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.
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."
SGTI co-founder, Jan Lundy, has had an article published by Spiritual Directors International on their blog. Her piece, "Celebrating Spiritual Difference: Curiosity, Connection and Hospitality," features "5 Steps to Fostering Interspiritual Hospitality."
She writes, "I sense, however, because our rational minds are habituated to dominating every conversation, even the most mystical, that we may have to unlearn and relearn new ways of welcome; of holding presence for and being in Presence with others whose traditions may differ from our own. Let us consider the following ... (read more)
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Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual companionship across traditions.
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