Many years ago Bertrand Russell, the English philosopher and mathematician, was imprisoned for opposing World War I. “When I reported to the warder,” Russell said, “he asked me the customary questions – name, age, place of residence. Then he inquired, ‘Religious affiliation?’”
Russell replied, “Agnostic.”
The poor man looked up. “How do you spell that?”
He spelled it for him. The warder wrote the word carefully on the admission form, then sighed, “Oh, well; there are a great many sects, but I suppose they all worship the same God.”
I’m sure Russell could not help but chuckle.
It is true, however, that there exist many spiritual paths. The world has always teemed with a wide variety of spiritual thought and many differing journeys of the heart. But too often the world has used these differences as a weapon. How much agony has been wrought by what should be a thing of beauty – religious passion?
I appreciate an old Jewish story that tells of a rabbi who asked his disciples, “How do you know when the night is giving way and the morning is coming?”
One of the followers stood and said, “Teacher, won’t you know that night is fading when, through the dim light, you can see an animal and recognize whether it is a sheep or a dog?”
The rabbi answered, “No.”
“Rabbi,” asked another. “Won’t you know that the dawn is coming when you can see clearly enough to distinguish whether a tree is a fig or an olive?”
“No,” responded the teacher. “You’ll know that the night has passed when you can look at any man and any woman and discern that you are looking at a brother or a sister. Until you can see with that clarity, the night will always be with us.”
The night has been long. Isn’t it time for dawn to break? No matter who we are, no matter what religion we profess, isn’t it time for us to see one another as the sisters and brothers we are? All of us? Only then will we know that night has passed and a new day has dawned.