Jesus Healing at Bethesda, Carl BlochImage from Wikimedia Commons

Jesus Healing at Bethesda, Carl Bloch
Image from Wikimedia Commons

This morning I woke to learn that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was awarded the Templeton Prize.  His response, of course, was that when one stands out in a crowd “it is only on the shoulders of others.”  His lifetime of service and giving to others makes me reflect on a quote attributed to Victor Hugo.

One of my favorite authors, his heartbreaking and ultimately transcendent work Les Miserables has grown from the crucible of endurance for high school kids of my generation to a star-studded, award-winning media event.  He was careful and thoughtful in his writing, slowly building every element of a complex story over a daunting number of pages (the Belgariad by David Eddings, the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, and Gene Wolfe‘s Book of the New Sun and Book of the Long Sun all come to mind).  I recently came across a beautiful observation of his:  To love another is to see the face of God.  This really struck me, particularly in light of some touching passages in Les Miserable (the candle sticks and the priest, for example), so I asked some friends of mine to respond to Mr. Hugo’s statement.  These are ministers, scholars, and leity from many different paths of faith, but all seem to share a certain serenity in their answers; among the respondents are a Muslim scholar, an Agnostic writer, a Quaker, a Baha’i, and a Universalist Minister.

When I called on my friend Dr. Omid Safi, Professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, he sent me a link to a beautiful article he wrote at Huffington Post addressing this idea.  For Muslims, although figurative art is not prohibited it is highly inappropriate to represent our Creator with human form, and in many paths of Islam it is very disrespectful to represent the prophets and dignitaries of Scripture.  These artistic restrictions are for a number of reasons, including the fear that these images might potentially be used as icons or idols.  The main reason God is never depicted is that the Creator is infinite and beyond our understanding as finite mortals, and any representation displays our ignorance and seeks to limit God’s illimitable nature.  So I was very interested in what he had to say.  From his article:
To reach out in love and service to even one other human being is the beginning of shattering the idol of the self, recognizing our shared humanity, and making room for the real God to enter the temple of the heart.
–Omid Safi
Andrew Bowen dedicated himself to living the life of the faithful of twelve different paths for a year, and wrote Project Conversion:  One Man, 12 Faiths, One Year (his follow-up work describing his unique process of spiritual understanding is now available, Life, Depth, and the Art of Immersion).   We spoke about his experience a month ago; his response to Victor Hugo’s observation:
Love is a manifestation of perfection: perfect submission, perfect humility, perfect projection, all coalesced into one expression. Limitless, boundless, unfathomable even to the well-acquainted. These attributes are also familiar to those who believe in God, so to love someone is to reflect God and to have God reflected back upon one’s self.

–Andrew Bowen

My friend Elaine is Secretary of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable, and member of the Traveling Interfaith Sisterhood.  Her response:

Two of my favorite quotes explain the Quaker view of that of God in all people.  The Quaker view of that of God in everyone is why our testimonies of Peace, Equality (Community), Simplicity and Integrity (Truth) make up the core of who we are as opposed to set doctrines.

“Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.”  (Statement of 1656, from The Works of George Fox (1831))

“There is a principle, which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names.  It is, however, pure and proceeds from God.  It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from anywhere the heart stands in perfect sincerity.”  (John Woolman, 1774)

–Elaine Emmi

My Baha’i friend Shari:

If I had to try to summarize a Baha’i response to Mr. Hugo, I might say:  God is an unknowable essence, yet He created mankind out of His love for us.  The way we can know God is through the knowledge of the Manifestations of God, Who act as stainless mirrors of all God’s attributes.  Once we know of God we wish to love and serve Him, and this can best be accomplished by loving and serving mankind.

–Shari (more on Baha’i history and faith)

And my friend Reverend Amy Long, Director of Universal Life Church Seminary:

God is love.  When you see love – loving actions, loving words, loving thoughts, or just the spirit of love shining through another – that is the face of God.

–Rev. Amy Long (for Daily Kind Words)

This reminds me of a Hadith Qudsi (Divine saying spoken through Muhamed), regarding God’s desire to be near to us:

And if he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him in My heart. . . And if he walks towards Me, I rush towards him.

And finally,  the response of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu:

God says (to us) I create you because I want you, not because I need you.
–Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu