Some twenty years ago I regularly participated in the Dances of Universal Peace as a communal spiritual practice. Dancing and chanting The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic was my very favorite experience, but that full chant, with phrases repeated dozens of times in the original language of Jesus, took nearly three hours to complete, so it was not often danced outside of a retreat setting.
But there was another chant/dance that I particularly loved, the words to which are:“The Ocean refuses no river,” referring to Divinity welcoming all forms of discourse and devotion. Being a visual person, I could easily see rills and creeks and rivers, oxbows and shallows and waterfalls, beaches and shoals and reefs all advancing and impeding and changing the course of the water determined to merge with the Ocean.
The other day, out in my warm summer-lush secret garden, I was sharing a pot of tea with a dear friend. We were discussing the difficulty of understanding some of the world’s many religions. I told him the chant about the rivers and the Ocean. Then he remembered a lesson from one of his long-ago teachers: “Each path up the Mountain eventually arrives at the same place.” We played with that for a while, and as we did, another image began developing in my mind, this one made of sound.
Finally I just had to say it out loud: “What I’m imagining is all those pilgrims climbing all those paths up the huge Mountain. Each pilgrim is singing or humming or whistling or chanting their own song. At the base of the Mountain, and even far up into their journey, they can hear only their own particular melody. But then something strange happens. One pilgrim stops to catch his breath (for trekking and singing at the same time is strenuous), and in his silence, from somewhere to his left or his right he can faintly hear a snatch of another set of notes. He starts upward again with his breath and his chant renewed. On another path a different pilgrim has paused to catch her breath, and something strange happens – to her right or her left she can faintly hear a fragment of a different song. As the pilgrims reach higher elevations they need to stop more frequently, and there it is again, except now it’s an even different melody, and it’s coming from their other side. Each stands listening, then quietly sings the song that has been part of their own journey up the mountain. Lo and behold, it harmonizes with the very different voice and notes coming from somewhere else.”
Well, you can see where this image is headed – the closer the pilgrims get to the top of the Mountain, the closer they get to each other, and the more beautiful the harmony of the variety of sounds that rise with them. There are different rhythms, different notes, even dissonance that makes the resolution into harmony richer than ever.
I wish you the great blessing of beginning to hear the harmonies that are possible when we stop to catch our breath and listen. And I wish you the joy of the chorus at the top of the Mountain.