You shall have no other gods before Me. –Exodus 20:3
There are different ways of understanding the panoply of Hindu gods and goddesses. Millions believe that each divinity has an independent, objective existence, that their physical appearance is as depicted in Indian devotional art, and that everything the Puranas say about the gods is literally true.
Swami Vivekananda, in his book Jnana Yoga, maintains that the gods have a real existence, but that they are roles rather than persons–positions filled by a succession of human souls who are not yet ready for full liberation and who exercise divine functions until they burn through their good karma and are reborn to give it one more shot.
Shankara, the father figure of Advaita (Non-Dualist) Vedanta, said that the gods have a “provisional” existence, to be left behind when the devotee attains to knowledge of the Absolute, which is beyond all concepts and attributes.
Ramanuja and the other Bhakti-Vedanta teachers, on the other hand, insisted that the personal God was not a stop-gap and was never to be dispensed with.[i] “For them the Supreme Being is Person with attributes and there is no Absolute beyond Him.”[ii]
One modern approach is to regard the various deities as projections; I heard Bhagavan Das say that “all the gods and goddesses of India are externalizations of the internal process”–an approach similar to the one Jung took toward the Greek pantheon. My own position lies somewhere between that and the classic monotheistic understanding that God, while a unity, is beyond human conceptualization, and that the myriad deities all represent different aspects of the Universal Absolute.
The “false gods” of the Hebrew Bible were local and tribal divinities, whose devotees were caught up in an ongoing game of “My deity can kick your deity’s ass.” At the time that the Torah was written, no other near-eastern people but the Jews could even conceive of a single, universal god. So the way I see it, the “gods of the nations” were false because of their limitedness and particularity, not because they spoke other languages than Hebrew and went by other names than “I AM.”
The Hindu deities, on the other hand, have long been understood by philosophers to represent various manifestations of the one God who is beyond all human conceptions. In the temple complex at Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna used to tell people that “in this temple, God is worshipped as Kali; in that temple, God is worshipped as Shiva; in that temple, as Radhakanta.” When you stand at the south pole, every direction is north.
(If you want to see the real “idols” of American life, look no further than reality TV, a showcase of the hunger for fame, greed for money and wanton sexual indulgence–“the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life”[i], in Biblical terms–that stand between human beings and God more effectively than any golden calf ever could.)
Moreover, the various names of the deities have literal meanings that can serve as descriptors as well as proper names. For instance, I found a listing of “108 Names of the Lord Jesus Christ in Sanskrit,” and was startled to see that one of them was “Mahavishnu”–“Great Vishnu,” one of the so-called “Hindu trinity” of Shiva, Bramha and Vishnu. When I learned that “Vishnu” literally means “all-seeing,” it made sense.
Similarly, I love to chant Om namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya because, in addition to being one of the names of Krishna, “Vasudeva” also means “shining one who dwells in all beings”–which reminds me of the Prayerbook baptismal vow to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.”
It is for these reasons that I am able to chant mantras addressed to Shiva and Kali without feeling that I am betraying the Judeo-Christian conception of God with which I was reared. But the question that plagued me was: what does it mean to invoke a deity with no independent personal existence?
For a long time, my Christian scruples prompted me to compose music only for chant texts addressed to nirguna Brahman–the impersonal, non-specific Ground of Being: literally, “God without personal attributes.” Sachidananda, or “Being-Knowledge-Bliss,” is one such nirguna designation. Only when I began to see the various deities as different aspects of God, as “father,” “husband,” “teacher,” “writer” and “musician” are different aspects of myself, did I feel freed to chant to Krishna, Durga and Ganesha–that is, to saguna Brahman, or “God with personal attributes.” After all, you cannot even see all of a human being at once, let alone all of God.
And however much we may parse and analyze them, we cannot denude these divine images of their power to speak to our souls. When I began to really hunger for the female image of God to which my upbringing did only lip-service, I made the mistake of “going to get one,” as Rabbit might have, rather than waiting, Pooh-like, for one to “come to me.”
Knowing myself to be an artist-scholar, I assumed that Saraswati–the goddess of learning, music and the arts–would speak to me. But contemplating this symbol of my old life left me unmoved.
