At a young age I became an atheist, but wanted desperately to believe.
While an undergraduate I attended services at numerous denominational churches – Catholic, Presbyterian, Congregational, Adventist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, Eastern Orthodox, Unitarian and even that highly intellectual Ethical Culture Society in New York City.
I have nothing against any of them. They just didn’t ring any bells with me.
What did capture my attention was Eastern Vedanta, which really is more philosophy than religion. But it didn’t draw me in by the heels either.
There was a course on campus called something like “A Literary View of the Bible” or “The Bible as Literature.” Something of the sort.
It was an excellent course for me. It turned me away literal dogmatism of words to a more poetic understanding of the Bible.
I later found the words of St. Paul encouraging, where he says, “we are ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”
Sounds like a small matter, but was huge to me. It virtually opened my mind.
I came to see, for example, why Handel’s Messiah is so popular. The Messiah isn’t doctrine. It has nothing to believe. Just sound, feeling and great poetry.
Who can listen attentively to the Messiah without at least getting a touch of a sacred feeling?
The Great Christian Poet
This college course also opened my awareness to how great a poet the Apostle Paul was.
Just read, for example, Chapter 13 of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
What modern poet has written better poetry of love than this?
Or take Paul’s words about death and immortality in First Corinthians 15:51-55.
Behold, I tell you a mystery:
We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed
— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O Death, where is your sting?
O Death, where is your victory?
Have any of the Metaphysical Poets written anything to compare?
Taking a Broader Look
In the years since that course, I’ve come to empathize with people of all faiths. I mean any religious faith. Even if I believe them wrong, as there certainly are a number, I empathize. And I don’t want to raise one word of contention with any of them.
Today I do consider myself a very devout Christian. Though I am very close to the Roman Catholic Church I am not a member.
I frequently go to their monasteries and have many Benedictine brothers as friends. And for a number of years I attended daily Mass, without taking communion.
But back to Vedanta
In later years I studied Vedanta extensively. I feel quite it home with it. I do not find any conflict with my Christianity. In fact, I find that it enhances it.
Should you like to have a look at the bridge between Vedanta and Christianity I recommend three books, in this order. The translations are important for the clarity of the difficult content of these books.
It spells out the basics of Advaita Vedanta in simple English.
An anonymous Russian seeker who asks basic big questions and wanders from one recommended wise man to another until he finds a suitable answer.
Author is an anonymous 12th century English monk who speaks of mysticism in simple, very clear English.
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