I just finished reading Benoit Standaert’s book Sharing Sacred Space: Interreligious Dialogue as Spiritual Encounter. Unlike some of the spiritual reading I am doing this Lent – reading that is not directly related to anything I am currently working on – this is a book I read in anticipation of teaching World Spiritualities at St. Catherine’s University during the upcoming J-term 2016. Leaving aside my motives for reading it, this is a wonderful book.
Early in the book, Standaert shares the “central intuition” that guided his efforts in writing L’Espace Jesus, only the third and last part of which appears translated here in Sharing Sacred Space. He write
Any encounter with the great religions of the world is doomed to fail if its staring point is dogma as formulated and transmitted in a given culture, or if it is based on some historical expressions, which are also culturally conditioned. If we want to provide a level playing field for all the participants, we have to come up with some other approach. In order to make it possible for us to meet one another as equals, I have made use of the category of “spiritual space.”
Believing that each of the great religious traditions exists in a specific spiritual space, Standaert’s starting point is the concept of “Jesus space.” By starting there, he believes it will be “possible to move beyond the confrontational impasse that is created when we limit ourselves to dogmatic comparisons or historical reconstructions.” His discussion proceeds from the premise that “Christians do not have a monopoly on the meaning and richness contained in and radiating out from Jesus space.”
In successive chapters of Sharing Sacred Space, Standaert addresses the encounters between Jesus and Judaism, Jesus and Islam, Jesus and Buddhism and Jesus and Unbelief. In them one finds, not a treatise on the different faith traditions, but the fruits of his reflection on the relationship of each to Jesus and Christianity.
There is much I could write about the various chapters, but I will limit myself to observing how helpful I found his discussion, in the chapter on Jesus and Judaism, of the major trajectories of Jewish belief from the times of Herod the Great and the beginnings of the Christian movement to the present. Standaert is absolutely right (and my buddy Rabbi Norman Stein has made the same point) that “for many Christians Jewish history ends with the death of Jesus on Golgotha” and “they know absolutely nothing about the growth and spiritual development of the Jewish people after that.” How can we possibly engage in meaningful dialogue with our Jewish brothers and sisters if that is the case?
I’ve talked before here and elsewhere on the importance of interreligious dialogue. This book is an importantone for those wishing for that dialogue to bear fruit.