Embracing Differences in Religious Traditions

January 4, 2011

Bring a torch, Jeanette Isabella,
Bring a torch and quickly run.
Christ is born, good folk of the village,
Christ is born and Mary’s calling,
Ah! Ah! Beautiful is the mother,
Ah! Ah! Beautiful is her child.

This French song from the 17th century, was my mother’s favorite Christmas carol. Songs like “Joy to the World” and “Hark, the Harald Angels Sing” are really Christmas hymns, but this is a true Christmas carol, a product of the interaction of personal imagination with the Divine forces that were active in the life of a man named Jesus. There is no person named Jeanette Isabella mentioned in the Bible – nor could there be, as the name is distinctly French. But the idea of a woman being called to bring a torch to a barn in order to witness a new-born babe with his mother because the presence of God so fills this scene is something that contains a spiritual truth that goes far beyond the literal story.

Much of religion must be regarded in exactly this way, and we do a great disservice to the man Jesus and the cause he served if we try to make a religion out of pseudo-history. When the supposed historic facts are proved wrong, the religion falls apart. But if we see religion as a mythology on which someone chooses to hang their spirituality, then spirituality goes beyond all historic accounts, whether real of imagined, and we are truly able to embrace the diversity of all religions, as expressions of the Divine speaking to the human.

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