Because I was so fortunate as to travel the world during my teen years…those highly impressionable years…I’ve seen things, heard things, experienced things that became fertile soil to my many questions.
I was raised in a Southern Baptist pastor’s home. Everyone I knew was Christian. Most were Baptist. Even if you did not go to church, you regarded yourself as Christian and, very often, as Baptist, too. So, the nearest thing to me of a person of another “religion” was a Catholic.
Yet, on more than one occasion, I’ve stood with thousands of other actual Catholics in St. Peter’s Square in Rome…as they eagerly awaited a blessing from the Pope…and, as I watched with curiosity…wonder…questions.
Questions like, “Who are these Catholics? What do they believe? Do they believe in God? Are they Christians like us Baptists?”
If you have never been to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, put that on your “Bucket List.” Hard to stand inside what is quite likely still the most beautiful basilica in the world with its colorful windows, its magnificent ceilings that reach the heavens themselves, or to observe the beams of light as they cut their way across that breathtakingly, sacred place and not wonder to oneself, “What do these people know about God that I do not know? That we may not know?”
Pretty profound questions for a teenager to ask, wouldn’t you say?
I know many, many adults who never get around to asking such questions. Or, if they do, they quickly dismiss them. They mistakenly think that questions will lead to compromise just as they mistakenly think that doubts will lead to the loss of faith. What they do not know is that, until you actually question your faith and allow yourself permission to doubt, your faith is at best borrowed and superficial. Or, worse, inauthentic…even phony.
Imagine the questions I asked when visiting Jerusalem…walking around the Dome of the Rock, as I have done many times, holy site to two of the world’s greatest religions, Islam and Judaism. Can you understand how such observations…such experiences…would cause me to wonder, “Why do some people within these two religions claim the same spiritual father but dislike, even hate, each another? Furthermore, one calls God Allah, the other Elohim. Is it the same God? And, how are their gods different from the God we Christians worship? Or is it really the same God?”
As a teenager, I’ve stood outside the Swayambhunath Temple – known to Buddhists as the “Monkey Temple” because monkeys actually live there – in Kathmandu, Nepal, that beautiful city that sits under the shadow of the towering, snow-covered peaks of the Himalayan Mountains. I’ve watched as these monks sitting in the lotus position, some of them for hours…others for days, wearing their saffron-colored robes…making not the slightest movement…but only in deep stillness, meditation, prayer. I’ve observed the discipline of their spirituality, a discipline I had never observed even among the most devout of Christians.
Can you understand how I would wonder? How I would question?
Once, while observing the Zen monks in meditation, I was skeptical. I was certain it was all just a big religious show, the kind you and I are accustomed to seeing in much of Christianity today. I was convinced the monks were just playing to their audience of tourists. Our tour group walked on with the guide as she explained other things they were seeing. I stood transfixed, however, staring at the monks, certain that, at any moment, they would twitch with discomfort or peek to see who was watching.
They never did.
When it came time to leave, the guide sent one of the little Baptist ladies to fetch me. She put her arm around my shoulder and, perhaps feeling as if I might be a little too impressed by the display of spirituality I was observing, she whispered in my ear…
“Look at those poor little monks…praying to a God they know not. Why…if they only knew our sweet Jesus…they would go to heaven with us when they die.”
Even to the self-absorbed, self-centered teenager that I was, her condescension and dismissive certainty offended me.
I wanted to ask her, “What makes you so certain you’re right and they’re wrong? What if they’re right and you’re wrong?”
Some will read this and they will glibly…with certainty…with absoluteness that sounds as if they may actually know what they’re talking about, “Well, I just believe the Bible. And, since Jesus said he was the only way to God, that’s enough for me.”
Is it? Is that “enough for you?” Really? Or, is your “certainty” just a cover-up for your insecurity? You think your absoluteness fools me?
You’re wrong, my friend. There was a time in my life I tried my best to appear as certain as you. There are two kinds of fools in this world. The one who says, “There is NO God.” The other is the one who says, “I know God.” “No God; Know God” No difference.
Sure, you can “know” God, as the inner, inexplicable and transformative personal experience. But, do not ever, my friend…do not ever be so arrogant as to assume you actually “know” God, in terms of explaining God or understanding God. Or, maybe you should go back and read the Book of Job. When you’re so foolish as to assume you know more than you could possibly ever know, you’re hardly like Job. You’re more like his dysfunctional friends whose glib answers to life’s questions made them seem to Job, and to every reader, as the intellectual buffoons that they were.
My friends, if I have come to believe anything it is this: Mystery goes by many names…has many aliases…and, may wear many different faces. And, since this Mystery is too mysterious for either your little mind or mine, the better part of real humility would be to “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2), as Saint Paul counseled.
What “mind” is this?
The Mind of Mystery…a Mind of Humility…a Mind of Compassion…a Mind of Service.
It was this MIND that created the universe, was present in Jesus, is everywhere in this universe and present in you and me and everyone.
And, oh, by the way, know how BIG this universe is?
Have you bothered to look? And then, to ponder?
When the spiritual emptiness of your soul becomes so great you can no longer stand it, you WILL look. And, what you’ll see when you do is a vastness that is not only greater than you can imagine, it is greater than you CAN imagine.
When you become aware of this, you will most likely make a discovery similar to one I’ve made…and that is…
That God is like this Uni-Verse…He…or, She or whatever it is, is THE One-Song.
And, when you hear that Song, you’ll sing it, too. It is the One Song that is melodious enough to include all singers everywhere.
And that, my friend, is the greatest Mystery of all Mysteries.