In fact, as I discovered once I stopped trying to impose an idea on my inner landscape and began to attend to my real responses, it is Kali, with her necklace of severed heads and her skirt of lopped-off arms, who really speaks to me. Devourer of the ego, destroyer of pretension, Kali is the one who calls bullshit on my habitual patterns of thought and action. In Jungian terms, she is the Dark One, the bearer of the “shadow” wherein creativity and power lie ready to be tapped into. Finally, in Kali is an image of a God to be meaningfully feared.
“It is a terrible thing to fall into the hand of the living God,”(Hebrews 10:31) because it is God who tears out the heart of stone and gives the heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Or as C.S. Lewis put it, “What do people mean when they say, 'I am not afraid of God because I know He is good'? Have they never even been to a dentist?”[iv]
Jesus and Krishna
Christian theology geeks may discern parallels between the Shankara/Ramanuja dispute and the Paul Tillich/Karl Barth dispute.[ii]
Swami Tapasyananda, Bhakti Schools of Vedanta[iii]
1 John 2:16[iv]
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Many years ago, while performing at a Renaissance Faire, I was living in a room over a bar, across the hall from the guitarist I was working with. I smoked a pipe at the time, and my friend, finding my tobacco-of-choice obnoxious, had dubbed it “Old Mustard-Mouth.” One evening he burst into my room, snatched up my tobacco, and threw down a pouch of Captain Black. “Give me that,” he said; “Smoke this!”
God did a similar thing the other day as I prayed the Anglican Rosary.
First, a little background on this devotion. Unlike the more familiar Catholic rosaries, the Anglican Rosary does not include a fixed set of prayers to be prayed on the various beads; instead, the person praying chooses the prayers: an introductory prayer on the Cross, a dedicatory prayer on the Invitatory bead, another prayer on the four large Cruciform beads, and yet another on the sets of seven smaller beads (or “Weeks”.) While some prayers are widespread–the “Our Father” on the Cruciform beads, the “Jesus Prayer” (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me) on the Weeks, and a Doxology on the Invitatory, there are a very great many different configurations of prayers in use. (Click the diagram on the right learn more.)
Recently I was praying the A.R. in my usual fashion–a fairly typical Christ centric one with the Anima Christi (“Soul of Christ”) on the Cruciform beads and the Jesus Prayer on the weeks. I had done it that way twice, when suddenly a whole new set of prayers came into my mind almost fully formed, as though it had been given to me.
Now, I am not a person given to visions and promptings, being more attuned to finding God in the ordinary than in the extraordinary. But this came to me so clearly and unsought that it reminded me of nothing so much as “the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” (Rev. 21:2) Which doesn’t happen every day.
The most salient thing about the new set of prayers is that they are all extracts from the Psalms. As such they are, while of course still biblical, not specifically Christian. This new way of praying the Anglican Rosary doesn’t reference or address Jesus at all. Which surprised me, because I had regarded this particular devotion as my seriously Jesus-oriented practice. While I am multi-spiritual[i]–comfortable with the practices and frames of reference of more than one faith tradition[ii]–I try to avoid syncretism, or mixing of practices from divergent religions. Hence, while I may chant a Sanskrit mantra in the morning and pray the Compline service from the Book of Common Prayer in the evening, I don’t combine the two.[iii] And the Anglican Rosary was supposed to be “Jesus time.”
The Christ-free prayers that came into my head bothered me a little, because I often chafe under the pressure I feel to throw Jesus under the bus in the yoga-and-meditation world. When a yoga studio or Unitarian church transparently tells me my music is “not where their people are” (despite my assurances that we needn’t perform the two or three chants addressed to Jesus at any particular event) I remind myself that people have many more or less valid reasons for balking at anything that smells of church, but it’s hard. What are you doing to me, Lord? I asked.
