The God of Many Tongues

Each great spiritual tradition, in its own way, suggests a model of what it means to be a holy person. Each of them shines a light on the human ideal. Each of them talks about what it takes to grow, to endure, to develop, to live a spiritual life in a world calculatingly material and sometimes maddeningly unclear.

Every major spiritual tradition—Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, 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 texts 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.

It is an enlightening excursion, this wandering into the spiri¬tual insights of other whole cultures, other whole intuitions of the spiritual life. It depends for its fruitfulness on openness of heart and awareness of mind. But the journey is well worth the exertion it takes to see old ideas in new ways because it can bring us to the very height and depth of ourselves. It can even bring fresh hear¬ing, new meaning to the stories that come down to us through our own tradition. A Sufi story defines the process clearly:

“Tell us what you got from enlightenment,” the seeker said.
“Did you become divine?”
“No, not divine,” the holy one said.
“Did you become a saint?”
“Oh dear, no,” the holy one said.
“Then what did you become?” the seeker asked.
And the holy one answered, “I became awake.”

It is the task of becoming awake to our God, to our world, to the wisdom that even now lies within us, waiting only to be tapped, that is the real meaning of our questions. It is, more than that, the one great task of life.

May your journey through these questions bring you a new moment of awareness. May it be an enlightening one. May you find embedded in the wisdom of the past, like all students of life before you, the answers you yourself are seeking now. May they waken that in you which is deeper than fact, truer than fiction, full of faith. May you come to know that in every human event is a particle of the Divine to which we turn to meaning here, to which we tend for fullness of life hereafter.

God speaks in many tongues, glows in many colors, calls to us in many voices, is beyond any puny little parochial image we make of God. It is this great cosmic God we seek.

Dogmas are signposts along the road of the soul on the way to God. They are meant to open our minds to mystery. They are not meant to keep us from learning about God in other places and ways.

Religion is meant to lead us to the center and source of creation. The aberration of religion, then lies in spending so much time as religious people claiming our truth and condemning everybody else’s. When theology is used to condemn another person’s path to God, it not only distracts us from the purpose of religion but it distorts it, as well.

What is the deepest meaning of Buddhism, Master?” the disciple asked. And in answer the Zen masters tell us, the teacher only bowed. It is in being able to find the sacred in everything that a person finally discovers God.

“God is the East and the West and wherever you turn, there is God's face,” the Koran teaches. “Behold I am with you all days,” the evangelist Matthew says, “even to the end of time.”

The Hindus teach, “May peace and peace and peace be everywhere.” Jesus says “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” The overall message is clear: the abiding presence of God is a universal revelation.

The Buddha said there is an Eightfold Path to inner peace: right view, right aim, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindfulness, right contemplation. Jesus says there are eight beatitudes: mercy, poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, hunger for righteousness, purity of heart, peacemaking and witness.” Do you think they decided on these together?

“In this world aspirants may find enlightenment by two different paths,” we learn in the Bhagavad Gita.“For the contemplative is the path of knowledge; for the active is the path of selfless action.” The Christian tradition teaches that both contemplation and a commitment to social justice are essential parts of the Christian life.

“Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is One,” we learn in Deuteronomy. And the Hindu prays, “He is the one God, hidden in all beings, all-pervading, the Self within all beings.” And the Sikh says in the Mul Mantra, “He is the Sole Supreme Being, of eternal manifestation.” Clearly, the whole world knows that our God is their God, too. So how can we be more loved than they?

“I have breathed into humans My spirit,” The Koran says. “Let us always consider ourselves as if the Holy One dwells within,” the Talmud teaches. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” Christianity says. But if we are all vessels of the divine, how can we use religion to justify destruction of other human beings?

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience and compassion,” the TaoTe Ching teaches. “There are only three things that matter: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.” Wouldn't the world be different if we all loved what God loves–the other?

How do I know if I’m finally becoming closer to God? It’s when I see God in everyone I meet and touch God in everything that is.

—from Joan Chittister::Essential Writings, selected by Mary Lou Kownacki and Mary Hembrow Snyder (Orbis)