Finding the Divine Outside of Christianity

I did a lot of interfaith work at uni. Countless discussion groups and panels and multi-faith services for different events. I was part of an odd little collection of progressive Christians, mystic Muslims, agnostic Arabic students just trying to get some homework help, and the occasional Buddhist or Pagan, all of us loudly enthusiastic and prone to starting arguments in our favourite coffee shop (across the street from the Chaplaincy building, where the prayer rooms were) about the translation of religious texts and the etymology of Arabic words in an incomprehensible (to everyone else) mixture of languages. When we weren’t terrorising the inhabitants of the students’ union coffee shop by disrupting their cute coffee dates with animated discussions, we were occupying the chaplaincy kitchen, helping to cook food for Muslim Students’ Association dinners, attending the Chaplain’s Bible study, and teaching each other every day about our faiths.

And in this chaotic, multilingual mix of cultures and rituals and prayers, I found divinity. I found that my God was much bigger than I had previously imagined, and my faith stretched. But it didn’t break. Often, we go into interfaith encounters on the defensive. Even if we’re willing to learn, to reach mutual understanding, the temptation to defend your personal faith from any change or challenge is difficult to overcome.

I’ve never had that fear of breaking be realised in an interfaith encounter: my faith has only ever grown through being shared. Each conversation widened my perspective on what the divine is. My God is not small enough to be confined by the common beliefs and practices of one faith only. It was through this process that I grew from my childhood conception of God as an old white man in the sky who told me what to do into my current, much less physical idea of Divinity.

It showed me that God comes to us from and through and in and with every human being.

God shows up in a stuffy bedroom in a student house when a friend is praying at sunset and the rest of us are sitting still and quiet, listening to the sound of words he’s said a million times. God shows up in a tiny university chapel, lit only by candlelight and warmed only by the press of bodies inside, while teaching a friend to sing psalms. God shows up on a windy clifftop beside the sea and the beach where we found bones, and in the times we prayed together, for light and life and hope. God shows up even as faith is tested and relationships are pulled to a breaking point.

Our little group fell out and made up like any friendship group does; we’ve all drifted apart a bit since finishing our degrees. But being around people who fit with you so well but come from such different backgrounds is a feeling I will never forget. It’s like coming home to a house you’ve never seen before. Like radial lines all converging on the same point.

Or perhaps we were all starting from the same place to begin with. Are we not all children of God, made in God’s image, loved, forgiven, held carefully and close? Are we not all equally precious? No matter what we called the one we prayed to, I think we all would agree that the same voice answered.

There is a lot to be said for having a deep faith. I’ve heard people described as having faith like a well; deep, life-giving, grounded. But I think there’s also merit to having faith like an ocean, wide and reaching many different shores, full of unknowns and even a little salty.

University is an incredible chance to meet people from anywhere and everywhere. And while it’s always amazing to find a community of people just like you, it’s also amazing to find a community of people who should be nothing like you, but who share your passion for discovery and growth.

So, where does God show up for you? Could it be in the kindness of a stranger? In an unlikely friendship? Through disagreement and debate? In the beauty of a scripture that is not your own? How can you widen your faith?

I promise it won’t break. It’ll grow. So will you.

If you are interested in exploring other faiths’ scriptures, feel free to check out the video of our Scriptural Reasoning event on YouTube!