As I travel around the country with my new book, God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, I am met with a wave of closeted interspiritual beings eager to confess their unorthodox predilections. Many of these people are ordained clergy in various religious institutions who have experienced profound encounters in the holy houses of other faiths and felt as if they were being unfaithful to their own tradition but could not deny the power of the love they found there. Sometimes these men and women weep as they describe what it felt like to chant the names of God in other languages and taste the One they love in unfamiliar yet exquisitely delicious flavors.
There is this prevailing sense that to be interspiritual is akin to being polygamous and therefore carries a whiff of immorality. And yet, as lovers of the Divine Mystery, many of us are drawn to that Presence wherever we can find it. When I assure the people I meet that it is not only perfectly all right but an evolutionary imperative to open our hearts to the Sacred in every tradition, their relief is often palpable. It's like reassuring a gay person who has been disparaged by society that homosexuality is not something to be merely tolerated (how condescending!) but celebrated, that in many Native traditions LGBTQ tribe members were recognized as being "two-spirit people," endowed with an additional spiritual resource, gifted with both a masculine and feminine soul with which to more fully understand and heal the world. The interspiritual message is an affirmation of what we have always known in our hearts, but which the culture at large does not support and in fact squelches.
When I was a teenager, on fire with longing for God, I visited every spiritual community I could find, seeking the One I loved. I practiced Eastern meditation techniques and Christian contemplative prayer, chanted in Arabic and Hebrew, fasted and vision-quested and studied ancient texts. Well-meaning elders patted me on the head and told me it was very nice that I was sipping from the cups of all these different traditions, but that one day I was going to have to choose one and "go deep" if I ever hoped to have any kind of substantial spiritual experience. Naturally, the underlying message I picked up from this was that I must be a superficial dabbler incapable of showing up for the rigors of a Real Path.
But I was neither lazy nor ambivalent -- quite the opposite. I knew what I wanted: nothing less than union with the source of all the love in the universe. And nothing could stop me from getting it, not even a sanctuary in the wilderness promising to hook me up for the small price of exclusive membership to their particular religious club. Everything in me resisted this. Choosing one form in which to worship felt like violating my essential covenant with my Beloved, who could not be held in any single container. Eventually I realized that I already was "going deep" in multiple traditions, and had been all along, not in spite of my pluralistic behavior but because of it: by having profound and life-changing encounters with the God of Love wherever I could find him.
Here is what I have to say: Not only is it acceptable to sift through the wisdom teachings and transformational practices of the world's religions, but it is what we are supposed to do. We are endowed with the faculty of discernment, and we are meant to use it. Be a bee. Travel through the gardens of the spirit on currents of sweetness and find the nectar that nourishes. Discard what does not. Don't drink the poison! That would be foolish. Use your God-given sense of discrimination. The word "Israel" means "he who wrestles with God." It comes from the Old Testament story of Jacob grappling all night with an angel of God and prevailing. Following the struggle, the angel blesses the triumphant human and gives him a new name, Israel, to honor that process of engaging with the mystery, working with it, and galvanizing the soul in the process. This is your legacy, your birthright. You are worthy of the task.