A small Christian church near my home recently made an attempt to bring in speakers from other faiths, most notably a Muslim cleric. But during a contentious meeting of the church board the idea was loudly voted down. A board member told me some of the un-Christian like arguments that took place and let’s just say some of those involved had missed the sermon on the accepting and loving nature of God.
Yet, while divisive events like this one cast a shadow on the role of God in our world, there are signs that God can unite us as well.
There’s an inspiriting area of the Patheos Web site where people of different faiths are having a dialogue about Brian McLaren’s book “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Muhammad Cross the Road?” All the religions referenced in the title are participating in the conversation and the overall tone is more about what these various faiths have in common, rather than what sets them apart.
Then there’s religious scholar Mirabai Starr who has written a refreshing and moving book titled God is Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Starr’s personal story is fascinating as she practices what she calls “spiritual promiscuity” or what’s also known as interspirituality. It involves practicing within many faiths and religions simultaneously and for Starr this includes Judaism, mystic Christianity, Sufism and Buddhism.
It comes as no surprise that Starr believes in “the oneness at the heart of all religious traditions”. She does not differentiate between the different faiths as she actively pursues the divine seeking “…the source of Love itself. I catch whiffs of this great beauty—the object of my heart’s deepest desire—in every one of the world’s spiritual traditions.”
As a person and as a writer Starr is bold and daring and her love for God comes leaping off the pages. Her enthusiasm is so great, it’s hard not to get caught up in it. She believes the face of God can be found in all people and in all situations, as in this passage:
My God is too vast to be contained by theology, too mysterious to be defined, too holy to be personified. My God neither punishes or rewards, but invites me into a living relationship that unfolds in the heart of all that is. My God belongs to everyone, and this belonging connects me to the web of all life.
Or take this excerpt, which through its sheer force gets you looking at God in a new light:
And yet this God of mine is not mere emptiness. It is imbued with the energy of love. It is an overflowing of love into the entire container of the cosmos. I call it the Sacred, and there is nowhere it is not. I am in awe of this God of Love, who breaks through ordinary moments with a dazzling radiance and melts the boundaries of my individuated consciousness and reminds me that I am not separate from the source of Love Itself.
Starr believes in the active pursuit of the divine in everyday life. Like the mystic she has written about, Teresa of Avila, she believes that “what the beloved wants from us is action”. And she takes this advice to heart, as is evident in the following passage, describing what it’s like to live a life encompassed by the love of God:
Your heart is so drenched in love for the Beloved that it overflows into everything you do. You are incapable of making distinctions between the sacred and the profane; each act has become an act of prayer.
I especially love this line by Starr, which are words to live by each day: Each sunrise, each meal, every challenge and triumph in work and human relationships, are opportunities to praise God.
As the author makes clear, the good news is that this divine love is not hard to find and can be accessed by all of us at all times:
We can feed the fire of divine love by cultivating simple practices that expand our hearts and raise our consciousness, such as meditation and chanting, reciting ancient prayers or conversing with the Beloved, in silence or in lifting our voices, in solitude or in community.
For a life so saturated by so many religious faiths, Starr’s main message is singular and rings through loud and clear. There is one God and no matter which faith you follow, no matter which route you take, we all wind up in the same place:
Each faith tradition is singing the same song in a deliciously different voice: God is love.