Interfaith and interspiritual engagement is as personal and profound as any relationship-building. To me, it is about exploring the possibility of deep listening, and the transformational potential which can grow from this.
As in other encounters, I find that inter-faith engagement needs to start with my own experience, recognising that my attitude to others is conditioned by my own formation – and that I am always engaging with diversity. While it is lovely to make friends, my growth edges are often in the areas of tension, where I am challenged to listen to myself, as well as the others.
So, to begin with my own experience is to begin with a child’s hunger to be loved and to love, humanly, sublimely, and earthily. My hunger emerged out of the emotionally impoverished experience of a war-scarred older generation, struggling to comprehend the violence of global warfare and of the holocaust, struggling also with racist responses to immigration in the cities where my family lived. Growing up, I felt the people and faiths of the world to be very close, and the call to find harmony, or simply mutual respect, to be very strong. Setting out to communicate, I do not pretend always to have got it right. It’s true that we learn from our mistakes and more than anything perhaps, I have been touched by the generosity of those experiencing my clumsiness.
Along the way – and that ‘way’ has occupied most of my life – I once heard something which struck a chord. A Jesuit priest, Robert Kennedy, talking about an important Roman Catholic council, said, [we were] ‘urged not merely to tolerate other religions but to admire them, and to promote the good that they have, because there is good in every religion and it was our job to find what was good, all that was good, and promote it, even as different to our own understanding of the truth. And finally, more than that, to practise the truth of the other, to walk in their shoes because only then can we really understand them or appreciate them.’
This teaching, from a religious group which is not my own, expresses much of my own wish to understand and has led me not just into places of education and worship and formal events, but into incidental moments of kindness and connection with travellers, neighbours, people in shops… person by person, witnessing to the love which sustains them – us – humanly, sublimely, earthily.
It sometimes takes courage to risk a relationship, but I have come to believe that simply by showing a wish to relate, this is so often welcomed and in the welcoming, the true spirit of hospitality opens up, so too, the deeper mystery of our interconnection, and the endless potential of love to work in us for a better world. I have felt so welcomed, so often. It has been the other, who has reached out to me, and I am very grateful.
~ Written by OneSpirit Core Tutor, Rev Annie Heppenstall