I’m constantly discovering new answers to this question as “interfaith” can mean many things. Sometimes the word describe what happens when people of disparate religions come together for dialogue, hopefully for the sake of increased understanding and peace-building.
For others, “interfaith” is a personal identifier, a way to explain a spiritual life that is rooted in more than one religious framework. You may have heard of Bu-Jews, Hin-Jews, Zen Christians, etc. The Unitarian Universalist church is a good example of a tradition that pulls its teachings from many paths.
Brother Wayne Teasdale, a student of Father Bede Griffiths – a Catholic and a yogi – coined the term “interspiritual” to name a path dedicated to the mystical experience at the heart of every wisdom tradition. Personally, I tend to use this word, though I recently discovered the phrase “spiritually independent,” coined by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, and I like the fit better! What these words mean to me, and the way I navigate my spiritual life, is that I can find a home for my direct experiences of the divine in the many rituals or scriptures I come across. Truth comes in many forms if we allow it to (even ways that may make us feel uncomfortable – but that’s another conversation for another day!).
The more I study, the more all of the information interconnects and my understanding expands. The more I engage in spiritual practices, the more my experiences are enriched and my relationship with the Great Mystery deepens.
I have picked up on a fear about interfaith and that’s that finding truth in a framework other than your own will somehow weaken or disprove your beliefs. It’s not difficult to see or hear this in the increased volume of certain ideological attitudes. There seems to be no end to Republicans vs. Democrats, Christians vs. Muslims, this country vs. that country. Fundamentalism runs rampant around the world, not least of all within particular religious structures that, I think, are terrified to find out that they are wrong.
I think that we can take a cue from Father Bede, the father of interspirituality, whose yogi lifestyle and studies seemed to enrich his Christianity, from which he never strayed – on the contrary, he became more deeply rooted in it. Truth is truth and one form can actually strengthen another.
So, here’s an example of this in the interfaith world…
I managed to catch the last part of the sermon in today’s church service. This Episcopal priest called his fellow Christians to respond to today’s troubled times with loving compassion. He compared Matthew 10:16 (“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”) to the path of the bodhisattva, which is a Buddhist term for someone whose enlightenment (perhaps the snakes aspect?) is devoted to the liberation of all sentient beings (doves?). Jesus, the pastor said, was instructing us to live in compassionate engagement with the world.
As an interspiritual minister, I was so delighted to hear this Episcopal priest reference Buddhism in a church service – during Advent, no less, which celebrates the coming of Jesus-Christ-Our-Lord-and-Savior. How cool is that? I thought. This Buddhist comparison didn’t take any meaning away from the Biblical text. It didn’t reveal that Father Hal was announcing his conversion to Buddhism. Nor was it merely a passive comparison. For Father Hal, this was a metaphor that strengthened and confirmed his deep Christian faith. It may have even brought new understanding to his views and how to communicate them to parishioners.
To me, that is the beauty of interfaith and interspirituality – a connection to the interdependent and interconnected web of the Divine.