I recently read the book Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It was a beautiful book and the boy’s adventure was absolutely magical. But honestly, my favorite part of the book was the beginning.
In the beginning, Pi, a born, raised, and practicing Hindu, begins exploring other religions. He becomes, simultaneously, a Hindu, Christian, and Muslim. He is devout in his practice of all three. Until the Hindu pandit (new vocabulary word! yessss!), the Christian priest, and the Muslim imam realize that he is practicing more than one religion… at which point, everyone gets upset.
While the three religious men are busy making arguments in favor of their own religion and against the others (because religious discourse tends to go south very fast, doesn’t it?), Pi and his father make some really beautiful points of their own.
First, Pi quotes Gandhi: “Bapu Gandhi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God.”
Then his father backs him up saying, “I suppose that’s what we’re all trying to do–love God.”
Finally, Pi explains: “Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.”
At the same time I was reading Life of Pi, I was also working my way (again) through Joan Chittister’s book Welcome to the Wisdom of the World. (I always read more than one book at a time…) Joan Chittister is a ridiculously wise and eloquent nun from Pennsylvania. While she is indeed a Catholic sister, she is also a brilliant theologian who understands, and in this book explains, how all of the worlds major religions are ultimately devoted to helping people understand the answers to the big questions in life. She draws beautiful parallels between Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and uses their parables to answer some of the tough questions that we all ponder at one point or another.
I think the essence of Joan Chittister’s book is summed up when she says, “Every major spiritual tradition – Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – brings a special gift to the art of living the spiritual life. Each of them refracts the light of its own spiritual wisdom text in particularly sharp and distinct ways. Each of them strikes a different tone in giving the great truths of life that form a chord, a symphony of truth.”
One of my favorites so far (yes, I’m still working my way through it– I think it’s because I’m scared to get to the chapter entitled “What’s Wrong with Me: Why Can’t I Change?” because I’m afraid it’s going to strike too close to home…) was her chapter that discusses what it means to be a spiritual person using the wisdom of the Hindus. She says:
“Religion and spirituality are not the same thing… The truth is that we can go through the motions about something all our lives and never really become what the thing itself is meant to be… religious practice without the spiritual development that is meant to proceed from it is the more deceptive of the two. It leaves us in danger of being keepers of the law rather than seekers of the truth.”
This weekend I am in Milwaukee for a spirituality-based conference with my dad. The conference is the national meeting for Call To Action, a group for progressive-minded Catholics interested in creating a more inclusive, loving, and justice-seeking faith community. I don’t expect anyone else to agree with my meanderings through the world of faith, religion, and spirituality, but after this weekend I have learned one thing and I’ve learned it really well:
For me, meandering is the way to go!!
I can’t be spoon fed and I can’t be told what to say, do, think, or feel, but the more information I take in and the more I let myself discern with my heart what feels right and what doesn’t, the more clear my path becomes. And right now, learning is my path.
Spiritually, I’ve always felt a bit like that creepy Voldemort character, writhing on the ground in that in-between place where Harry goes to meet Dumbledore at the end of the series. (That thing is creepy!) (Omg… I was just going to link you to a picture, but got to creeped out even looking at them! Just awful! I take it back! My spirituality is better than that! Maybe like a mandrake root— creepy, but not that bad.) But I’ve learned so much this weekend and heard so many new ideas that I’ve become incredibly anxious to learn more and I know I’ll grow up out of that creepy place soon.
For me, the best way to learn is to read (I’m not the doer or the listener learning type– reading is definitely my thing) and my list has grown by leaps and bounds this weekend. I even bought a book while I was here and had it inscribed by the author (color me star-struck!!). Unfortunately, I haven’t the slightest idea what the inscription says!! So sad– I’m sure it’s something really clever and meaningful!! The book is Occupy Spirituality by Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox. We heard Adam Bucko speak about his work with homeless youths in New York City on Friday night and his talk was incredible. Amazing. Inspired and inspiring. And I’m dying to know what he said to me! (He’s Polish and was impressed with my Polish last name– could it be something about that? He also has like 6 feet long dreadlocks (no kidding), but I don’t think it’s about that… To Rachel- May you be… WHAT?! Please, help me!!)
Be the first to tell me what the inscription says and I will literally send you a copy of the book. (And I actually know what the word literally means, I’m using it correctly. I will purchase the book on Amazon and have it sent straight to your home. Literally.)
So, yep, I went to the spiritual place. I understand that it’s uncomfortable for a lot of people, but I also think that as human beings, we are all gifted with what Adam Bucko called “spiritual intuition for justice” and I think that idea transcends any particular religion or faith practice, and is rather something like the intention of every religion or faith practice. So I think we can talk about that here, right?