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.
Have you subscribed yet?
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.
If you enjoyed this selection, subscribe to more. We love creating them and sending them out into the world for people like you to enjoy!
We are pleased to present Part 2 of our conversation with Matt Whitney of Spiritual Directors International about what it means to "live a contemplative life" and how one goes about doing that.
In this new podcast, we also speak about the goals, format and work of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute and, specifically, our 18-mos. training program with a new cohort beginning in August.
We hope you find this conversation meaningful and helpful in your own life of living into Mystery.
(If you missed Part 1, "Spiritual Fluidity," you can listen to it through this link as well.)
Friends, we are pleased to announce the release of a new SDI (Spiritual Directors International) podcast featuring SGTI cofounders, Jan and Jeanette, on "Spiritual Fluidity." Please take a listen as they are interviewed by SDI's Matt Whitney. This conversation may speak to your heart, especially if you are a spiritually independent person, or someone who companions people who are inclined this way.
Here is how Matt introduced us in the podcast:
Jan Lundy and Jeanette Banashak are longtime members of SDI, they are spiritual directors, and founders of a unique training program called the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute – which educates and equips people to be spiritual directors and companions.
This episode is Part 1, with a focus on what it looks like to be a “spiritual independent” or “spiritually fluid”. It doesn’t mean you have no faith tradition (though it might), but in your life’s journey to commune with mystery and the ground of all being, you may find that no one particular tradition has all the answers you seek. What is perhaps most true is that each person’s spiritual journey is unique, and not easily identified by a way of thinking or an ideology. Jan and Jeanette both have been on this journey personally and vocationally.
Part 2 will premier next week.
You can listen to (and download) the podcast on these channels:
Step out of the circle of time,
and into the circle of love.
When we attended the Spiritual Directors Conference in Seattle in March we became aware of the ever-growing need for spiritual companionship for people of all traditions (and none)—BY people of all traditions and then some.
SDI has been moving forward to expand the understanding and practice of spiritual companionship—beyond formal spiritual direction. We at SGTI support this effort. There are a myriad of ways we can companion individuals of various religious, spiritual and ethical traditions and many forms of training one might be able to take to get comfortable with doing so.
When we think of all the heart-centered individuals in various caring professions—chaplains, social workers, counselors, coaches, hospice workers and health-care professionals, clergy and lay servants, spiritual and secular community leaders, and more—who might want to expand their understanding and practice of compassionate presence and care, our hearts open even wider.
The world is in such great need of healing and many of its citizens are ailing, feeling spiritually uncertain, isolated or unsupported. A spiritual companion is someone who can hold presence for someone right where they are, just as they are. No matter their religious, spiritual or ethical framework, a properly and ethically trained companion can serve others individually and collectively.
Spiritual Directors International defines spiritual companionship in this way:
"Spiritual direction or companionship inspires people to experience authenticity in their lives as they connect with and explore the ground of all being, that deepest of truths which is beyond life and death and goes by many names, including God, and no name at all."
In keeping with this international movement to promote and expand spiritual companionship, SGTI has expanded its 5-month training program to be more inclusive.
We are pleased to announce "Interfaith/Interspiritual Wisdom Training." This innovative training program is for people in all the caring professions. online program results in a Certificate in Interfaith/Interspiritual Competence. This will prepare you to companion and serve seekers of various religious, spiritual and ethical traditions.
The premier cohort is now forming and we invite you to learn more about "Interfaith/Interspiritual Wisdom Training" and listen deeply to hear if this kind of offering might serve you and those YOU serve very well.
We welcome your questions and look forward to hearing from you and do hope you will consider joining us—and enter the "circle of love" of which Rumi spoke.
At the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, we include listening practices and techniques in each of our modules. One of the ways we practice deepening our listening is to reflect on how we are doing with our own listening in various contexts. During our spring residential institute, our students spent some time one-on-one with a peer and discussed a relevant topic for the day’s theme. After the discussion, we met back together and asked, “What did you notice about your listening?”
