January 22, 2019
In recent years I have been awed by the larger setting that dwarfs our physical universe and that could contain a myriad of universes. I have stood in amazement of the ultimate unity of which you and I are a part. I have sensed, in speechless wonder, that all of THIS is now.
All of these insights and impressions have been gifts of steady rumination, quiet mindfulness and meditation. — exercises in spirituality.
Nonetheless, at the same time I have come to a new understanding of the function of world religions. In all ages and in all zones, among peasants and rulers, in the imagination of artists and minds of intellectuals, religion has been an interpreter of the mysteries that lie far beyond the knowledge or imagination of mortals living on one planet in one galaxy in one universe.
To be sure, religious interpretations have been many, and often contradictory. The interpretations typically trace to the distant past reconstructed in the experience of an individual or group, then developed into a story made sacred in its retelling over time and place with continuing interpretations to make the story relevant.
Thus, an individual living within a zone of a particular religion is conditioned to adopt an explanation of reality. That is, the religion serves up answers to the ultimate questions and most individuals within the reach of the religion are of such a make-up to be accepting of the explanation. .
The force of religious explanation can lead to vastly different mindsets and philosophies. Religions have, in some cases, established a duality of human and divine, earth and heaven. Some religions have posited a time line leading to a culmination; other religions imagine a circular, recurring life line. Religions have been known to not only condone but also to institutionalize anti-social behaviors such as human sacrifice, war, and fear. Typically religions define what is good and what is evil and how the good became good and how the evil became evil.
Because I moved geographically out of the religious community of my birth, I have been able to view that heritage from a distance that has encouraged objectivity. Concurrently I entered into other communities whose religion(s) complemented and/or contradicted my own. This distance has helped me to understand better the ways and means of religion to interpret the realities of life and what lies beyond human life.
Here is a lovely paragraph from Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk, that reveals the shaping of faith.
I began translating the Visitation Card yesterday. It is a very solid and even inspiring document. Dom Dominique handled it in a way that impressed me deeply. I was especially interested in one page he had crossed out — he had changed some ideas and reintroduced them in another form, so that the meaning remained more or less the same, but the language was more serene and more objective and more profound. All the things he eliminated were good in themselves, but in the end the document was better, and included everything he wanted to say. And so I have seen how the Holy Ghost works in the machinery of a religious Order. How peacefully and smoothly He produces His effects. The atmosphere of the house is all tranquility and happiness.
So it is that I have a regard for what Karen Armstrong calls “the history of God.” That human history tells of the comings and goings of religion and the roles each religion has played in the construction of meaning. As I continue to sense the larger dimensions of meanings, surely I will continue to gain insights for living, for appreciation and for faith from the religion into which I was born and from other religions that I have encountered.