Regulars at the Red Barn no doubt are aware I’m among those who feel religion is important. Not just any religion, even though it can be a starting point. And not exclusively mine, no matter my reasons for touting its virtues.
My perspective, to be candid, values the prophetic stream as it runs through the centuries of the Bible, along with an alternative Christianity that emphasizes the Holy Spirit and practice based in small circles with elders and personal experience. As I said, not just any religion, no matter how much my understanding has drawn on yoga and Zen and Tibetan Buddhism or Native American wisdom. Admittedly, the elements I hold high can be found outside the Judeo-Christian mainstream, and much I’ve learned from them has informed my own faith journey.
In reflecting on ecumenical sharing, I might also point to ways contrasting faith communities can occur within a denomination. Ways Irish Catholics might differ from, say, Italian or Brazilian. In the Quaker world, not everyone meets in silent worship – many have pastors and choirs, and we might note there are more Friends in Nairobi than in Philadelphia.
One remarkable presentation of this is found in a book I received for Christmas from a future Episcopal priest. Several years would pass before I actually got around to reading it, but the impressions last.
Rodger Kamenetz’ 1994 The Jew in the Lotus initially struck me as a cutesy title with its twist on the Tibetan Buddhist chant, Aum Mane Padme Hum, which is sometimes translated as the jewel in the lotus. But the narrative is more a discovery of faith through personal encounter. Beginning as a secular, or non-observant, Jew, the author is invited to be part of a delegation who will meet with the Dalai Lama to discuss their faith. He seems to be there purely as the neutral observer. In the journey and its preparations, though, Kamenetz discovers how little he knows about his Jewish legacy and how radically different the practices of the other members of the party could be. His eyes are opened to new ranges of thought and feeling. What the Dalai Lama most wants to learn is ways his followers might survive apart from their homeland – something Jews have been doing for millennia. But that doesn’t prevent some lively discussion of esoteric teachings about dakini, as he sees them, and thousands of angels everywhere, as some of Kamenetz’ companions experience them, or of Kabala, too – things new to Kamenetz.
Religion, then, can lead to wider ways of viewing the world around us. There’s more to life than materialism or empirical thought can embrace. How, after all, can you discuss love or hope or selfless service from a concrete reality basis?
Or, as St. Paul observed, trying to speak of these can easily sound like folly.
So who’s to say there aren’t angels dancing in the snowflakes? Or on the tip of my beloved’s nose? Sounds like a good start for a poem, if you ask me.