HOW NOT TO HONOR A RELIGION’S FOUNDER

For all of their differences, many of the world’s religions share at least two important beliefs about their respective founders.

The first belief is that he experienced a uniquely transforming relationship with the Sacred. Whether it was to Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, or Muhammad, the Sacred became present in such a way as to leave no doubt about its existence, nature, and power.

The second belief is that in order to believe their messages wholeheartedly, faith-seekers must experience for themselves what those founders experienced. Its corollary is that when they do experience it, they will no longer want to do anything other than believe, follow, and serve. Anxious searching for ultimate truth gives way to a calm certainty that one has found it.

Both of these beliefs are powerfully captivating. But in them there is also a profoundly difficult problem which cannot be avoided. The problem is that the founders described their encounters with the Sacred, and the Sacred itself, very differently.

Can all of their descriptions be equally representative of what Sacred Reality most essentially is? If not, then which is the truer one? And how would we know?

One way to answer this question is to double down on one’s own religion and to dismiss experiences celebrated in all the others as either misguided or delusional. Another way is to let ongoing traditions about its founder take the place of the founder’s own experiences and beliefs.

There is a better way than either of these. It consists in honoring the unique glimpses into the Sacred that each religious founder’s experiences contain.

The honoring is like relishing a prism’s breaking up of sunlight into the colors of the visible spectrum, while praising the magnificence and the warmth of the sunlight itself. Or it is like becoming attuned to the Sacred’s sounds and silences, and taking delight in being surrounded by both.

Seeking the kind of faith that makes these things possible is very different from striving to be more and more like a particular religion’s founder. Just as it is very different from giving unquestioning loyalty to religious traditions and those who hand them on.

It is, instead, a trusting that the sacred is not only something to be sought, but also something by whom we have already been found. A trusting that we will understand to the extent that we are willing to be embraced.

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