Last night I participated in “an evening of interfaith conversation” at St. Catherine’s in St. Paul. Although the conversation formed part of a summer course for MAT students on World Spiritualities, the evening was open to others and we had quite a large turnout.
There were three of us speaking: me, Buddhist teacher Joen Snyder O’Neal and Rabbi Barry Cytron. Each of us spoke about our own spiritual practices in addition to commenting on some specific questions put to us by Prof. Bill McDonough, the organizer of the discussion.
I always benefit from these discussions and there was much in the remarkes by both Joen and Barry I found illuminating. But I was particularly struck by a couple of things Joen said as part of her discussion of the Buddhist practice of generosity, a practice important to all faith traditions.
First, she said that while it is valuable to give “things” to other people, the practice of generosity should include giving others non-fear. She spoke of living our lives in a way that others experience non-fear. That asks more of us than simply sharing with others the “things” that we have. It invites a way of being that gives something very precious to another.
Second, she observed that we usually have five or six thoughts of giving every day and we dismiss them. E.g., “I should call X who is sick.” The generous thoughts arise, but we don’t act on them. Her advice to her students, she said, is to, at least once each day, act on one of those impulses. Don’t dismiss it. It may seem small, but you can imagine what an effect it would have – on us and others – if we all took that advice.