I do not write much about religion. In the name of religion tens of thousands have been tortured and murdered. I do not speak much about God in my writing. I fear that word might be a stumbling block to someone who is searching for Divine Presence in their life. Our use of the word ‘God’, like any other word, is defined by our cultural, social and linguistic traditions and our co-constructed belief systems. It is not a word to be imposed on others. If the creed of doctors is do no harm, the creed of spiritual practitioners ought to include this: “Do not be a stumbling block to anyone seeking Divine Presence.”
Fundamentalist religion has become the opiate of too many bent on violence and destruction. In the name of religion, ‘apostates’ are slaughtered and women healers are burned at the stake. Children are forced to flee in terror from sectarian violence perpetrated in the name of religion. Every period of civilization has been marked by so-called ‘religious wars.’ Religion has become the sword that divides or beheads. In the thinly clad pseudo-religious language of ‘protecting our way of life’ we have justified drone attacks that kill innocent civilians and have tortured those suspected of even remote links to the ones we hold to be terrorists. Rather than religion being the faith and hope that heals wounds and unites across differences, we have perpetrated violence in the cloak of our self-righteous religious fanaticism.
My impulse is to agree with the Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox that there is simply too much God-talk (http://samuelmahaffy.com/2015/01/journey-desert-wisdom-review-meister-eckhart-mystic-warrior-times-rev-dr-matthew-fox/). My spirit thirsts for the sacred in the silence, the still small voice that comes after the wind and the fire–after the pontification of religious prescriptions, doctrines and creeds. With the great mystics and the saints and the prophets of all ages, I long for the presence that must remain nameless because it cannot be defined within the constraints of any language., any culture, or any single religious stream of practice.
There is a small crumpled piece of paper hanging in my office. It was left behind by my loved colleague, Dr. Jeanne Far when she passed from this world to the next. It reads: “If you want to love God, love one another.” Is there a sacred scripture in any of the great faith traditions that would take exception to this mandate?
I write this post about faith with acute awareness of those who have been deeply wounded in the name of religion. Religious arguments have divided sister against brother, children against parents, and nation against nation. People of all ages and of both genders have been sexually abused by religious leaders they have trusted to light the pathway to divine presence. Our research suggests that there is not a faith tradition or a denomination that has escaped the damage of ‘spiritual abuse.’
Leaving organized religion behind and owning my disgust with fundamentalism of all stripes, I am compelled to speak of that which I hold as most sacred in my own heart. Religious images and icons suggest an image or picture of God. I have not seen ‘God’. I surely did not see or know God in the iconic image of God as that wrathful male presence ready to pounce and punish any wrong-doers. I find great affinity in learning of the journey of the great psychotherapist Carl Jung from his religious Calvinistic upbringing to discovery of the mystery of the sacred that resides within all of us.
What does the face of God look like? I have not looked into the face of God, so I cannot answer that question. But, by grace, I journey across this desert of life in the shadow of the Sacred Presence of One that I know as the Creator and Sustainer of all that has life and breath and all that is good and loving.
The shadow of the Divine has been cast over me and I have touched the hem of the veil of The Beloved. This shadow of the Divine looks like the compassionate face of one walking through refugee camps, comforting, feeding and caring for women, men and children fleeing from violence. This is the closest I come to seeing the face of God.
God looks like a loving parent bending to comfort a crying child. God looks like the one who cradles the head of a man dying of cancer in her/his lap and slips slivers of ice into the parched mouth of one who can no longer eat or drink.
This God weeps with those who weep, mourns with those who mourn, and laughs and dances with those who laugh and dance.
Hafiz says: Every child has known God, Not the God of names, Not the God of don’ts, Not the God who ever does anything weird, But the God who knows only four words and keeps repeating them, saying: “Come Dance with Me, come dance!”
This God cannot be contained by any single religion or faith tradition. This God is not limited by the ‘teachings’ of any single sacred text. Yet, I find reflection of this Sacred Presence in the holy writings of every faith tradition.
I confess I fled from the Scriptures of the Old Testament for some decades. I found little to like there with eyes dimmed by the cataracts of the constructs of imperialistic theologies. With new eyes and a new heart, I now read the Prophecy of Isaiah: “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.”
For this message, I can be an evangelist! There is Good News here! Fundamentalist religion has turned the sacred temple into a den of thieves. But the sacred temple can and shall be built again.
So where and how do we move beyond sectarian religious violence? How do we unite those around this planet who nurture a spirituality that is restoring rather than destroying?
I have been blessed to know many of those who walk in the footsteps of the great Masters, Teachers and Saints. They are sometimes labeled by this world as Moslems, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus. They have been called shamans and saints. Some are labeled as apostates, heretics or atheists simply because they overtly reject the beckoning seduction of a tinsel-town spirituality. But the great spiritual teachers can easily be recognized, because their message is always one of love and not one of hate. It is a message that unites and not a message that divides.
The house of prayer of those who journey with the deep wisdom of the spiritual traditions cannot be contained within the physical walls of any church, temple, or mosque. This house of prayer is inclusive, not exclusive. The sanctuary is this amazing planet we inhabit together.
When we experience that which is sacred in ordinary life, we are truly standing on holy ground. It is my deep belief that in this sacred place there is, and can be, no hierarchy. We cannot rank those who are superior and those who are inferior in this house of prayer. In this sacred place there is neither Jew nor Gentle, slave or master.
The core meaning of the prophetic image of the lion lying down with the lamb is really about more than an idyllic peaceable kingdom. The lion lying down with the lamb is really about the ending of hierarchy. The king of the jungle is no longer the ruler over other creatures. There is no more king of the jungle. Those nations, people and institutions that have made themselves the king of the jungle must surrender power and position if this planet we co-inhabit is to be a house of prayer for all people.
There must be an end to domination, oppression and hierarchy if we are to evict those who have made the sacred temple a den of thieves. The money-changers who monetize relationships for their own self-interests and perpetrate injustice must surrender their positions of power. Those who exploit the people and the resources of this planet for their exclusive earthly treasure can no longer set the agenda. We must reclaim that which is sacred.
The wisdom of the diverse faith traditions are truly riches to share. Then we can gladly proclaim: “This house is a house of prayer for all people.”