On Sunday July 29th, 2018, I had the pleasure of giving a sermon at First Unitarian Society of Denver. The sermon was titled The Golden Thread of Our Voices and spoke to the idea that there is a golden thread running through all religions and cultures in the world, tying them to one another in some way, shape, or form. Below is the sermon that I wrote and gave, with contributions from our Operations Manager, Brad Krautwurst.
So today I am inspired to speak about a theory and not just any theory. Not a theory in physics nor a theory in behaviorism. But, a theory of culture and new age.
See, there is a theory that runs throughout the world and her people. It is a theory that connects our traditions, our rituals, our morals, and occasionally, our voices. For those of you wondering what on earth I am talking about, this is a theory that is often referred to as the Golden Thread Theory of Religion.
The first time I heard of this theory in its general sense, I was 8 years old, sitting in a pew of a Lutheran house of worship. At that time, I was obsessed with the wonderment of churches, their stained glass, and why my grandmother’s weekly ritual involved attending church each and every Sunday.
On this particular Sunday, this Lutheran Pastor spoke of the importance for establishing tradition and a sense of belonging throughout our community. They spoke of the need for understanding where we came from and where we were going, and how it could be hard to see, but that all of us were connected by a thread, just like that invisible string. I don’t remember anything else from that sermon and despite my guilt, I’ve learned that that’s okay. But what I do remember about that sermon and being 8 years old was that this theme of a thread connecting all of us was important to me.
As I grew older and stepped into adulthood, I learned more about the Golden Thread Theory of Religion. In fact, I learned that this theory was first credited to being spoken of, in a professional capacity, whatever that means, by Ralph Waldo Trine for his book In Tune With the Infinite. In the Preface he wrote that:
"There is a golden thread that runs through every religion in the world. There is a golden thread that runs through the lives and the teachings to all the prophets, seers, sages, and saviors in the world’s history, through the lives of all men of truly great and lasting power. All that they have ever done or attained tohas been done in full accordance with this law. What one has done, all may do."
Trine wrote that in 1897. If you ask me, there are parts of this that are a little more than outdated. I have heard of and I have witnessed that men are not the only prophets and seers of our history and of our world, but that women and humans as a whole are our sages and saviors, giving strength and power in the footsteps of their oppressions, in their words as well as their actions. We’ve come a long way since 1897 in the interpretation of this theory, its words, and its application to our differing walks of life.
Now...I have a confession to make. More often than not, the people I discuss this theory with happen to be youth - youth of varying ages and youth from all over the world. For you see, I have the privilege to work with youth here at First Unitarian as well as with youth from other houses of worship and in my capacity as a teen therapist who happens to specialize in Transpersonal Psychology. For those of you who don't know what that is, which is pretty much everybody, it's the uniting of spiritual traditions and belief systems with the science of psychology - so it gives me a unique opportunity. This is an important confession for me to make because youth have brought a new and refreshing understanding to this theory, a breath of curiosity and weight that I as an adult can often leave behind, particularly in a time with our current political administration afoot.
Most recently the Golden Thread Theory of Religion arose while I facilitated a 15-week group on Teen Spirituality. Youth who participated in this group ranged from 14-19 years old and spanned the backgrounds of Christian, Muslim, Baha’i, and Atheist. Each one came in attendance with their own version of their beliefs which held rituals, traditions, and morals...most of which, at their core, were similar in one way or another. But even as important as that is to recognize, it is also important to lift up that these youth came to this group with a willingness. A willingness to open up their voices and share the complexities of being connected to one another, often referring to their connection through this theory of a golden thread. Connected through this thread in a world where, in their words, the Parkland Shooting or the death of Nia Wilson continues to occur.
It is worth exploring that the golden threads that actually consisted of in this group, at their core, showed us that all religions and spiritual frameworks contain a few things. But perhaps the most important one might be stories. Whether it is the story of Noah and the Ark, or the story of the Buddha achieving enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, or the Islamic parable of the house of the Spider, or many countless others, all of these stories illustrate the golden thread. The golden thread is what allows us to connect and see past differences in religions and other areas to embrace their similarities. It encourages us to see their similar lessons: love your neighbor, you reap what you sow, a power exists that is larger than you in this universe, and that we are stewards of the Earth and of each other.
