Standing on one of downtown Washington’s busiest street corners this afternoon, everything suddenly came into focus.
In front of me, one of the world’s most powerful law firms, stationed comfortably inside a gleaming building of glass, concrete and steel. Behind me, a woman named Olga sold diet cokes, her terrifically broken English revealing both her origins in Eastern Europe and the relatively small amount of time she had been in America. All the while, ancient Tibetan Buddhist chants echoed through my earphones, keeping my thoughts grounded (as much as possible) in that exact moment.
Something I had read a few minutes before in this month’s edition of Sun magazine came flying back into my mind. Sister Joan Chittister, a 70-year-old Roman Catholic nun who serves as co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders, was asked in an interview about the biggest personal question she faces today – as a nun, as a woman, as a Roman Catholic, as a human being. I read her answer over and over again, soaking up the meaning as I contemplated my own place in the world:
Question: You write and speak a lot about wrestling with the questions. What’s the biggest personal question for you now?
Answer: That would be something like: In what way do all the great spiritual traditions of the globe intersect and require the presence of all the others? What great gifts do we each bring, without which the other religions are incomplete?
For me, Catholicism brings to the world a tremendous awareness of the sacredness of life, the notion that all life is holy, can be made holy, must become holy. What does it lack? The wisdom of the Upanishads, for example, which say that the individual person is face to face with God, that the institution of religion does not mediate God but points the way to God. The fact of the matter is that the Catholic believer comes to God through the instrument of the Church, rather than simply through the tradition. I admire the spiritual depth of Hinduism and Buddhism. I admire the communal nature of Judaism and Islam. These other faiths stretch my mind and make me think deeply about the insights that Catholicism gives me.
(Click here for a PDF excerpt of the interview)
One of the main reasons I left the Roman Catholic Church is because I lost that link to my spirituality. In many ways, the institution overwhelmed it. But I realized that Joan Chittister and I are on the same path, even though we hold vastly different beliefs. In fact, this is true of just about everyone who seriously pursues a spiritual journey. Her last comment in the interview brings the concept together perfectly:
We need to get to a point where we can say, no matter what religion or spiritual tradition we belong to, that we are all a part of the mind of God.
That’s not to say that I believe in God, but depending on your experience and your tradition, “God” is the face of all things spiritual and personal. Whether or not you accept as true the fact that there is a holy Something up there (or inside of each of us), directing us, guiding us, motivating us and inspiring us, we all have something in common.
Standing on that street corner this afternoon, as people from all walks of life and virtually all parts of the planet figuratively intersected in front of me, I suddenly felt as if I was part of something huge, with limitless possibilities.