Skip to main content

Since Rome

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.


Plain Foolish said…
Yes. That - yes. The friend speaks my mind. I think this is a problem that many spiritual seekers face. Sometimes, we find Spirit. And not always where we or others think we will or should.

And for those of us with particularly complicated spiritual journeys, what do we do when we find spiritual nourishment in more than one place, especially when some of those places heavily discourage looking around?

Popular posts from this blog


(Note: there were so many thought provoking comments in response to this post that it generated a second-round of ideas. You can read the follow-up post here .) I have a confession to make. I want to be famous. Well, sort of. I don't want to be famous, famous, and ride around in a limousine and have to hire security and that sort of thing. I just want to write a book, have it published by somebody other than my mother, and bought and read by somebody other than my mother, and maybe even sign a couple of autographs along the way. Mom can have one autographed, too, if she wants. It has to be a spiritual book. A really moving and truthful book, that makes people want to look deep inside themselves, and then they come up to me and say something like, "It was all because of that book you wrote! It changed my life!" And I would say, no, no, really, you did all that, you and God/the gods --I'm a little fuzzy on whether the life-changing book is for Pagans or for Quake

Peter on Grief and Communities

Well, that was unexpected. For the last year, ever since my mom's health took a sharp downturn, I've been my dad's ride to Florence Congregational Church on Sundays. That community has been important for my dad and the weekly outing with me was something he always looked forward to and enjoyed, so I didn't mind taking him there. It meant giving up attending my own Quaker meeting for the duration, but I had already been questioning whether silent waiting worship was working for me. I was ready for a sabbatical. A month ago, my dad was Section-Twelved into a geriatric psych hospital when his dementia started to make him emotionally volatile. I had been visiting him every day at his assisted living facility which was right on my way home from work, but the hospital was almost an hour away. I didn't see him at all for three weeks, and when I did visit him there, it actually took me a couple of seconds to recognize him. He was slumped forward in a wheel chair, lo

There is a Spirit Which I Feel

I was always a "rational use of force" gal. For most of my life I believed that the use of force--by which I meant human beings taking up arms and going off to war to try to kill one another--was a regrettable necessity. Sometimes I liked to imagine that Paganism held an alternative to that, particularly back in the day when I believed in that mythical past era of the peaceful, goddess-worshipping matriarchal societies . (I really liked that version of history, and was sorry when I stopped believing in it as factual.) But that way of seeing reality changed for me, in the time between one footfall and the next, on a sunny fall morning: September 11, 2001. I was already running late for work that day when the phone rang; my friend Abby was calling, to give me the news that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York. So? I thought to myself, picturing a small private aircraft. Abby tried to convey some of what she was hearing--terrorists, fire--but the mag