Friday, January 11, 2013

Religious Commonalities

In talking about the place and impact of religion in our lives today, people most often focus on the differences among our many traditions.  It is this focus on our differences that regrettably leads to much of our cultural and religious difficulties.  But what is interesting is that when you set aside the specific religious texts used, the rituals observed, the religious laws and judgments proscribed, and the earthly politics of religious power, what remains is the core spiritual essence of each religion.  At that core level, there is far more commonality than one might choose to acknowledge.

I recently completed a review of over 50 historical “Creation Stories” from cultures and religions across the globe.  These stories were developed thousands of years ago by peoples living in isolated communities, unaware of the others inhabiting this planet.  Yet in spite of their extreme isolation from each other, each culture developed its own story of creation, expressed in the geography, language, and life symbols of its natural environment.  The name of the Creator changes; the role and form of the Creator’s helpers change; the position of nature and all its beings varies; but all of these elements are there.  And the plot lines follow remarkably similar construction.

Regardless of one’s ancestral lineage, there is a creation story to be told.  They are embedded in our collective and individual psyche, coming out in the way a core thought in our brain will manifest itself in a thousand different dream scenarios.  Different chapters of the same recurring story.

This commonality of the creation stories moves us to think about other shared commonalities in spiritual expression.  Our hands, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, placed at chest level, are a near-universal sign of spiritual respect, union, and prayer.  Prayer, engaging in conversational dialog with a Creator, or simply with just “something” vastly different than ourselves, requesting intervention or just guidance in our daily lives, is foundational to spiritual practice.  Going off alone to contemplate in quiet is a practice that has long attracted mystic and layperson alike, even if the styles may take many different forms.  Advanced knowledge of science and architecture in primitive ancient minds allowed them to capture the first light of a solstice or other recurring cosmic event in the intricate design of their temples.

It is this timelessness, this commonality, that speaks to us when we stand in the ruins of a Machu Picchu or Stonehenge, or another ancient religious site.  That same voice calls to us in rituals handed down over thousands of years.  It is the voice of a common human desire to know God from whom our life, and all life, is derived.  We speak to that God in different words, languages and gestures.  But innately we share a common map of different paths to the One same destination.  The commonality at the core heart of our many religions is the commonality that transcends all of humankind and binds us together.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen. Shalom.