In my class on Ideas of God in Scripture and Literature, we've been reading the Bible and looking at the Rabbinic tradition of midrash, and now we're reading and listening to parts of the Qu'ran, using Michael Sells's really helpful introduction, Approaching the Qu'ran. I've been teaching about the Bible and ways that we read the Bible -- especially the Old Testament - in a lot of other venues, and there is something awe-inspiring, deeply quieting that comes to me as I reflect on these traditions. Each time I return to it I am impressed at how one can read the story of the Bible as a story of exile and return, people turning away and God calling us home, grieving, sometimes angry, and justly so - but always, as I read it, it is a story of mercy, of a God who connects with human beings in order to call us to a deeper wholeness that was intended for us, and that we keep choosing against. (See my entry last January, "What I Believe" at the beginning of this blog) I see this story in the Incarnation, in Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and casting out demons and sending out his disciples, in Paul, in Romans and Galatians, struggling over how to imagine and create, in flesh and blood and history going forward, an inclusive community faithful to God's calling, as we're still trying to do in the Church 2000+ years later. It's there in the Qu'ran, too, from the little I've been able to discern. In the haunting chants of the Qu'ran that we listened to, included with Michael Sells's book, there is a divine yearning, a plaintive divine voice, grieving over our sinfulness, our forgetfulness, our willful choices and "reminding" us that there is a better way, though also, in the Qu'ran, with very stern reminders of a definite and final day of reckoning.
I have come to believe that Torah, Jesus as Incarnate Word, and Qu'ran are all expressions of the same revelation. I was excited, in fact, to find that in the Rabbinic Midrash, in a famous passage from Genesis Rabbah, the rabbis, in conversation with each other and with the text, include that the voice that speaks in Wisdom, saying "I was with you before Creation" is actually the voice of Torah -- that God created with Torah as the blueprint for Creation. That reminds me of our Christian understanding of Jesus as the pre-existent Logos in John, who "was in the beginning with God, ;all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." And Muslim scholars, too, speak of "Qu'ran" as both the text we have, divinely inspired, and the revelation beyond all language that is embodied in the text. (This isn't an original idea with me - I've encountered it before, notably in an interesting scholarly book by Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner called God in the World - and elsewhere. But it's been a matter of the heart with me these last couple of weeks, a deeply exciting discovery of what seems to me to be the the profound truth of faith.
In other words, I have been keenly aware, deeply convinced, that it's all the same revelation. That God just keeps trying to get through to us. And each tradition provides us with a way to listen and learn and be transformed inwardly in the process. This kind of interfaith inquiry and meditation actually strengthens my Christian faith and my sense of rootedness in the gospel story and also makes me curious and interested in meditating further on the mystery of the God who loves us and calls us home-- both in the gospel stories and in the idea of the relational Trinity. Probably by some definitions this universalism is heretical. You out there who have more systematic theology than I do (you know who you are) -- feel free to weigh in. But there it is.
For me, though, this is more of a mystical/intuitive theological insight than a systematic one. I find it freeing and rich. It has been a gift to me, and one I continue to enjoy, and want to share!
- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.