At the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, we are constantly amazed at the wonderful inter-religious gatherings that we have been a part of that promote justice, respect, care, and conversation. We thought we would highlight three different ways to go about growing together as one interconnected community. Below, you will find some ideas about what you might experience in an inter-religious gathering, and perhaps you may be interested in facilitating your own gatherings.
One of our favorite ways to engage in dialogue revolves around a meal. Because many participants are available for dinner, this kind of gathering tends to begin at around six and last for two to two and a half hours. There are many ways to organize the dialogue, but it is common for the organizer to bring in a few differing religious, spiritual, and/or ethical perspectives around a theme while attendees sit around tables (we prefer circles). For example, themes could be death and dying, loving others and self, spiritual practices, etc. The order can vary, but generally, each of the experts or practitioners shares about their tradition’s worldview, attendees have opportunities to discuss together in small groups, attendees ask questions of the experts/practitioners, and everyone may have a chance to ask questions and discuss in a big group setting.
A storytelling event can be a powerful way to engage with others around a theme. They can include snacks or a meal, a formal or informal time to meet other attendees, an explanation of the theme by experts/practitioners/storytellers, and of course, the stories themselves. These events can last three to four hours and have many aspects to them, so we recommend inviting six storytellers to share, and coaching them, or having a coach, to teach them some tricks to the storytelling trade. We have also participated in storytelling events where the host provides prompts for attendees to write a line or two of their own stories related to the theme. These are read in between storytellers and before a new teller is announced.
Panels are good ways to engage in dialogue when the focus is on content and engaging with an expert in the field. Like dinner dialogues, panels are usually organized around a particular theme. Panels tend to be shorter in length than dinner dialogues, as they can last about an hour to two. Because the nature of panels includes asking questions and seeking answers, the key to a memorable panel is the host. This person facilitates conversation among the panelists, as well as attendees. It is also helpful when the panelists know each other and interact together in real time.
We hope that you may find a way to attend inter-religious gatherings and also to host them in whatever unique context works for you and your audience.
In his deeply insightful book, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent, Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes about the process of trying to articulate what we mean by "perennial wisdom." He shares views of this important concept from Meister Eckhart to Eknath Easwaran: "We are sifting through scriptures and teachings of many traditions that step beyond the limit of any culture and point to the Reality that cannot be named."
This is what we do here with our students at SGTI—we sift and sort to unearth universal wisdom that can benefit us all. We also do this with all people who are interested in the same by sending out weekly "Universal Wisdom" messages.
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Here is a recent sample.
"Spiritual formation, I have come to believe is not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other, and our truest selves… Prayer is standing in the presence of God with the mind in the heart – that is, in the point of our being where there are no divisions or distinctions and where we are totally one within ourselves, with God, and with others and the whole of creation."
1. Nouwen writes that the heart is the intersection of body, soul, and spirit. How does your heart guide you to make decisions?
2. As you look within your heart, what do you find? You might want to spend some time in silence creating space for compassion for others, creation, and self.
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Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.
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