While I love my family dearly, I always say “yes” when my wife offers to take the children somewhere for the weekend and give me a little time to myself. Maybe that’s what God is doing: sending Jesus and me on separate vacations for a while. Perhaps that is how God plans to open me up still further to the wisdom and insights of other traditions–the better to understand my own, of which my view is necessarily limited. “We shall not cease from exploration,” wrote T.S. Eliot, “And the end of all our exploring
/ Will be to arrive where we started
/ And know the place for the first time.” Over and over again I have found his words to be true–and if God wants me to pray the Anglican Rosary with Jesus way off in the background for a while, maybe it’s just one more journey of exploration to undertake.
[i] See Paul, Russill, Jesus in the Lotus
[ii] One hears people say, in denigration of using more than one spiritual practice, that you cannot strike water by digging multiple holes, but by digging one hole faithfully. I used to worry about that, until a friend pointed out that a multi-spiritual approach could just as easily be thought of as digging one hole using multiple tools.
[iii] My interfaith kirtan chants being a notable exception.
(Here, for those who are interested, is the version of the Anglican Rosary I am currently using.)
Cross: Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen. (This prayer, the Collect for Purity with which the Eucharist opens, is how I begin all my rosary devotions, and it remained unchanged.)
Invitatory: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit. (Psalm 51: 10-12)
Cruciform beads: O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)
Weeks: For God alone my soul in silence waits. (Psalm 62:1)
My wife and I recently went to hear Krishna Das–she for the first time, me for the third. (It was her first kirtan, in fact.) On the way home, I described an experience I had during one of the chants.
While I still have Jesus as my ishta, or “chosen ideal,” I long ago came to view Him as one Way among many. But though I have sung many kirtan chants, both other people's and those I have composed myself, I still experience occasional resistance to other divine names–a legacy of conventionally exclusive Christian training. This resistance usually breaks down fairly early (when it appears at all) and so it did on this evening.
I felt the moment of breakthrough viscerally, in my body–as though a golden wash of warmth burst out of my heart and flowed down into my arms.
“And then,” I told my skeptical physician wife, “and you’re going to think I’m crazy, but by the time the chant was over, my hands were hot and tingling.”
“Really?” she said, more curiously than incredulously. She then surprised me by saying, “You have more body awareness than I do.”
Now, my wife is far more naturally athletic than I am, and I would have thought that she’d be more physically attuned than I. However, I have two practices specifically aimed at increasing body awareness. One–body awareness through sound–I will discuss in a future entry. The other is cultivating awareness through attention to the chakras.
Chakra,a Sanskrit word meaning “wheel,” refers to seven “energy centers” in the body, according to Yogic thought.
1. The muludhara, or “root” chakra, located at the perineum (or at the anus, depending on the school of thought,)
2. The svadhistana chakra, located just below the navel (or at the genitals or the spleen, once again depending on whom one asks,)
3. The manipura chakra, located at the solar plexus,
4. The anahata, or “heart” chakra,
5. The visuddha, or “throat” chakra,
6. The ajna, or “brow” or “third eye” chakra, located between and above the eyes, and
7. The sahasrara, or “crown” chakra, located on, or just above, the crown of the head.
The chakras each have their traditional associations–for example, the throat chakra with communication and relationships, the “third eye” with intuition, and the “crown” with superconsciousness and union with the Divine–and “blockages” in, or “imbalances” between them are believed to cause hindrances to spiritual progress, emotional problems and even physical disease.
Let me interrupt myself at this point. If you’re familiar with the Sanskrit word shraddha, you’ve probably heard it translated as “absolute faith in God.” But I subscribe to what I believe to be a more nuanced and realistic definition: the willingness to suspend disbelief long enough to give a thing a try and see whether it works.[i] (For me, this experimentalism is probably the single most bracing and refreshing thing about Hinduism/Yoga; nothing is to be taken on blind faith, but everything is to be put to the test. As Kabir wrote, “If you have not lived through something, it is not true.”[ii])
I am exercising a great deal of shraddha toward most of the traditional beliefs about the chakras. Whether they are each really located at or near an actual neural plexus, whether they literally “open” as kundalini energy passes through them on its journey up the spinal canal, whether they truly become “blocked” or “imbalanced”–any or all of these things may be so, but you can’t prove any of them by me.
For me, the great revelation of the chakras is the enormous leap in body awareness one can make through attending to them. I’ll talk more about that in future entries; for now, I’ll just say that turning our awareness toward these centers can open us up to what is going on in our bodies, especially as they respond to emotional-spiritual stimuli.
