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Center for Action and Contemplation

God Is Diversity

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Interfaith Friendship

God Is Diversity
Wednesday, December 6, 2017

I have been drawn to the living heart of every spiritual tradition I have encountered. . . . What I found irresistible was the essential unity at the core of all that diversity; each faith tradition was singing the same song in a deliciously different voice: God is love. —Mirabai Starr [1]

As Thomas Merton reflected, “We are already one.” We just need to start becoming what we already are. —James Finley [2]

One of my favorite mystics, Lady Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), used the old English term “oneing” to describe what was happening between God and the soul. The divisions, dichotomies, and dualisms of the world can only be overcome by a unitive consciousness at every level: personal, relational, social, political, cultural, in inter-religious dialogue, and spirituality in particular. This is the unique and central job of healthy religion (re-ligio = to re-ligament). It is precisely the contemplative mind that can see things in their oneness instead of emphasizing their distinctness.

Jesus put it so powerfully in his great final prayer, “I pray that all may be one” (John 17:21). Or as Julian put it, “By myself I am nothing at all, but in general, I am in the oneing of love. For it is in this oneing that the life of all people exists.” [3]

Many teachers have made the central, but often-missed, point that unity is not the same as uniformity. Unity, in fact, is the reconciliation of differences, and those differences must first be maintained—and then overcome by the power of love! You must actually distinguish things and separate them before you can spiritually unite them, usually at cost to yourself (see Ephesians 2:14-16). If only we had made that simple clarification, so many problems—and overemphasized, separate identities—could have moved to a much higher level of love and service.

We must go back to the ultimate Christian source for our principle: the central doctrine of the Trinity itself. Yes, God is “One,” just as our Jewish roots taught Christianity (Deuteronomy 6:4), and yet the further, more subtle level is that this oneness is, in fact, the radical love union between three completely distinct “persons” of the Trinity. The three members of the Trinity are not uniform—but quite distinct—and yet oned in total outpouring! If we remain monotheists, we will try to impose a false oneness (uniformity) and never learn to love, honor, and respect diversity. Christianity must return to its Trinitarian foundations to fully rebuild itself from the bottom up.

God is otherness and diversity, a pluriformity. The basic problem of “the one and the many” is overcome in God’s very nature. God is a mystery of relationship, and the truest relationship is love. Infinite Love preserves unique truths, protecting boundaries while simultaneously bridging them. While these two tasks seem initially like opposites, and impossible to reconcile, oneing is God’s essential task and the goal of all authentic spirituality.

Gateway to Silence:
We are already one. 

[1] Mirabai Starr, God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Monkfish Book Publishing Company: 2012), 2, 3.
[2] James Finley, Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening, disc 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), CD, DVD, MP3 download.
[3] Julian of Norwich, Showings, 9.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “The Perennial Tradition,” Oneing, vol. 1, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), 12-13.

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