Signposts on the Way to God - Page 2
Understanding — conversation, dialogue with one another: to probe, and reveal, and appreciate the differences …. in culture, and values, and religious traditions — will always remain a bridge that helps us to see one another as brother and sister, and friend.
The community today can be no single tradition; it is the planet. Daily the world grows smaller, leaving understanding the only bridge on which peace can find its home. But the annihilation of distance has caught us unprepared. Who today stands ready to accept the solemn equality of nations? Who does not have to fight an unconscious tendency to equate foreign with inferior? We live in a great century, but if it is to rise to its full opportunity, the scientific achievements of its first half must be matched by comparable achievements in human relations in its second. Those who listen in the present world work for peace, a peace built not upon ecclesiastical or political empire, but upon understanding and the mutual involvement in the lives of others that this brings. For understanding, at least in the realms as inherently noble as the great faiths of mankind, brings respect, and respect prepares the way for a higher power, love - the only power that can quench the flames of fear, suspicion, and prejudice, and provide the means by which the peoples of this great earth can become one to one another."2
Our success as humanity — in 'becoming human' — dwells as much in our addiction to love [ ... an addiction that we must cultivate] as in the fuel of understanding. Both conditions work together and reinforce one another … each drawing upon the other to feed, and grow, the human condition. A signpost that tells us we can (and must) pursue the Shadow of the Divine. Never reaching, never attaining — fully …. but desiring — in our heart — to unite with the Ultimate. And reminding us …in mystery, as with so much of God's Wisdom …. that it is through our differences — the uniqueness' of our faiths, cultures and beliefs — that we ultimately discover the common bonds we all share with our Creator.
In The Dignity of Difference, Jonathan Sacks speaks eloquently — passionately — about the richness of diversity in God's world. In the final chapter of his book, he spells out 'a covenant of hope' — his personal conviction, and belief, that "no tradition is free from the constant need to reinterpret, to apply external truths to an ever-changing world, to listen to what God's word requires of me, here, now. That is what religious leaders have always done, in the past no less than now."3
The question is: To what extent will we see our present interconnectedness as a threat or a challenge? As the work of man, or as a call from God to a greater humanity, as well as to a greater self-restraint? As for me, I believe that we are being summoned by God to see in the human other a trace of the divine Other. The test - so lamentably failed by the great powers of the twentieth century - is to see the divine presence in the face of a stranger; to heed the cry of those who are disempowered in this age of unprecedented powers; who are hungry and poor and ignorant and uneducated, whose human potential is being denied the chance to be expressed. That is the faith of Abraham and Sarah, from whom the great faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, trace their spiritual or actual ancestry. That is the faith of one who, though he called himself but dust and ashes, asked of God himself, 'Shall the judge of all the earth not do justice?' We are not gods, but we are summoned by God - to do His work of love and justice and compassion and peace."4
What should be our approach to the religions of the world … and to the differences — and diversity — between people, between nations, between cultures? Should we not respond with Understanding?! Appreciation?! Reverence?! Respect?! Dignity?! Dialogue?! The religions of our planet, experienced in and through the lives of people who are close to us, who we know as friend or neighbour or colleague — and especially as revealed in the lives of caring people who are strangers — are signposts ... remarkable, historical signposts ... directing us on the way to God.
There are multiple universes of wisdom, each capturing something of the radiance of being and refracting it into the lives of its followers, none refuting or excluding the others, each as it were the native language of its followers, but combining in a hymn of glory to the creator."5