I was sitting in worship with about forty other Quakers, seated on a variety of chairs and couches in a large and uneven circle. It was one of those extended meetings for worship during an invitational retreat, and my monkey mind was getting loopy. I decided to use a little neurotheological assistance: I pulled out my Subha beads and settled into recitation. With me that could mean many things -the rosary, one of the 99 names of Allah, or Hindu mantras (my favorite has always been Om Namah Shivaya). This time I began without thinking: “La ilaha illa Allah”. I love it because the ‘a’, ‘ha’ sounds are so breath-based and because of what it means.

It is one of the most commonly spoken, breathed, or thought prayers in human history, the first half of the Shahada, the Islamic confession of faith. It means “There is no god but God”, but of course, in Arabic, there are other considerations. Because in Arabic, like Hebrew and Aramaic, words and phrases have different meanings and different layers of meaning. The word ‘Allah’ actually means ‘the God’.  And from that point we could dive down the rabbit hole of great theological discourse, discussion and argument. I have no interest in that whatsoever.

The meaning I embrace is one that I heard from a Sufi teacher: “There is only God”. He elaborated by explaining that whatever we see, wherever we look, there is God and nothing else. That is a startling concept, even for a theist. Of course some of my humanist or atheist friends might begin to respond from the position that there is no God, so this is meaningless. Well, as author and thinker Karen Armstrong would say, theologians of any worth are going to say of course there is no God out there.  It’s not worth me even going there, as my version of ‘Godness’ begins with the understanding that the word “God” is merely a placeholder. It means something completely unique for each person who uses it, even within a specific group of people who share a set of beliefs. For me it could be exchanged for ‘Spirit’, ‘the Divine’, ‘Divinity’ ‘Holy Blessed One’ (as in non-duality, all is connected and all is one), ‘Inner Light’, etc.  In any event, saying “God” sure beats saying “Whatever- inclusive- and- non-threatening- linguistic- construct- we- need- to- use- to- refer- to- that- transcendent- entity /energy- beyond- our- own- little- egos”. And for me, whenever I can exhibit a higher level of compassion, honesty, fidelity, presence, that’s me manifesting God, expressing the Divinity that we each share with all that is.

But if I believe that everything is connected (and I do) and that everything is integrally part of what is infinite and eternal (I do) then indeed all I see is God. Everything is connected, everything is sacred, everything deserves to be treated with reverence.

I remember a teacher of the First People, of the Algonquin-speaking people, telling this story: he had been attending a conference that was located in a fairly rural area. During a break he took a walk through a wooded area and passed some fields. He decided to cross one of the fields, and came across a mound. As he approached he realized that the mound was actually a pile of discarded metal scrap, bits of machines and building structures. As he told it, his first reaction was one that we can identify with: simple anger at the wastefulness and the desecration of a natural site.  And then he suddenly felt tremendous sorrow: this metal had been ripped from the Great Mother, undoubtedly in a mindless and mercenary manner, altered to meet the needs of some end, and then thrown away when no longer useful. And in a way it had been brought home, left on the ground. Wabi Sabi: eventually –  in a ridiculously long time – it will break down into organic matter and go home.

Physicists say that every molecule is exactly where it needs to be, where it belongs. In Spiritual Life Counseling I often have to gently remind clients that they are part of everything, that they belong right here, right now. I like to think that we are loved unconditionally for that very reason – we are where we belong. We are home.

I may not have been a Quakerly Quaker by pulling out prayer beads and chanting a Muslim mantra, but dig this: I noticed my friend Vonn across the room during Meeting for Worship. She was sitting, eyes closed, words forming silently on her lips as her fingers tapped against her thumbs, running a pattern. She’s a percussionist like me, so when we rose and were done I asked her: “I saw you working something through with your fingers – what was it?” “Oh”, she replied, “I was saying  “La ilaha illa Allah”. Do you know it?” I nodded, grinning. “I play it as a 12/8 pattern. It quiets my mind.”

