Author and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor writes about what she calls “holy envy,” befriending followers of different traditions, and allowing such friendships to enrich our own faith. She summarizes an insight taught by inter-spiritual theologian Raimon Panikkar (1918–2010):
Raimon Panikkar . . . spent a lot of time thinking about what it might mean for Christians to focus on contributing to the world’s faiths instead of dominating them. Born in Spain to a Catholic mother and a Hindu father, he used the analogy of the world’s great rivers. The Jordan, the Tiber, and the Ganges all nourish the lives of those who live along their banks, he said. One flows through Israel, one flows through Rome, and one flows through India. If he were writing today he might have added the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which flow through Turkey, Syria, and Iraq.
None of these rivers meet on earth, Panikkar said, though they do meet in the heavens, where water from each of them condenses into clouds that rain down on all the mortals of the earth. In the same way, he said, the religions of the world remain distinct and unmixed on earth—but “they meet once transformed into vapor, once metamorphosized into Spirit, which then is poured down in innumerable tongues.” 
Eventually all people of faith must decide how they will think about and respond to people of other (and no) faiths. Otherwise they will be left at the mercy of their worst impulses when push comes to shove and their fear deadens them to the best teachings of their religions.
Taylor recalls a trip she took with her students to a local Islamic center, and the inspiration it provided:
Once, at the end of a field trip to the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, the imam ended his meeting with students by saying, “Our deepest desire is not that you become Muslim, but that you become the best Christian, the best Jew, the best person you can be. In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Thank you for coming.” Then he was gone, leaving me with a fresh case of holy envy.
I could do that, I thought. I could speak from the heart of my faith, wishing others well at the heart of theirs—including those who had no name for what got them through the night. It might mean taking down some fences, but turf was no longer the reigning metaphor. I was not imagining two separate yards with neighbors leaning over a shared boundary. I was imagining a single reservoir of living water, with two people looking into it. One might have been a Muslim and the other a Christian, but there was nothing in their faces to tell me that. All I saw were two human beings looking into deep waters that did not belong to either of them, reflecting back to them the truth that they were not alone.
 Raimundo Panikkar, “The Jordan, the Tiber, and the Ganges: Three Kairological Moments of Christic Self-Consciousness,” in The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, ed. John Hick and Paul F. Knitter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987), 92.
Barbara Brown Taylor, Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others (New York: HarperOne, 2019), 79–80.
Explore Further. . .
- Read more about Raimon Panikkar and Hindu-Christian mystic Bede Griffiths.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Jeremy Yap, Untitled (detail), 2017, photograph, Unsplash. Dann Zepeda, Untitled (detail), 2017, photograph, Unsplash. Austin Kehmeier, Untitled (detail), 2020, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
Image inspiration: Opening the door to difference—to include, rather than exclude—we see a beautiful beyond and receive the life water of new ways to see.
Story from Our Community:
Over the years, I have enjoyed the friendship of both Greek and Russian Orthodox Christians. Through our friendship, I was introduced an ikon that I have come to see as an ingenious way to describe the nature of God and the Trinity. The ikon shows the Holy Trinity as three simple people seated around a small common table and enjoying each other’s company! Thank you to the Daily Meditations, which have reminded me of the sacredness and importance of this image in my spiritual journey. Alleluia! —John L.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.