I have discovered a new blog
Brian asked why people hope for, but don't cross over to believe in universalism. I thought about my own journey and my first time at an interfaith meeting.
I had either just left, or was in my final days at evangelical church and I plucked up the courage to attend an inter-faith group I had seen advertised. I remember tentatively walking up the steps into the church building where it was held, with a certain degree of nervous anxiety. I felt naughty - looking over my shoulder almost in case someone who knew me from church might be passing by. I might as well have been walking into a seedy sex shop as into a church building. That same sense of doing something forbidden and dangerous was there.
A terrorist attack had just happened in Istanbul and there was a massive furore about Islamophobia and Islamic fundamentalism. People felt threatened and under attack, fearful of their neighbours. And there I was, standing side by side with Jewish people, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddists to remember what had happened and to witness our togetherness and our commitment to one another as people of faith in seeking peace in our world.
It was exhilariating, liberating - I could be truly and wonderfully open to those around me. Not just in the interfaith group - but with everyone. I didn't have to worry about the eternal destination of those around me anymore. It was like I was coming home to what I always recognised but never dared to believe that whatever "God" was, it/he/she/they were present everywhere - in all cultures and in all faiths.
I didn't tell my Christian housemates for quite some time - I slipped out and in quietly, like a naughty school girl with a secret romance. And, I admit it, I really enjoyed the secrecy and the tremendous sense of doing something really naughty.
I flitted between feeling free and feeling scared. Perhaps, I was going too far. Perhaps I might find myself stepping outside the circle of salvation. What if God was not as generous as I hoped? If hell does exist and believing in it is a pre-requisite to avoiding it, maybe most people will take the safer option. Afterall, if universalism is true, no-one has anything to loose (in the sense of their eternal destiny).
I'm pleased to say, I'm not so worried anymore! I have taken my place in public acts of witness with the interfaith group, feasted with people of other faiths and I am not afraid anymore. This same group, by happy coincidence also introduced me to the Quakers.
Maybe it is a bit dangerous to dare to believe that the light, truth and love that we find ourselves longing for might be lurking deep within us and within our neighbours. But if we cling to beliefs we don't really believe in or we hope aren't true out of fear of offending some diety, how much we and our communities stand to loose?
To recognise that of God in all people (or at least attempt to) is a tremendously liberating way to live. It allows us to approach our neighbours, no matter how different they may be from us, with a sense of deepest respect and sincerity, with no agenda, simply to recognise and treasure that which is good, true and loving within them and to invite them to treat us in the same way. It allows us to love without fear that our neighbours may one day find themselves destined to eternal torment. It allows us to surrender pride and fear and live in friendship and seek peace with our neigbours.
There is always something that seems to hold some people back from realising the universality of love. Perhaps universal love is almost too good to be true. But it is the universality of love, which recognises, values and includes all people(s), that we will heal the fractions within our society and create peace within and between communities.
"There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages has different names; it is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows of what nation soever, they become brethren." ~John Woolman 1762