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STEP OUTSIDE YOUR FAITH COMFORT ZONE

By Barbara McDowall

Never instead of, always in addition to, reflects what, to me, lies at the heart of the interfaith movement.

Interfaith is a 'spiritual philosophy that respects and fully accepts, the wisdom contained in the worlds religions.' The understanding of the truth contained in those religions brings the realization of the oneness of the universal family, that we are all on a conscious or unconscious spiritual path to the One whether we believe in a Creator God, e.g. or in a Way of being, e.g. Taoism, Buddhism, etc.  We may identify as atheist or agnostic.  We are all on a path.  As an interfaith minister, I am called to build bridges with the world's various faith traditions, big and small. 

Some believe interfaith is merely a hodge-podge, a melange concocted from other faith traditions.  Others argue before we embrace an interfaith perspective we have to be truly grounded in our own faith. That may be true and I would also argue we must first be grounded in knowing who we are.

The Dalai Lama has said, 'Don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist - use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are'. That can be said for all worlds faith traditions. Interfaith is not a religion and was never intended to replace any other faith tradition.  Its intent is to clarify and strengthen a bond with all those faith communities in order for us to see our common humanity and spirituality. 

Raheel Raza, a Muslim friend of mine is known to say, 'When we pray together, we stay together'. In 2004, I helped to organize an Interfaith Healing Service of Hope and Love in Toronto in response to the spiritual needs of the South East Asian communities directly affected by the tsunami in 2005.  It took place in a Tamil temple along with the support of the leader of that temple and the congregation.  It was a profound moment when we all came together to worship and to offer our prayers as an interfaith group (Jew, Muslim, Christian, Interfaith and Buddhist from the Sri Lankan tradition).

We were warmly greeted by the smiles of the congregation as well as the mouthwatering aroma of the wonderful South Asian food being served.  There was an instant connection.

While some members of the congregation could speak very little or no English, we still managed to communicate and enjoy our time together.  An impromptu tour of the temple and its colourful deities only added to our understanding and connection.  It was awesome in every sense of the word.

Guelph is home to a rich diversity of faith communities.  There are Quakers, Wiccans, Neo Pagans, Bahas, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Progressive Christians, Unitarians, First Nations, Taoists, Buddhists, Unityâ, just to name a few.  However, what I believe to be missing is an intentional interfaith community.

How wonderful would it be to have an active interfaith group right here in Guelph who would represent those diverse faith communities?  It could be an active group who would meet on a regular basis to model love, acceptance and compassion, to educate and move us beyond a '911' relationship with each other and into a more holistic relationship.

We could look at faith the same way we view travel.  We consider travel to be broadening.  We grow as we learn about other people, their homes and their customs.  Exploring other faith communities offers us the same opportunity to learn and grow.  As we 'travel' to those communities and meet the people who 'live' there, we can learn, grow and connect on a deeper level each other and to our collective humanity.  The 'other' disappears. 

I believe interfaith is far more than a mere collection of different faiths.  Interfaith builds on who we are and allows us to develop bridges with others through love, compassion and acceptance of the entire universal family.  All paths to the One, to Truth can be valued, respected and celebrated. By thinking outside the box and moving beyond our comfort zone, we can not only deepen our own experience of Spirit but we can also deepen our understanding and connection to our fellow human beings wherever we are. 

This week and in the weeks ahead, I urge you to step outside your comfort zone, your own faith community.  'Travel' to another place of worship other than your own.  Participate in that worship.  Engage them in conversation.  Ask lots of questions.  It will not only change the way you see them, it will change the way they see you.  You may even be changed in the process.

Authentic Living

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