The Wondering Process of Spiritual Inquiry: A Description of an Interreligious Event in Chicago
One of the ways in which the SGTI engages with others who practice different religious, spiritual and ethical traditions is by participating in ‘day pilgrimages’, which are experiences in sacred spaces. Recently, one of our co-founders attended an event that The Chicago Theological Seminary, in collaboration with the Lutheran School of Theology Chicago, Parliament of World’s Religions, American Islamic College, and Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council hosted: A trolley tour through Chicago in acknowledgment and celebration of the convergence of so many sacred holidays during the month of April.
The trolley tour stopped at five different sites and the experience culminated with iftar, the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during the month of Ramadan.
The title of this post is credited to a statement that one of Chicago Theological Seminary’s staff used in an introduction to the event. Indeed, the entire day felt like a “wondering process of spiritual inquiry” as we made our way through Chicago’s diverse southside neighborhoods. The first stop was Rockefeller Chapel, a Gothic Revival Chapel on Chicago Theological Seminary’s campus. We heard from three speakers: a Sikh who described Vaisakhi, the collective unification of the Sikh community; a Hindu who discussed Ram Navami, which celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, the seventh avatar of the deity Vishnu; and a Jain, who discussed the celebration of Vardhaman Mahavir, the birth of the last enlightened one.
On our second stop we visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, a former Jewish synagogue and the birthplace of gospel music. At the church, we heard from the leadership about the Christian holiday, Easter which celebrates the cycle of life, death, and resurrection.
On our third stop we visited KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Chicago. There, we learned about the Jewish holiday, Passover, where Jews look to the past to remember the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in ancient Egypt and expectantly look to the future.
On our fourth stop we visited Claret Center, an organization that incorporates psychotherapy, spiritual direction, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, and workshops. We also had a conversation with two scholars and practitioners who identify as multiply religious: an ordained Buddhist and ordained Christian who identifies as Christo-Buddhist and an ordained Buddhist priest and Zen monk.
Our fifth stop before returning to the seminary for iftar was a mosque, the Taqwa Center for Community Excellence Rehab Project associated with the African-American Muslim leader, theologian, philosopher, Muslim revivalist, and Islamic thinker, Warith Deen Mohammed. We learned about Muslim culture and the celebration of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset.
On our final stop, we learned more about Ramadan and participated in a prayer before iftar. We considered how fasting is both a metaphor for emptiness for God to inhabit, as well as a mechanism for calling us to live in an “altered and restored state where we are more connected to people”.
The overall experience was very positive and served to facilitate new questions about the traditions, people and practices; considerations of interior movements, such as thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions, and attractions; physical/body sensations that were felt during the event; and growth in appreciative knowledge for the dedicated and devoted seekers of the religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions. Experiences like the trolley tour and iftar remind us that building relationships across traditions enhances respect and understanding, promotes continued learning, improves our attitudes towards differences, highlights our commonalities, and diminishes fear.
We extend our gratitude to Chicago Theological Seminary and additional collaborators and sponsors for hosting such a meaningful event.
~ Jeanette Banashak
This spring, SGTI, SGTI students and alumni, as well as 1600 others, participated in Spiritual Directors International’s first virtual conference. We asked the SGTI community the following questions as a way to serve as a debrief of the conference, learn from each other, and share with our readers: What insights did you gain from this year's SDI conference? How might those insights inform your current or future practice of spiritual companionship/spiritual direction?
One alumna offered this response (used by permission):
I need sustained belonging within a contemplative learning community. Yet, strong communities of deep-diving seekers actively engaged in the world are truly hard to find. For me, SGTI is such a community. Yet, since this January, after graduating from the 18-month training in inter-spiritual guidance, I’ve feared that my experience of belonging within my cohort would weaken and fade over time, until I was once again without the community nourishment I relished as a SGTI student and need now, more than ever. As winter shifted toward spring, I lived inside this fear, confused and unsettled as I continued discerning how to fit my new growth as spiritual director into my already full life as art therapist and teacher of graduate art therapy students.
In this unsettled place, I considered cancelling my registration for the Spiritual Directors International virtual conference. I doubted I would feel nourished, or connected to other attendees, by spending yet more hours in front of a computer screen. But this would be my first time attending an SDI conference, and I hoped it might offer ways to see more clearly where I am and where I am headed. And so, I showed up, living my questions, hoping to be touched in some way.
