Be grateful for whoever comes for each has been send as a guide from beyond
When Karen Armstrong came to our attention, the 10 year spiritual odyssey began in earnest. Anna and her Reader were happy to encounter another pilgrim along the paths of our expanding spiritual universe; a pilgrim who brought serious scholarship to the area of comparative religion. It did not take long for us to recognize that we had found a trusted guide to help us fill in the blanks in our knowledge of religious history.
Karen brought just the right touch: an old school kind of concern for order and organization, a historical approach, chronological and thematic coherence, thorough research, a passion for her subject, and as much clarity as can be had from abstract concepts which are notoriously difficult to comprehend. She also brought the credibility that comes from her early life experiences as a Catholic nun, her life story as a seeker and her honest disclosures about her own lifelong search to understand human spiritual yearning.
Anna and her Reader would spend the best part of the decade with Karen Armstrong in a continuing series of weekly readings and conversations on comparative religion under the tutelage of our enthusiastic new mentor. In the many months during our reading and discussion of the five books pictured above, we were frequently motivated to express our admiration and gratitude for her contributions to the late life growth of our characters. She has become our guide our mentor and our teacher.
(Links to some of Karen Armstrong’s works for the spiritually curious)
A History of God:
The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam
The Spiral Staircase:
My Climb out of Darkness
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
The Great Transformation
Ecumenism an impossible dream?
In the decade of reading and discussion, in the post 9/11 period of history the fault lines and historical fissures among religions have led to eruptions of violence across the globe. Once again the world is appalled by acts of barbarism and brutality under the pretext of faith. Religious cleansing happens in Africa, in India and in Indonesia. Segregation takes place along religious lines in the middle east, religious and ethnic profiling is commonplace in Europe and in North America
Ecumenism, the idea of unification among the bewilderingly numerous branches of Christianity surfaces periodically and then disappears from awareness in our cultures. The ideal of unity seems increasingly unlikely without divine intervention, intervention which is itself unlikely.
Consider these statements from Karen Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History. She summarizes some ideas attributed to Muid ad-Din ibn al Arabi (1164-1240) as follows:
Every single human being was a unique and unrepeatable revelation of one of God’s hidden attributes, and the only God we will ever know is the Divine Name inscribed in our innermost self. The vision of a personal Lord was conditioned by the faith tradition in which a person was born. The Mystic must see all faiths as equally valid and (the mystic) is at home in synagogue, mosque, temple or church.
Since the time of ibn al Arabi we have seen faiths fracturing and fragmenting, schisms produce sectarianism and the globe periodically witnesses a growing and rampant fanatism. Eight centuries later, we are now crammed together within a seemingly diminishing global village in mutually exclusive spiritual solitudes.
Ecumenism an impossible dream? It appears not to have been so in the thirteenth century. Bridges across the many religious divides are few. In the light of all that seems to divide us spiritually, it would seem audacious, if not naive, to suggest a global spiritual ecumenism encompassing religions outside of Christianity. In her Charter of Compassion, Karen Armstrong works towards exploring a common base for cooperative engagement among religions.(See the TED talks link above).
Many years ago, Anna, the idealistic, young seeker had an intuition with an ecumenical quality.
Anna’s Wheel of Spirituality
Reader: Anna, When did the analogy of a spiritual wheel come to your mind?
Anna: It came actually over a period of time. It seems that even in my teenage years and university days I seemed to be looking for something and I would go from church to church looking. I guess that I was looking for God, at least I think I was looking for something because something was missing. So this led me to do some reading about religion and take courses on comparative religion. And I realized that there were beautiful religions. There was a lot in common and a lot of differences and I thought I could be any of those (religions). However I did end up, when I got married, joining the United Church. I could never say that was just it. I felt that I was in a place that I could accept. And then the more I thought about it I realized that we are all God’s children. The idea of a wheel came in. Being God’s children we were different: different colours, different ideas, different religious ideas, but we were all on a wheel going to the centre, we are all searching for the truth and I guess the truth is God.
Reader: So the spokes of the wheel are what?
Anna: They are paths.
Reader: Religious paths? Spiritual paths?
Anna: Both. We are all searching for something. We all realize that there is something missing in our lives and I think it is spirituality.
Reader: The hub of you wheel is…?
Anna: God, Truth, whatever your concept of God is. And I am sure that my idea of God is not yours. Not everybody has the same idea of God.