Monday, November 24, 2014

Known by a Thousand Names

"Following a Path"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

During this Thanksgiving time of year it is custom in many communities across the United States to gather together for neighborhood "Interfaith Services."  Jews and Christians, Muslims, Hindus Buddhists and Sikhs all sitting next to one another in churches, synagogues and temples for a traditional  hour of "Thanksgiving unity" - shared prayer, a few hymns, some remarks by the priest, rabbi or Imam.

Over my career I have attended many such Interfaith Services. The thing is that most people don't take it all that seriously- it's sort of a nice thing to be together with people of other religions for one hour a year, but it's even nicer to go separate ways when the service is done. I also know of a whole lot of strict "orthodox" believers of every stripe who are very much against gathering with people of different religious traditions. They fear that too much association and collusion with those who believe differently may "water down" and weaken the firm tenets of their own faith in which they so firmly believe.

I actually think that the future of religion in America depends upon "interfaith" collaboration and dialogue;" and in my own case, my Christian beliefs have been exponentially strengthened by the wisdom of many other spiritual traditions.

Not far from the Desert Retreat House there are a series of wilderness trails that lead up to a lush, cool mountain lake high up in the desert mountains. These trails actually all have the same starting point,  and although they will all wind up at the mountain lake,  the course of each trail is quite different from one another. One trail is fairly direct and the hike is quite moderate, another a bit more arduous, still another is very circuitous and should only be traveled by the most seasoned hikers. However, unlike other trails, this one passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in the region.  And actually, just in case you didn't want to walk to the lake (or weren't able to do so), you could get on the highway and drive your car up there on a local road. 

None of these trails is either better or worse than the other -they are simply different, each with their advantage and disadvantages. And while there is one path I usually follow when I hike, I have at times walked along some of the other trails and enjoyed the different perspective each had to offer. Yet, regardless of the path, they all head toward the lake and in the end that's where they all wind up.

I think that the many different spiritual traditions are very much like these wilderness trails. There is
no best path, each can be very different from the other, each offers a different perspective; but in the end they all point to the truth and lead to wisdom.

Gandhi once observed:

Though we know God by a thousand names,
God is one and the same to all of us.

"God" is the energy of Love that flows through and weaves together everything that "is". There are indeed a thousand different ways of naming that energy, and a thousand different paths for "getting at" the Great Mystery that can never be understood or captured by strong unbending doctrines. Yahweh, Christ, Allah, the way the Buddha, the Tao, the gods of the Hindus- all names and paths on a road to the ONE.  

Religious people, spiritual people, believers and non-believers alike - we are all human beings, all of us on a path to Transcendence. Yes, there are at least a thousand names and "God" is the one and the same for all of us. 

A friend of mine just sent me an email containing a video of Josh Groban's new song, Thanksgiving. There is one phrase I especially like:

Even with our differences
There is a place we're all connected
Each of us can find each other's light

What a perfect season of the year for each of us to find each other's light.

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