Religious belief and practice of some form has been a part of the human experience almost as long as humans have walked the earth. It has taken many forms and followed many different paths, but humans seem to have a great need to look for “something bigger” than themselves in this life and beyond.
Modern American spirituality has given me many opportunities to ponder that “something bigger” in a post-modern context, and to grow positively in numerous ways and yet I continue to question its wider applicability in the wake of events like the gas attack in Syria.
In fact, it feels hollow – if not downright inappropriate – to chant affirmations and pray prosperity prayers from a safely middle class existence here in the United States even as thousands of families across the world struggle to survive due to famine, war or disease.
If we believe that there is a God, how can we look at the events of just this past week and then say with a straight face that “God wants me to be rich!“. I can say with certainty that any god that wants well-fed people in the United States to be rich while allowing events like the one witnessed this past week in Syria, is no god for me. And any tradition that teaches that we experience life based solely on our consciousness – all taught from the middle of a pampered American perspective – is painfully out of touch with the realities of life in the rest of the world.
Universal wisdom and truths are woven among the threads of all the major world religions. Their textures and colors differ based on the cultures from which they emerged, but at their core, they say the same things. Be kind to and help each other out; treat nature with respect and reverence; acknowledge the spiritual side of life and don’t take our human ego-selves too seriously. After all, we’re only here for a short time.
When we wander off these core Truths and start interpreting God to suit what we want out of the relationship – placing rules, interpretations and how-to’s into the mix – we set ourselves up to be wrong a lot of the time.
Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi is widely quoted as saying “Become the change you want to see in the world“. Ghandi lived his life according to the teachings in the Bhagavad Gita.
The teachings of Jesus include this from the Epistle of James:
22 …be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
And in Judaism the concept of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world – is a sacred call to be cognizant of and care for those less fortunate than us.
In my study of multiple religious traditions over my life I have come to believe that to find the Divine, we simply need to follow the simple, core wisdom in any one of these mainstream traditions and become the Good we want to see; visit orphans and widows in their trouble and repair the world. And in doing so, we will come closer to God than we can sitting in a church, synagogue or temple.
We don’t get closer to God by saying a certain prayer, giving a percentage of our money to a church or practicing precise rituals. We touch the Divine when we reach out to our fellow humans, when we become the change we want to see in the world; when we visit widows and orphans; when we repair our corner of the world in any way that we can, big or small.
Repairing the World, one step at a time
- Give to charities that help the Syrian people
- Vote for candidates whose policies work to repair the world
- Speak up in your neighborhood when people are anti-immigrant
- Give money to charities that help resettle political and other refugees
- Be grateful for the abundance in your own life
- Put as much energy into manifesting food for the hungry in your community as you do trying to manifest your next house/car/salary increase.