Loving Perspectives

Interfaith Wisdom for a Pandemic

As an interfaith minister I ascribe to the belief that no one tradition is the “right” one, the ultimate truth or the only way. All faiths have wisdom that can help devotees navigate life’s challenges with grace and peace. As one of my teachers in seminary put it, “It takes many heads to hold the wisdom of God.”

In looking for wisdom for this time in various traditions I did some of my own searching and reached out to colleagues for their thoughts on helpful bits from their traditions. Of course there are more religions and traditions than those included here, and infinite wisdom in the Universe beyond our collections of stories and practices. I would love to hear from followers of perhaps Wicca, Islam, Baha’i, Yoruba or others as to what their faith can tell us about how to get through challenging times on Earth such as this.

Here are thoughts from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and the Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. May it be of benefit.

In When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, Tibetan Buddhist scholar and author Pema Chodren writes:

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing.  We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.  They come together and they fall apart.  Then they come together again and fall apart again.  Its just like that.  The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen:  room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. 

…  The very first noble truth of Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last – that they don’t disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security.  From this point of view, the only time we ever know what’s really going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land.  We use these situations either to wake ourselves up or to put ourselves to sleep.  Right now – in the very instant of groundlessness – is the seed of taking care of those who need our care of discovering our goodness… 

Lesson: This can be an opportunity to open to our goodness if we allow it, if we let go.

My friend, the Pastor Gabrielle Kennedy, M.Div., a pastor in the Presbyterian Church USA, shared with me many stories and words of Jesus that are relevant for a time such as this. I hope that she will compile her complete list in an amazing article or sermon to share! 

One that stood out to me was that of Jesus calming the storm. It can be found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Here is one version:

Mark 4:35-41 New International Version (NIV)

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Lesson: In Pastor Gabby’s words, “Don’t be afraid of the storm. God has everything under control… and we all need to take naps sometimes.” 

The Hindu sage Ramana Maharshi’s teachings are collected largely in question and answer form, conversations between he and his followers.

When asked how to maintain the thought that all is Brahman (the impersonal Absolute Reality) in the midst of worldly activities, he answered:

When the harmonium is being played there is a constant note that is called the sruti. Along with that, other notes also come out. If the ear is fixed on this note that is constant, then, while listening to the other notes, that original note cannot be forgotten. Actually, that first note gives strength to all the other notes. 

So, the principle to understand is that the first note is the adhistana (substratum) while the other notes represent worldly activities. During worldly activities, if (awareness of) the note of the adhistana is continuous, whatever is spoken is then done with authority of this adhistana note. But an ordinary man does not keep his attention on the first note, the adhistana. He merely listens to the subsequent notes. Sukhdev (a sage of ancient India) used to keep such attention and maintain his awareness of Brahman. When the attention is fixed properly on the first note, the effect of the other notes will not be felt.

Lesson: Keep your connection to God, to your Center, to that which is unchanged, even as the world swirls around you and you interact within it.

The Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers are an international group of “women of prayer”, leaders and elders of their Indigenous communities across the globe. In 2016 they put out a beautiful statement of our changing times that in part read:

As you move through these changing times… be easy on yourself and be easy on one another. You are at the beginning of something new. You are learning a new way of being. You will find that you are working less in the yang modes that you are used to.

You will stop working so hard at getting from point A to point B the way you have in the past, but instead, will spend more time experiencing yourself in the whole, and your place in it. 

Instead of traveling to a goal out there, you will voyage deeper into yourself. Your mother’s grandmother knew how to do this. Your ancestors from long ago knew how to do this. They knew the power of the feminine principle… and because you carry their DNA in your body, this wisdom and this way of being is within you. 

Call on it. Call it up. Invite your ancestors in. As the yang based habits and the decaying institutions on our planet begin to crumble, look up. A breeze is stirring. Feel the sun on your wings.

Lesson: There can be a gentleness in ushering in a new way of being. Call on the Ancestors and allow the old way to crumble.

I contacted my friend, the Reverend Riva Danzig, to talk about Jewish wisdom  Riva is an Ordained Interfaith Minister, most comfortable in the Interfaith realms but whose DNA is 100% Eastern European Jewish. She introduced me to the story in Rodger Kamenetz’ book The Jew in the Lotus. It is a true retelling of the meeting of eight Jewish leaders with the Dalai Lama, who had asked them for the secret of spiritual survival in exile.

Part of the wisdom they shared was the importance, and even sacredness, of remembering. 

Kamenetz writes, “The Torah is full of exhortations to remember – to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, to speak of the law constantly and teach it diligently to your children. The sacralization of memory had been an essential feature of Judaism throughout its history.”

The Jews explained to the Buddhist leader that they are ultimately trying to remember that we are not yet Home. One of the Rabbis explained to the Dalai Lama “In trying to create a world, the infinite cannot fit into the finite; vessels break and therefore there is something wrong with the world…The divine fullness of being cannot be as long as the world is disturbed…the world as God intends it to be is not here yet.” 

Lesson: It is our job to bring the spark of the divine into this world again and again – to improve our societies and ecology, to see the breaks and repair them. Especially in exile, we must remember our spiritual aspirations.

I’d like to conclude with Rev. Riva’s words – a heartfelt prayer for these times.

May our species learn the lessons it must to finally live in harmony with the planet that is our home. 

May there be an awakening to the truth that domination over other beings – human and non-human – will never sustain us or the planet; it will always lead to collapse, from which, if we are lucky, we will be reborn. 

This time, may we learn to stay present and to hold each other as we fall apart. 

May we learn new ways to stay connected even when it feels like we can’t. 

May we vow to rebuild a new way of living on and with the planet and all its beings. 

Ameyn, Amen, Amin, Ashe, Aho. 

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