On August 22, we welcomed our new SGTI students into the exciting dimension of interfaith/interspiritual guidance. Eleven individuals joined us in Chicago for a sumptuous week of learning and day pilgrimages to various holy houses. They came from around the U.S. and Canada, embracing many different religious, spiritual and ethical persuasions.
One of the highlights was a pilgrimage to the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago. We experienced a wonderful tour by a senior member of this community and witnessed devotional practice happening in each of the two temples. The above photo was taken on the grounds in front of a memorial to Swami Vivekananda, who is best known as introducing Hinduism to the West in 1893 at the first Parliament of the World's Religions held in Chicago. He was the first "ambassador" of interfaith connection and addressed Parliament attendees as "brothers and sisters," something quite unheard of back in the day.
We also took part in a Shabbat Service at Anshe Emet Synagogue, the 3rd oldest synagogue in Chicago. At the Midwest Buddhist Temple we participated in their Sunday morning Family Service and met with Rev. Ron who compassionately (and with great humor) guided us through the framework of Shin Buddhism.
Our new community of SGTI learners also benefitted from their classroom studies—the interspirituality of Br. Wayne Teasdale and interfaith spiritual direction through the lenses of Rabbi Howard Addison. We often played games together at night and laughed a lot, we ate Lou Malnatis' famous Chicago pizza, and appreciated the beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline.
What a glorious week it was and we feel blessed to be journeying with such deep and compassionate people who desire to serve as spiritual directors/companions/guides, offering their unconditional, compassionate presence to others.
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.
The mystic and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, famously said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” When we pursue the spiritual life, we pursue the human life. What does it mean to be human? And, what does it mean for a child to be human? In this essay, I suggest how parents’ understanding and practice of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) and scaffolding enable children to be and become more human.
Lev Vygotsky defined the ZPD as "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers". The ZPD is significant when a skill may be too difficult to grasp on their own. In this zone, the adult or peer provides guidance, support, and/or encouragement to the child, which helps them operate at a higher level within the zone. The adult or peer is constantly modifying the task in order for the child to amplify understanding.
While Vygotsky never used the term scaffolding, David Wood, Jerome Bruner, and Gail Ross define scaffolding as a process "that enables a child or novice to solve a task or achieve a goal that would be beyond [their] unassisted efforts." Scaffolding entails activities facilitated by an adult or peer (e.g. modeling, making meaning of seemingly insignificant actions, or breaking down a task into smaller tasks, to name a few) that support the child in the ZPD. The goal is for the child to be able to complete the task on their own. Both the ZPD and scaffolding promote knowledge and understanding for the child.
The ZPD and scaffolding also provide a way for children to make ethical choices and ask questions about their existence. Adults and peers can engage in conversations with children that invite them to answer the how and why questions children have and make meaning of them. At a Parliament of World’s Religions breakfast last week week, I learned about the interreligious organization Spiritual Playdate, where facilitators create opportunities for dialogue between adult and child around spiritual issues. Together, they “explore and discover beliefs…”. Exploration and discovery are very different than monologues by adults about what a child ought to believe. The emphasis is more on being and becoming than believing, belonging, or behaving (to borrow a phrase from Elizabeth Drescher’s Choosing Our Religion).
Within trusting and safe environments and relationships, children try on new and different identities and behaviors; they question their values, preferences, and motives; and they explore and discover what it means to be human. The concepts of the ZPD and scaffolding offer insights into why we can’t be neutral, non-participating adults when it comes to nurturing the humanness of children. Rather, we can join them in their exploration and play, encourage their curiosity, and listen deeply to their questions.
Jeanette Banashak, PHD, EdD.
The term "interspirituality" is still a fairly new term in terms of public awareness. Many people who might consider themselves to be "interfaith", are often called deeper: to explore the intersection of religious/spiritual experience on more universal soul level.
These people are often mystics, and sense a deeper thread of universal truth running through the religious traditions of the world. Perhaps they've never used the term "interspiritual" to describe themselves, but, in truth they just might be.
In 1999, Br. Wayne Teasdale, a Catholic monk who also practiced in the Hindu tradition, spoke of "the mystic heart," the meeting place of all the world's spiritual traditions—a deep well of wisdom sourced in Ultimate Reality that anyone can access.
Here at SGTI, we are proponents of this deep well of wisdom. We are encouragers of mystic hearts. To that end, we have now made a dynamic new e-course available to all seekers and companions (not just our students): "Enter the Mystic Heart: An Introduction to Interspirituality."
Created by Dr. Janice Lundy, it is a self-paced, downloadable course with 12 dynamic lessons, including videos and audios, to help deepen your understanding of your own mystic heart, or the hearts of those you companion. This unique course is both an informational, content-rich class and an opportunity to engage in spiritual formation through an interspiritual lens.
We hope you will take advantage of this unique opportunity!
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.
Interspiritual Meditation - Christian Meditation
Nada te turbe,
nada te espante
todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda,
todo lo alcanza,
quien a Dios tiene
nada le falta
solo Dios basta.
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
-St. Teresa of Ávila
The Second in a Series of Interspiritual Meditations
“Subhuti, if anyone gave to the Buddha an immeasurable quantity of the seven treasures sufficient to fill the whole universe; and if another person, whether a man or woman, in seeking to attain complete Enlightenment were to earnestly and faithfully observe and study even a single section of this Sutra and explain it to others, the accumulated blessing and merit of that latter person would be far greater.”
“Subhuti, how can one explain this Sutra to others without holding in mind any arbitrary conception of forms or phenomena or spiritual truths? It can only be done, Subhuti, by keeping the mind in perfect tranquility and free from any attachment to appearances.”
“So I say to you –
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:”
“Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.”
“So is all conditioned existence to be seen.”
Thus spoke Buddha.
-Diamond Sutra: Chapter 32
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 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!
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Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual companionship across traditions.
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