The Mountain Beckons
The mountain beckons. This book is intended for personal exploration. It is full of stories of seekers on the spiritual mountain. My hope is that each and every one of these stories can be of assistance to you, because of the important discoveries these individuals have made about religion in their lives. I assume that you are no longer happy with the religion of your childhood, or never had one in the first place. This book does not offer answers. Instead, it offers a method of exploration, as the chapter titles suggest. The journey must be yours, but there is a lot of help available along the way from others who have found new meaning for their lives within the major religious traditions of the world.
I am a university chaplain. For the past sixteen years I've had the good fortune of getting to know students, faculty, staff, alumni, and local community people from a wide variety of backgrounds: Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Christians; Jews and Muslims and Bah´'ís; Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs; Taoists and Confucianists; Buddhists and Shintoists; Marxists and secular humanists; agnostics and atheists. I've celebrated with them and learned from them; taught, counseled, advised and been helped by them; sung and danced, laughed and cried, discussed and argued with them; solemnized their marriages, dedicated their children, and memorialized them after death.
My own denomination is Unitarian Universalist, but as the university chaplain at Tufts I have been responsible to the entire community. I served as an umbrella for all campus ministries and have tried to keep everyone talking to one another. I also taught and have beenavailable to anyone as a sounding board. My other professional experiences include practicing law for a decade before I came to Tufts, and moonlighting as a visiting lecturer on ethics for the past twelve years at the Harvard Business School.
Starting with my own experiences in college in the 1960s and divinity school in the early 1970s, I have teamed a great deal about how people lose and find their own religion. I've come to see it very much as an ongoing process that never stops. For many people, the faith they grew up with loses its meaning during adolescence. others who never had any faith in childhood begin exploring religion for the first time in adolescence or young adulthood. I've come to realize that there are identifiable stages of spiritual development that people go through, no matter what their religious tradition is or isn't. Just as we grow emotionally and intellectually over the years, so we grow spiritually, if we allow ourselves. In my experience, religious faith is not an "on-off " button. it naturally changes over time. The feeling of having arrived or of being sure almost never lasts, no matter how old we get. (That's what the chapter "Opening" is all about.)
So, discovering our religion should be an exciting, dynamic process that ebbs and flows with the seasons of our lives. At the half-century mark myself, I can personally vouch only for the decades through the forties. Yet, during some twenty-five years of ordained ministry, I've had the opportunity to know people well at all ages and stages.
I've come to feel like a kind of mountain guide. There is a spiritual mountain that all of us (or at least a lot of us) are trying to climb. There are many paths up that mountain -- many paths that can reach the top, although very few people actually get to the summit of this very high mountain. Those paths may be rough or smooth, steep or easy, boring or colorful, tiring or exhilarating. ng. Yet, they are all on the same spiritual mountain, and, ultimately, they all converge at the very top, as mystics of all religions have told us.
Most of us aren't mystics, though, and for us the point is to enjoy the journey -- to find fulfillment in our pilgrimage on the mountain itself rather than to miss everything along the way in pursuit of the summit. As I've heard from the great mystical guides, it can be very cold and breathtaking up there. Few people are able to stay there very long. In mountaineering language, it's the difference between trekking and peakbagging. Trekkers tend to experience a lot more of the flora and fauna. Peak-baggers report a glorious view.
I've spent a lot of time on the mountain under a wide variety of conditions. I know well-worn paths as well as hidden trails. I'm familiar with the flora and fauna. I've studied the mountain's history. I know streams and falls, cliffs and caves, passes and ridges, meadows and snowfields. I love the mountain. As a guide, though, I also want to be sensitive to different climbers' interests and abilities. That's what the next three chapters are all about. They will help the hesitant and the dubious to view the spiritual mountain from a distance, getting ready to pick a path and start walking. if this book is to do any good, it must support many different travelers at various stages of their journeys. And it will need to be a resource you can keep returning to as you explore different aspects of the mountain at different altitudes over time. Read each of the accounts of other people's experiences with that in mind. Savor their stories and store them in the back of your mind -- and deep in your soul -- for use as much in the future as in the present.
After the next chapter describes the stages of spiritual development, the "Thinking" chapter urges you to open your adult mind to religious inquiry -- to start thinking about religion. I report some insights from my spending more than twenty years in a "Jung Club." Religious myths and symbols from around the world have taken on new meaning for each member as we've seen them first as internal constructions of the human mind and then asked what relation, if any, they bear to external reality. I recount how one of our members became a Buddhist. I describe a trip of mine through the desert to Mount Sinai, where three major religious traditions hold that Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. Profound lessons were learned there by all of us travelers, whether we were modem secularists, Jews, Christians, or Muslims.