The other evening my wife and I were finishing a walk around the community when we stopped to visit with our neighbor. It was a blistery day, and it’s been that way for a week or more. Monsoons should start next week, but they seemed far away in the making. Our neighbors are elderly, of Hispanic descent, and have lived here most of their lives. His comment: It has to get hot so it can rain. It reminded me of a comment I got from one of my Hispanic parishioners in deep south Texas on a sweltering August day: Esto es calor de lluvia. (This is a heat for rain.)
The weather man at 9:15 that night had another explanation, much more complicated, involving maps and swirling winds and big “H”‘s and “L”‘s, giving percentages and other rather precise guesses. Our neighbor’s explanation is simple, straight-forward and, though probably not very scientific, is based on the collection of experience over many generations of his people living here.
Here are two systems, serving similar ends, each accurate enough to work for its ends, living side-by-side, and intersecting in one point: the coming rain. Each is built on its own set of assumptions about the way the weather works. Each has its justification and its own internal consistency.
It reminds me of the best of inter-religious dialog. Each system explains ultimate reality according to its own models, and in terms of its own ends, standing side-by-side with others, intersecting in the human spiritual experience. It is not sufficient to say that each system is incomplete, that the true mystery of life is something beyond both, for each is a complete system. It is valid to say, however, that noting and appreciating similar ends, values, and resonances, especially the mystical paths that seek to look beyond oneself into the Unknowable Mystery, can serve to enhance one’s own experience of divine mystery. (This sounds like a contradiction—or a koan.)
It makes of religious systems a community rather than competing teams at a game.