…(I)s the idea of the universal religion realistic or just idealistic? But behind all these differences, we must recognise a deeper level of commonality that suggests that the universal religion already exists, and is constantly evolving and taking clearer shape. No two persons are exactly alike, yet, despite these differences, there is a common thread of humanity.
If I am sure of anything, it is this humanity, which is common to all …. So it is with the universal religion, which runs through all the various religions of the world in the form of God; it must and does exist through eternity. ‘I am the thread that runs through all these pearls… ‘ (Gita) and each pearl is a religion or even a sect thereof, only the majority of mankind is entirely unconscious of it .
Swami Vivekananda, The Ideal of a Universal Religion
Matthew Wright is studying for ordination in the Episcopal Church at Virginia Theological Seminary. He is also a student of Sufism and Vedanta, living out the multi-spiritual vision he writes of so eloquently here. We are fellow students at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, and I am privileged to share his thoughts with you.
Below is a hopeful vision that I wrote spontaneously tonight after a period of spiritual practice. It was the image of a single human religious tradition, which I reflect on below, that came to me during my practice and then unfolded as this reflection when I sat down to write:
We see emerging today a new, and perhaps startling, truth—that there is a single religious tradition on our precious globe. This tradition is the inheritance of all human wisdom, of all streams of sacred tradition. Humanity is writing today a new sacred narrative; a Narrative wide enough, and deep enough, to contain all sacred narratives. In this tradition—and we must call it tradition, for it is not something new, but rather everything old newly aligned—there are no boundaries. The new humanity that lives in this tradition moves freely between sacred worlds, stories, and practices, grateful for what is rightfully theirs as the shared wealth of all humanity. This One Tradition offers many tools, techniques, practices, and ways to Truth—whether approached through devotion or discrimination, as personal God or Ultimate Reality.
The adept guides of this path have familiarized themselves with all of the noble ways offered on our globe, and they understand the spiritual temperaments and needs to which these different visions and practices are suited. They themselves may be rooted in a single lineage (or multiple, combined, or emerging lineages) within what they recognize as the Great Lineage, but they hold hands in deep and joyful friendship with those of all paths in this One Path. When they recognize a spiritual need that may be met best by a certain strand of sacred knowledge—perhaps one in which they are not themselves so deeply steeped—they freely guide their students in that direction, recommending the appropriate teachers, practices, or study.
Those who walk this path seek spiritual depth, committed practice, and authentic transformation. They do not skim the surface of human wisdom, digging several shallow wells, but rather use every tool at their disposal to dig one well, deep to holy water. They flourish in sacred communities of people from every age and background, every gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity, those called to holy lives of celibacy and those called to holy lives of committed relationship. Each strives for intimacy, vulnerability, and full humanity in their own unique expression. These communities witness to an alternative way of being-in-the-world, rather than attempting to live apart from the world. They offer their lives in joyful service of our individual and collective human awakening.
May these communities be born in the world.