Have Faith: Interfaith connections

The Rev. Susan Waldrop shares her thoughts on divine connection.

— Courtesy Susan Waldrop

As Christians, we are supposed to share the good news of Jesus Christ. But how do we do that if people run from us, or the conversation comes to a halt because they know the next word out of our mouths is likely not a question about their faith, or a compassionate understanding, but a repeat of Christian dogma?

This is awkward for both sides. And this makes both sides afraid to dialogue.

I know as a spiritual counselor that the only way to get clients to speak up about their real issues is to create a safe environment where the person will not be judged, and will be heard first — real love.

May our love for people be that great! Mother Teresa of Calcutta is one modern famous example of that love — she did not preach to the Hindu and Buddhist people first, she relieved their poverty and dying experience as best she could. Individual conversions happened when people saw and felt her love and asked questions.

I know many of you love the best you can with everyone you meet. Me too — not always successfully.

A helpful key may be knowing something more about the people and faiths you are encountering. This effort just to know more and share more has been going on a while.

It began in the modern age, when the World Parliament of Religions was convened in 1893 in Chicago. It did not include everyone — notably African Americans and Native Americans were excluded — but it was a beginning, and reinforced the study of comparative religions.

The second Parliament was convened in 1993 in Chicago, 100 years later. This time, so many people registered — 9,000 people — that registration had to be closed three weeks early. The closing event attracted upwards of 75,000 people! The draw was not just curiosity, but the reported experience of “spiritual community among attendees, replacing an old paradigm of separation, mistrust, competition, hostility, and conflict.”

This experience reminds me of a statement by the Rev. Raphael Warnock as reported in the Vineyard Gazette in 2021. He refers to a passage in Isaiah, which I think is Isaiah 40:1-40:5. It begins with “Comfort … my people,” and proceeds with, “Then the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall … see it together.”

Warnock says, “I used to think that … God’s glory is so great, that when it shows up, all flesh will see lt … But I think Isaiah is telling us that God’s glory is so great, so powerful, so beyond our human imagination … that it takes all flesh coming together in order to see it.”

This statement stunned me — it was a complete reversal of my thinking. God’s glory, he seems to say, will show up — not on one side or another, but when we learn to love one another. Apparently it’s not about being right. I suspect all faiths will be right about some things. It’s about being united in Spirit — that will open the portals of heaven!

The Second World Parliament must have felt like the heavens opened. It went around the head discussions of differences in theology (as important as they are) to create a community first of the heart. There were sessions in inter-religious dialogue, spiritual teachings and practices, common spiritual wisdom, and efforts organized for future impact on worldwide ethical practices among people and affecting the environment and social behavior.

But there are, in fact, some arenas of agreement across faiths. The following is not an exhaustive list by Andrew Harvey, but perhaps useful to remember.

  • Kogi and Hopi: interconnection of life
  • Hindu: grandeur of the soul
  • Buddhist: devotion to compassion
  • Jews: unutterable holiness of God
  • Islam: passion for God as the Beloved
  • Christianity: incarnation of God in human form and the flow of love in the Trinity

In addition, there is basic agreement on the following ethical ways of being:

  • Love beyond basic rules of behavior, merciful
  • Surrender to the mystery
  • Forgiveness for your own freedom
  • Simplicity, humility, nonviolence, contemplation, and silence, earth care
  • Inner development that connects us all with the Divine — transformational consciousness
  • That there is a Source, a Universal Energy, the Divine or God

But I want to close with the notion that interfaith is not about theological agreement, but is really a surprise work — I think — of the Spirit, as witnessed first in that second World Parliament and by little groups in many ways since then. My main encouragement is to be open, ask good questions, keep your own faith, and learn how to explain it. But perhaps, if you are a Christian, you can also go to the Buddhist Bodhi Path or Jewish synagogue for services, read books on interfaith dialogue, and join interdenominational and interfaith efforts to feed and house the homeless. Of course, people of other faiths could try a church service, too. Martha’s Vineyard clergy do interfaith teachings for one another; perhaps more can be done in other venues. Just be sure to listen with the heart, and try to support the way people can be joined together spiritually before pointing out differences. And then be patient until “all people can see it [the glory of God] together.” –Isaiah 40:5.

Bishop Desmond Tutu of famed South African origin pointed out, “We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another” — and to find our One Heart, our One Spirit.

Perhaps this is a sacred dance we can all join.

The Rev. Susan Waldrop is a Christian interfaith minister and spiritual counselor. Her website is windowsonthespirit.com.