On a Sunday morning some years ago, Ellen introduced herself to me after a worship service. "Good morning. My name is Ellen. I'm Jewish and I thought it important to tell you why I'm here."
As a Christian priest who preaches and celebrates the Eucharist each week at All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena, California, I was intrigued. "Please," I said, "go ahead."
"My psychiatrist gave me a prescription to come to church here. He said that every time you mention 'Jesus,' 'Christ,' or 'Christianity,' I should just bracket those words and focus on what you're saying about life."
I was both amazed and delighted. In the same way, rather than write a book on spirituality and religion I have tried to write a book about life. In place of a book about "God," which could be read as some form of theological treatise, I ask you, the reader, to enter into a discussion of a unifying, healing, and encouraging energy that I call the Beloved. Like the word God, the Beloved points to something much more profound, mysterious, and life giving than words alone can adequately express.
A wise and dear Muslim friend of mine says, "God does not belong to any religion; every religion belongs to God." The Beloved dwells in every human being and every human being dwells in the Beloved.
Some who hear or read the word God are involuntarily flooded with associations—sometimes bad, sometimes good—in their mind, body, and spirit. Too frequently these connotations do not promote either inclusion or reconciliation. Religious history is tragically blemished by practices that hijacked the idea of God for the purpose of creating enemies or infidels, classifying them as evil to justify violence so the group seeking power could be "saved" and ultimately dominate. No wonder millions embrace a noble position of atheism out of a sense of intellectual, spiritual, and moral integrity. I myself am an atheist about that particular concept of God.
Instead of keeping my definitions narrow or relying on one ideology, in this book I lean on a diverse constellation of scholars, poets, and other thinkers. I draw on wisdom from such ancients as Lao-tzu, the Sufi poets, the great prophets of Hebrew scriptures, the Buddha, as well as Jesus. I have also been guided in my spiritual journey by such modern-day thought leaders as Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King Jr., and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Despite our varying and unique conceptual frameworks, we all regard the experience of the Beloved as deeper than any religious identity or division. Here, I am seeking to describe the universal dynamic that runs through every tribe, sect, and ideology. A core issue of life is negotiating the forces of fear and the forces of love within our own being and relationships. As each of us gains awareness of the power of love—the Beloved—working inside us to dethrone fear and open our hearts and minds, matters of religion and theology take care of themselves.