The golden thread also underscores an often underappreciated aspect of religion, and especially of interfaith dialogue: it encourages us, and sometimes forces us, to be vulnerable. When we pray in the public square, when we bathe in the hope that these religious stories offer us, when we share our dreams that religion incubates and when we confess our fears that these parables help lessen, we are living examples of the golden thread. Our youth do that far more than we give them credit for. Refusal to acknowledge these similarities and challenge our own religious isolation allows plenty of strife in the world, which we have seen a lot of over the last few years. Day-to-day transgressions and injustices, including silence of those in positions of power, encourage the fraying of this golden thread.
Now, a simple google search on the Golden Thread Theory of Religion will result in an additional portion of the quote that I read earlier. And just as a lot of other youth would, the youth from my Teen Spirituality group used their technology to learn more about this theory, both in our time together and our time apart. And usually around the announcement of another painful, injustice. This additional portion of Trine’s work was something that the youth of this group would always come back to in our discussions. Trine wrote:
"This same golden thread must enter into the lives of all who today, in this busy work-a-day world of ours, would exchange impotence for power, weakness and suffering for abounding health and strength, pain and unrest for perfect peace, poverty of whatever nature for fullness and plenty."
Together, these youth and I would dive in and out of how we could be part of this busy world, connected by morals that seemed so clear and precise, yet are often forgotten or never acted upon. And if I’m being honest, it was difficult to talk about and it was hard to navigate.
It would be unjust of me in speaking of this astounding group of youth if I didn’t mention that there were, and often are, at least two different power plays happening in the room while these discussed and dived into such complexities. The first of these two power plays being that I was the only one that they considered the adult and that second, being that I was the one and only white person in the group. As a white adult, this is a discomfort that my privilege often steers me clear of. But here, it did and does not.
Now, if you yourself are not a teen or you do not hang out with teens often, I’d like to share with you that discomfort, regardless of what that discomfort revolves around, can be taken to a whole other level when staring a teen in the eye. They are quite intimidating. But the discomfort that transpires is important here because discomfort in and of itself is uncomfortable. Discomfort makes one want to turn inward and focus on oneself, silencing the calls to action that surround us and ultimately, should connect us. It forces our legs to shake uncontrollably while rattling our voices as we search for excuses. It allows us to forget where we came from and where we are going, alongside the very black and white of what is just and unjust. Discomfort at the end of the day is a very powerful tool for distraction.
Toni Morrison once wrote that:
"The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says that your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Someone says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing."
And quite frankly, Toni Morrison is right. Her blatant explanation and first-hand experience of the function of racism as a distraction serves to show how our -isms (racism, sexism, childism, ableism) stem from some type of prejudice and our inability to connect our traditions, our rituals, our morals, our voices. Regardless of the -ism, we have allowed for there to be an ebb and flow to the life for people of oppression, it has been the calm before the storm and it has been the pick-me-ups of our “authentic” community rising. But our youth, especially our youth who are experiencing these isms, they seem to have had enough. They see this ebb and flow between life’s storm and community rising while balancing the lessons of what is right and wrong, just and unjust. And as my group from Teen Spirituality put it to me, they are ready to finish this fight and move our society forward to the next step.
As I was writing this sermon about the Golden Thread Theory of Religion and its role in our current political climate, a question arose for me - what do I want you all to take away from this sermon this morning? Well, First Unitarian, I want you to take a note from the Book of Our Youth. I want you to join them and join me in facing your discomforts head-on, disrupting the day-to-day flow of life.
After all, disrupting is what religion does best. Disrupting is what Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount, it is what Muhammad did when he ushered in Islamic social and economic reforms, and it is what the Buddha did when he encouraged us all to turn our focus from material objects. Disruption is in the core of this country and it is what lifts up our youth and allows them to stand on the shoulders of these prophets - so now they, too, will become prophets - just as we all can if instead of trying to teach them, we also learn from them. If instead of trying to distract them, we fall behind them in the march of justice, unifying our voices.
Until Next Time,
Lena McCain, MA | Founder & Psychotherapist
About Lena McCain, MA
Lena McCain is our Founder here at Interfaith Bridge Counseling. She holds a Masters in Clinical Mental Health: Mindfulness-based Transpersonal Counseling Psychology from Naropa University and is an LPC candidate. Her drive and passions lie in the realm of Interfaith Relations and Youth Collaboration, which she brings to Interfaith Bridge Counseling with over 12 years of experience and with an emphasis on one’s discovery of self, spirituality, and multicultural diversity. Lena’s expertise in spirituality and the therapeutic world acts as a reminder to our community, teens, and young adults that they are not alone in their experience of life.