Why is this awareness important? Because we are embodied beings, and all our experiences–including our experience of God–are rooted in what Bhagavan Das calls “this precious human body,” the only vehicle we have in our striving toward spiritual liberation.
We are all so overstimulated that it is easy to miss the “still, small voice” of God in our lives. Awareness of our physical being can help put us in touch with the God who is, as the Islamic hadith says, “closer to you than your jugular vein.”
“One needs to do so little, really, to experience God,” wrote Anthony de Mello. “All one needs to do is to quieten oneself, become still–and become aware of the feel of one’s hands. Be aware of the sensations in your hand…There you have God living and working in you, touching you, as near to you as you are to yourself.” [iii]
The great Carmelite mystic, St. Teresa of Avila, knew vividly the value of our embodied experience, and how our bodies allow us to be the Presence of God in the world:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours–no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which Christ is to go about doing good. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
[i] Paraphrased from talks by Swami Tyagananda at the Boston Vedanta Center.
[ii] Translated by Robert Bly.
[iii] de Mello, Anthony, Sadhana: A Way to God. Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1987.
As with all the ways of practicing God's presence, it is our authentic desire and willingness that counts, not the specific experience or lack of experience. –Gerald May
I love novenas–those nine-day Catholic cycles of prayer with a particular intention. I used to explain to Protestant friends that a novena is like a public radio pledge drive of prayer: of course, your local station would love for you to contribute at any time, but every so often they set aside several days to pester you about it. A novena is a dedicated time of prayerful pestering.
During a period when I had a lot of discerning to do, I used to use novenas frequently. It got to the point where I would sometimes receive an answer to my prayer almost immediately after I had formed the intention of praying a novena–even before I had actually prayed it.
I have come to believe that intention is everything in spiritual practice. It trumps technique, and it is more central, more vital than any altered states of mind we may experience. It is more key to spiritual advancement than any specific exercise or sacrament, and it is more powerfully influential in prayer than what we say or how we say it. And I will go so far as to say that the primary purpose of spiritual practice is to sharpen and focus our intention.
Now, I’m not advocating some kind of The Secret-esque “law of attraction” that will “manifest” what we want in the world if we manage our thoughts and feelings properly. But I am suggesting that if we sharpen our intention, two things will follow:
- Our moment-to-moment choices, both conscious and unconscious, will be more in line with our deepest desires. We will be less likely to “trade in what we want most for what we want now,” as a colleague puts it, if we have, through practice, kept our true intentions within our awareness. As Gerald May put it, “All our choices reflect an economy of passion: how we decide to invest ourselves in what we care about. Large and small, we make thousands of such choices every day.”
- God will honor our desires more abundantly as they become more focused. “Delight in the Lord,” says the Psalmist, “and he will give you your heart’s desire.” (Ps. 37:4) I used to think this was a kind of Catch-22, like Henry Ford’s promise that you could have your Model T in any color you wanted as long as it was black. But I have come to realize that our true “heart’s desire” is, in fact, the Lord–everything else is something we have been duped into believing we desire. The more focused our intentions, the less divided our loyalties between God and what the Bible calls “the World,” and the Upanishads call maya. “Come near to God,” says the Letter of James, “and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (Ja. 4:8) Or as Jesus Himself put it, “No one can serve two masters.” (Mt. 6:24)
After a long period of uncertainty about what I was being to called to do in the world, circumstances began to align themselves in a way that made my path clearer than it has ever been. Now, you would think that this would be cause for rejoicing and plunging in with both feet, but life can put us into a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, in which we cling to our captivity out of fear of the very freedom we crave. Knowing exactly what I needed to be doing, I found myself doing everything but, balking at change and caught in the grip of acedia.
Fearful that my chance would pass me by, I began a nightly practice of chanting Om gam Ganapataye namaha–a mantra addressed to Ganesha–with the intention that the Lord of Success and Remover of Obstacles would clear my path of obstructions. (I will write more soon about how this Christian relates to the Hindu pantheon.) Almost immediately, I began to feel my stuck-ness loosening up, and found that I could move down the path before me with increasing ease.
