At the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto last November, I attended a session entitled “GenInterfaith: Claiming Complex Religious Labels”. Author and speaker, Susan Katz Miller, began with a premise that speaks to us at the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute. From her description she wrote, “Few of us have singular religious identities. Most of us have extended interfaith families, are multiple religious practitioners, live in post-colonial environments with religious layering, and learn from and draw on the many religions that surround us.” We interact in face to face and online encounters with diverse representations at the intersections within our community.
In her presentation, Susan Katz Miller highlighted the fact that ¼ of our population in the US is growing up in interfaith families. In addition, the fastest growing interfaith couples are Christian and Atheist. We are in need of new practices, given the rise in intermarriage, multiple religious practices, and spiritual fluidity (a term by Dwayne Bidwell, author of When One Religion Isn’t Enough). The following four practices were suggested:
We would like to add one more and are also curious about what practices you would add.
At the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, we celebrate the multitude of religious identities as well as the identities of race, ethnicity, class, gender, ability, sexual/attractional orientation, age, socio-economic class, work, education, veteran status and more. And, we trust that our practices align with our words.
Here at SGTI, we've just completed the second Residential Institute for our 18 mos. certificate program for interfaith/interspiritual guidance. Key to our learning about how to hold presence for and engage in sacred listening with people of any and all religious, spiritual and secular philosophies is interfaith immersion.
We maintain that it is not enough to engage in "book learning" about traditions other than our own to keep our hearts open and our listening skills fluid. It is not enough to have speakers come to talk about various traditions either. In order to build and maintain interfaith and interspiritual understanding, we need hands-on experience--immersion.
While in Chicago this week, we had two interfaith immersion experiences: at the Bahai House of Worship of North America in Wilmette, IL, and IMAN—the InnerCity Muslim Action Network located on the south side of the city. At each site, we had the unique opportunity to participate in religious services and to speak one on one with members of each tradition. At IMAN we also shared a meal which is always one of our hopes with any immersion experience.
Our students were especially touched by their experience at IMAN. They rated it as perhaps their favorite experience so far. This is likely because our students are deeply caring individuals whose hearts are social justice oriented. We learned about IMAN's community outreach efforts: a low cost/free family health clinic, the Beloved Community Ceramics Studio, behavioral health counseling services and "Green Re-Entry." "Through Green ReEntry, IMAN provides transitional housing, life skills education, and sustainable construction training for formerly incarcerated citizens in Chicago."
When we connect this way--heart to heart—interfaith merges with interspiritual and we learn just how similar we all are, especially within the context of spiritual values. Our practices and rituals may sometimes feel different, yet, we are able to connect on a deeper level by cultivating appreciative knowledge, one of the other core principles of our unique SGTI curriculum.
At IMAN, there was the call to prayer in Arabic, a "sermon/message" on gratefulness, and a felt sense of sitting on holy ground with one another, Muslim and non-Muslim, to experience the Sacred. The women students of SGTI were warmly greeted and spent time after the Friday prayer service with the physician's assistant of their health clinic. Her joy of service was evident and contagious. And inspiring!
Why interfaith immersion? Because by engaging in this way, we become deeply aware of how much alike we are. We all want to be happy, to feel safe and free, to do meaningful work, and to worship in our own way. And because, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding and goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age."
In our module on Islam, one of our students, Peter Marnocha, shared a reflective expression that integrated his own tradition and offering companionship to people of different religious/spiritual/ethical traditions. You will see how he incorporates the major practices of Islam with questions that a spiritual guide might ask a seeker.
If you are a seeker, you may be asked these questions by your spiritual guide. If you are a spiritual companion, these are great questions that really get to the heart of the matter.
Questions for seekers in the spirit of the Five Pillars of Islam:
Testament of Faith: The proclamation that there is no god but God. How do you affirm this in your own belief system? How do you describe the entity or energy that is much greater than the human species.
Prayer: Prayer is formal worship. In what ways do you pray? How are you 'constant in prayer' and what does this mean to you?
Charity: In what ways do you give of yourself and resources in a humble and sincere way? How do you accomplish this selfless service without looking for praise or reward?
Fasting: What are the practices that you take time for to observe moments or days that are sacred to you? How do you practice compassion and generosity? Assuming that you are willing to practice non-attachment, how is this expressed in your life? To what extent are you willing to endure the process of self-transformation?
Pilgrimage: Pilgrimage is a journey of shared experiences and unity. How might you travel alone or with others to experience the oneness of all things and Nature?"
