Archive for Saturday, March 6, 2004

Faith forum

March 6, 2004


Is it OK to seek wisdom from many faiths, or should I just stick to one?

Aligning ideals, actions challenging

Roger Martin, member of Peace Mennonite Church, 1204 Oread Drive, and working on a book about spiritual matters:

Wisdom can be accessed through many traditions, but I've got problems with a shopping-cart approach. It can be great fun, of course, and in the 1960s, it was. Suddenly, a host of wisdom traditions unfamiliar to Westerners appeared: transcendental meditation, Taoism and Zen Buddhism. People cast the I Ching, lay the tarot cards, guessed each other's astrological signs and talked about the sorcerer Don Juan and the Yaqui way of knowing.

But little changed as a result. Destructive behavior -- the kind that makes people compulsive about eating and drinking, shopping or romance -- continued. So when I think about the possibility of seeking wisdom from many faiths, I find myself asking, skeptically, whether "wisdom" gained that way actually helps. Does it help us be more patient? Is it enlarging our feelings of empathy and forgiveness for those we'd like to smack? Is it helping us remain in conversation with someone we're uncomfortable with? Are we treating people as we want to be treated?

Wisdom in the sense of "knowing what to do" isn't that hard. What's difficult and painful is incorporating wisdom so deeply that our ideals and actions finally align. That takes time. I went back to church after 33 years away, thinking it would help in that alignment, but it's not the answer. It's not for everybody because there's been too much hurt associated with it.

And, of course, core Christian ideals are shared by many wisdom traditions. Christian "faith" is akin to Islamic "submission" is akin to the Buddhist choice to "walk out over groundlessness." But because of the intractability of our behavior, I'd urge people to pick one wisdom tradition that's been around for hundreds or thousands of years -- that's stood the test of time -- and, leaving its interpretation to no person or institution, dive in. And stay.

Send e-mail to Roger Martin at

Crisscrossing paths lead to summit

Charles Gruber, Lawrence resident, is a student of Judaism, Zen Buddhism and Sufism:

As I slowly woke from my lifelong slumber, I began to understand that I might need some guidance.

I set out on my personal quest to discover myself. I arrived at the base camp of the Mountain of Knowledge. I could not see the summit, for it was enveloped in clouds. I saw a sign that read, "This way to the summit." I asked the guide if there was more than one path up the mountain. The guide said, "Indeed."

"Shall I drink from the streams of wisdom of all paths, or follow just one?" I asked.

"Make up your own mind, pilgrim," the guide said.

"The route on the East Face is the easiest but the longest. The climbing guides are helpful and good-natured. At different camps along the way, local wise ones can be found. The summit is described as beyond words.

"The path on the North Face is the most difficult. You will have to go it alone. The weather is fierce and the challenges many. In the end, you will break through to eternal quietude and peace. The summit has no name.

"The South Face is the most popular. It has a huge organization to support the seekers. The rules are clear and laid out in holy books. There are many congregations at different 'stations' of the climb. The summit is said to be indescribable.

"The trek up the West Face is magical and shrouded in mystery. It includes costumes and secret societies. You must deal with flexible time and mirages. All is not as it appears. The summit transcends understanding.

"All paths crisscross, and they all lead to the summit. Your choice, pilgrim."

Send e-mail to Charles Gruber at

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