Growing up, I never understood why I couldn't attend church with my friend, MaryBeth. She was Catholic, we were Lutheran, what could possibly be the difference? God is God, I thought. I felt the same frustration when it was made clear to me that I couldn't go to temple with my classmate, Eddie. He was Jewish. Adding to the confusion, my paternal grandmother was Congregational, my maternal grandparents were Methodist, and I sometimes attended church with them. I truly didn't understand what the problem was—worship was worship.
Even as a child, my heart longed to experience the Divine wherever it could be found, whether in nature or in man-made structures dedicated to the holy. This longing was never not there; it was something that lived in me from my earliest memory.
Finally, my wish granting day came. One Saturday during youth group we were told by our intern (Bob M, in residence at our church to become a pastor) that we should get outside the walls of our own church to see how other people experienced God. "God is much bigger than the God you know in this building," he said.
So on a Sunday morning a few weeks later, we found ourselves climbing aboard a bus headed toward First AME, a black church in our community where people joyously sang and danced out their devotion to God. Their prayers were loud, tearful and passionate. "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" took on an entirely new meaning for me that day. I found the experience mesmerizing, magical. And though I sat demurely and quietly with the rest of my group in the last pew, I felt as if my soul had been set free—as free as the white doves I imagined flying above the heads of the worshippers. Surely, this was heaven. Such joy! Such love!
My prayers to meet the Divine in other holy houses had finally been answered, my interspiritual journey had officially begun. There have been many more visits to similar places since then: Hindu, Buddhist and Bahai temples, Jewish synagogues, Catholic cathedrals, and Muslim prayer halls. Temples in nature too. In time, I became a teacher of World Religions, and one of my priorities was to take my students to visit other holy houses, and to meet with leaders of various traditions for intimate conversation so we could open our minds and hearts to one another. And to the Divine communally.
There is a poem that holds my interspiritual heart. Each time I read it, I experience a deep sigh of relief and peace moves through my body. It affirms the essence of what I know to be true.
In My Soul
For Your Reflection:
1. Does my story have resonance with yours?
2. What is your experience of the Sacred in various holy houses?
A safe and welcoming space to explore the unfolding nature of our spiritual journeys.
Dr. Janice Lynne Lundy (PsyD, DMin, MPC)
is The Gerald May Professor of Spiritual Direction & Counseling at the Graduate Theological Foundation. She is an interspiritual director/mentor, educator and counselor who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for nearly thirty years.