Susan Cox: Faithfully staying open to a world of complexities

I attended the Interfaith Day of Prayer event earlier this month. I wasn’t sure what to expect and found myself pleasantly surprised by the wonderful feeling that permeated the gathering. Nine different religions were represented. All the prayers were encouraging, and I thought several were quite beautiful. The overall atmosphere was one of community and cooperation. No one was claiming to be the only way to worship.

In the prayer by Brittany Phillips of the Tree of Knowledge Community Coven, I appreciated the hope that all could find purpose in their own individual ways. Priest Kamal Kishore Dwivedi of Sri Ganesh Mandir shared a beautiful Hindu prayer translated by Vijay Gopal: “As the water that falls down in the form of rain from anywhere in the sky finally reaches the Ocean, the worship of any divine aspect ultimately reaches the Supreme Being. Peace, Peace, Peace.” The idea that all our worship will reach the Supreme Being however we worship really resonated with me.

Another one of my favorites was a poem written by Leslie Takahashi Morris and shared by Reverend Nic Cable of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus, Indiana. I’d like to share it here:

Marginal Wisdom

They teach us to read in black and white.

Truth is this — the rest false.

You are whole — or broken.

Who you love is acceptable — or not.

Life tells its truth in many hues.

But we are taught to think in either/or.

To believe the teachings of Jesus — OR Buddha.

To believe in human potential — OR a power beyond a single will.

I am broken OR I am powerful.

Life embraces multiple truths, speaks of both, and of and.

We are taught to see in absolutes.

Good versus evil.

Male versus female,

Old versus young,

Gay versus straight.

Let us see the fractions, the spectrum, the margins.

Let us open our hearts to the complexity of our worlds.

Let us make our lives sanctuaries, to nurture our many identities.

The day is coming when all will know

That the rainbow world is more gorgeous than monochrome,

That a river of identities can ebb and flow over the static, stubborn rocks in its course,

That the margins hold the center.

This poem reminded me of the either/or logical fallacy that I discuss with my students. This fallacy oversimplifies an argument by reducing it to two options when there are really a wide range of options. Thinking this way can be easy and comfortable. We don’t have to make the effort to see beyond our view or imagine life from a different perspective, but then we miss the beauty and truth that can be found all around us.

This black-and-white thinking can be found in religion as well as everyday activities. Obviously, my way to load the dishwasher is the correct way and when eating an Oreo, of course you eat the filling first. How often do we consider people wrong when they do things differently than we do?

Or what about people who don’t do things the “normal” way? What is considered “normal” is generally what the majority of people do. We used to correct individuals who were left-handed because most people were right-handed — or “normal”. How about people who are considered neurodivergent, such as those on the autism spectrum? We often view them as broken and try to fix them by making them conform to our way of life. The term neurodivergent even implies that they somehow are wrong because they diverge from what is considered “normal.” What if we stopped trying to change any non-“normal” people, embraced their individuality, and allowed them to help us add more colors to our world?

I agree with Morris’ urging to “see the fractions, the spectrum, the margins.” The world sure would be boring if we were all the same. I’m going to keep opening my heart “to the complexity of our world” and working to “nurture our many identities” while remembering that all rain eventually makes it to the ocean. I hope you will too.

Susan Cox is one of The Republic’s community columnists, and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. She is an avid reader, an outdoor enthusiast, a mother, a grandmother, and an adjunct instructor of English at Indiana University Columbus. Send comments to [email protected].