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Hundreds of Ways To Kneel & Kiss the Ground

I honor whatever way you choose to connect with the sacred.

One of my favorite poems from Coleman Barks’ translations of Rumi ends with these lines: “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

There are also hundreds - if not thousands or millions - of ways to open our hearts, to awaken to the beauty around us, to commune with what we find sacred in this world.

One of the worst ideas we’ve ever had as a species is that there’s only one right way to do this work of the spirit. For far too long, humanity has tended to view the world’s spiritual traditions as being in competition with one another, as opposing armies in a holy war, with only enough room at the top for the one true religion.

This idea has done immeasurable harm on this planet, not only in terms of the endless wars it has helped spark between faiths and nations, but the inward spiritual poverty it engenders.

My own life has been enriched beyond measure by open-minded and open-hearted study of a diversity of spiritual traditions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Shamanism, mystical branches of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and the nature-centered paganism of my ancient Celtic ancestors.

Believe me, my inner life would be much poorer if my vision of God never grew beyond what was preached at a Southern Baptist church in Columbia, South Carolina where I grew up.

I view the world’s spiritual traditions - with their myriad of symbols, stories, poetry, ethical teachings, and styles of prayer & practice - as different languages attempting to describe the same ineffable truth, the same sacred reality that permeates all of life.

Imagine a gathering of different language speakers, all viewing the same natural object: a long trunk covered in bark, roots stretching down into the soil, tall branches covered in green leaves reaching towards the sky. An English speaker would call it a “tree.” A speaker of French would say “arbre.” A Spanish speaker would call it “árbol.” And a speaker of Chinese would say “shù.” But all of these diverse words point towards the same fundamental reality, with its leaves swaying gently in the breeze.

In the same way, all our words for the ultimate mystery of life - God, Allah, Brahman, Tao, The Great Mother, Wakan Tanka, The Universe, the ground of being, and on and on - are attempts to describe and honor the same felt presence of the sacred in our lives.

Our words, symbols, and intellectual ideas about the sacred are helpful to the extent that we remember that they merely point to what is worthy of worship and reverence, but are not objects of worship themselves. As Joseph Campbell once said, religious ideas are meant to be “transparent to transcendence.” They are fingers pointing to the moon, designed to make us lift our gaze upwards, beyond the signs themselves and outwards towards the great mystery.

Therefore, the differences that exist between spiritual traditions in language, custom, and symbolism do not have to be sources of conflict or judgment, just as two people can enjoy swimming in a salty expanse of water, one calling it “sea” and the other “mar.” No matter the label, the water is the same.

So in that spirit, I honor whatever path you chose to relate to that great mystery of being. If the teachings of Jesus and the rich tradition of Christianity speak to you most deeply, I honor that. If sitting cross-legged in meditation each morning in the style of the Buddha calls to you, I bow to your practice. If dancing circles around a fire under the light of a full moon is how you commune with the sacred, be blessed on your path. If looking through a telescope or microscope is your way of feeling awe for the vast mysteries of the universe, I bow to that as well.

Whatever way the spirit calls to you, follow that.

And as we each walk our path, let us acknowledge the freedom of others to follow the path that calls most deeply to them.

Let us not become so attached to our own way of thinking, conceptualizing, and talking about the mystery that we turn our own ideas into idols, worshipping the constructions of our minds and neglecting what is truly sacred in the process.

Let us remember that there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.


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