In our training of spiritual guides at SGTI, one of the core principles that we hope to invite from our students is mutual appreciation. As we explore the world's religious traditions, spiritual expressions and cultural contexts, it is important that our mind sets reflect openness; our hearts be warm and hospitable. Mutual appreciation sprouts from this fertile soil and is essential for good spiritual guidance to take place.
In one of the recent "Universal Wisdoms" we send out to our list of subscribers, we spoke of mutual appreciation. Here is the text that was sent:
"In their book, The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew—Three Women Search for Understanding, co-author Priscilla Warner, a Jew, speaks about an encounter with her rabbi, Jeffrey.
We then offered Reflection Questions for our subscribers to ponder:
1. Does the distinction between 'tolerance' and 'mutual appreciation' resonate with you?
2. Take a few moments to reflect on a time when you were tolerant of another. How did this feel? Now reflect upon an incident in which mutual appreciation was experienced. How did this feel?
Perhaps, you would like to take a few moments to reflect on these, too. And, of course, you can always subscribe to "Universal Wisdom" yourself and receive these thought-provoking messages in your Inbox each week. We hope they will guide you on your interfaith journey.
You can find information on this free subscription service here.
In August of 2017, SGTI's first cohort met in Chicago, Illinois, to experience its first Residential Institute. We've just posted slide shows from this stellar, interspiritual experience. They present a more in-depth look at our training, Interfaith Immersion experiences, along with Cultural Appreciation, and contemplative practice opportunities. Enjoy!
Knowing that SGTI just completed its first residential institute in Chicago, we thought you might like to hear OUR thoughts on this extraordinary experience. "What were the highlights for you?" people have asked us. So here are our answers.
Listen and enjoy! (14 min.)
Co-Founders, Spiritual Guidance Training Institute
SGTI at the Midwest Buddhist Temple, Chicago, IL
There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.
Participating in interfaith/interreligious work is harder than it looks. This is precisely what Rabbi Dr. Rachel Mikva addressed last fall at Chicago Theological Seminary. At the convocation, Rabbi Dr. Mikva explored some of the difficulties of engaging in interfaith/interreligious work and relationships by asking important and provocative questions. I am writing about her address nearly 11 months later because it was one that influenced me personally, as well as professionally, with the conception of The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.
Five points were discussed that supported the thesis that interfaith work is more difficult than at first glance. One overarching question that Mikva asks is, “Who gets to say who is included?” She suggests that interreligious discussion can be exclusive when its focus is on religion, leaving out those practicing or exploring spirituality and ethics.
Rabbi Dr. Rachel Mikva began with a discourse on Christian privilege in the interreligious sphere. For the most part, the Christians who host a gathering are the ones who control the agenda. Christians have also tended to receive grants, allowing them to fund their institution while others do not have access to the same resources. Theonormativity (a social assumption that belief in God is proper) is a barrier that excludes groups like secular humanists and others. As a result, the theistic, global, hierarchical religions promote western hegemony.
Second, there is a growing complexity of politics of representation. For example, individuals who practice in spiritual and ethical traditions may not identify as “religious”, yet may identify as interspiritual. Most often, it is the individuals who make meaning within their tradition; some Buddhists say they have a faith, while others don’t use the language of faith.
Third, interfaith/interreligious work does not stand alone, but is a part of a system of overlapping and intersecting social identities. A Spanish-speaking rabbi has his unique social, cultural and theological experience and offers unique interpretations of scripture.
Fourth, “the world weighs heavy”. There are hot-button issues in the social, political, theological, spiritual, scientific, and legal arenas that complicate the motivations of people wanting to do good will. For example, LGBTQ inclusion can serve as a barrier to different groups working harmoniously.
Fifth, the concept of claiming a tradition and being accountable to one another is complicated. When interfaith groups come together, how does one claim what is important in their tradition when it may be the very thing that offends someone else in a different tradition? What do healthy boundaries look like in interfaith/interreligious work and relationships?
A few compelling solutions were offered that I believe promote healing and community among traditions. Rachel Mikva suggests that we need neutral spaces for religious study to occur; we need to learn from, not just about, others who are different than us; we need to focus on more than others’ differences in order to understand our own traditions; we need to be cautious to not say things like “this religions states…” and “that religions believes…” because interfaith/interreligious work is ultimately about people.
Jeanette Banashak, PhD, EdD
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance across traditions.
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