Finding that my rate of recovery was slackening, I approached one of my parish priests for laying-on-of-hands and healing prayer. The result was dramatic; the combination of her intercession and my own practice set up a kind of virtuous (as opposed to “vicious”) cycle of grace and intention, each fueling the other and taking me to a greater state of emotional and spiritual health than I had enjoyed for a long time. I practiced with intention, and God answered with grace that, in turn, encouraged my intention–an "upward spiral," if you will.
The Baal Shem Tov
In Martin Buber’s Legends of the Baal Shem, God commands the Master to do spiritual battle with a false messiah. Warning him that his foe was too powerful for him to defeat alone, God charged the Baal Shem to seek the help of a tzadik, or holy man, to whom he would direct him. Traveling through a field, the Baal Shem saw a shepherd incessantly leaping back and forth over a ditch. “For you, Lord,” the shepherd cried, “and to please you! If you had sheep, I would guard them all day without pay; show me what I can do for you!” This, God told the Master, is the holy man you seek.
I will have truly made progress on the day when all my spiritual practice is done in the same spirit of pure, Godly intention.
There is a yoga discipline called pratyahara, which means “control of the senses” or "withdrawal of the mind from sense objects." During practice, the mind is supposed to be so focused that no distractions are able to enter our awareness. And that withdrawal is a good thing—I want to experience my experiences fully. But I like to think of pratyahara more broadly than that. When I am on a hike or picnic or retreat, for instance, I don’t want radio, television, recorded music or the internet intruding; I want to withdraw my senses from the overstimulating media that usually occupy them, so that my mind may be more available to the subtler experiences around me.
But even then, my “monkey mind,” as the Buddhists call it, continues to interpose itself between my awareness and the world. Everything I see and hear reminds me of something I need to do, someone who is trying my patience, another time and place in which I saw or heard something similar, something I know, or wish I knew, about the thing seen or heard. Nothing just is what it is on its own terms—everything becomes an object of my judgment and analysis, a springboard for my daydreams.
So I find it useful to regularly withdraw my attention, not from external stimuli, but from my internal commentary on them, which allows things to be more what they are. Be a stranger—be “not from around here,” the better to experience things as for the first time. It helps if the field of stimuli is relatively narrow—any activity I do more or less mechanically can clear a space for contemplative practice—and on a good day, when I am mowing the lawn or cleaning up the kitchen or folding laundry, I will remember to take advantage of the opportunity. Here’s what I do:
I begin by becoming aware of my breathing, which “takes attention away from thinking.”[i] The moment I begin this is one of the most satisfying moments of the day; there is a sense of release and restfulness, but not a somnolent restfulness—rather, a heightened awareness charged with energy even as it calms me, that gives me a pale glimpse of what it means to be “he who in the midst of the greatest silence and solitude finds the intensest activity, and in the midst of the intensest activity, the silence and solitude of the desert.”[ii]
I then begin to pray the so-called Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. This prayer, adapted from the words of the blind man who called out to Jesus from the roadside, has been used in contemplative practice since the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and is still widely practiced in the Eastern churches. It is prayed over and over, like a mantra.
(A word of explanation: the Greek word eleos, which is translated “mercy,” actually has a broader meaning than we ordinarily ascribe to it, including not only forgiveness but healing. The word has the same root as elia, meaning “olive,” because prayer for healing was—as it often still is—accompanied by anointing with [olive] oil. The point being that a repeated prayer for mercy is not necessarily the grimly penitential exercise it might sound like.)
Now here’s the counter-intuitive part: you’d think that repeating something over and over in your head would just add to the chaos, but in fact it does just the opposite. When the monkey mind is occupied with the mantra, I am actually freed from the distraction of memory, anticipation, plans, regrets, fantasies and all the other busywork that occupies me most of the time. So I am able to see, hear, feel everything much more vividly, without a layer of commentary between my deeper self and my experience. What a potato feels like as I rub the dirt off its surface under the tap, how the ocean sounds on the far side of a stand of trees through which the wind is blowing, the licorice smell of a pile of pulled weeds—everything is novel and intensified, unfiltered by commentary and classification. Experience bypasses the monkey mind and registers more directly.
