One of my professors from one of my seminaries recently sent out a request for thoughts from among our ministerial community. The amazing Rev. Susan Shannon is a chaplain at San Quentin prison in California. She works with inmates in her Buddhist Prison Ministry program. (You can click the links to learn more about Susan's wonderful ministry.)
Susan shared that she had one prisoner, a student in her prison program, who was deeply interested in the question of what it means to be an "Interfaith" practitioner. Specifically, Susan shared: "When I went through (seminary), I remember there was the sentiment that being truly interfaith is being rooted in one faith, then perceiving all truths through that lens, versus being immersed in a smorgasbord and not adhering to any. " and she asked we in the community of Interfaith ministers for our thoughts on this, to share with her student.
Because this very question has been asked of me by a number of people exploring Interfaith spirituality, I wanted to share with you the thoughts I shared with Susan and her student.
Here you go:
Dear Friend on The Path,
Here are some of my musings on what it means to be an "Interfaith" practitioner. It is a bit long and rambly, so bear with me; I do conclude with some thoughts that I hope might be interesting to you on your journey. Take what resonates for you, feel welcome to dump the rest!
In my wonderful job as Spiritual Advisor/Chaplain in hospice, I have been blessed to be the "clergy" half of a clinician/clergy team creating a program for integration of spirituality in health care in our hospice organization. In our first training, we invited people to share their definition of "Spirituality". I want to share one of my favorites; it is written by Helena Mailloux, Associate Director at Community Health and Counseling Services Hospice, Bangor, ME. Helena says:
“I believe spirituality is an expression/reflection of a person’s core nature. Spirituality is ever- changing and fluid as a person seeks to finding meaning and purpose in their life. One’s spiritual beliefs and how one defines spirituality are purposely influenced by the individual’s unique life experiences, their relationships and their intentional journey towards finding purpose, peace and gratitude in life’s blessings.”
I love this definition because is is both inclusive and alive! It infers that spirituality belongs to EVERYONE (even Atheists), and it offers each of us the invitation to evolve our spirituality as we grow and change as human beings.
And so if you are a person investigating Interspirituality, this definition gives you license to choose for yourself, without judgement. It invites you to be fluid in your experience of spirituality - - If you like this definition, then perhaps you could also be fluid in your ideas about how you want to name yourself, spiritually speaking, how you want to practice, how you want to see yourself in relation to your spirituality.
Another thought that might be of use is this:
Some years back, I was attending a monthly interfaith gathering. There were about 6-7 folks who regularly showed up, and one was adamant that she was there to assist us all in converting to her religion so we would not go to hell. One very quiet man, not surprisingly a Buddhist, who almost never spoke, shared. . . he went around the circle asking each of us how we arrived to the location that evening. When all had shared "I took a bus", "I walked here", "I got a ride from so and so..." the man simply and quietly said "Well. We are all HERE, aren't we." Implying, of course, that the point is not the path you took, but that all the paths lead to arrival, and (again, of course), the spiritual meaning being that it is not the religion you choose that "gets you there", but the fact that your intention and focus with what you hold sacred - whatever that sacred may be - will bring you Home if you ride it there. Sacred is Sacred, however you arrive. . .
I like the story because to me it gives us license to walk our path, whatever it is, however it winds. . . and to call it by whatever name we seek to call it.
Also, I am a part of an Interspiritual group of Spiritual Directors; my fellow SD's (most of whom have been practicing for at least a decade, many of us for many decades) and I have still different words (interfaith, interspiritual, etc), and different views on what makes one "interfaith". . . We agree to disagree and respect each other's choices and views anyway. And I ask this: can a truly spiritual person see their own views as greater or lesser than someone else's? I, personally, think NOT.
My view on what makes you truly an Interfaith practitioner is this:
Whether you feel a deep commitment to ONE faith and view others through that lens, or whether you own a connection to an eclectic "smorgasbord" of faith practices that heal or open or uplift you - - It is up to YOU to discern, define and describe yourself AS YOU SEE FIT. And maybe the fact that we humans continue to evolve - and thus shift - our definitions of SELF, and our experiences of The Spiritual - is exactly the point. For some, adherence to ONE faith, or one person, or one job, or one location (etc) is what brings them growth. For others, CHANGE is actually the vehicle of awakening. And no one but yourself can decide which is true for you. . .
For me, what is most important is always: your INNER BAROMETER. . . that still, quiet place within you that whispers a firm, solid "yes" (or "no") - separate from our emotional desires, separate from our logical mind's musings. . . the "still, small voice" (which I will say that in my case is often a big, loud yell) rises up from a combination - not of thought and feeling - but of The BODY's deep connection to AUTHENTICITY and the SPIRIT or SOUL's vast and unknowable connection to That Which Is Greater Than Ourselves.
So, from this vantage point, after the thinking and feeling and puzzling stage has worn itself out, there is nothing to do but lay back and expand - feel deeply into body-knowing of your bones and listen with the HEART to the whisperings of Beingness/Goddess/God/HigherSelf (or whatever your name for "It" may be at the moment.).
If you feel "Interfaith" is the name for your spirituality, then you get to choose that title, no matter what anyone else has to say about it.
Blessings upon your Amazing Journey!
Rev. Maya Massar