I now am at a loss for words to describe how much I was touched by during the conference. Simply put, I no longer feel afraid. Instead, I feel like the little boat of belonging within which I sailed as part of our intimate SGTI cohort has been taken on board the much larger vessel of SDI, within which I can continue to grow, learn, and find connections to fellow seekers who are as engaged as I am. Deeply inspired by Father Adam Bucko’s workshop and keynote presentation, I am now reading his book on new monasticism and I feel affirmed that I have been a modern-day monastic literally my whole life. Through SGTI and SDI, I have found my fellow monks.
On the first day of the SDI conference, I woke to find a wet, heavy snow coating April’s greening new life with strange winter garb. This snow continued off and on all day. As I sat in my home in Indianapolis attending the day’s virtual offerings, I grieved for the spring-growth I was sure would be frozen and ruined. Instead, when the snow melted, to my surprise, most everything survived and kept blooming.
As I returned to my normal routine after the conference, my delight at spring recovering from winter’s last blast has been co-mingled with my delight at having found connection to SDI’s abundant community of contemplative learners. A grouping of yellow, purple and white pansies is how nature conveys for me these overlapping delights. As I look into the faces of these flowers, I see brightly dressed monks with wide-eyed singing expressions. And I feel like one of them, not alone. This is how I felt throughout the entire 4-day SDI conference and how I continue to feel after it. Like pansies surviving frosts and snows, we contemplatives live amidst the suffering caused by humanity’s frozen-heartedness, and willingly serve it, again and again, helping hearts thaw and spirits bloom. And we find each other. Somehow in this non-contemplative, struggling world, we keep seeking until we find each other. Thanks to SGTI, and in new ongoing ways through SDI, I have truly found belonging within a vibrant community of beautiful, flowering, hardy, courageous spirits who are committed to strengthening each other so that we can live authentically in this suffering world and serve with love.”
Another alumna shared this in response (used by permission):
"A sense of belonging was a big take home for me, too. The strongest sense for me was what felt like a palpable urge for the SDI community to respond to the blights that have plagued our larger social landscape more than ever, especially since COVID struck. This sense of purpose came across much stronger to me than it had when I went to the previous two SDI conferences. I felt that within this culture of SD (spiritual direction) and Interspirituality, there’s a unique contribution we can make and all want to make together.
I also felt a sense that we’re learning as we go. One participant shared that SDs have up till now mostly concerned themselves with the inner life of their companions and their immediate social circles. But there has not been sufficient concern for the collective in SD practice. And it’s that concern that I felt many of the keynote speakers and much of our community express. I was really impressed and heartened that it’s possible to align my love of contemplative practice and Interspirituality with a crying urgency to do our parts to hold up the values of democracy, empirical truth and decent regard for all people walking our streets.”
We heard other comments and reflections that all spoke to the richness and depth of this year’s conference. We echo these reflections and continue to be grateful to SDI for the many ways it supports us and our communities. We are forever changed."
How Do You See Yourself?
Recently, SGTI welcomed Dr. Beverly Lanzetta to its "Interspiritual Luminaries" webinar series. She spoke candidly about the invitation that many of us are feeling today to turn inward and explore more deeply how we see and name ourselves. What is unique about our religious/spiritual orientation? She encourages us to re-think how we view ourselves and our relationship with the Sacred. We are reminded of the quote by Rumi: " There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
To do what Dr. Lanzetta suggests, we take time to not only explore the expressions of other traditions, but listen deeply within our heart-mind to discern how the Divine may be uniquely calling us. How does this manifestation of the Divine encourage us to live in alignment with our deepest values and highest purpose? How do we engage an authentic life that honors how God/Brahman/Tao/G!D/Allah/Ultimate Reality makes itself known to us? Deep silence and spiritual practice can point the way.
Here at SGTI, we often use the terms interfaith and interspiritual. These terms describe the orientation of our studies. We, as instructors, as well as our students, may describe ourselves in a multitude of ways. All ways are honored here.
Dr. Lanzetta provides us with some enlightening definitions and descriptions of ways we can see ourselves, naming our experience of the Sacred. We invite you to explore some of these definitions on this page of her website. Perhaps they will help you discern an answer to the question, "How do you see yourself?"
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.