I know in my dilettante linguist’s heart that the origin of the Hebrew words “hallelu yah” is somehow shared in these Arabic words. It’s all the same. There is only Light, only Unity, only that which is sacred, holy, to be revered. All one. Sharing molecular structure, sharing the great song of origin, of Creation.

Look at something, anything, the next thing you see when you look up from this screen and say it: Tat Tvam Asi. You are that.

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I knelt before the small but intense fire, the wet grass slowly soaking the knees of my jeans as I prepared to offer my small, hand-picked twig to the flames. Edwin, the Columbian shaman, maintained a chant and the others gathered around me were focused, shaking their rattles. We were each to visualize that our individual sticks represented something sacred: one end being all the tension, fear and obstacles that had been locked into our hearts throughout the long, tenacious winter, and the other the opposite – the opening of the heart, the releasing of all negative energy and the clearing the way for new energy and intentions to come.

It had been a few years since I had participated in a nighttime outdoor ritual, the last time being when a group of us attending the Mystery School three day retreat on Archetype and Ritual followed Jean Houston and Connie Buffalo into the woods, carrying torches and spending sacred time with the Tall People (trees), the Grandparents (boulders) and rekindling connections with our Mother Earth that are always right below the surface of human consciousness. In the interim I had studied and become ordained as an Interspiritual minister, and invested time and energy launching a new path in Spiritual Life Counseling, ritual and ceremony, teaching, facilitating retreats, and more.  And I am in constant community and contact with clergy of all stripes – both my Interspiritual colleagues and those from mainline and main stream denominations.

I am quite aware that the main line denominations don’t recognize what I am; they don’t even really understand Interspirituality. Many are doing great, lovingly inclusive work and are open-hearted and open-minded. Most appreciate and respect what I am and what I do, and I learn from and personally grow and am put to good use by some. But their governing bodies and polices – not so much. They are busy wrestling to remain relevant in a world that is studiously ignoring their dynastic denominations. They‘re unsure how to navigate a society in which the title of being ‘clergy’ doesn’t have the special status it once did. And I discovered that I was subtly buying into how this refusal or unwillingness to see and embrace Interspirituality attempts to negate it, and me.

The truth is that there are thousands of ordained Interspiritual minsters around the globe, recognized by hundreds of thousands of people. We are in all sorts of roles in all sorts of communities: teachers, chaplains, pastors, counselors, hospice workers, Spiritual Directors. We are the ones who have stepped up and said that we will do our level best to live our lives seeing all Creation as reverent, ready to serve every person whatever their faith path or whether they even have one, refusing to be locked into the narrow strictures of human dogma, not content to be the pawns of ancient institutions with their archaic and irrelevant rules. Our ‘flocks’ include  the millions of people who spend tremendous energy to not be in a church on Sunday morning or at synagogue on Friday night, as well as those who are. We are trained and equipped to serve those who see the profound and universal values and truths found in all the many faith paths and wisdom traditions. This is the future. The duality of ‘us/them’ that is still fed by the great, dying denominations with their toxic creeds and need to be set apart and superior is fading away before our eyes as irrelevant, damaging and outdated.

Back to the fire circle: kneeling close to the flames, eyes closed, clear and powerful images of Yeshua ben-Yusef of Nazareth suffering in painful prayer in the garden at Gethsemane, of his disciple Peter prevaricating while warming his hands around the night fires of  Pilate’s household, of an awe-struck Moses approaching the burning bush, the creative and destructive power of Shiva’s fire, and a deep sense of the immediacy of the Original People’s fire ceremonies all washed over me as I was suddenly, stunningly brought back into the truth of whom I have become in response to Spirit’s call: an Interspiritual Minister, blessed with grounding and connection to the perennial Wisdom, truths and teachings of all traditions. I don’t need to concern myself with definitions from the past: we all know where the past has gotten us. I am ready for what the future brings, not as a gatekeeper of what is passing away but, as Andrew Harvey would have it, a Warrior/Midwife of the Coming Era.

The shaman was still chanting as I placed my stick of wood into the fire, releasing all that cannot serve me in moving forward.

I am poised for healing.