I just heard an interview on NPR's Morning Edition with a singer named Jai Uttal. Raised in Brooklyn (if my memory is correct) with a father in the music business who had a particular affection for R&B, Jai discovered Indian music at the age of 19. Middle aged now, he's known for a form of musical devotion known as kirtan--sacred chant--but he also performs in concerts with a kind of fusion of Western and Eastern musical forms, and has released CDs that are often used by those who practice yoga to help them center.
New Age music, I guess. And New Age music has such a bad rap among musicians, as the New Age does among most serious spiritual students.
But as I listened to his strong, plain, unapologetic voice leading a more traditional sounding chorus with Indian drumming in the background, chanting names of Hindu gods, I felt my head opening out. Pagans have a funny kind of love/hate relationship with Eastern mysticism, both studying and teaching it with some frequency and complaining about its pervasiveness among us, since its history is unrelated to Western Paganism (at least in the last 1,000 years or so).
I've chanted mantras at Pagan events... spent hours at it (since that's the only way to really go there) and I've felt it working in me. So Utal's chanting reminded me strongly of that experience, and even in the few seconds of play time it had on air, I felt again what it is chant can do. The reason Pagans work with it, of course, is that it works--at least when done with seriousness and care. Despite all the suspicion Pagans (like others) feel toward spiritual borrowing, what works works, and in a practice-centered religion, that means something.
I know there are spiritual tourists out there. I know that it's reasonable to prounounce "New Age" to rhyme with sewage. But when syncretism is a product, not of curiousity or a cafeteria mindset, but of deep listening to the call of spirit, great things can happen, and do.
We are all so afraid of losing our spiritual purity. As it was in the days of ancient Rome, so it is today--we have come into contact with the myriad ways to spiritual depth that humans have, and the pull that "foreign" ways have on some of us strikes many of us as decadent or shallow.
Yes, spiritual syncretism can be misused... as can any spritual practice. The difference is depth, integrity, and listening not to our egos or an advertising campaign, but to the part of us that recognizes truth and will not be misled.
Listening to the spiritually charged Hindu chanting of a man from Brooklyn, and feeling it touch the part of me that has touched that truth before, I felt something precious to me that is closer to me than my own skin and deeper in me than my own bones. Syncretism is not a dirty word--despite the fear we've had of it since the days of Rome. More, in a world that grows smaller every day, it's the path we're all walking down, if we're honest about it. Because there's no point in being "faithful" to a label. We've all got to be faithful to the power that's being labeled, and not let the names of things separate us from God.