THE INTERFAITH COMPLEX
A CLARIFICATION OF TERMS
Interfaith spiritual practice is a phenomenon requiring an appreciation for complexity and simplicity. The simplicity is discovered in the human capacity to reverence and love all people. This rather “simple” intention becomes complex when referring to “real” people in the “real” World. We cannot love others apart from the “real” persons they are. Consequently, we must become aware of the dignity and beauty of the other person precisely as a person in their own religious and cultural context, not to mention their political and economic circumstances. Individual persons stand uniquely within the traditions from which they come. A person is appreciated “within” the context from which they arise. The complexity of interfaith work respects, celebrates, and delights in this discovery of the other person precisely as a person of beauty, dignity, and mystery. One should never conclude another person has been fully discovered or appreciated. Such a search belongs to the enterprise we call life, and it is a lifelong journey. In the final analysis, the religious “other” becomes a companion on life’s road. We need not and cannot become the same. Our differences reveal the splendor of what it means to be alive, rich, and varied.
A CLARIFICATION OF TERMS
The language of interfaith practice and spirituality is slowly developing at this present moment in our history. Never before have we humans found ourselves in such a situation. At the same time, we are experiencing unbounded creativity and the threat of world catastrophe. Our religious heritage can contribute to peace making based on justice and mutual understanding. Interfaith spirituality is no longer reserved for a few esoteric types but is rapidly becoming our hope for the future of the World and humanity. The strategies by which such a spirituality will develop are quite uncertain at this juncture. The following suggestions are precisely that – suggestions. Perhaps these provisional definitions will allow deeper dialogue and understanding of how interfaith spirituality and practice might emerge.
first triad of terms
Participants from different religious communities come together to share, work, and celebrate in an atmosphere characterized by mutual respect and common cause. Usually, participants will explain their particular faith tradition and share a prayer or ritual from their respective religious community. There is a respectful “distance” kept in such encounters. Working together on a common cause establishes the basis for coming together in a peaceful and caring manner.
THE MULTI-FAITH EXPERIENCE
Participants from humankind’s varied faith communities witness the beauty and dignity of their individual faith experiences. Participants move beyond commonality, discovering the power of differences to enrich communities and individuals of faith and common purpose. The more mystical aspect of a given tradition contributes to the quest for transcendence by which individual persons of faith converge.
THE INTERFAITH EXPERIENCE
Participants in the quest for interfaith practice discover within themselves the aspects of their experiences thought to exist only in the “other” communities of faith. Intrafaith practice invites one to explore their personal faith experience in light of the faith traditions of humankind.
THE INTRAFAITH EXPERIENCE
second triad of terms
Between the multi-faith and interfaith experiences, the quest for commonality dominates the dialogue and work of participants seeking justice and peace through mutual understanding and cooperation. Commonality assumes what we hold in common will bring different peoples of faith together. Sometimes we dismiss differences in the pursuit of commonality. Commonality occurs through dialogue resulting in agreement, consensus, and the willingness to work together.
Mystical experiences are transcendental experiences in which the boundaries of individuality dissolve as the interconnectedness of all emerges. Silence may very well characterize this experience. This experience is expressed artistically in various mediums, such as painting, music, poetry, and dance. Any religious tradition’s rituals might provide the “medium” by which transcendent interfaith rituals can develop.
If transcendence invites us to open our hearts to the faith traditions my companion shares, convergence is the destiny that surprisingly blesses the interfaith practitioner. The interconnectedness of all is not caused but discovered by intrafaith and interfaith practice. The religious other becomes a companion in the rich diversity of their uniqueness which blesses all who journey on the pathways of life.
THIRD TRIAD OF TERMS
Dispute, disagreement, and judgment are substantial aspects of any healthy dialogue. We must become aware of the hurts, fears, experiences, and hopes of others. Many faith traditions teach the necessity to repent and convert. Conversion takes place at the deepest levels of dialogue in which one becomes aware of the necessity of seeing the other as a person worthy of respect. One hears the other with one’s heart, soul, and mind.
