The shortening of days and the cooling temperatures always put me in the mood to do more reading. Oh, I read all year, but it seems like longer evenings and nights spark more opportunity and more reason to sit in my rocking chair with a lap robe over my feet, a cat in my lap, a cup of tea next to me, and a good book in my hands.
One of my latest reads has been Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others by Barbara Brown Taylor. In it, she describes teaching a college class on world religions and what she has learned herself through teaching, discussing, and experiencing the similarities and differences among a variety of world religions. Her class sounds fascinating; I wish I could attend a term or two of it.
In reading the book, I encountered a thought I’ve had before, namely that it would be interesting, challenging, and stimulating to be part of a religion other than the one in which I grew up. I did do some denominational dancing at several points in my life, wishing I was something besides Southern Baptist. Roman Catholicism offered rituals, lots of saints, and repetitive prayers rather than a lot of emotion, long sermons, and confusing teachings. I liked the formality of the mass and that (at that time) it was in Latin and eye-opening. Besides, I had a school friend who was RC and had attended Catholic school for her first four years. She always put a small cross at the top of her class papers and exercises, which seemed rather exotic and yet very meaningful to me, so I did it too – for a while. I wonder now why I stopped?
Throughout my life, I have read lots of books of different types and persuasion. I read all the Rabbi Small mysteries, which made me think about Judaism and be curious enough to do some research on it. The prayers (in Hebrew) intrigued me, and hearing the music as well as the chants struck me as a longing for a God in whom I could have faith, even through the most trying of times. Reading Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede made me want to join a Benedictine monastery, with its rules, silences, and chants. Of course, my family would have had a collective stroke if I even mentioned such an idea to them. It was hard enough to tell them that I had found the Episcopal Church and undergoing confirmation before my next birthday. The gasps were audible, some of the arguments bantered back and forth got tiresome, but in the end my adoptive father gave me his permission, and I followed my heart to the altar for confirmation and my first communion as an Episcopalian.
Over the years, there were more books, more new experiences, and more wanting to sample other faiths. It was like going to a salad bar and choosing bits of this, that, and the other on the plate and covering it with dressing to bind it all together. I had Mormon downstairs neighbors once, so I did some reading up on that. It didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t for me, but it was a little dash of something to add to my salad. I tried Roman Catholicism for several years, but it didn’t seem quite right either. I still loved books about Jewish characters from Rabbi Small to Anne Frank. I continued to add small dabs of new things to my salad until I had nearly a plate full.
I’ve learned to appreciate Buddhist meditation, Jewish traditions, prayers and music, the Five Pillars of Islam, the Native American feeling of oneness with Creation, respect for the elders, and the practice of walking in beauty. There are times when I wish I could do more than try to practice their beliefs in more than a superficial way, to truly belong to them as do the believers of each of them. Still, even a contemplation of and attempt to follow some of their customs, as different as they may be, bring peace and satiation, like a well-balanced salad with lots of different flavors and textures.
I know many people have had some of the same experiences as I have, that of wanting to experience as a member and true believer rather than just a Christian trying to enact an authentic Seder or sit in meditation for hours without moving or having the mind stray. I know Christianity offers me a channel for meditation, good works, ritual, memorized prayers for various occasions, and encouragement to respect creation and all parts of it. Christianity offers me God as the dressing, by whatever name a person calls God, that binds the salad together and provides many different flavors to tempt the spiritual palate.
I’m glad I’m Episcopalian. After some journeys to other spiritual paths, I find myself returning every time to the Episcopal Church. When I come back and first sit in the pew after an absence, either long or short, it’s as if God is putting a hand on my head with the commands, “Sit! Stay!” Maybe those are like the bacon bits or scallions to garnish the salad?
The world is not monochromatic, single-flavored, or even of one texture. God made creation with an infinite amount of diversity, so would that same God say that only one way could be enjoyed, believed in, or practiced? Is Buddhist meditation going to make me less of a Christian? Am I going to be harmed by reading Harry Potter because it talks about spells and magic? Will I to hell because I read the Qu’ran (in English) or the Talmud of Judaism? Am I sinful to bless trees, flowers, cats, rocks, or rivers? Am I diluting my faith by watching a program on the Kaaba of Islam, appreciating those who maintain it as well as the millions who save for years to afford the one Hajj of their lifetime required by the Five Pillars of their faith? Am I unChristian to want to see the good in every single person and thing in creation, even if I fail at it much of the time?
I’m grateful to have the ingredients of a spiritual salad available to me to study, learn, perhaps practice, and appreciate. It keeps me spiritually fed and nourished as well as going my heart good to acknowledge that God is present all around and within. Whether God is called God, Allah, Elohim, Abba, Mother, Center of the Universe, or any of a million names, they acknowledge the Higher Power that enables us to live, breathe and have our being.
Try some new ingredients in your spiritual salad. You might find some great new additions to the life the Spirit has given you.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. Her owners, Dominic, Gandhi, and Phoebe, keep her busy and frequently highly amused.