I used to think God was a Catholic. Well… maybe Christian. Then… perhaps Judeo-Christian. But my work as the host of Interfaith Voices has introduced me to a God who defies such definitions and seems to revel in interfaith diversity of all kinds.
I’ve been introduced to many facets of this God through my guests and friends, representing a wide variety of faiths. In Swami Sachidananda, I met a God of openness and interfaith understanding. “Swamiji,” as he was affectionately known, was born a Hindu in India, but crossed the globe to promote interfaith harmony. His mantra was simple, yet complex: “Truth is one; paths are many…” That mantra still guides the ashram in Yogaville, VA that bears his name today where life is simple, and his followers celebrate an interfaith roster of feasts from the Hindu Diwali, to the Jewish Passover, to the Christian Easter, to the Muslim Eid-al Fitr and countless others.
In other guests, I met the God of the Hebrew Prophets, the God who cares about justice. Shortly after 9/11, when I was hosting a show on “religion and terrorism,” Rabbi David Saperstein took my breath away, as he revealed a press statement from himself and Rabbi Eric Yoffie in which they expressed outrage at attacks on Muslim Americans and Arab Americans:
“Such attacks, such scapegoating, are deeply un-American. They also violate what is perhaps a preeminent lesson of Jewish history – the danger of group hatred, of imputing to a group the actions of a few individuals.”
Those prophetic words still need to be heard.
In Asra Nomani and Amina Wadud, I deepened my acquaintance with the God of equality, the God whose message challenges discriminatory traditions. In these women, I found soul sisters, for they are Muslim feminists who dare to call Islamic institutions to practice gender equality. Both have challenged tradition, Asra by entering a mosque and praying with the men – not behind them, and Amina by becoming the first woman to lead mixed-gender Friday prayers. I am a Catholic woman who – like Asra and Amina – loves her faith and heritage. But all three of us share the belief that God created women and men as equals, and that our religious institutions need to practice the equality they preach.
In Dr. Akbar Ahmed, the renowned Islamic scholar at American University, I have met the God of understanding and bridge-building. In his recent book, Journey into Islam, one of the students accompanying him in Asia recounts a time when Dr. Ahmed was moved to deep contemplative prayer when visiting a Muslim shrine in India. When I mentioned that story to him later, I noted that I had been moved to prayer as well when I visited Assisi in Italy. He lit up: “Ah yes, St. Francis,” he beamed. In that moment, I sensed that we share, not only an admiration of St. Francis, but also a spiritual practice of contemplation that transcends our faith traditions.
The stories are endless. I have met God in countless people from many faith traditions. I have been touched to my core by deeply prayerful people, women and men committed to justice and daring to live what they believe. I come away enriched, blessed and still in love with the richness of the Catholic tradition.
One thing is especially clear: human beings may have trouble respecting each other’s faith traditions, but it is clear to me that God has no problem. She (or is it he?) revels in diversity!
Interfaith Voices, Sundays on WAMU 88.5 FM.