Glimpses of the divine?

A friend and I were traveling the streets of San Francisco, by train, bus, and foot. Our conversation took many turns, but we began to discuss the important and fundamental link between physical, emotional, and spiritual health and well-being, and how changes in one of these areas can have a profound impact upon the others.

As we walked through streets of the western peninsula, populated by a variety of Asian communities, we stopped for a moment to admire and discuss a small granite statute of the Buddha, sitting in an alcove looking out upon the street. The seeker of enlightenment watches the traffic go by each day, the very people I witnessed busily rushing from one place to another, distracted by appointments, deadlines, iPods, and the general business of “real life”…

We had no sooner crossed the street, leaving the Buddha behind us to contemplate the deeper meaning of life amid the chaos of morning traffic, when I was stopped in my tracks by cluttered shelves in a window. On busy shelves of pewter, brass, and other metals, mini-Buddhas sat alongside Hindu idols of Kali, Ganeesh, Shiva, and other alien deities whose names or nature I cannot comprehend with my western-influenced, generally skeptical mind and spirit. The gods-for-sale sit side-by-side, shelves away from ceramic pirate skeletons, looking out upon the cosmopolitan city…

We continue on, and literally two storefronts down we come across an open door into the “Archangel Bookstore.” Thinking it my only chance to see what mysteries or gifts this location might yield, I step inside, and am surprised to be looking upon the faces of the saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, facing the doorway and offering me “windows into heaven” during this day’s journey down a road rich in religious experience.

I am coming to think that there just might be something here; a bit of wisdom, perhaps, about the ability to find when one is open to seeing. I had just spent a week in discussion on inter-religious dialogue, the official curriculum and teaching focused on dialogue between Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu expressions of faith (a great deal of other conversation occurred about dialogue between Christianity and Mormonism). So perhaps it was, as my friend and I walk streets familiar to him, these different expressions of eastern religion caught my eyes because I was subconsciously tuned in to seeing them.

Then again, who knows what interesting expressions of faith we buzzed by on buss as we passed Haight-Ashbury? What caught my eye this day were the statutes, the idols, the icons of others – expressions from diverse religious traditions, generally unfamiliar to me and yet seeming to emphasize our mutual yearning for meaning, for significance, for a deeper experience  – whether we call it peace, enlightenment, dharma, hesychism (stillness), or nirvana – in the midst of our otherwise chaotic lives…

Later in the same day, I watched the world from another vantage point. Far above the streets I had been walking, I saw the Golden Gate bridge, as well as the streets I had walked, clear as day and small as models as our plane banked from east to west. And then, as the sun was setting, I watched as the plane descended through the darkness of the sky toward the lights of the city below.

Lord, our experience in this life is shrouded. We’re lost in the darkness, perhaps, yearning for your light to shine through. I am sure you are ever present in all of Creation around me, and am coming to think that this must include the religious expressions of others. I believe it pleases you when we pause and seek to notice, in the midst of our dark and chaotic experience, some glimpse of you; when we seek to be aware that You are present. On the city streets, a hundred would-be gods stare out the shop windows at those passing by; a memorial to a single enlightened Eastern soul sits just blocks from cathedrals build to glorify you. I hope and pray, O Lord, that for those who stop and notice not to scoff or condemn, but with hearts open and spirits yearning, that you might be found among the clutter. Guide us all, O Lord, out of the darkness and toward Your light, wherever it might be shining to show us the way. Amen.

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