Many of us grew up in spiritual traditions that were wary of outsiders. For instance, I was raised in a Southern Baptist church where citing the Talmud or quoting Ram Dass would have been condemned just as strongly as adultery or gambling.
Obviously, times have changed—and seekers are seldom stigmatized for drawing strength from a variety of spiritual traditions. Nonetheless, many people who are beckoned beyond their original tradition begin with small, tentative steps: the evangelical who wants to learn more about meditation or the Muslim yoga student who enjoys the asanas and starts reading the Bhagavad Gita to name a few.
At this critical juncture, it’s important for curious souls to get gentle encouragement and guidance from those who have already explored this wider world. One such guide is Kasey Hitt, co-founder of the Wisdom Tree Collective, which she describes as “rooted in the contemplative Christian tradition yet open to the collective wisdom flowing through all of Creation—at all times, in all places, through all people and traditions.”
Newfound yet Ancient Practices
“While I have been a spiritual companion for Buddhists, Jews, and even those who consider themselves ‘non-religious,’ most of my work is with Christians who desire a broader and deeper faith,” says Hitt. “I once had a life-long Southern Baptist say to me, ‘You’re my secret. If anyone at my church knew I was seeing a spiritual director they would accuse me of heresy and fear for my soul. It’s better to not let anyone know.’”
The woman had reached out to Hitt on the recommendation of her therapist, who felt it would aid the healing journey following the death of her spouse. Hitt helped her connect with the kindness of God through contemplative practices like lectio divina. The woman remained committed to her Baptist tradition while allowing her soul to heal and flourish with newfound yet ancient practices.
Hitt also draws from Eastern healing traditions. She recalls a few years ago, another woman came to her for a reiki session and her first words were: “I’m so glad you offer reiki. I only wanted Christian reiki.” With a smile, Hitt responded, “Do you only get Christian massages too?” It got quiet, then the woman started laughing. “There’s something about Eastern healing and spiritual traditions that can make some Christians squirm,” says Hitt. “I had to work through some of my own discomfort before discovering that any authentic healing, wisdom, or spirituality is universal. No one ‘owns’ silence, breathing, energy, or dreams!”
Much More Than a Hybrid
Others feel that if they widen their spiritual horizons too much, they’ll become feckless hybrids—a little bit Christian, a little bit Buddhist, etc. Perhaps they’re afraid they’ll hop from one to another, following in the footsteps of rap star Snoop Dogg, who has reportedly been a Muslim, Mormon, Rastafarian, and now evangelical Christian.
“I don’t consider myself a hybrid—I’m a perennialist,” says Rabbi Rami Shapiro. “I am convinced that there is a core truth revealed at the mystic heart of all religions. That is the truth of nonduality: all reality is the happening of God, Brahman, Tao, Mother, YHVH, Allah, etc.”
Judaism remains Rami’s mother tongue when seeking to articulate his understanding of reality, and he continues to observe Jewish traditions such as kashrut (kosher), Shabbat, and the Jewish holy days. Shapiro doesn’t try to blend Judaism with Hinduism or any other religion. “I’m simply adding insights and practices to my spiritual toolbox that further my experience of God,” he says.
Listening To Sophia
The spacious paths of today’s spiritual adventurers also make more room for the Divine Feminine. Many of us were steeped in traditions that had little or no room for the Divine Mother or Sophia (feminine wisdom in Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity). Men preached the sermons and blew the shofar.
“I grew up in a Christian tradition that rarely talked about God in any other ways than masculine imagery—most often Father,” says Hitt. “They scoffed at anyone who spoke of God as ‘She’ or mentioned Sophia.”
In Hitt’s youth, she modeled herself around this masculine image of the God worshipped in her church community. This impacted her not only spiritually but emotionally and physically as well. She valued and lived out active yang energy while the female yin qualities like rest, waiting, and gentleness were undervalued. She subsequently became a workaholic and burned out as a youth pastor.
“As I gave myself permission to explore contemplative and mystical traditions, my heart began to soften to what was unknown and at times uncomfortable,” she says. “This included softening toward the Divine Feminine, which was great preparation for when She showed up in a vision, holding out her hand to me. With Jesus and Lady Wisdom, I’ve found a wholeness that wasn’t there before taking her hand.”
Kasey Hitt and Rabbi Rami are like spiritual Magellans who reassure us that we’re not going to fall off the edge of the world when we venture into uncharted territory. “While Torah is foundational for me,” says Rami, “I can’t imagine my life without the guidance of the Bhagavad Gita, the Gospels and Paul, Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, the Dhammapada, Heart Sutra, and Nagarjuna’s Middle Way. Knowing more than one religion enriches your life the same way knowing more than one language and more than one style of music and art enriches your life.”
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