During my recent travels, I saw a lot of sunrises and sunsets from the road, some beautiful, some obscured, some at dangerous angles to the driver. One thing I kept thinking about as I witnessed the journey of the sun across the sky each day was how we talk about what we see.
We speak from our own perspective. The sun rises, it moves across the sky, and then it sets. This statement is true. This statement is an accurate description of how we experience the sun. This is what we see. Everyone in every culture in every location in every age since the beginning of the world has experienced the sun this way, and I think it’s safe to say that everyone would generally agree that the sun rises, moves across the sky, and then sets.
Except it doesn’t.
The sun doesn’t move at all. The Earth is what moves. We move, not the sun. Science and astronomy teach us this truth. It is an accurate description of reality, but it does not describe how we experience the relation between sun and sky. This is not what we see. Everyone in every culture in every location in every age until at least the 1600s would call this truth a fantasy.
How easily we assume that our experience is not only true but also the only capital-T-Truth. How quick we are to dismiss a truth that does not match our experience as fantasy.
Our truth that the sun moves across the sky is true, except that it isn’t. It describes our experience accurately, but it does not describe what is very accurately at all. In fact, it describes quite the opposite of reality.
So now, when we talk about issues of faith, spirituality, God, and religion, I think about the sun. I think about the language I use to describe my experience and begin to consider that while my language is true to my experience, it might not be true to reality.
Maybe when we speak of God’s unchangeability, it is really we who are unwilling to change. Maybe when we speak of God’s unfailing, unconditional love, it is really our desire to be loved that we express. Maybe when we speak of God as male or masculine, it is really we who experience power and control through a paternalistic cultural lens.
The point is that we don’t know everything. No one holds the capital-T-Truth. We all hold pieces of the truth, and if we’re lucky, we are able to recognize more pieces of truth in others and hold onto them all. Until we’re willing to consider the possibility that we could be not only not completely right but also actually completely wrong, we will never be able to consider that someone else might hold a piece of truth we don’t have.
This is the value of ecumenical and interfaith perspectives. We look for our commonalities. We build bridges on our pieces of truth. We rub up against people whose experience is different than our own, people who dare to suppose the sun does not actually rise and set as it appears after all. We learn together. We grow.
We’ve come a long way since the 1600s. Everyone in the educated world, especially those who have access to telescopes and higher-level math, now agrees that the Earth moves and the sun does not. But not a single one of them would argue that the sun does not rise, move across the sky, and set every day, either.
One truth defines reality; the other truth defines experience. Both truths are pieces of the capital-T-Truth that we are all grasping for and falling short of regardless of our intelligence, education, or experience.
Next time you find yourself in debate about who is right, who is in, who holds the capital-T-Truth about faith, spirituality, God, or religion (or anything else for that matter), take a breath, look up at the sun, and remember to start with the pieces of truth we each hold — and build on that.