That New Universalism: A Smallest Meditation on a Religion of the Heart

That New Universalism: A Smallest Meditation on a Religion of the Heart November 15, 2020



On Facebook religious historian Gregory Holmes Singleton was recommending a book


Along with being a scholar Professor Soingleton is a practicing Anglo-Catholic and offered a small justification for Anglicans to read a book about continental Roman Catholicism. He wrote:

“Anglicans in the 19th and 20th centuries, in both Great Britain and the United States, were surrounded by a philosophical tradition that developed from empiricism and utilitarianism to logical positivism, analytical philosophy, and pragmatism. That is far less the case with the Anglo-American intellectual tradition which draws heavily from literature, music, comparative religion, mythology, and drama than from formal philosophy. Anglicans in general and Anglo-Catholics in particular are more apt to opt for poetic expressions of both mystery and ambiguity than the obsession with doctrinal precision. William Blake and T. S. Eilot may well be our patron saints. Alan Watts’ MYTH AND RITUAL IN CHRISTIANITY may be (at least for American Anglicans) something of a prophetic text.”

(Personally I would pair Alan Watts’ BEHOLD THE SPIRIT with MYTH AND RITUAL as anticipatory of a rather powerful mystical Christianity that genuinely touches my heart. I actually consider these books potentially more important than his writings about Zen. But unpacking that would be a different reflection.)

I found myself caught particularly by Dr Singleton’s juxtaposition of that traditional characterization of Anglo American thought derived from “empiricism and utilitarianism to logical positivism, analytical philosophy, and pragmatism.” And that other current, also very much alive, “which draws heavily from literature, music, comparative religion, mythology, and drama than from formal philosophy.”

I immediately thought of the great Transcendentalist spiritual eruption within the early-mid Nineteenth century New England Unitarian churches. I also felt something of the Zen way.

And a bit more…

For me personally it, it, the fundamental matter, and how I engage has always been within a tension existing between that rationalist and that more, I think I’ll use the word poetic style of engagement that has characterized much of my spiritual path. And given the professor’s observation it would make sense, I guess, that I would flirt with Anglicanism, although it also should make at least as much sense that I would end up standing in a place encompassing Universalism (within the Unitarian Universalist communion) and Zen Buddhism.

As I age I am increasingly inclined to literature, music, comparative religion, mythology, and drama, as informing my spiritual path. Rooted, or grounded in the practices of shikantaza and koan introspection. Here I find the great pointers for my heart. My practice and my obsession. Together with the activated social conscience that informs the current UU world, which I find as an expression of the depths into which I’ve been thrown by Zen.

Still, there’s something rich and wonderful in being less informed by traditional theologies, as important, and sometimes critical as they may be, and more especially toward comparative religion and mythology and the dreamscape of what in Zen Buddhism we call the Sambkogakaya.

I suspect this is why I feel my life more and more encompassed by the wisdoms of the heart, especially that of Mary and of Guanyin. And to some degree by a Pure Land reading of the story of Jesus.

While I find it increasingly hard to see how we as humans are going to muddle through the messes we’ve created, if there’s a way through, I suspect it will have to do with this liberating love, this unfolding love that can be found in many, most, all of the world’s religions.

And. I do have a hope for a new universalism, expressed in its several ways as our individual hearts call us.

A small hope.

A burning coal.

Perhaps like that fabled mustard seed. Either the Buddha’s or Jesus’s, they both encompass important angles on the mystery.

For the world. And for each and everyone one of us. And of course within that strange mystery of not one, not two.

A small, broken hallelujah.

A feast that nourishes all of us lost and left behind.

A terrible silence.

A prayer.

A hymn…



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