Before a Shinto shrine in Kanazawa, Japan, a slim, elderly man bows deeply from the waist in reverence. Before the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, spread in simple elegance over a magnanimous space, lie gardens designed to create a sense of harmony in nature, and in self. And in the cavernous space of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, there is a quiet that beckons to what is deeper in humanity. Every culture offers something beyond what is to offer tools for negotiating what is so very challenging in this life. From the tiny synagogue in Taipei to the chapels nestled into Big Sur, there is evidence of the human search for transcendence over centuries.
There is the intellectual piece, carved out in classics like the Kabbala and Augustine’s City of God, the Torah and the New Testament. These speak in volumes to some, raise questions for others and establish for the scholar what is needed for the soul. And there are the personal stories, from mythology to today, that reflect lifetimes of search and discovery. These relate to something else present in the human spirit and sometimes defy the academics with simplicity and purpose. There are the artists who explore as each one can the magnificence and tragedies of the experiences to share them with others, give some new dimension that can be appreciated by another. Every tradition, every culture, carries that sense within it.
There is a splendor to the spectacle of it, to the very diversity in it. And while it is tempting to surrender to the differences among them and search for absolutes, there are commonalities at the foundation of all that. To be able to see and appreciate the uniqueness of what each is, finding the common ground is essential. It is not so much about what is right but more about what is human and meaningful in the pursuit of life for each individual and family, what brings to birth in each a sense of the divine.
Ultimately, the vastness of the earth and the extent of its majesty in the spectacular nature of a sunrise or the hints of mountains in the distance, the rhythm of the waves upon a shore, are reminders of how very humbling it is to be human. Nature speaks, and cultures shape the traditions and rituals, the stories and celebrations that enable and empower a genuine appreciation for life itself.
Catholicism with all its flaws and perceived limits is a home base for some. And the liturgy, the breaking of the bread, offers that moment of awareness that there is so much more to life. In the reverence and the ritual, there is a place for that sense of gratitude for existence, awe for experience, and appreciation for exposure to something greater than self. To be an ordinary Catholic echoes that same sense of reverence as the elderly man bowing deeply at the gate. Each in their own way. Each in their own culture. Each finding significance in other.