Saturday, November 26, 2011

Many Ways to God

I arise early, on this morning, the eve of the beginning of Advent, a sacred season, on the heels of Thanksgiving, with my heart filled to the brim with rich experiences...

I sit in meditation, and begin to prepare for Advent...

On the LONG flight back from Istanbul (12 hours), I was able to sit and reflect on these experiences, and I thought to myself - there are truly - many ways to God...

This is one of the lessons that I learned...

All paths lead to God...

All traditions find their completion in God...

I have always had a deep reverence for other spiritual traditions, and have found myself equally at home in almost of all of them...

In my very early 20's, as an undergraduate student, I took a graduate course on contemporary Jewish philosophers and Zionist writers, under the guidance of a Reconstructionist Rabbi. I was drawn to Judaism all of my life, and later learned I had both Sephardic and Ashkenazi roots in my background.

In my early 30's, I lost myself in studying Buddhist traditions, and was moved most especially by its Tibetan expressions.

As an educator, I had the privilege of teaching comparative religion courses for many years, which indulged this interest of mine.

In my 40's, I came to study Vedanta, and immersed myself in its teachings, drawn especially by the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda.

At the time, I was still the Chair of the Theology Department at a Catholic Institution, and I delved in all these traditions and teachings guardedly, because I felt I still publicly represented my own tradition and school. And even though I personally did not feel separation of all that nourished my heart, I know that many did not see things in the same way I did...

In my 50's, as my study of yoga, and Anusara Yoga in particular deepened, I was drawn to Tantric texts and teachings...

Over the course of several decades, I have collected religious artifacts of many traditions. I have a room that is mine, painted in purple - a prayer space - where Hindu murtis, Catholic saints, Buddhist prayer wheels: a dorje and bell - and Buddha and yab yum statues abound - all co-habitating the same space together. I have Catholic rosaries blessed by saints and popes, Hindu and Buddhist mala beads, and a Muslim rosary as well. I also have Holy Water from the Ganges, from Lourdes, and from Ephesus.

There are many ways to God...

All paths lead to God...

And so, on this incredible trip, I traveled to a country, that though officially secular, was as close to the heart of Islam as I had ever been. I was moved by the beauty of the peoples' hearts, by their reverence, by the various expressions of this faith all co-mingling together.

I was touched by observing a fashionable young Turkish woman, in boots and a short skirt, walking arm in arm with her grandmother, covered in a hijab.

But, I was most especially moved at mid-day, at the top of the Wall of Constantinople, listening to the call to prayer by the muezzin, all over the city, all blending into one. It was so breathtaking, and moving, and eerie all at once. I could not help but wonder, what it would be like, to live where the call to prayer was seamlessly woven into the fabric of everyday life. My only experience of a daily call to prayer has been while visiting or doing retreats in Catholic monasteries.

I was moved by seeing relics in the Topkapi Palace of the sultans - the staff of Moses, and beautiful and ornate boxes containing cuttings of the Prophet Muhammed's hair and beard.

I was moved by visiting the Hagia Sophia, built by Justinian, the largest church in Christendom for 1000 years, and the Chora church, covered with the most exquisite mosaics. And, by my visit to the Blue Mosque, which, was my first visit to a mosque. I donned head scarf and removed my shoes, and walked reverently in its hallowed space.

But, my greatest and most moving experiences were in Ephesus. There, I visited the remains of the Basilica and tomb of St. John the Evangelist. It was to him, that Jesus entrusted the care of his mother. And visiting her home, where she lived out her earthly years, was an incredible dream come true, and one that I never expected would be in this lifetime. This site, is holy to Christians and Muslims alike. Later, I also visited the site of the Ecumenical Council in Ephesus In 431 AD, where Mary had been proclaimed "Theotokos," the God Bearer, or the Mother of God.

A dear friend reminded me, to consider, in the words of the poet May Sarton, that homecomings are like moving "in the thickets of undigested experiences," and to take the time needed for a soft and proper re-entry...

I arrived late on Wednesday afternoon, and in the evening went to the store, and found myself so out of place and time, I could hardly drive. I had no perception of depth, and my eyes could not adjust or see in the dark. I drove so slowly, it was a good thing I was close to home...

The next day, on Thanksgiving, I put up the small icons I had bought on the wall in my prayer corner, as well as my new wall hangings of the replica of Jesus Pantokrator from the Hagia Sophia, and an Arabic inscription for "Allah."

I also framed and hung a print of a whirling dervish, impregnated with Arabic writing. When I asked the dealer who sold it to me, what the writing meant, he pointed to an English translation: "Appear as you are, or be as you appear." I locked my eyes with his, and exclaimed, "Rumi!" And he smiled, and bowed his head in acknowledgment. I placed this print above another framed print of a Rumi quote I received on my 50th birthday:

"Your heart is the true mosque; within your body is the place to offer your salutations to the Lord."

There are so many ways to God...

And often they are found or experienced where we least expect it.

The ways to God are everywhere. In every person. In every land. In every religion. There are many paths. And they all lead to the same place...

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