Many teach the necessity of hearing the other without plotting an immediate response. I cannot hear if I am busy preparing my response as the other is speaking. I must listen to the other without defense or judgment. It is my privilege to hear the other who now speaks with trust that I am truly listening. Such hearing of the other invites me to be aware of aspects of myself I might otherwise never hear.
Transcendence becomes the experience of convergence in the silence of the moment. My companionship with the religious other emerges as I hear in the silence of my heart the dignity of the other emerging in me. This silence is true communion in which difference becomes delightful, and individuality becomes a gift of self for the well-being of the other. Nothing speaks to the mutuality of the heart more than the stillness of silence.
FOURTH TRIAD OF TERMS
There was a time when tolerance was a radical breakthrough in the complex world of faith, spirituality, and religion. Some thought it was erroneous to tolerate the faith tradition of the religious other since error has no rights. Tolerance permits the other to exist. From any point of view, tolerance is merely a starting point.
Perhaps respect is the lost virtue. Respect recognizes the dignity of the religious other who becomes my companion on the journey. My companion is not my possession. It is my blessing and privilege to be graced with this companion.
Delight is the sign indicating the deeper practice of interfaith spirituality. The sounds, prayers, rituals, and teachings of the faith traditions of humankind delight my soul, transform my life and lift me up to new heights of insight and wisdom.
FIFTH TRIAD OF TERMS
As my companion and I work together, we discover the commonality of different teachings, beliefs, and practices. Now our quest is no longer dependent upon agreements and common work. What we enjoy in common is our humanity. We quest together to be fully human and fully alive. We discover our commonality in our shared humanity.
I once defined myself as someone who needed to be defined within safe and secure boundaries. I viewed myself as an object to be preserved and secured over and against others, especially those of different beliefs, cultures, languages, or races. The commonality of work and belief matured into the awareness of our shared humanity. Our differences are delightful, fostering mutual companionship by which and in which the individuality of persons can flourish. I now treasure the uniqueness of my companion; without whose love my uniqueness might have never been discovered.
The great faith traditions of humankind teach the necessity of losing the self to find the deeper meaning of life. I have learned to love without demanding anything in return. Instead, I invite others into my presence so that I might revere and honor them. I have come to realize my heart’s capacity to love beyond the limits the World might have imposed upon me.
SIXTH TRIAD OF TERMS
Inherent in the human experience is the frightening perception our lives belong to and result from powers beyond our ability to comprehend. Ritual sacrifice of plant, animal, human, natural element, or some creative combination attempts to appease these perceived powers so they will not harm, punish, or annihilate humans or the World. These rituals attempt to make sense of suffering. Deep within our human self-experience, we often feel the need “to appease the gods” and repent.
Often confused with rigid ritual or legalism, religion is associated by many with official creeds, beliefs, and set practices. The word “religion” dysfunctions as a catch-all word for the Traditions of Humankind. Attempts at comparative religion emphasize the commonality of beliefs to such an extent that the essential and distinctive insights and traits of the particular Traditions can become obscure if not lost.
The word “spiritual” challenges any idea the quest for purpose and meaning is a part-time affair. While religion and religious practices can be relegated to certain aspects of life, spiritual practice is holistic and integrated. “Spiritual” primarily points to the integration of life as a whole. Every part of life reflects the human quest for meaning, purpose, and understanding.
Sympathy naturally arises as we encounter the hurts and anguish of others. We might not even know who they are. Painful information about another’s plight or distress moves us instinctively to feel pain and hurt in the wake of encountering another’s hurt and pain. The suffering, anguish, or plight of the other “reminds” me of my own distress. I feel for the other based on my own experience. My experience is the basis for compassion.
