The living world seems so full of contradictions me. At times I perceive the totality of reality. My mind is lifted up as on a mountain top and I can see creation is a single body. All of a sudden, I feel myself a convinced pantheist. In this state I can detect in the butterfly wing to my own finger-tips a common over-arching oneness, imbued with some animating principle, which makes their existence possible. I detect one being within me and around me, imprinted in every stone, every patch of earth. This seems divine enough to me. But there are other times when I am near some thing of great beauty, the overarching branches of a tree is a summit of acute sacredness, to the point where I find myself acknowledging it in worship and thankfulness.
In such moments I find myself an animist or polytheist, communing with the character of continent parts of the world as did the ancients. The manifold forces of the world become personalities. There a cacophony of divine voices, seemingly calling me from every quarter. I catch a glimpse of physical things alive with spirit.
At other times still this sense is quite dulled, and the Oneness of the pantheist seems remote, and the gods of trees or streams are silent, and a new Oneness intrudes, transcendent, awe-inspiring, within, yet beyond the universe. When this sublime feeling breaks into my thoughts, I glimpse again the God of my childhood, the Creator who acts on and through the world. He is remote, yet somehow intimate. Temporally I am a theist, sensing something of the God of the Jewish Prophets, the One who breaks through ordinary life from above. He is the God of the gulf, so holy that man cannot see him directly, he must be shielded by cloud. In my intense joy or grief, he often returns to me.
There are other moments differing to all others when I give no recourse to any vocabulary of the divine. I am content to the language of laws, constants ever interacting in the nexus of nature. That seems often all there is, requiring nothing more beautiful or intricate to explain it. It is a cosmic oneness, needing no reference to anthropomorphism, or theological musings. My conception of the cosmos stands alone, as cold, bare and enchanting facts. When I stand back and examine each mood in turn I am struck first at the hopeless contradiction with which my intellect is presented. How can something be One within and simultaneously beyond? How can the sacred appear to be over-arching and yet seemingly many? How can a thing seem alien to us, and yet be talked about at times as if it was merely mundane laws in motion?
It is as if the divine, the ever-living essence of religious experience can be seen through various lenses, the awe of existence can be glanced from numerous vantage points, contradictory yet real and useful descriptions none-the-less. When we see the universe with the naked eye, with the macro lenses, we see Newton and Einstein’s laws in operation, the mundane rules of physics unfolding before our eyes. Yet, when we look under the surface of the world, we perceive the nexus of elementary particles, behaving in contravention of these rules of motion, yet wasn’t Newton and Einstein describing the same world?
Yes, yet vocabulary and perspective can often divide us and seem contradictory, although, (as is the case with science), both frameworks seem to be true. So perhaps in the same way these differing expressions of religiosity are simply referring to the same phenomena, yet coming from different starting points. This could account for different philosophies and religions springing from the same human psyche.
This is surely where universalism starts, in the affirmation that the sacred can be seen through more than one pair of eyes. Universalism in essence begins with the affirmation of a healthy revisionist project of ever searching for the divine anew. Religious universalism does not attempt to stifle revelation but give it freedom to move and enrich.