The Indian sage Patanjali wrote, “The Seer is intelligence only, and though pure, sees through the coloring of the intellect.”[iii] When the intellect is otherwise occupied, the view is less colored. The monkey mind leaves you alone.
"Pray without ceasing." –1 Thessalonians 5:17 This entry was originally part of a larger post at Little Teaboys Everywhere.
In all things that have to do with love, we must remain open to being surprised. –Gerald May I know a great many things about myself, and most of them are wrong.
For instance, for years I believed that I just don't "get anything out of" guided visualization. I figured I respond better to sounds, I lack imagination and attention span for the visual, I'm not a narrative thinker, yadda yadda yadda. Then recently I experienced a guided meditation on a gospel story often known as The Woman with the Flow of Blood:
(A) woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her,“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering. (Mark 5:25-34)
The guide simply read the story twice, very slowly, then instructed me to imagine, in as much detail as possible, that I was witnessing the event myself. She didn't fill in any specifics, which gave my mind the opportunity it needed to go off on one of its bizarre flights.
I found myself picturing the story taking place, for some reason, in a Pennsylvania Dutch country market–a setting with which I am very familiar. I could see the bins of big belt buckles, banjos hanging on a rack, baskets of kitchen implements, racks of Christian books, tables of pies and bin after bin of fresh produce. Amish and Mennonite men and women were all around me, as well as their more "worldly" neighbors who, while not officially "plain," were certainly not "fancy." I smelled freshly ground horseradish, heard snatches of conversation in Pennsilfaanisch, and breathed in the atmosphere of religious conservatism and rural tradition.
As a group of men came in one of the side doors, a palpable current of hostility began to flow from the people around me toward the man at the group's center. Who does he think he is? He grew up right around here like the rest of us; where does he get off acting like some kind of leader? Where did he get all this so-called wisdom from? Though many seemed to welcome the man's arrival, others obviously thought him far above himself.
But the animosity toward Jesus was nothing compared to the all-but-tangible hatred toward the woman who crept fearfully up to touch one of his Muckmaster® boots. What does she think she's doing? It may not be her fault, but the Law is the Law. She must have done something wrong or this wouldn't have happened to her.
Now, one thing that may escape modern readers is that in Jesus' time, a woman with a "flow of blood"--that is, vaginal bleeding–would have been considered "unclean" under Jewish law, and any man she touched would then be considered unclean also. This accounts for the fearful way in which the woman approached Jesus–who, never one to prioritize the letter of the law over its spirit–healed and blessed her. When the people around me realized what Jesus had done, the atmosphere of outrage in the hall became positively stifling.
At this point, the guide instructed me to let the scene fade from my inner vision, until only Jesus and I were left. "What do you say to Him?", she asked.
For a moment, I had no idea what to say–until a revelation came crashing in upon me like daylight into a dark cellar. They aren't bad people are they? I said to Jesus. All these people hating You, hating the woman, so narrow in scope and rigid in their beliefs–they aren't bad people. These are the people I buy horseradish and shoo-fly pie from, the people I sing Sacred Harp music with. They're just people, doing the best they can and trying to do the right thing. They aren't evil. And as I said it, I began to weep–great racking sobs for all the years I had sat in judgment on "those backward people." I had said "Aha–see?" when someone vandalized a Lancaster synagogue, but been silent when over eighty people arrived to clean up the damage. When local residents fought against the establishment of Lancaster County's first gay-friendly church, I shook my head in self-righteous disgust; when a Church of the Brethren pastor stepped forward to broker a peace accord between the church and the borough, I said nothing.
And even if these people hadn’t had what I consider “redeeming characteristics,” who am I that anyone should need to be redeemed in my eyes?
I am a mysterious to them as they are to me, aren't they? I said to my Lord. They aren't bad people.
Since then, I have refrained from dismissing any spiritual practice out-of-hand, thinking that it "wouldn't work for me."
I recently learned that the Mayor of Lancaster has OK'd domestic partner benefits for gay city employees. Well, whaddya know; looks like what I know about other people is wrong, too.