Monday, August 5, 2019
Catholic monk and mystic Wayne Teasdale (1945–2004) recognized the wisdom in many religious traditions and helped to cultivate respect and understanding between faiths. Though I did not know him personally, Teasdale had an early, long-standing relationship with a community of Franciscans in Massachusetts. He worked tirelessly until his death (at the too-young age of fifty-nine) to promote deep conversations among the mystics of the world religions. I am grateful for his efforts.
Each great religion has a similar origin: the spiritual awakening of its founders to God, the divine, the absolute, the spirit, Tao, boundless awareness. We find it in the experience of the rishis in India; the Buddha in his experience of enlightenment; in Moses, the patriarchs, the prophets, and other holy souls of the biblical tradition. It is no less present in Jesus’ inner realization of his relationship with his Father, who is also our Father. And it is clear in the Prophet Mohammed’s revelation experience of Allah through the mediation of the Archangel Gabriel.
Everything stems from mysticism, or primary religious experience, whether it be revelation or a personal mystical state of consciousness. . . . We need religion, yet we need direct contact with the divine, or ultimate mystery, even more. Religions are valuable carriers of the tradition within a community, but they must not be allowed to choke out the breath of the spirit, which breathes where it will.
For example, most Christian churches barely mention the mystical life, keeping the focus of prayer on the level of worship and devotion. The same is true in much of the Jewish and Islamic traditions, the Kabbalah and Sufism being exceptions. The religious life of the faithful is decidedly on the corporate, devotional level, while the contemplative and mystical are neglected.
By allowing inward change, while at the same time simplifying our external life, spirituality serves as our greatest single resource for changing our centuries-old trajectory of violence and division. Spirituality is profoundly transformative when it inspires in us the attitude of surrender to the mystery in which “we live, and move, and have our being,” as the New Testament reminds us [Acts 17:28]. . . . People’s hearts must change before structures can change. This change is the basis of genuine reform and renewal.
We need to understand, to really grasp at an elemental level, that the definitive revolution is the spiritual awakening of humankind. This revolution will be the task of the Interspiritual Age. The necessary shifts in consciousness require a new approach to spirituality that transcends past religious cultures of fragmentation and isolation. . . .
In this . . . age of interspirituality, all forms of spirituality are accessible to us, allowing creative crossover and borrowing among members of the world’s religions. . . . We don’t need to enter monasteries to become mystics or to cultivate our spirituality: We are all mystics! The mystic heart is the deepest part of who or what we really are. We need only to realize and activate that essential part of our being. . . .
We require a spirituality that promotes the unity of the human family. . . . At the same time, this interspiritual approach must not submerge our differences. . . . The truth itself is big enough to include our diversity of views. They are all based on authentic inner experience, and so are all valid.
Wayne Teasdale, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions (New World Library: 1999), 11-12.