At the Living Interfaith presentation (by Steven Greenebaum and Cathy Merchant) a half hour service, including crucial the crucial elements that help to make Living Interfaith services safe, sacred space was offered. This included a short homily on spiritual humility that is included here.
Today we have called for spiritual humility in how we view the wondrous diversity that is humanity’s approach to matters spiritual. Some very honest folks have said to me, “I like the idea, but …” and then they explain to me a belief from a spiritual path not their own and they tell me, “I don’t believe that! How can you ask me to respect something I don’t believe?”
It’s a good question. The answer to it lies at the very heart of spiritual humility. And not being able to find a workable answer lies, I believe, at the heart of so many of our spiritual difficulties, even amongst those of us who truly seek compassionate understanding. So, if you will, indulge me with a small, possibly helpful parable.
Imagine we live in a city that has on one side a great cement wall. The wall is a mile or so thick, so there’s no hearing anything from the other side. It’s several miles high (and let’s assume no satellites), so there’s no peering over it. And it appears to go on forever either direction, so there’s no getting around it. So there’s no way of observing what if anything is on the other side. Being human, “What’s on the other side?” becomes something we very much want to know!
One day, a deeply spiritual man that we all respect goes to the wall. He sits, meditates and prays … and he realizes that there is a great sea on the other side, with amazing sea creatures. Now we know.
But some time later, a deeply spiritual woman that we all respect goes to the wall. She sits, meditates and prays … and she realizes that yes, there is a great sea on the other side, but it is a sea of grass, a huge prairie, with the most amazing prairie animals. Ok. A difference has developed. But at least we know there’s a sea of some sort on the other side.
Yet later another deeply spiritual man that we all respect goes to the wall. After praying and meditating, he realizes that there is no sea on the other side. There’s no sea of grass or water, but sky, with clouds and creatures we could never have imagined.
“Sea Believers” are sure this must be wrong.
Still later another deeply spiritual woman that we all respect goes to the wall. She meditates and prays. Then she meditates and prays again … and again. At last she realizes there is NOTHING on the other side of the wall. Nothing. No sea, no land, no sky. It’s empty. These other believers are simply deluding themselves.
Knowing humanity, sharp divisions will soon develop in our city, followed by arguments, disrespect, and perhaps even killings over who’s right. And people seeking power will leap at the chance to exploit our divisions.
And here’s the thing. There’s no way to know. Maybe there is a sea of some sort on the other side. Maybe there are clouds. Maybe there’s nothing at all. And maybe what’s on the other side is something no one could ever possibly imagine.
Spiritual humility is my realizing that whatever I believe, it remains a belief. It is not knowledge. No matter how much I revere the deeply spiritual foundations of my beliefs, and speaking for myself I do revere them, they are still not knowledge. This doesn’t make my beliefs any less important to me. My beliefs make me who I am. What spiritual humility requires of me is to recognize without prejudice or hierarchy the diversity of our beliefs. The fact that I don’t believe something, doesn’t make it wrong. What remains crucial for us all is what we do with our beliefs. And that is the great call of this Parliament, what we do when we get home to help make our world a little more loving. One helpful way to approach what we do is with spiritual humility.