The following include paraphrases of some of our students’ responses:
• I noticed my body and what I do with it while listening.
• As I was listening to the story, I was thinking that I knew the end to the story, so I didn’t fully listen in the moment.
• I felt a need to want to affirm their theory.
• I felt distracted by the listening techniques.
• I was wondering where my eyes go when I am listening.
This list is not an exhaustive list, but a collection of responses that represent a range of thoughts or feelings that emerge while we are listening. Being able to name some of them is a way to first acknowledge the transient nature of our thoughts and feelings and then to let them go so we can be fully present with our companion. By offering our attention to the person in front of us, or on the other end of a phone/Zoom/Skype call, we engage in the practice of companionship. We not only getin touch with the sacred in another and in ourselves, but we also touch the sacred in another and in ourselves. And that may be one of the greatest gifts we can offer another.
The Spiritual Guidance Institute recently spent a fabulous week together at our spring residential institute. We camped out at the Cenacle Center, a wonderfully hospitable retreat center on the northside of Chicago. The week’s activities were quite varied: We incorporated teachings on development and the enneagram, practiced deep listening with our unique methodology Pure Presence, had a day of silence, ate community meals together, met with a Cenacle sister, and visited the Hindu Temple in Lemont, an Ash Wednesday service at a Presbyterian church, IMAN (Inner-city Muslim Action Network), and a Muslim/Christian dialogue dinner. It was a week to remember!
We feel grateful to our students for the productive conversations and presence during the week. And we are grateful to our friends who hosted us and shared their sacred stories with us.
Our next cohort will begin in August 2019. An interfaith immersion experience like this could be yours! Learn more.
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!
Here at The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute we assist our students in developing "sacred listening." One of the tools we use to do so is a unique protocol developed by Dr. Janice Lundy called "Pure Presence™." The methodology and practices are intended to open one's heart to listen to others in ways that are "pure"— without bias, judgment, or hidden agendas. This allows us to transcend religious doctrine, cultural prejudice, or anything that could keep us separated from our fellow human beings. It enables us to create a space for connection and healing to happen within a spiritual guidance session.
We could say that we at SGTI are trying to foster "hearts as wide as the world." In our final learning module with Cohort 1 students we explored this concept, and invited them to share their understanding of "a heart as wide as the world." This is what one of our students, Jeffrey Phillips, wrote:
“The heart of the world” – what is that? Is it the social world misshapen by structures and systems that seem unchangeable, and that, more often than not, go unnoticed by people who have been taught to not see and question unjust schemes? Is it the world itself – beautiful, dying, the original body of God? Is it the world of creativity, imagination, science, curiosity, discovery, spirituality, primal experiences, social bonding, sexuality, and the arts?
Or it is God – that which beats (like a heart) at the center (the heart) of all things? The goodness, the joy, the love, the moral imperative to care? Being, Consciousness, Existence, Spirit, Mystery, Eternity – experienced in shared, sacred story, symbol, rituals, concepts, and completely unorthodox (“profane,” “secular”) and unexpected numinous, luminous places, people, and circumstances?
How does one listen to that Heart? By taking time in the daily practice, by stepping outside the ordinary routines to attend the festival of a different social group or take a new course. By paying attention to your toothbrush – really looking at it for the first time! By sitting when you could be busy. By resting when you could be working. By savoring a conversation, a meal, a day. By being when you could be doing. By reading a poem slowly – really chewing on it - rather than reading the news. By “praying the news,” and considering those stubborn social systems and the suffering they inflict on innocent folk.
And then by reflecting on that toothbrush-looking, that sitting, that being, that soulful reading, that news praying. And doing it again the next day – or doing something completely different. Or maybe by approaching a daily practice with no agenda at all other than to Be Open, and to see – and hear! - what happens in the moment, in the here, in the now. I have learned that this last year and a half.
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Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual companionship across traditions.
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