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Friday, August 04, 2006

Transcending Religions’ Meaning and Value

Religions play wonderful roles in our lives, offering us a sense of community and fellowship that nurtures us and sustains us in our times of need. But most religions are flawed in one manner or another and it is easy to become disillusioned by our religion or intolerant of the religions of others. While pursuing our spiritual journeys through life we may do well to reflect on the roles of religions in our lives and how we may transcend their limitations and achieve an independent state of being.

Transcending Religions’ Meaning and Value

Religion is a special way of sharing ourselves with others. Perhaps the best thing that we may share with others through our religions is our connectedness to each other and to our Creator.

We may go through many relationships with religion in our lives. Some of us may find our spiritual path by only a single religion, whether they find that path through their religious heritage or go seeking a path on their own. Some of us may try many religions and may finally understand that none of them will be their single path to the divine; these people may go on to develop a personal, independent relationship with their Creator.

Whether we have followed one religion or sampled many different religions, many of us celebrate our relationship to our Creator through religious worship. Our sacred traditions remind us of the intimate ways we are connected to each other and to all of Creation.

Some of us may sometimes err in our perceptions of religions. We may think one or another of the many religions we encounter may be false or hurtful. It is true that we may sometimes experience hurts from the careless words or hands of those who practice their religion sanctimoniously or dogmatically. There may always be those who would exclude from grace anyone who will not bow down to those holy laws peculiar to their own religion, holy laws which they may often purport to be the only path to God.

But those hurtful acts are the acts of foolish people who have warped their creed to ignoble ends. That their creed still has its roots in the divine remains undeniable, and there is still beauty and value in their creed beyond any mean divisive or invective words or deeds.

Religions are living wonders; they take on a life of their own that transcends the sum of their individual members with a continuity that spans many generations. The lives of religions are fulfilled and renewed through the members who practice their faith. If religions sometimes bring some harm to one another, or to their members, they may still yield a great good to those within their folds in need of companionship and guidance on their path through life.

It may be pointless to reiterate all the many faults of so many various religions. We may know that religions often appear to be made into tools to control and to subjugate us rather than to liberate and enlighten us. But in spite of any perceived faults in another person’s choice of spiritual paths we should respect the fact that the paths that other people choose to walk remain their own decision, and that the enlightenment they seek may be of a different order than that which we want for ourselves.

We cannot be free in our pursuit of spiritual knowledge and the blessings of wisdom if we hold a closed place in our hearts over any matter, particularly matters of faith or religion.

What we close off from our hearts will shut us away from life, experience and joy.

There are so many, many beautiful aspects to religious faiths of every kind, regardless of whether their roots lay in the east or in the west, in mystical experience or in doctrinal compliance. We are enriched by all the many various religions in ways both subtle and sublime.

Here I will speak personally of my love of religions.

I love the stories of Hinduism’s Bhagavad-Gita, particularly their hero Arjuna, yet Biblical stories are a fundamental part of my heritage. I see no conflict; both speak to my heart in different ways. The wisdom of Buddha and the wisdom of Islamic Sufis have brought me understanding and opened my heart to a wider world than I knew before I encountered them. Among my Jewish friends and neighbors I have witnessed the powerful roots of Judaism and the strength it gives their people against intolerance. I love to dance, and I see in Native American ceremonial dancing a reflection of the sacredness of dance that I feel within myself. I embrace the skies and feel the roots of Wicca emerging from within me uniting me with the Great Mother, Earth.

What wonderful joys these are, and yet the opportunity to experience these joys might be sundered in single a moment of reflection upon the darker sides of any of these spiritual traditions.

In the end we may only be bound by our personal faith alone, but along the way we may hope to share, and the many flowers that grow in the garden of our religions are worth experiencing, nurturing and caring. Those flowers within this precious garden that we may sometimes think are weeds will all have their own sacred places which we may discover in our hearts if we will only see them in the shining light of another person's eyes and wisdom.

If you are at a place of intolerance with one religion or another, think on what you may be missing or whom you may hurt with your intolerance. Think about how much you may one day regret the pain your intolerance may have brought to others. Can you look beyond the form of another person's religion to the light shining in their hearts? When you see that shining light you are rewarded with the abundant love of our Creator and share something precious beyond words with someone you might otherwise have slighted or utterly put down.

Think. Where did you learn your intolerance and what purpose does it serve?

Many religions have creeds imbued with intolerance of one sort or another. Intolerance is a form of social glue. It helps to give us an identity as a unique group of people, an identity defined by the differences of our culture and heritage.

