reminder that, even in the face of adversity, the echoes of a committed spirit resonate through the corridors of time.