That was the first question my parents asked when I told them I was planning to be graduated and ordained as an interfaith minister, with Reverend before my name.
What’s a nice Jewish boy like me doing in a place like that? Isn’t my Judaism enough? Is my heritage so awful that I would turn my back on it? What had my parents done to deserve this? Was I going to convert?
It took a great deal of effort, time, and patience on my part before they finally began to understand. Everything flowed from the statement “Never instead of; always in addition to.”
No, Mom and Dad, I am not turning my back on my heritage. I am deepening my understanding and using it as a benchmark against which I can reflect the knowledge of other faiths. Yes, Mom and Dad, there were things I was taught as I was growing up that left me unsatisfied and vaguely aware that I wasn’t complete. Did being one of the Chosen People necessarily mean that no other people could reach out to God? Did being a Jew mean that I had to keep other faiths at arm’s length? Was I going to be contaminated by my interest and, heaven forbid, involvement in other religions?
That’s what I was led to believe, that it might even be a sin to participate in any other religion’s services or even step into any others’ houses of worship.
I thank God that I’ve had the chance to learn differently, to find out not only that could I study and participate in other faiths, but that, along with acquiring a fine higher education, I could become a person who could minister to others. I could reach out to those who might be attracted to me as an expanded Universal Human Being, to touch them where they are, to help them heal and grow whole.
I began to explain to my parents by quoting Geoffrey Parinder, from his book, “World Religions: From Ancient History to the Present”
“To study different religions need not imply infidelity to one’s own faith, but rather it may be enlarged by seeing how other people have sought for reality and have been enriched by their search.”
Knowledge leads to understanding, and understanding to tolerance of people with different viewpoints. In this light I began my exploration, and to reveal my discovery before I talk about the journey, I found that there is, indeed, but one God, one God who is worshiped by thousands of different names, but one God. The most powerfully positive statements about religion have always been nonsectarian and have always led to the same conclusion–worship God in whatever way you may, but worship God.
As the historian Arnold Toynbee said, “The true purpose of a higher religion is to radiate the spiritual counsels and truths that are its essence into as many souls as it can reach, in order that each of these souls may be enabled thereby to fulfill the true end of man. Man’s true end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
I continue to use my family’s questions and reactions as a baseline against which I measure my growth in spirit and knowledge. I have observed their fear that Judaism would lose another son to something else, indefinable but out there waiting. Well, it hasn’t happened.
Through my studies, I have had the opportunity to learn of the Quran from my Muslim brothers and to learn of its similarities to the Jewish scriptures. I’ve had the opportunity to sing and dance with Sufis and reach a level of bliss as warm and satisfying as any I’ve found with my Chasidic friends.
And finally, when I was able to let go and be a Muslim and worship Allah with Imam Wall, I found the same joyous and profound connection to God that I’ve always found as a Jew.
And without a doubt, for me it was one God, the same with many names.
And so, my path into religions and practices has led to deeper realizations and higher levels of God consciousness .
I have taken shamanic journeys and have met my power symbols in the form of the mountain lion and the fox, and I’ve found that they exist to show me ways to more deeply understand the plan of the Creator, my God. I have learned to care, even more deeply than before, for this planet, which is the creation and gift of my God.
When I celebrated communion with my friends who are Christians, I found I could be a Christian for the moment and experience the grace, love, and communion of the Trinity. And I know that the Trinity, for me, represents all the aspects of the one God I worship. I have been a Roman Catholic and a Methodist and a Unitarian, and each time all I found was love and acceptance and an awareness that God loves me, no matter what anyone calls God.
One of the most moving experiences I have yet had came while I was attending an interfaith conference at the City of God in West Virginia. In this amazing place founded by the Hare Krishna movement, I had the opportunity to face the oldest prohibition of Judaism, that of the existence of idols. What I learned was that no statue represented God, no object represented God; there was only worship of God (Krishna) the Most High. If anything, the comparison was to the mezuzah, which serves as a constant reminder to worship the one God in all God’s glory. The names and ceremonies and forms have no ascendance over one another, love of God is all there is, because love of God is love of self, and only when I love myself can I love all of God’s creation unconditionally.