Intolerance has another gluey property as well; it binds us to our spiritual path with guilt. We know in our hearts that it is wrong to act with intolerance or even with indifference, but we follow the intolerant example of those with whom we identify and our culpability and guilt may then forever bind us to our particular spiritual fellowship, for the members of our group forgive us and may permit or encourage our unkind acts toward those outside of our limited society.

Intolerance may not be a morally correct form of social glue, but intolerance serves another purpose as well. Within any group of people there will be frictions where harmony among the members may turn to discord. Intolerance is a way of sublimating those negative energies within the group by directing them outward from the group. While it is true that there is little or no justice in this method it is still a highly functional social process which helps the group to remain a closely knit social unit.

Aside from gluing us together and disarming social conflicts among those members of our spiritual group with whom we share our creed, intolerance is our shield against the erosion of our beliefs by outside influences.

The benefits we derive from the social relationships that we may build through our faith or religion are enormous, and many moments of intolerance spring forth from our natural human trait to protect that which we cherish.

If we are lucky enough to be raised with any faith or religion, we may find ourselves in a community that nurtures and protects us, loves us and rewards us, and provides for us in our hour of need.

Certainly those are gifts worth defending?

As we grow in wisdom we may learn to see faults with some of the social behavior or doctrinal practices associated with our spiritual communities. We may then turn away in shame and wish to dissociate ourselves from our heritage or chosen creed so that we may distance ourselves from those who continue to participate in behavior we now see as sullied by injustice or intolerance.

In turning away from our religious fellowship we may lose our connections with many of the cherished people whom we once regarded as our fast friends. We may also lose our precious sense of community, that wonderful feeling of belonging among our fellows. Turning away in this manner brings us pain and in our pain we may even turn away from our Creator. We may even think that there may never have been a Creator and that everything about our chosen creed or our religious heritage was a manipulative game to dominate us; that every part of the game was nothing but a snare of lies with which to trap us.

Alternately, we may value the comfort of our religious social network so much that we will choose to overlook any hint of rebellion within ourselves against the injustices we see within our group. We may submerge ourselves in our creed as well as we are able to, in denial of anything that may feel wrong either amongst our fellowship or within ourselves.

Those of us who leave the comfort and care of their religious heritage or chosen group may find themselves living in a void, deprived of community. There is often a reflexive desire to fill this void with something else. Often that desire seems urgent and we may immediately discover some new group with which to fill the void created by dissociating ourselves from our old fellowship.

Whether we may fill that void immediately or eventually, many of us who have turned away from a former creed will seek a new creed and culture, a new place within a society where we may once more be rewarded and cherished, where we may feel our spiritual needs are again being met.

Those with no strong roots in any creed, who may never have been raised in a religion where they are brought within the fold and cherished may fail to see the delight and comfort that so many more of us who belong within religious groups may find so fulfilling in our lives. Yet, those outsiders may witness the bonds of fellowship among the religious folk they know and they may long for their own sense of belonging. In the end some kindness or act of grace may open their hearts and then they may seek fellowship in their newfound spirituality. Perhaps they will find good fellowship somewhere among the many flowers of the garden of our religions or they may find fellowship while off upon their own unique spiritual path discovering friendship wherever their path may intersect another person’s path in love and joy and sharing.

While some of us may embrace atheism in response to our enlightenment regarding the perceived faults in our former spiritual heritage or choice of religion, others may adopt a new religious faith. But some who have turned away from religion through their enlightenment may go forth to sample all the different flowers of the garden, knowing that they will not join the fellowship of any single religion but will instead always belong to the entire garden in which all the flowers of faith are grown.

These garden children may be some of the most beautiful people of any whom you will ever meet. You will know them by their warm hearts. You will know them by their bright smiles for everyone they meet in any circumstances. You will know them by their great independence and valorous strength for they have a direct and private relationship to their Creator unfettered by any other being or beliefs. This deep abiding association they have with their Creator may hold them up and sustain them in any adversity.

These garden children live in the deepest of all the mysteries of religion for they have left the trappings of dogma and doctrine behind and have learned to experience grace directly from its divine source. The garden children have transcended the fractious ways of groups, and found a way to belong to the entire world and to all of us who dwell here. They have found their way to this transcendental state within their hearts by their unique enduring faith and wisdom. They are as grateful to share the wonders of their spirits with any open hearted person that they may find, as they are grateful to receive those blessings of friendship and spirit which so many people will eagerly share with them.

This sharing of our spirits is the ultimate meaning of religion and may bring us all closer to one another in the process of drawing us closer to our Creator.