Recently, when I shared the title of my newly-published book, “Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims,” my companion asked, “What’s an interspiritual pilgrim? I get ‘spiritual,’ but ‘interspiritual,’ that I don’t understand. How does this relate to being a pilgrim? Or a Christian?” This was a perfect opening for me to share my story and the story of millions of people who actively cultivate interspirituality or hybrid spirituality or, as others call it, multiple spiritual practices. But, instead of a “what,” I want to talk about “who,” the concrete experiences of many people of faith, who integrate practices from many spiritual traditions with their spiritual home – or primary – religious tradition.
In my case, I want to begin by exploring what it means to be a pilgrim. A pilgrim is on the move, an adventurer, whose eyes are on the far horizons. A pilgrim doesn’t sit still intellectually, spiritually, or physically, but is constantly open to new adventures in space, time, and possibility. Pilgrim spirituality is dynamic, growing, and expressed in ever-widening circles of experience. Fidelity to faith means openness to adventure. Religion is not a haven of stability but a highway to new possibilities. The old-time religion was good enough for our parents, but is too small for us. We may still participate in the rituals and practices of our faith tradition and the ways in the old-time faith, but these propel us to deeper experiences of the Holy.
Pilgrims are people of experience. They recognize the importance of doctrines, but they equally believe that doctrines are like a “finger pointing to the moon,” as Zen Buddhists say, but not the moon itself. The great spiritual traditions did not begin with articles of faith, but encounters with the Divine – Jacob dreaming of a ladder of angels, Moses encountering the burning bush, Buddha under the Bo Tree, Mohammed in the cave, Mary saying “yes” to an angel, Paul on the way to Damascus, and Jesus praying in the Garden.
Interspiritual pilgrims believe in the universality of revelation or inspiration. There is a democracy of the spirit that transcends our denominational and religious labels. God comes in many ways, addressing us intimately, and inspiring us to go beyond the familiar toward the Great Mystery. Many media awaken us to God, and sometimes the media of the spirit take us beyond our home faiths.
I am Christian minister, whose faith centers around the way of Jesus and the vision of an intimate, relational God, constantly inspiring me and all humankind. Yet, my sense of Jesus’ open-spirited faith has led me to practice Reiki healing touch, Transcendental Meditation, and Buddhist walking prayer. My commitment to the healings of Jesus has been enlivened and embodied by my daily practice of Reiki healing touch, whose origins are likely in Buddhist healing practices.I am not alone in my interspirituality. A dear pastor friend practices Reiki and regularly goes on yoga retreats. Another religious leader combines her leadership in the United Methodist Church with the philosophical and spiritual practices of African Yoruba. Another friend is rediscovering his First American heritage by joining prayers to the four corners and the medicine wheel with his commitment to Jesus as his savior. His understanding of creation and ecology has been inspired by First American visions of an enchanted, God-filled world. There are a growing number of Christian churches with interspiritual orientations, such as my own, which has seminars in Christian centering prayer and regular Reiki healing days.
At the heart of interspirituality is the affirmation that God is the reality in whom we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28) God is seeking wholeness in all things. All religious paths reflect divine wisdom and can be avenues to wholeness. While we need to have a home base, a spiritual GPS, our home base is deepened and enriched by our encounters with different world views and the practices that go along with them. From this perspective, every faith tradition and every encounter reveal the divine and can be an opportunity for growth and partnership.
Today, interspirituality is an image of hope, a vision of unity in diversity, and diversity that deepens our lives. Our interspiritual pilgrimages inspire a planetary vision, a counterforce to movements toward nationalism and individualism, in which our faith and our nation are part of a larger story and our experience of the Divine leads us beyond parochialism ot world loyalty.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over 45 books in theology, spirituality, healing, scripture, and ministerial excellence, including “Become Fire! Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims,” “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World,” “The Work of Christmas: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Howard Thurman,” and “I Wonder as I Wander: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Madeleine L’Engle.”