Category Archives: Interfaith

Holding Common Space

Common Space Interfaith Initiative’s first interfaith gathering was held at St Scholastica Monastery in Boerne, Texas in 2008. The idea was, and remains to this day, to share contemplative practices between faith traditions, and this particular retreat was a sharing of Christian and Buddhist meditation practices. We had 24 Christians and one Buddhist show up–my co-presentor. We were no doubt asking for that by hosting it at a Christian monastery, go figure!

Times haven’t changed at all in terms of our ability to predict the balance of attendees from different faiths at particular events, although it strikes me that Christians may be the most existentially curious group and perhaps the most open to learning about other traditions. It’s extremely hard to find out what will call some people to want to share space with strangers from different paths, but for me it’s about creating peaceful understanding in a complicated world. As far my role as facilitator goes, I’ve stopped altogether trying to identify individual needs and now just see my role as “one who holds space.”

There seem to be three key ingredients to holding common space between faiths: the first, finding a neutral location; another, the need to co-opt a capable co-presentor from the other traditions; and lastly, the need to present a form of “safe” practice, not one potentially at odds with the belief systems of your colleagues in circle. 

Thankfully, Common Space here in San Antonio no longer needs to borrow space from churches and monasteries, although I was extremely grateful for the early help. The neutral ground we have found for ourselves is in a community center which houses different non-profits, a local theater, and some other small businesses. Our meeting rooms are attached to a church, so we have the benefit of access to larger space if we need it, for presentations, visiting speakers, and so on, but the automatic association is not with Christian space. We have our own entrance and there is no religious symbolism to be seen on our route in or out.

Finding the co-presentor who is considered an authority by his or her faith colleagues in circle can be a challenge, and may take some time to finesse. However, once the right person comes your way, you stand a much better chance of gaining group members from that faith. With many potential attendees, the question is one of tradition and having the authority to speak. For instance, in a Sufi environment, Muslim attendees usually want to know the lineage of the prayer leader, to be sure they are properly authorized to lead.

Once the pragmatics of the space have been negotiated, “safe” practice become the key to having people return. The space has to be a place of comfort where attendees do not feel any risk of spiritual dissonance, including the risk of participating in a manner that  goes against their belief system. Here, I’ve found the silent meditative practice of Centering Prayer particularly useful: those in circle can choose a sacred word for their practice in keeping with  their tradition and we can alternate the texts used to open and close the circle between traditions.

There is so much more to say here, but I’ll follow up on these themes in later posts. Suffice to say that it is an honor to hold space between faiths, to provide that fertile liminal ground where peaceful miracles can happen. This liminal space between, however, is a fragile, delicate thing that needs to be nurtured like a wild rose: the petals can fall very fast without proper care.

 

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After Borough Market

It is one day after the killings in Borough Market, London, by ISIL extremists, and nine days into the holy month of Ramadan. Seven people are dead and 21 remain critically injured. Londoners will continue, as Londoners always do, about their daily tasks, with glancing echoes of half-remembered Churchillian rhetoric in mind. And rightly so.

We make a terrible mistake, and I see it in news media daily, of referring to the terrorists as Islamist or Muslimist extremists. Teresa May did it again today, when she decried the tolerant attitude of Britain towards Islamist extremism. Politicians have, of late, experimented with terms like Daesh and ISIL but we seem to have settled on “Islamist extremism,” for reasons unclear. This phrase only fuels intolerance towards our peace-loving Muslim neighbors, particularly from right-wing groups, ready like powder-kegs in a drought. The only justifiable case for it is as a way to pressure good Muslims to deal with their bad Muslims. We must, though, be disciplined in our word choices—truly, the devil is in the detail–because loose language causes our friends fear and pain, subjecting them to prejudice and injustice, day after day after day.

I’ve been trying hard to understand how extremist violence can fit at all with the beautifully interwoven spiritual and material realities of this sacred time of Ramadan. The solid, material fact is that it doesn’t, and we need to put distance between our ideas of ISIL terrorism and the fragrant, sacred beauty at the heart of Islam. “Ramadan Kareem” to all our peace-full and Spirit-full Muslim brothers and sisters at this holy time. Salaam aleikum all.

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Rumi: On Nature and the Horse

RUMI & NATURE

I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels blest; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e’er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones, ‘To Him we shall return.’

“Is the sweetness of the cane sweeter
than the one who made the canefield?
Behind the beauty of the moon is the moonmaker.
There is intelligence inside the ocean’s
intelligence
feeding our love like an invisible waterwheel.
There is a skill to making cooking oil from animal fat.
Consider now the knack that makes eyesight
from the shining jelly of your eyes.
Dawn comes up like a beautiful meal being served.
We are hungry and distracted, so in love with the cook.
Don’t just be proud of your mustache
as you drive three donkeys down the road.
Instead of gemstones, love the jeweler.
Enough of these exhaling sounds.
Let the darling finish this
who turns listening into seeing.”

“Be like the sun for grace and mercy.
Be like the night to cover others’ faults.
Be like running water for generosity.
Be like death for rage and anger.
Be like the Earth for modesty.
Appear as you are.
Be as you appear.”

“Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
Why would you refuse to give
this joy to anyone?

Fish don’t hold the sacred liquid in cups!
They swim the huge fluid freedom.”

RUMI & THE HORSE

“The mind is an ocean…I and so many worlds
are rolling there, mysterious, dimly seen!
And our bodies? Our body is a cup, floating
on the ocean; soon it will fill, and sink…
Not even one bubble will show where it went down.
The spirit is so near that you can’t see it!
But reach for it…don’t be a jar
full of water, whose rim is always dry.
Don’t be the rider who gallops all night
and never sees the horse that is beneath him.”

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