Searching for the truths of love of myself has followed the adjoining path of searching for the truths of religion and the path of psychological and philosophical healing and “wholing.” Each level I studied of each discipline had an effect that opened another space for me to heal myself, so that I might be able to help heal all I will reach out to in my ministry.
The reading list is no mere compilation of titles; it is a pathway to integration and wholeness. I learned from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in “On Death and Dying”, how to be with the dying and how to counsel the living in the presence of death. From Ram Dass and Paul Gorman, who wrote “How Can I Help?” I learned to serve rather than impose. “A Course in Miracles” taught me that God’s plan is love and that my separateness from God was an illusion created by me and really doesn’t exist at all. “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” helped me strip away my fear of the dying process, the time of transition. All the readings on Neuro-Linguistic Programming prepared me to see, to really see, the people I’m in session with and to be able to focus on them, understand what they are really experiencing, and to make a positive impact on their processes.
In conjunction with my work and my studies, the healing and “wholing” work I’d begun has grown in such depth and intensity as to reach levels of which I was completely unaware when I began. I have studied shiatsu (Japanese acupressure massage), and I’ve been using it in my work with people’s blocked energy. I had never before accomplished the results that I reach now with my clients or the inner knowledge that I myself recognize. Now, because of my willingness to unconditionally love and serve the person I am working with, I achieve more results, which are more rewarding for us both. The Shekinah, the indwelling spirit of God, now leads my hands and guides my work.
Since I have become a master teacher in several forms of Reiki, I have been privileged to work with some very high levels of Universal Energy. The work I do every day is immensely powerful, and my grasp of this transcendental science expands constantly. However, I have never experienced such a growth in my intuitive understanding of the meaning and use of this energy as I experienced when my heart was opened to the consciousness of God within and without, God, who empowers all of us to remove the blindfolds we ourselves have imposed and see all the glorious possibilities and all the paths we thought we’d never find. Now, when I use the Reiki Energy for healing and wholing it is whole, as am I because of the presence of God.
So, Mom and Dad, I hope this helps you to understand that I am all that you wished I should be and even more. I am a Jew with a deep love and respect for my history, traditions, and religion. I am a Jew who is so sure of his relationship with God that I am willing to reach out and minister to people of all faiths. I know who and what I am and will be eternally.
I thank you for giving me life and starting me out on the road of Judaism, and in the spirit of the heart of our religion, I’d like to present “Interfaith” to you Kabbalistically.
I Interconnected and Inner connected with God
N Noble and Nice and not Needy and New to life at its fullest
T Tender and Truthful and a Teacher to be Trusted
E Enthusiastically and Effortlessly loving
R Really one with my God and my people
F Fair and Faithful and Full of love and compassion
A All-encompassing, Alivening, and Aware
I Intelligent, with an Integrated Jewish Identity
T Thoughtful, with a Thirst for knowledge of my Traditions
H Holy and Healthy and Helping others to Heal.
And finally, I leave you with the letter J, which stands for joy. Never before have I been so joyous. Never before has my life been filled with such meaning. In this time of incredible changes in my life, I am filled, not with fears and doubts, but with joy.
These are the words of Joyce L. Boice, from her writings
“At One With All Life”
Choose Joy and your life will flow with abundance.
Choose Joy and all obstacles shall become as sand.
Choose Joy and all partings shall be as breathing spaces before a new beginning.
Choose Joy and all currents of change shall be as a joyous adventure.
Choose Joy and all distrust shall flow like clouds dispersed in wind.
Choose Joy and the earth shall rejoice.
Choose Joy and your soul will reach its perfect form.
Choose Joy and the Song of the Cosmos will fill your daily chores.
Choose Joy and your being will radiate the love of Spirit.
So be it, for love is made manifest through Joy.
©Rabbi Roger Ross, December 8, 2003, revised May 15, 2012
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