We Are One in the Spirit
Written by Ron Starbuck – Copyright 2012
"That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us (John 17:21)."
What I have found to be of immense value in the vision of ONE, is the opportunity it bestows on readers and writers alike to explore an interfaith dialog that is open and sincere. One that simply asks us to write about our faith, our beliefs, our knowledge, and what we have come to know of God that goes beyond our belief. And one that places a high faith in humanity, a faith that understands and sees the Spirit of God, or Holy Spirit if you wish, actively at work within the world across many faiths, in an interfaith dialog. One that embraces a single vision which, sees God calling us into relationship with one another, with the world at large, and with the whole mystery of all creation.
When I was a child, a teenage, and even a young adult, there was hymn I loved to sing, and still do today. The words are simple and even though they first spoke of Christian unity, ultimately they speak of a unity across all humanity. The first verse of the song contains these words.
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
The hymn was written by Peter R. Scholtes, if you were to take the time to look up his biography on the internet, you’ll find part of the story of this song. He wrote the hymn They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love, “while he was a parish priest at St. Brendan's on the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s. At the time, he was leading a youth choir out of the church basement, and was looking for an appropriate song for a series of ecumenical, interracial events. When he couldn't find such a song, he wrote the now-famous hymn in a single day. His experiences at St. Brendan's, and in the Chicago Civil Rights movement, influenced him for the rest of his life.” 1 I believe that it can just as easily be applied in the context of an interfaith dialog and celebration.
The story goes on of course, as the song goes on, because it went on to influence may others, helping to shape their hearts, their minds, and the direction of their life. I was one of those people who found the song more than inspirational. I found it to an eye-opener and a heart-opener; I found it transforming in my own life, and the life I live with and through others.
As a poet and writer, language to me is extremely important, words are a sacrament, and the words we chose to use in writing, need to be chosen wisely. Our language and words are symbols that may point us towards God as Ultimate Truth, but these symbols, this symbolic language is not that Truth, although our words and symbols do have the power to help reveal the Truth. To look at the Truth, we must gaze beyond the finger pointing towards the moon, to the moon itself, to Truth itself. All the words of Holy Scripture, when they are truly effective, from any and all the great spiritual traditions of humankind, are simply fingers pointing at the moon.
Jesus tells us in John 4:24: "God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." And in 1 John 8:16: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
As a Christian, I see these scriptures, pointing us towards a deeper level of understanding in our relationship with God, and in turn with all of creation and one another. Perichoresis (peri-kor-es-is) is an ancient Greek term in Christian theology, which refers to the indwelling of the Trinity. It tells of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are so intimately connected within their unity as one that there is an indwelling between them all.
This indwelling is shared with humankind, in and through Christ, in the Paschal Mystery of Christ as the Incarnate Word, the Word Made Flesh, who many Christians encounter in the sacrament of the Eucharist, where Jesus is truly present. Saint John of Damascus (7th Century) describes Perichoresis as a “cleaving together,” and as a fellowship of the Godhead that enters into one another.
The Spirit is not limited to Christians alone, or to the church with all of its dogma, doctrine, and ecclesiastical traditions. The Spirit is boundless, the Spirit is formless - without form, the Spirit is love, and love touches humankind a many different levels, calling us into loving relationship with one another.
In a Tangent, a book review and interview, I wrote for Parabola Magazine a few months ago, I closed the piece with words similar to these. If we could reframe the message of the Gospel for the 21st Century, the "Good News" of the Gospel, I believe it would be a message that calls all of us into a deeper understanding of the Divine Mystery found in relationship, found in an interfaith dialogue that is radically open, radically inclusive, and grounded in the historical and orthodox tradition of the church, and of the Great Commission, Christ gave to his Disciples, to all Christendom.
In speaking about an interfaith dialog Paul F. Knitter, the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions, and Culture, and the author of Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, 2 once quoted the theologian John Cobb, who pointed out that, "Jesus is the way that is open to other ways."
"Jesus is the way that is open to other ways. Jesus is not the way that excludes, overpowers, demeans other ways; rather he is the way that opens us to, connects us with, calls us to relate to other ways in a process that can best be described as "dialogue." 3
This is what I believe I’ve been called to do within my own faith, to reach out to other faiths, to understand and transcend any difference in language or vocabulary that there may be, and to build many bridges across faiths. Beyond this even, to understand another’s faith within the cultural and social context in which it arises for them, and to look for meaningful and transforming connections and conversations between faiths; to work together in relationship with one another for a better world, a more meaningful life, and a shared life.
I'm thinking of Jesus now and the words we hear him say in John 10:10; "I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly."
1. Peter R. Scholtes, 1938-2009: http://pscholtes.com/obituary.cfm
2. Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, Paul F. Knitter, Chapter 1, Nirvana and God the Transcendent Other, Pages 14-23.Publisher: Oneworld Publications (July 25, 2009)Language: EnglishISBN-10: 1851686738ISBN-13: 978-1851686735Paperback: 336 pages. http://www.oneworld-publications.com/cgi-bin/cart2/commerce.cgi?pid=443&log_pid=yes
3. 3. Sermon by Professor Paul F. Knitter, from Union Theological Seminary in NYC, entitled "Jesus: The Way That is Open to Other Ways". http://www.tcpc.org/library/article.cfm?library_id=518
Books and Articles by Ron Starbuck
Wheels Turning Inward – New and Select Poems
by Ron Starbuck
Parabola Magazine: Fall, 2011: Seeing, Volume 36:3 – God As a Verb – Page 100
Parabola Magazine: Winter, 2012: Many Paths One Truth: Volume 36;4 – A Radical Openness – Page 98
Saint Julian Press – Interfaith Musings – Copyright 2012
A Christian Speaks - The Heart Sutra - Emptiness is Form, Form is Emptiness
Beyond All Our Thoughts (Perichoresis - Divine Indwelling)