Quaker Universalist Conversations

On the Spiritual Horizon

It is somewhat common for universalists to argue that, when it comes to the various religions of the world, “all roads up the mountain lead to the same summit.”

Yet, as Douglas V. Steere in Mutual Irradiation: A Quaker View of Ecumenism writes, “we should regard the great world religions as a row of summits[, and] mountains never meet.”

Looking out over the horizon of ecumenical optimism, Steere’s assessment seems to be the truer challenge. Religionists have enough difficulty navigating their own particular mountain to seriously think that they can go mountain hopping (lumping?), let alone benefit from such a high-flying venture.

"Slope," by Mike Shell

If the way to ecumenical fraternity, or universalism, is not looking up and out, then how about down and in? Do not the various and separate summits have the same source and grounding in the ocean floor? Have they, though at different times and places, not all churned and erupted onto the scene in cataclysmic fashion? And are they not looked to and treasured by their own, as well as others who have traveled to be indulged by them?

The spiritual horizon of disparate mountain-peak experiences makes a pretty, but daunting, picture of both ecumenism and universalism. Is it time to look below the surface to the fathomless mystery supporting and fostering the growth of spirituality in the world? Can we also rise to the occasion, rather than presume that we are simply on different paths of the same mountain?

In the manner of a Universalist Friend,
Clem Gerdelmann


Friend Clem, I appreciate this tweaking of the mountain metaphor. All mountains have their roots in the same earth. I sometimes think the universalist enterprise gets distracted with concerns about trying to make all the different “faith languages” somehow be cognates with each other. They are, of course: there is only one human race to seek languages for faith. Yet the way in which all of them are cognates (Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Science, Secular Humanism, etc.) is in their common roots. And the roots are beneath what we can see, often beneath what we can even know consciously. If we trust the roots, if we know we are all of one earth, we need not fear that we are separated by climbing different mountains. Blessings, Mike
Oh, I like this. Yes, yes. It’s the roots of the mountains that connect… not necessarily the paths we take.
I came across this quote from John Woolman, describing an experience with the roots of the mountains when he met with native Americans. Love was the first motion, and then a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of Truth amongst them…. Afterward, feeling my mind covered with the spirit of prayer, I told the interpreters that I found it in my heart to pray to God, and I believed, if I prayed right, he would hear me, and expressed my willingness for them to omit interpreting , so our meeting ended with a degree of Divine love. Before our people went out I observed Papunehang (the man who had been zealous in laboring for a reformation in that town, being then very tender ) spoke to one of the interpreters, and I was afterward told that he said in substance as follows: “I love to feel where words come from.” — John Woolman, 1763 When I worked for a Roman Catholic organization, I sometimes attended mass as part of my work, and I found that I could sit or stand silently, listening, and feeling where the words and music came from even if I was not moved to participate. I found I took in more of their meaning if I did not participate verbally. While some around me surely thought this was odd, I appreciated that my silent participation was accepted.
Friend Clem, I find this very interesting and quite simply, easy to follow and understand. Although from a grandeur point of view, it is similar to my growth in various forms of Christianity. In the forest, there are many varieties of trees or sects, reaching for the same sun or God. In differing climates or cultures, many types of trees or religions, become even more extensive. Still each tree or religion, reaches for the same sun or God, from differing soils or prophets, to grow or learn, in the current climate or culture. Thank you, Friend Gail, for showing one of the many ways to accept and try to understand one variety of those many trees or religions.
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