I always knew God was right where I couldn’t quite see. I knew because I could hear him through those slightly off-key voices singing loud and unencumbered to the old piano in my hometown church. I saw him in the eyes of that homeless man, the one with the sign, looking at me as I nervously waited for the stoplight to change. I could feel him shaking in the fingers of the elderly clerk, reaching from behind the counter, giving me change at the corner five and dime.
So, when I went in search for God, I didn’t go first to books or lectures or to hear more sermons. I didn’t want to learn about God. I didn’t want an intermediary. No. I wanted my own unmitigated experience of God. So, instead, I sought out teachers from a variety of faith traditions and asked each to teach me how to find God. With guidance and support, I took to my prayer mat and began to fervently pray intoning the sacred practices from the ancient cannons. And, along the way, I did indeed, most graciously, find God, again and again, right where I would have never thought to look—waiting right there in the silence—just beyond my understanding. Intoning the ancient practices in their original languages, across faith traditions, brought me, again and again, to the same portal leaving me silent, humble and filled with awe—at the feet of God—the same God—showing me definitively, graciously, that indeed, many are the ways we pray to him.
The new paradigm, the Sonic Trilogy of Love, explored in this book, represents most succinctly this discovery. “How can this be?” you may ask as faith traditions surely hold varying ontological beliefs about the nature of God. True. Yet, as those who’ve long explored one particular tradition, as well as those who are exploring across traditions, enter into the Sonic Trilogy of Love to intone the ancient practices, each creates the conditions for an unmitigated experience of God. In this way, the Sonic Trilogy of Love becomes a paradigm of unification, capable of holding the healthy tension that exists between particularity defining religious difference and the ubiquitous mystical experience engendering religious unity. The Sonic Trilogy of Love invites all seekers, one and all, home.
Bless us with a divine voice
that we may tune the harp strings of our life
to sing songs of Love to you.
Inspired by the Rig Veda
Change is in the wind. Western attitudes about religion, about God, have been steadily evolving led, in part, by a new demographic of seekers who describe their world view as “spiritual,” not “religious.” No longer content to be passive recipients of the same liturgies, sermons, and homilies, no longer invested in the rituals gone rote, these “spiritual but not religious” seekers are leaving on a quest for God. Aspiring ministerial leaders and concerned lay people alike would do well to embrace this change as I believe it is an opportunity to reignite relevance, meaning and passion. As the great philosopher Rabindranath Tagore reminded us, “The winds of grace are always blowing, but it is you who must raise your sails.” It is time.
Where to begin? One way is already in the very hands of religious leaders and lay people alike, so close, perhaps, they may have missed it. Right there, within the rich texture of the historical “religious” canon, lie the very practices that can serve as the portal into the “spiritual” connection these modern-day seekers are craving. Christians may find this portal when mentally engaging a sacred word or phrase in the depths of contemplative prayer practice. Jews may find it when reciting portions of the Torah or the Psalms in Hebrew. Muslims may find it when chanting the ninety-nine beautiful names of Allah in Arabic. And of course, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs, to name just a few, have long found it when chanting their sacred texts in mantra meditation. The common denominator? Sound.
As seekers across faith traditions engage the sound of God in spiritual practice, each may enter the portal into their own unmitigated experience of the divine. Whether mentally engaging a sacred word in contemplative prayer or chanting aloud according to an ancient script, the fruits of practice begin to answer a longing, a not-so-silent cry within, as the sound of God reverberates through the inner chambers, tuning and awakening seekers to that which was previously unknown. Wondrously, if only in passing moments, seekers may start to get just a glimpse of that which is beyond understanding, to suddenly see themselves as God sees them. And if so, nothing is the same.
In this book, I offer a new paradigm based on this sonic aspect of the divine, the Sonic Trilogy of Love, that explores just how sacred sound becomes the portal into this unmitigated experience of God. Here, identifying love as the core organizing principle, I describe the inter-relational dynamics between us, the Lovers, practitioners; the Love, sacred sound; and the Beloved, God. As the Lover, practitioner, engages the Love, sacred sound emanating from the sacred canon, conditions are set for unity with the Beloved, God. In such moments, the distinctions between the Lover, Love and Beloved dissolve in mystical unity. Finally, I show how such an experience, awakening personal transcendence within, engenders a sense of mystical unity without, embracing all creation.
Praise for The Call of the Mourning Dove
“With the ear of a poet, Stephanie Rutt has written a lovely book in both tone and content, proposing a new theological paradigm highlighting the power of the sonic realm across religious traditions. Drawing on experiences from her practice as an interfaith minister as well as research into a wide range of prayer practices that engage the “sound of God,” Rutt takes her readers on a fascinating journey and invites them to consider these practices as resources in a human quest for meaning that transcends any single tradition.”
—Jennifer Howe Peace, Associate Professor of Interfaith Studies, Andover Newton Theological School
“Stephanie Rutt’s work is an inspiring intersection of concrete spiritual practice, inter-religious learning and pastoral leadership. The Call of the Mourning Dove continues this pioneering path, in which common human modalities of sound, speech and body become avenues for personal renewal and reconciliation across communities.”
—S. Mark Heim, Visiting Professor of Theology/Yale Divinity School, Samuel Abbot Professor of Theology/Andover Newton at Yale
“Stephanie Rutt’s work on the spiritual inbreaking that takes place when one prays a prayer in its original language blends the mystical meaning of sound with the human quest for connection across times and spaces. In that way, what she creates is truly something new.”
—Sarah B. Drummond, Dean of the Faculty & Vice President for Academic Affairs, Andover Newton Theological School
About the Author
Stephanie Rutt is founder and presiding minister of the Tree of Life Interfaith Temple in Milford, NH. She received her DMin from Andover Newton Theological School, now Andover Newton Seminary at Yale, where her thesis, the basis for this book, won the Frederick Buechner Prize for Excellence in Writing. She is the creator of the Tree of Life Interfaith Seminary, author of several additional books, and has appeared on the TEDx stage. You can find her online right here.