Bound together by different faiths

Personal experiences reveal that the great religions of the world have many important similarities

October 03, 2011|By Mike McGrew

This summer, the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, preached on the U.S. Capitol grounds to promote his 2011 world peace initiative and related quest to reconcile the world's great religions. I've always been fascinated by his very simple but often profound writings. The Dalai Lama views his worship space to be "his brain and his heart" and his philosophy to be "kindness." From all I've read about him, he's a great example of one who "walks his talk."

Recently, I've been contemplating the kindnesses, brains and hearts of personal acquaintances representing three other great religions. In July, I underwent another major operation in the trusted hands of a female Pakistani Muslim surgeon, for whom I've developed a special fondness. Interestingly, I've never seen more than her face and hands due to her religious coverings. However, I am acutely aware of the kindness she communicates every time we interact.

Like most surgeons, mine is bright, confident, proposes well-thought-out diagnoses, and implements thorough treatments with superior skill. Unlike most I've encountered, she is also humble, listens extremely well, offers compassionate eye contact, and demonstrates concern for her patients more characteristic of nurses than of physicians.

My second relationship is a professional one with an Orthodox Jew who was my intern in the schools. She, too, immediately impressed me with her intelligence, insight, calm confidence, humility and compassion. Her skills with students, staff and parents possessing backgrounds markedly different from hers are exceptional. I've immensely enjoyed our stimulating conversations about psychology, schools, service and religious practices.

A few years back, my wife and I routinely sat next to an evangelical Christian pastor and his wife during our sons' basketball games. The pastor was building a church and reported the progress of his ministry, usually in response to my questions. Since other evangelicals had disparaged my liberal Catholicism, I was worried about how I might be received. However, this husband/wife team was truly accepting, humble, inquisitive and compassionate in words and in actions. They have since expanded a faith-filled congregation that exudes similar spirit.

I reflected on these three relationships after reading "The Cathedral of the World," by Forrest Church, in which he presented a metaphor involving stained glass windows to help understand different faiths. A Unitarian Universalist, Mr. Church proposed one light (representing God or truth) but many different windows through which this light is beautifully refracted to individuals. When I shared this image with my Muslim doctor, she responded that she, too, believed we all shared the same God, whom we found and worshiped in diverse manners.

Forrest Church writes that all religious experience springs from humility and deep awe at the miracle of life. He encourages us to comprehend and respect other conceptions of God while accepting every person's free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Since most religions historically have thrown stones at each others' windows, Mr. Church's one light/many windows metaphor dovetails nicely with the Dalai Lama's quest for religious reconciliation. He seeks dialogue using "calm minds" and "compassionate hearts" to discern commonalities among the great religions, such as love of neighbor and humble service to God and mankind. In this process, he anticipates understanding and respect for disparate beliefs and practices. Instead of attempting to convert others to his beliefs, the Dalai Lama encourages us to cherish and, if possible, continue our own religious traditions.

I don't wish to minimize the substantive differences in beliefs and devotions among most faiths. However, to assume that because a certain set of beliefs isn't right for me it must be wrong for all seems to be an egotistical perspective that diminishes us all. Like our racial, cultural and even political assumptions, our reflexive religious judgments of others are often based on ignorance, limited personal experiences, and/or negative stereotypes.

The Dalai Lama states that "it is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read." As an example, I recently watched the critically acclaimed movie "Of Gods and Men," a historically based drama about French Catholic monks who humbly served and became integrated within an Algerian Muslim village. When Islamic terrorists attempted to control the village, the monks courageously refused to leave and were subsequently taken hostage and murdered.

From the lives of these French Catholic monks — and from the lives of the Dalai Lama, Forrest Church, my Muslim doctor, and my Jewish and Evangelical Christian friends — I read a universal spirituality of strong belief, compassion, respect, humility, understanding, and sacrifice.

Our actions truly speak so much louder than our words.

Mike McGrew is a school psychologist from Carroll County. His email is mcgrewclark@hotmail.com.

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