I have always been spiritually promiscuous, lying down with any God who will have me. This passionate attraction to religion makes no sense. My parents, intellectual Jews, rejected the wrathful Father-God of their ancestors in favor of an eclectic embrace of eastern thought, western esotericism and indigenous wisdom ways. (I love those versions too: the Buddha Nature, the Philosopher's Stone, the Great Spirit -- they are all equally alluring to me.) What I am seeking is the source of Love itself, a paradoxical melting of my thirsty little self into the Ocean of Being. I catch whiffs of this great beauty -- the object of my heart's deepest desire --in every one of the world's spiritual traditions.
When I was 15, I ran away to the Lama Foundation, an intentional community in the mountains of Northern New Mexico, where American spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, created his bestselling, culture-transforming book, "Be Here Now." At Lama, all the religions of the world are honored, explored and practiced. Leaving home at this time was not as dramatic as it sounds. My family was immersed in the back-to-the-land movement of the counter culture, with all the social experimentation that entailed, and my independence was scarcely noticed. Besides, Lama was only a few miles up the road from our hippie enclave in Taos. What they did notice was my bewildering obsession with traditional religion. Why would I willingly engage institutions they considered responsible for most horrendous violations of human rights and the environment in the history of civilization?
Good question. Here's my answer now, which I could intuit but not articulate then: because that's not the God I believe in. The God I love celebrates humanity in all our disguises, and makes a direct correlation between our relationships with one another and our relationship with him. All the great wisdom teachings point to this. The three Abrahamic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam, who have traditionally endeavored to wipe each other off the face of the earth -- unfold a clear set of instructions about uncovering the essential interconnectedness of all creation and finding the face of God in every being.
It's not that all religions are ultimately the same. I am not attempting to reduce the rich theological and cultural diversity into a homogeneous spiritual gruel that nourishes no one. What I am interested in is the unifying wisdom at the heart of the monotheistic traditions: the song of yearning for union with the Divine embodied in the writings of the mystics; the social justice teachings found in the midrash of the rabbis, Christ's Sermon on the Mount, and the hadith of Muhammad; the calls of the prophets to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend the sick, protect the orphan and welcome the stranger. Jews, Christians and Muslims may stridently disagree about the distribution of power and wealth, but their most sacred Scriptures unanimously proclaim that lovingkindness is the highest expression of faith. When I drop down into these ancient texts, I feel the breath of the God of Love on my face. It makes me crazy. In the very best way.
"Do not argue with the followers of earlier revelation otherwise than in the most kindly manner... and say, 'We believe in that which has been bestowed upon us, as well as that which has been bestowed upon you' for our God and your God is one and the same, and it is unto him that we all surrender ourselves." (Quran 29:46)
The Qur'an affirms the equality between the "People of the Book": Jews, Christians and Muslims.
"I love you when you bow down in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons and daughters of one religion, and it is Spirit." (Kahlil Gibran)
All religious differences melt in the fire of devotion.
"God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them." (1 John 4:16)
Christ taught that the essence of God is not separate from love itself.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:5)
All three of the Abrahamic faiths agree that the foundation of all commandments is to love the Divine with every fiber of our being.
"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians 13)
Christ dismissed all spiritual powers in favor of love.
"The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land." (Leviticus 25:23-24)
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all interpret "dominion over the earth" as a sacred responsibility for caretaking creation.
"And he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward. He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous in much. You cannot serve both God and mammon.'" (Luke 16:2,10,13)
Christ continually invited his followers to choose spiritual over material values.
"For He it is Who has made you khalifa on earth,
and has raised some of you by degrees above others,
so that He might try you by means of what He has bestowed on you.
And thereupon We made you their khalifa on earth,
so that We might behold how you act."
The way we treat the earth and one another is a reflection of our relationship with the Divine.
"You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:34)
The Bible encourages us to remember what it feels like to be the outcast, and to treat everyone as family.
"And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or saw you naked and gave you clothes? Truly I tell you, just as you did to one of the least of these who are members of the human family, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:38)
For Christ, God hides in the form of the marginalized and the oppressed.
"Serve God .. and do good to orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer that you meet, and those who have nothing." (Quran 4:36)
Desert hospitality is the essence of Abrahamic ethics.
"Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:18-19)
The mercy of the Divine exceeds the righteousness of the Divine.
"But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:44-45)
It is not enough to love our neighbor; the real work is in loving our enemies.
"Allah the Almighty has said: 'O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as its.'"
(Hadith, On the authority of Anas)
God's unconditional love eclipses all transgressions.
"Allah says: 'Take one step towards me, I will take ten steps towards you. Walk towards me, I will run towards you.'" (Hadith Qudsi)
If we turn even a single degree toward the Divine, the Divine will utterly enfold us.