So many of us bristle at the language from someone else’s religious, spiritual or humanist tradition. Perhaps we bristle because we believe that our path is the True Path. Perhaps we bristle because we have been hurt in religious spaces—those words a trigger of past trauma.
I had the blessing and the challenge of participating in a multi-faith service this morning. I was asked to bring some of my tradition forward, as were others. I knew that some of what I was to hear would not be language I have always experienced as friendly just as I knew that what I would say would feel the same for someone else.
As I meditated and breathed into the experience, an image came to me. A playground filled with children. Not the playground of my childhood where some belonged and others were alone or worse bullied. This was a playground where I could see and imagine the sounds of childlike joy. The giggling. The singing. The squeals of glee. Some children were in large groups. Some in pairs. Some on their own. All with the same joy.
What if this was a religious/ spiritual/ humanist/ atheist playground? What if another’s joy was infectious?
As an adult who teaches children wood working, martial arts, and yoga, I am blessed to be surrounded by that infectious joy. What I know about that kind of joy is that I benefit from being in its presence whether I join in or just sit and watch. The love of what they are doing and being washes over me. I feel lighter. I remember my own little self’s wonder.
What if we approached being in relationship in multi-faith environments this way. I don’t need to believe what you believe. It’s enough that your belief brings you joy. I don’t need you to believe what I believe. It’s enough that it brings me joy. Sometimes I have the pleasure of playing with others who play just like me. Often I play on my own. But the gift of truly multi-faith spaces is the exponential magnitude of joy. Of solace. Of presence.
Now, there is no one more aware than I that life is not a playground much of the time if at all for some if us. Yet even though we know that childhood can be filled with danger, struggle, risk, and hurt, we do our best as adults to shield and make space for children to experience wonder and play. It’s in this spirit that I dream up a playground for us all.
I invite you to the playground.
The joy that you invoke, the state of childlike wonder, is so resonant. I’m grateful to be at the playground with you.
Ever since coming into a solid sense of my own faith I feel so much more common ground with other people of faith, people of all faiths, and so much curiosity and joy in understanding the beliefs and practices for other people that connect them to something larger than themselves.
The groundwork for my affinity for the playground was certainly built from being raised Unitarian Universalist, a religion that encourages personal searching for meaning and finds value in understanding and drawing from other traditions. But it wasn’t until I claimed my own spiritual ground and connected fully with my own beliefs after years of not having that solidity that I stopped bristling, as you put it, in the face of certain beliefs or language or people with certain understandings of God.
And a big part of coming into my own faith was getting to know your faith, and getting to play together. Your solidness in terms of belief and practice helped me to feel solid in my belief and practice, and our understandings of the divine felt so compatible despite the incredibly different paths we have walked. That is magical to me.
And suddenly I felt like I had language to talk with my Jewish friends, to feel joy in the presence and practice of my MCC and UCC friends. I felt a new level of kinship with my Presbyterian grandparents. And I feel a similar sense of common ground with the people I know who identify as atheist or humanist from a place free of judgment of other paths.
I no longer feel the need to set myself apart from those people, people of particular religions. Because of knowing myself, I’m closer to knowing them, or at least I’m genuinely curious about where they find joy and meaning. I too can’t help but marvel at what it would be like for all people to experience infectious joy in the presence of what we each hold sacred.