Thursday, March 27, 2008
During the five months of reading Reverend Kythera Ann’s discourses, I have been confirmed in my belief that we are truly one, in keeping with the Universal Life Church Motto, and nobody has an exclusive access to God. Externally, our traditions and beliefs appear to be quite different, but at the esoteric level, we all experience the same awe when confronted by the divine. Furthermore, though our interpretations differ depending on our culture, our stories and symbols are frequently universal, and point us toward the transcendent.
Looking at the mystical experience, Kythera Ann reported in discourse seven “This paracletic dimension in Christianity is at the root of Christian theosophic thought. Theosophers strive through their practice to live in a world where the miraculous is possible, to realize the timelessness in the present moment.” Whether you are a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Christian, your experience of God is the same on the esoteric level. We all connect with the transcendent and share the same experience of awe. Our interpretations may vary, but our experience is the same.
Stories too transcend cultures and religious expressions. Flood stories are universal. According to the author in discourse four, “It is estimated that there are over five hundred different flood legends worldwide. All these tales are about a huge flood, a large boat, and one tiny group of people being saved.” When I was attending college I was exposed to the Epic of Gilgamesh and was impressed that the story was very close to that of the Biblical flood story. Later, as a pastor, I shared the story with my congregation as part of a small group study, and they too were impressed with the similarities in the stories. The concept of God is quite different, but the story is essentially the same. As it predates the Biblical story, I suspect that the Biblical authors borrowed the Assyrian myth and altered it to fit their concept of God. Kythera Ann also shares Greek, Hindu, Chinese, Zoroastrian, and African flood narratives. It is clear to me that we have a universal archetype in the flood stories tying all people together. There may be a universal memory or it may simply indicate that in our collective unconscious, there is a fear of floods for their destructive power. Either way, we share the same story as a part of this human family.
Symbols are also universal in human religions. As Kythera Ann stated in discourse 9, “Jung argued that symbols constitute a universal idiom. Abstract shapes, which arise directly from the unconscious without any allusion to the natural world, are indeed encountered worldwide. The ‘Christian’ symbol of the cross was used by Assyrians to represent the sky god, Anu, and the circle and the cross combination that can be seen in the Celtic Cross and the Egyptian Ankh both reflect the belief of unification of heaven and earth.” The circle is a universal symbol for perfection and wholeness. “In Zen, the circle stands for enlightenment and perfection of humanity in unity with the primal principle.” The cross is another interesting symbol which I see as very similar to the “Cosmic Tree.” Both the Buddha and the Christ achieved salvation in a sense on or under the Cosmic Tree. Jesus, on the cross, a symbol joining heaven and earth together, achieves salvation by dying. The Buddha achieves enlightenment under the tree, freeing humanity from the bondage of suffering and reincarnation. Both the cross and the tree serve as symbols, tying heaven and earth, divinity and humanity together.
At this point, I have taken or am in the process of taking four courses through the ULC Seminary. Reverend Kythera Ann’s Comparative Religion course is by far the most scholarly of the courses I have encountered to date. She clearly has a great deal of knowledge about her subject and is able to relate it to her audience, regardless of their religious background. I also appreciated the graphics in this course. There were a few instances where I had no visual to go along with the text, but generally there were plenty of examples to supplement the text.
There was nothing that I disliked about the course, but I would like to see a continuation that would go in depth into the main groupings of world religions. I suspect that if a part two exists, that would be the direction it would go in.
Upon completion of this course, I have a clear picture of the interconnectedness of all human religious thought and a deeper appreciation of different spiritual perspectives. Reverend Kythera Ann is very knowledgeable and has a great deal of insight into both eastern and western religions. I would be very interested in taking any courses she was teaching in the future.
Rev. Richard Alan Helmersen