In mysteries what we know, and our realization of what we do not know, proceed together; the larger the island of knowledge, the larger the shoreline of wonder.... The human opportunity, the religions tell us, is to transform our flashes of insight into abiding light.
The Shoreline of Wonder
Topic: Interfaith Pathways
“In mysteries what we know, and our realization of what we do not know, proceed together; the larger the island of knowledge, the larger the shoreline of wonder.
Things are more integrated than they seem, they are better than they seem, and they are more mysterious than they seem; something like this emerges as the highest common denominator of the wisdom traditions’ reports. When we add this to the baseline they establish for ethical behavior and their account of the human virtues, one wonders if a wiser platform for life has been conceived. At the center of the religious life is a particular kind of joy, the prospect of a happy ending that blossoms from necessarily painful beginnings, the promise of human difficulties embraced and overcome. The human opportunity, the religions tell us, is to transform our flashes of insight into abiding light.“
Huston Cummings Smith (May 31, 1919 – December 30, 2016) was a religious studies scholar in the United States. His book The World's Religions sold over three million copies and remains a popular introduction to comparative religion.
The World's Religions
Smith, Huston. The World's Religions. Harper San Francisco, 1991, pp. 388-389 [The World's Religions (Chapter X, The Wisdom Traditions)].
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“Understanding, then, can lead to love. But the reverse is also true. Love brings understanding; the two are reciprocal. So we must listen to understand, but we must also listen to put into play the compassion that the wisdom traditions all enjoin, for it is impossible to love another without hearing that other. If we are to be true to these religions, we must attend to others as deeply and alertly as we hope that they will attend to us…”
–Huston Smith [The World’s Religions. Harper San Francisco, 1991 (Chapter X, The Wisdom Traditions)] p. 390.
Huston Smith with Terry Gross on Fresh Air (excerpt)
GROSS: Do you think of yourself as a Methodist now? You grew up, again, you know, with Methodist missionary parents in China. You’ve been around the world studying traditions of the world. If I asked you if you’re a Methodist, what would you say?
SMITH: My answer is that I have a body and I have a soul. And my body belongs to the faith – in fact, the church – into which it was born, the Methodist Church. And let me just enter a small parenthesis. That was a very good experience with the Christian tradition for me. Many of my students, they’re – I have come to call them wounded Christians or wounded Jews, meaning that what came through to them from their traditions was two things – dogmatism – we’ve got the truth, everybody else is going to hell – and moralism – don’t do this, don’t do that.
To me, it was very different. What came through was we’re in good hands and then gratitude for that fact. It would be good if we bore one another’s burdens. And in all my globe circling, I still haven’t come upon anything that tops that. All right, I’ve talked about my body. It was born into the – baptized in the Methodist church, and it will be buried in the Methodist Church. Meanwhile, I have a soul. And my soul cannot be confined to any human institution.
–Huston Smith [Excerpt from interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air (1996)].