Yesterday I gave a retreat on the topic of Spirituality Across Faith Traditions. It was a very positive and powerful experience for all of the participants and for myself.
While it is true that there are real differences among the world’s major religions, it is also the case that there is much truth in faith traditions other than our own that we can affirm. In the words of Thomas Merton, if we embrace our own tradition merely by denying all that belongs to others, we will find that there is not much left for us to affirm in our own tradition, and “no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it.” Both for the sake of our own spiritual growth and (for those of us engaged in spiritual ministry of one sort or another) for the sake of those to whom we minister, there is value in exploring universal dynamics that operate across faith traditions.
In the course of our day, we engaged in prayer and meditation drawn from several different faith traditions and talked about some core truths and core experiences that are common to all of the major world religions. Of central importance in my view are the common understanding among world religions of the importance of affective prayer experience, a shared vision of the communion and interrelationship of each of us to God (whether one uses the term God or not) and to each other, and a common understanding of the need to appreciate the impermanence of human existence and to develop an attitude of renunciation toward the world.
For both the opening prayer and the closing inter-faith prayer service, I took prayers, readings and/or poems from various faith traditions. One that I included in our opening prayer was a poem by Hafiz, titled The God Who Only Knows Four Words. It is quite simple, but also simply lovely. It reads:
Every child has known God.
Not the God of names.
Not the God of “don’t”s.
Not the God who ever does anything weird.
But the God who only knows four words,
And keeps repeating them, saying,
“Come Dance With Me, Come Dance.”
(Ultimately, I’ll create some podcasts drawn from my talks during the day…but it will probably take some time to get them recorded and posted.)