Empathy engages intentional emotional responses to the plight and suffering of the other by imagining what it is like to be in the other person’s situation. Based on the human condition, I “feel” the pain of another as my own. More importantly, I feel the pain of another beyond any self-reference.
I deliberately and consciously “cross over” into the worldview of another person experiencing their feelings and situations. I no longer see things from my perspective but from the stance of my companion. I consciously and deliberately seek to “know” the worldview and experience of my companion. I journey back to myself transformed by such an encounter.
SEVENTH TRIAD OF TERMS
With this set of terms, we cross over to The Interpath Project, wondering if and how it is possible to absorb our companion’s experience on the road of life so as to see and experience the World from their vantage point. The potential to do so lies deep within the human mind and conscience. We know this potential to “cross over” is so sorely needed if we are to survive and strive. We believe this epoch in human history will become known as The Age of Greater Consciousness. Our potential for mindfulness, consciousness, and alertness to the well-being of others is no longer the result of the pursuit of the esoteric but a necessity for “ordinary” life.
THE INTERFAITH COMPLEX ATTEMPTS AT A STABLE VOLBULARY
As religious and spiritual persons we base our lives on an Ultimate Reality, and draw spiritual power and hope there from, in trust, in prayer or meditation, in word or silence. We have a special responsibility for the welfare of all humanity and care for the planet Earth. We do not consider ourselves better than other women and men, but we trust that the ancient wisdom of our religions can point the way for the future.
COUNCIL OF THE PARLIAMENT OF THE WORLD’S RELIGIONS
SEPTEMBER 4, 1993
The World’s faith traditions belong to every person by virtue of our common humanity. As a practitioner of a particular Tradition, for example, I can ritualize, think, and act as I am creatively inspired by the practice of another tradition and ponder as yet another Tradition inspires me. As an individual practitioner of Interspirituality, I enjoy a heightened awareness of being in the Presence of others as their insights and stories transform and touch my life.
I practice my own faith tradition according to its deepest spiritual principles. I discover those aspects of my Tradition which invite me to self-transcendence as I forgo all forms and temptations to see myself in competition with those who would be my spiritual companion. My rootedness in my own Tradition is the basis from which I discover what graces me and invites me to journey without hesitation or fear.
EXPERIENCE, TRUST, AND COMPANIONSHIP
Explanation gives way to experience. I sit quietly and well-centered in the silence of my soul, listening to the other emerging as my spiritual companion on life’s journey. The prayer and rituals of my companion bless me as I arise out of my fears and anxieties. I embrace the courage to hear the other as my companion. I practice, consciously, trusting the other who is confident I will be their faithful companion.
BLESSED BY THE “OTHER” BECOMING COMPANION
As I enter into the quiet and stillness of my soul, I experience the power of my humanity to act humanely and lovingly. I forgo the necessity to judge those who believe differently than I do. The Presence of my companion now blesses me with the openness to encounter those I once merely tolerated or even disrespected because of my fears and / or hurts based on unfortunate experiences and misunderstandings. I realize anew my capacity to forgive. I realize I might need to forgive myself and seek the forgiveness of others. I come to realize I might harbor negativity and a condemning judgment against others. I feel the call to make peace with myself as I come to realize how blessed I am to be in the Presence of one I might have feared or hated in the past.
I do not “represent” the faith tradition from which I emerge. Instead, I testify to its wisdom and splendor as a practitioner of my foundational faith tradition. All persons practice their spirituality uniquely. All persons believe uniquely. All persons pray uniquely. All persons contribute significantly. The power of any faith tradition is found in its capacity to inspire its practitioners. Faith traditions do not meet one another. Instead, persons of faith encounter each other.
THE PRACTICE OF INTERFAITH SPIRITUALITY
"… who can say where individuality begins and ends, whether the living being is one or many, whether it is the cells which associate themselves into the organism or the organism which dissociates itself into cells? In vain we force the living into this or that one of our molds. All the molds crack. They are too narrow, above all too rigid, for what we try to put into them."
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