by CSW Associate Terry Decker
Editor’s note: Terry Decker and Rob Field begin a “Wisdom of World Religions” series in our local area on Sunday, Nov. 7 at 9:15 a.m. at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, in Miller Hall. The offering includes 4 sessions on first Sundays of the month in November and December as well as February and March 2022, all at 9:15 a.m. The series is free and open to all, regardless of faith community membership or lack thereof.
More than a few folks would approach the question “What is wisdom?” with notions of knowledge and experience. It seems axiomatic that knowledge without experience falls short of wisdom, as in “He sure is smart, but doesn’t have a lick of sense.” And is it not self-evident that experience without knowledge is much less nourishing to the soul, as in “Youth is wasted on the young”? And yet, to consider the wisdom of world religions is to consider a “knowing beyond knowledge” and an experience beyond the temporal, as in “She’s young, but she’s an old soul.”
To refer to the Center’s Wisdom of World Religions offering as a class does not do it justice. A class is for imparting knowledge, and certainly the series accomplishes that. This particular offering is so much richer in that it invites its participants to consider the “knowing beyond knowledge” as pondered by and recorded from teachers and prophets in culture after culture, continent after continent, age after age. While it’s true there are important intrinsic commonalities among them, the diversity among the world’s religions is so rich that to group them all into a category of “just another religion” is like eating just one chocolate from Forrest Gump’s box. Just as Gump said, “You never know what you’re gonna get”, as a student, then facilitator, of this offering, I found the reward of this class is neither doubted nor fully anticipated.
The earliest light from my studies of world religions lit up an angry young man, self-removed from the constraints of Christian dualism. As the son of a teacher-preacher pastor of small country churches (more on this later), I was accustomed to the more dogmatic, dualistic teachings typified by paraphrasing: “Only through Him can you gain eternal life and the alternative is infinite damnation.” I turned to world religions not for salvation, but to find better arguments against Christians to show that they didn’t have all the answers. And yet…
Have you noticed that an angry man
Can only get so far
Until he reconciles the way he thinks things ought to be
With the way things are
Don Henley – “My Thanksgiving”
Well, such anger became a blocker, and I only got so far in my quest for wisdom, and my “knowing beyond knowledge” was postponed indefinitely.
Back to my childhood and the country churches. In my family we prayed daily and read scriptures beyond the organized Bible Studies every Wednesday. These family activities were always soulful, mindful of the mystery, reverential, humble. One Sunday, I remember asking my Sunday School teacher, “Would God really send a million Chinese people to hell if we don’t save them first?” Rather than answer, she suggested that I ask my parents. Later, when I did ask my parents, they mildly scoffed, “Oh, of course not!” That simple reply, rather than guaranteeing me everlasting life, gave me everlasting permission to question beyond the dogmatic text and examine the mysteries of the heart.
“Wisdom of World Religions” provides the same on a truly global scale. The knowledge one can gain in the class is expansive. The knowing that one can ponder in these religions’ wisdom is quickly and enduringly evident. What’s more, doing this in communion with other people who also question opens the doors of one’s own heart and to the wisdom within.
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.
Terry is an Associate at Center for Spiritual Wisdom, and co-leads the “Wisdom of World Religions” series.