Sunday, March 14, 2010
Discovering the Path
A friend of mine is exploring his spirituality and opening himself to finding his own path, free of dogma and definition. This is leading him to explore a wide variety of religious expression and ideas as well as what he has learned in his own journey over the years. He is searching for an authentic expression that fits his own soul and not something prescribed by someone else with other experiences and needs. He is wisely not only looking into different traditions, he is using dreaming to explore this.
Discovering that you have to forge your own path is awesome. Somewhere in the formation materials that I created years ago for The Third Order, Society of St. Francis, I wrote that there are as many paths to God as there are people. Now, 25 years later, I would say there are many, many more. It's like solving for pi -- you can go on working on it for a lifetime and never finish or repeat the same sequence twice. I believe those paths are infinite. There is not only not just one way; we can't even conceive of the limitless possibilities. The unique possibilities of finding God are as multitudinous as the aspects of God's existence. And יהוה, the unpronounceable Hebrew name of God, is a form of the Hebrew verb "to be" -- it actually translates as "existence." God is existence itself!
And your path changes all the time. As you grow and progress along your way, more unfolds for you and your possibilities broaden. There is a limitless spectrum, like many parallel worlds unfolding before you. God is present in all of it. There is nowhere you can go where God is not. By God, I'm not talking about some old guy with a long white beard, wearing a nightgown, perched on a cloud. I'm talking about the numinous, the holy other, the more-than, that permeates all that is. I can't define it or describe it better than that. What I call God is too huge to shrink to fit my comprehension, or yours, though people attempt that all the time. People point to "scripture" to justify this, but scripture is not God. It is stories we have written to try to explain the incomprehensible to each other -- to lessen our fear of the storm and the earthquake, to give ourselves a false sense of security in a very insecure world. If we adhere to these magic formulae, the bad thing won't happen. If we go to the right church, wear the right head-covering, believe the right thing, do or forbid the right things, eat or avoid the right foods, we will not be cast into the depths of whatever passes as hell for us. Those are very child-like ways of approaching spirituality. (I define spirituality as our ways of looking at God.) They probably will not hold up under much scrutiny, and they will not bring us any closer to God. In fact, many times people use them to avoid encountering God altogether.
A lifelong friend of mine is a Tibetan Buddhist. He writes brilliantly about it and shares his writing with me via Google docs. We met while waiting to go to confession in a very high church Episcopal parish in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco about 40 years ago. Now I'm a Jew and he's a Buddhist. The things he teaches about Buddhism are mostly no less true of Judaism. While I know I do not understand the deep intricacies of it as he does, the broader themes resonate with me and translate to my own experiences over the years. There are some basic themes that run through all religious expression and experience.
I watched a short segment on CNN today with Christiane Amanpour interviewing Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, who is also an Anglican priest. They were speaking about the Truth and Reconciliation councils that Tutu headed in South Africa. They said coming to peace after apartheid was a matter of listening to and accepting one another's stories. "You don't have to accept that my story is right," she said. "Only that it is right for me." How profound that is. How much peace in the world, and in our personal and spiritual lives, there would be if only we accepted that as a guide.
Photo Credit: mrsaxon's photostream on Flickr