On respecting other religious traditions

A week ago today I was still in Santa Fe. The Emerging Wisdom conference had just ended. As the week has worn on, and I returned first to Massachusetts then finally to Cape Town, I have had time to reflect on the experience.

I am deeply grateful for the individual connections I made while I was there, but I think there is a larger message for me in the experience. The keynote speakers were Fr Richard Rohr OFM, Roshi Joan Halifax and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. These three from the Christian, Buddhist and Jewish traditions respectively.

Several things struck me as I listened to these elders.

All were wise, warm and humble. In each case I found myself wanting to spend more time with them.

I know the writing and teaching of Richard Rohr fairly well, but the other two were new to me. I was deeply moved by both Reb Zalman and Roshi Joan. I wanted to ‘sit at their feet’ a little longer.

All three were clearly committed to their own traditions, but referred to writers and teachers from other traditions. This was no wishy washy mishmash of pick and mix spirituality. Rather each had found the source of life in their own tradition, but were willing and able to see the wisdom and grace that came through others too.

All these three have known suffering, and yet bring a message of such hope.

This conference was my first real experience of what an interfaith meeting can be. I suspect it may end up being something of a watershed experience for me. I have discovered the value of being true to my own tradition. I see that my understanding of God is mediated profoundly through my faith tradition. The whole system is a framework through which the grace of God flows.

Nonetheless, I do not think that my faith tradition is the only system in which God chooses to operate. I may well find resonances in other traditions.

I do think though, that most of us need some framework to hold us. The more fully we engage with framework, the more likely we are to encounter the mystery which we call God.

I don’t think any of our religious traditions are fully formed yet. We are still in the process of discovery; still in the process of revealing the mystery. So some things are contentious; some things are painful. And I think they will continue to be so as long as human life continues.

There is really only one question – is the religious tradition big enough? Big enough to allow for the enormous complexity of the human experience? Big enough to allow the grace of God to flow freely?

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