Before I left, I held out my hands. Offered to say a prayer. We joined hands. Everyone that is, except one in the circle. The young woman to my left, Aci, the girlfriend of Bill’s grandson. Everyone was looking at her.
“She’s Muslim”, the mom said.
I turned and looked Aci in the eye. Said, “This is a just a thank-you prayer, a way to say thanks.”
She looked cautious, hesitant, but reached out, and held my hand.
Eyes open, looking around the circle at each one gathered, I gave thanks for Bill. His life, for all he is and has been to those who have loved him. Reminded us of the promise of the Love that holds and never let us go.
At the end, Aci smiled, “That was cool. I liked it.”
Tuesday’ coffee shop encounter was not the first time I have navigated between worlds of diverse religious experience. I spend a good deal of time translating the language and experience of faith to others in ways they can understand. Finding ways to show that the circle is wide. That in all of our particularities and differences we can also find ways to join hands and come together.
Last week I was invited to attend a conversation with theologians and pastors from the World Council of Churches and United Church of Christ exploring “multi-religious belonging”. 30 of us had gathered from India, Korea, Canada, Europe, Native American communities. Throughout the U.S. – from Hawaii to Arizona, New Jersey to New York. From United Church of Christ, Greek Orthodox, Presbyterian, Affiliated Baptist, and other traditions.
Last summer the World Council of Churches hosted a conference for theologians to reflect on the experience of Christians throughout the world who participate in more than one religious tradition. The conference in Cleveland was a follow-up and the first conference that brought together theologians along with church leaders to reflect and discern on what some call “spiritual fluidity”.
I was invited to attend to talk about my experience as a Christian pastor who for 12 years participated as an active member in a Zen Buddhist community.
Sure, there are deep practices in Christianity that echo some of what I found in Zen – contemplative prayer, silent retreats, the Benedictine hours. But not an easily accessible Christian tradition that practices daily sitting in silence together. Not a practice with the rigor, asceticism, and discipline that Zen provides. A willingness to step into the darkness and sit there that Eastern practice allows. Now stepping out from my experience with my Zen community, I’m looking for ways to understand and reflect upon it.
The reality is that in many ways, many of us have had profound experiences in other religious practices and traditions that have shaped our faith. The engagement has changed and is changing the church. What does it mean for the future of the church and what being a Christian is all about?
The stories that we heard and shared revealed that our experiences are particularly rooted in our own contexts. While multiple-religious participation is often criticized in the west as “shopping mall” or “consumerist” faith – taking a bit from here and there – the truth is that the practice of multi-religious practice is often not a choice but something that we marry into, are born into, called into. Not something trite but deep practices that change and have changed us profoundly.
I’ll be sharing more about what I learned and my own experience as well.
And “like” the group “Hyphenate-Religion” on Facebook and get in on the conversation.