Almost all religion begins with a specific encounter with something that feels “holy” or transcendent: a place, an emotion, an image, music, a liturgy, an idea that suddenly gives you access to God’s Bigger World. The natural and universal response is to “idolize” and idealize that event. It becomes sacred for you, and it surely is. The only mistake is that too many then conclude that this is the way, the best way, the superior way, the “only” way for everybody—that I myself just happen to have discovered. Then, they must both protect their idol and spread this exclusive way to others. (They normally have no concrete evidence whatsoever that other people have not also encountered the holy.)
The false leap of logic is that other places, images, liturgies, scriptures, or ideas can not give you access. “We forbid them to give you access; it is impossible,” we seem to say! Thus much religion wastes far too much time trying to separate itself from—and create “purity codes” against—what is perceived as secular, bad, heretical, dangerous, “other,” or wrong. Jesus had no patience with such immature and exclusionary religion, yet it is still a most common form to this day. Idolatry has been called the only constant and real sin of the entire Old Testament, and idolatry is whenever we make something god that is not God, or whenever we make the means into an end. Any attempt to create our own “golden calf” is usually first-half-of-life religion, and eventually false religion.
Richard Rohr, June 2012
The church [is] no other thing but the society, gathering or company of such as God hath called out of the world and worldly spirit to walk in his light and life... Under this church ... are comprehended all, and as many, of whatsoever nation, kindred, tongue or people they be, though outwardly strangers and remote from those who profess Christ and Christianity in words and have the benefit of the Scriptures, as become obedient to the holy light and testimony of God in their hearts... There may be members therefore of this Catholic church both among heathens, Turks, Jews and all the several sorts of Christians, men and women of integrity and simplicity of heart, who ... are by the secret touches of this holy light in their souls enlivened and quickened, thereby secretly united to God, and there-through become true members of this Catholic church.
Robert Barclay, 1678
God is so very much greater than our minds can themselves comprehend that it is simply foolish to feel we can legislate how he may or may not communicate with our fellow human beings. It is also very shortsighted indeed if we feel that we can legislate where our fellow Christians may or may not turn for inspiration and comfort along their spiritual journey. To say, “You mustn’t read that, it’s influenced by another faith!” or, “You may not publish that, we have withheld our imprimatur!” is so far from Christ’s way (consider his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4.1-42), and its consequences) that it is one of the great acts of unfaithfulness, not to mention foot-marksmanship, in the history of the church.
May we be known by our generosity, our open-heartedness, to all women and men of spiritual yearning, of whichever faith, or none. May we become a refuge and a comfort to them, through the indwelling Christ who loves through us… and may they be a challenge, a comfort and an inspiration to us too.