being human,  embodied liturgies,  musings,  writing

Reflections: Spiritual Traditions of the World

As part of my Interfaith Spiritual Guidance training, we were asked to write a Reflective Expression on four of the world’s spiritual traditions, followed by an integration narrative. Below are the conclusions I’ve drawn about sitting with people from various traditions:

The voices we’ve heard in these modules intensifies my belief that we are a lot more alike than different. I believe any truly spiritual person with a heart for God can see this. I believe the biggest detriments to peace among religions/traditions are ‘othering’ others not like us, extremist beliefs within particular traditions and rigidity/dogma of a particular belief system. Our capitalist society plays into, and in many ways, guides all of this.  

We all live with bias and judgement daily; its how we work with them that matters most. I don’t know if its this SGTI study, the pandemic we just came out of, the spiritual journey God has been taking me on for years, my age, or a combination of these (and many other forces) but the things I’ve believed for a while now but could not name are becoming increasingly more fluid and malleable in my mind and in my heart.

My loose Christian upbringing and the rigidity of the religion made me stray into the foreign lands of yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism in my twenties, helped me understand how, for me, spiritual life is practice, not a rigid belief system. It also worked on my heart and body so my mind could take a back seat for a while. It helped me understand how I felt instead of blindly believing what I was told.

Hinduism during those years felt scary to me because of its worship of various gods (and my limited understanding of it), but as I was introduced to non-duality and the ways I could work with my mind and body to create deeper wholeness, particular aspects of the tradition settled into my heart even if my head couldn’t make sense of it.

Interestingly, as I came to the end of my yoga teaching journey, at least as I knew it for over a decade, I found Richard Rohr, The Center for Action and Contemplation and Christian Mysticism. I had also just converted to Catholicism, something I told myself I’d never do, and yet I felt like I was home (as an adolescent, I attended mass with my best friend). In high school I was baptized in a conservative Church of Christ and was taught all of the reasons all other Christian denomination were wrong (let alone any other religion outside of Christianity!) 

As I converted to Catholicism, I realized how easy it is to judge from the outside, not really understanding what’s happening inside the faith/tradition, and more importantly inside of the human hearts that exist within them. I wasn’t 100% on board with the Catholic faith or the rules of the church as an institution but as I was learning more about Christian mysticism and non-duality in this context, the Catholic mass felt to me the best place to practice my faith in community. I’m drawn to the rhythm, silence and ritual of the mass and the diversity of people. My experience of the mass (and homily) also feels less like force-feeding an interpretation of the Word that I often feel in more evangelical churches.

The contemplative Christian teachings I was presented with during my Living School experience sounded nothing like the mainstream Christianity we know so well in the US, but a lot like the teachings I’d immersed myself in from Hinduism, Buddhism and the native traditions. My head still didn’t understand it all but my heart continues to grow as I integrate these teachings. 

‘Transcend and include,’ as taught by Rohr (originally Ken Wilber) made so much sense. I didn’t and don’t have to throw all of my prior learnings out; they’re equally important and add so much depth to the place in which I stand today. It seems only natural that I am now in this program at SGTI and that my learning and integration will continue until my final breath. 

It feels important for me to bring forth how much everything is breaking down for me these days. The Interfaith Observer article in the Hinduism section says this: 

“When public school textbooks depict Hindus as cow and monkey worshippers embedded in a heinously rigid caste system, a distinctly condescending narrative is created … It’s not fair to place the blame squarely on teachers or textbook publishers. Our nation’s overworked and underpaid public school teachers present their students with the material that is provided to them. Most do not have the bandwidth to research the accuracy of the content in textbooks. So, year after year, they perpetuate a distinctly incorrect and biased narrative of Hinduism; one that shapes the perception that hundreds of thousands of Americans have about Hinduism, because most do not study about Hinduism after high school. And when they receive additional exposure to Hinduism, it is likely in the form of media – movies, newspapers, TV – which also tends to paint an exotic, atypical picture … Perhaps, it is time we look at ourselves and examine our complacency in allowing Hinduism to be so greatly misrepresented. For too long, the narrative about Hinduism has been written by those outside the tradition. And while outside perspectives can and do add great value to the dialog, they can also do great damage when a complex philosophical tradition that encompasses six different schools of thought is reduced to caste, cows, and karma. It makes Hindus ashamed and apologetic of our faith. And it does a disservice to non-Hindus, who are robbed of a chance of gaining a real understanding of a faith to which nearly one fifth of the planet adheres. In the process of succeeding in and assimilating to the West, Hindus have lost control of explaining and defining who we are and what we believe.” 

THIS. These are the waters we are swimming in. The narratives are often written from outside the traditions, which only perpetuates a head over heart, black and white, either-or, othering mentality.

Furthermore, our entire political structure, our long history of racism, mysogeny, etc. and the capitalist nature of our society works (very hard) to keep us stuck in the status quo. The ills are systemic. There is truly no separation of church and state, and the ways that religion (Christian nationalism) is used in government is for the sake of forwarding a particular agenda that truly does not have the interest of all, only a few.

I believe I (and a great many others) am/are in a great undoing. In my assessment, we truly are ‘one nation under God;’ its just that God means a lot of things to a lot of people. Perhaps we’d be wise to honor all of those ways, instead of pushing the beliefs and dogma of one faith, mainstream Christianity, as the one, true (only) way.

Finally, I believe I have the capacity to sit with people from varying faiths because I truly believe ‘paths are many, truth is one.’ At this point, I feel it would be easier to sit with independents and faiths outside of Christianity; the hardest tradition for me to reconcile in my heart is dogmatic Christianity. 

As I met with my SD supervisor, Lauren, earlier this week, we made a plan for my volunteer spiritual companionship roles with the hospital, Red Cross and other non-profits. My aim is to be with people as they are, no matter their gender, race, religious affiliation, social status, political affiliation, etc. because we are all children of God. It’s as simple as getting out of my own way as I practice presence and honor the humanity (and imperfection) of myself and others. Oh how I wish the practice was as simple as the theory! 

Citation: it me! Heather Sage Church

Would love to hear your thoughts! This stuff is so hard to write about because it is multi-layered in social, political, cultural and embodied life. Not sure I did it justice but I tried.

(Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash)