Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Interfaith . . . Bridging Mutual Understandings . . .

English: Mysore painting depicting Hindu Godde...
English: Mysore painting depicting Hindu Goddess Lakshmi (Photo credit: Wikipedi
When Christians, Muslims, or Jews first encounter Hinduism they are likely to be struck by (and misunderstand) the profusion of gods and goddesses, vividly represented in paintings, sculpture, and other forms.  Also, words used in English sometimes are not precisely chosen or accurate representations of reality.  For example, there is not "worship" of nature in various forms, cows, etc.  Life and living things are venerated or honored or revered as representations and expressions of the Divine.  They are not "worshiped" in any sense different from how pictures of saints, the cross, the Star of David, pictures of Yashua, the Christ, and so forth are "worshiped."  This is a great misinterpretation and misunderstanding, perhaps due to limitations of language and different usages of words and phrases. 
Maestà (Madonna with Angels and Saints)
Maestà (Madonna with Angels and Saints) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
First impressions can sometimes be mistaken, for Hindus regard gods and goddesses as manifestations of the One Supreme God.  Hinduism is in fact monotheistic.  In the Vedantic schools of Hinduism, God is the unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality that is the Divine Ground of all Being and basis of Creation.  This Supreme Cosmic Spirit is eternal, genderless, omnipotent, and omniscient.  It can be described as infinite Truth, infinite Consciousness, infinite Love, and infinite Bliss.  There is a remarkable similarity between this set of attributes and those ascribed by Christians, Muslims, and Jews to the one God of classical monotheism. 
Historian Arnold Toynbee once wrote, "We do know that there are more approaches to truth than one, and more means of "salvation" than one." This is a hard saying for adherents of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but it is a truism for Hindus.  The spirit of mutual good-will, esteem, and veritable love ... is the traditional spirit of the faith of the Indian family.  This is one of India’s gifts to the world. 
Joseph Campbell put it this way, "The first principle of Indian thought, therefore, is that the ultimate reality is beyond description.  It is something that can be experienced only by bringing the mind to a stop; and once known, it cannot be described to anyone in terms of the forms of this world.  The truth, the ultimate truth, that is to say, is transcendent.  It goes past, transcends, all speech, all images, anything that can possibly be said.  But, as we have just seen, it is not only transcendent, it is also immanent, within all things.  Everything in the world, therefore, is to be regarded as its manifestation." 
Just as there are "representatives" of almost every faith, which may tend toward the "my way only" or judgmental or dogmatic lines of thinking, there are these various sorts of thinking, writing, speaking, and behaving among those claiming to represent Hinduism.  However, no true Hindu will ever "judge" or "disown" someone of another faith, whether from his own family or village or otherwise! 

Amarillo Tx - Dynamite Museum - Love World Round
Amarillo Tx - Dynamite Museum - Love World Round (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At the core, all are same:  based in Selfless Loving Service.  Within Christ followers, there is a renewed appreciation for the immanence of God and a recovery of the mystical sense of God's presence within the world of time and space.  Further, the contemplative practices identified with Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. are essentially the same as those in "Christ-ianity," Judaism, and other faiths, bringing the spiritualities of various faiths closer together.  All, ALL, are our Brothers.  May we Revere and Love One Another . . .  At the core, at the Heart, we are All the Same . . .

by Vinita Channahsorah, a first year student at TNS, has had a life-long calling in interfaith ministries in various forms, roles, and settings.  Her parents brought her up reading excerpts from scriptures of many different faiths, and there were often persons from all faiths, groups, cultures, and backgrounds in the house.  She has always lived in a universe where all faiths are the same at the core, with Agape' Love as the basis of all along with Selfless Loving Service—God Almighty can manifest and work in and through Mankind in an infinite number of ways and forms.  Dr. Channahsorah recently graduated the Shalem Institute's two-year program, "Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats: Transforming Community."  In addition, she guides (or facilitates) prayer in many faiths in various forms, such as readings, silent contemplation, walking-prayers, and guitar & hymn compositions. 

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

On Prayer and Praying with People

"Praying Hands" (study for an Apostl...
"Praying Hands" (study for an Apostle figure of the "Heller" altar) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
On Prayer and Praying with People 
     by Galina Krasskova, The New Seminary for Interfaith Studies

The following is a little article that I wrote for a group of seminary students who were learning to pray with people, in ritual, in chaplaincy work, one-on-one in crisis settings. The subject of prayer and its purpose has been coming up a lot in conversations with my private students too so I thought that some of you might find this useful. Keep in mind it was written for interfaith seminarians who will quite often be working as interfaith ministers with people outside of their own faith traditions 

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: you cannot pray with others effectively if you do not have a prayer practice yourself. Prayer is a way of preparing yourself for the actual realities of ministry. It is the main, and hopefully ongoing, locus through which you nourish your own relationship with the Divine. Moreover, prayer is the spiritual umbilicus that nourishes us and brings us through our own times of doubt and struggle. It is that which helps us to be authentic, vibrant, and deeply engaged as ministers in our work and enables us to be clean conduits for the Holy. Prayer is the means by which we connect and remain connected and that is not only fundamental but crucial. 

Over the years, I have seen far too many ministers without any type of personal devotional practice. They have no direct connection to the Holy and they are usually not very effective. I have even seen harm done, all stemming from lack of spiritual connection. If we use the metaphor of a phone call, to speak of one’s call to the vocation of ministry, I have seen far too many people who have no idea Who was on the other end of the line, Who actually made the call. This is very troubling. It’s troubling because ministry is just that: a vocation. Vocation comes from the Latin word vocare: to call or be called. It implies a receptivity to the Divine, an ongoing conversation, a willingness to experience and engage with the Holy beyond the norm. It is not and should not be the starting point for one’s spiritual life. That starting point, if one is very, very lucky, should begin with prayer, and prayer is the thing that carries each and every one of us through. 

Prayer isn’t something static either. It isn’t something boringly repetitive and flat. Nor is it just asking for things. Prayer is a richly nuanced, ongoing conversation with the Divine. A conversation. One of the worst wounds that modernity has inflicted upon us as a people is the belief that the Gods no longer talk directly to us, that we can no longer have direct personal encounters. Yes, we can. Moreover, I believe that this is something we should prepare ourselves for and seek out with all our hearts all the more so because we are ministers. 

Why? When you pray with other people, quite often you will be praying with people who are in crisis, in pain, recovering from trauma, grief, or a thousand other human hurts. You will be praying with people who are confused and hurting, maybe even angry. Even for people with ongoing prayer practice there are fallow times. St. John the Divine knew this and wrote about it in his seminal “The Dark Night of the Soul.” If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. That is the ground you will walk, sometimes yourself and sometimes as a guide for your clients. People will come to you because they are not able to connect themselves. They will come to you because to them, you represent the Gods. Think about that. 

That is something that should terrify each and every one of us. Because of the weight of the word ‘minister,’ you will at times encounter people who (whether they realize it or not) invest you with a terrible authority. That puts the power to do tremendous harm in your hands. Whatever you say may unconsciously be interpreted as a judgment coming from God(s). So it behooves us each to keep our “signal clarity,” our clear sense of our own connection to the Holy open and clean. 

When praying with people, I would give the following advice: 

First, spend some time before you engage with the person praying by yourself. Ask your God or Gods to pour His, Her, Their wisdom through you. Stay open to that as you meet and pray with your client. 

Keep yourself out of the equation. Keep your ego out of it. This is not about you. Any issues that arise in you during the course of your ritual work, prayer work with others, or active work as ministers should be tabled without fuss until you are able to either seek out your own quiet time in prayer, or seek out your own elders, teachers, mentors, or supervisors. A minister who lacks that emotional continence should not be working with others. Your clients are not there after all to minister to you, and your emotional baggage should not become the focus of the rite. It may seem odd that I mention this, but believe it or not, I have seen a lot of this in my time! I mention it here as a caution. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t allow yourself to laugh or cry…sometimes it can be very helpful for the client to see you paying witness to their joy or pain. But it should never, ever be about you. 

Now we come to the hardest thing of all. Every single one of us has a framework, a lens through which we interpret the world. All of our lenses are different. For the majority of people, their lens will be deeply impacted by the religion and society in which they were raised. It is crucial, absolutely crucial that you become aware of your filter. There cannot be a ‘default’ setting when you engage with others in ritual or in prayer. Your framework is not an object truth. That is terribly difficult for just about everyone and it is the thing that is almost never addressed in interfaith work. You must confront how invested you are in the normative ‘rightness’ of your framework as objective. Interfaith work, at the very least, means learning to understand and engage with other peoples’ frameworks respectfully. It does not mean expecting others to fit themselves into your framework so that you are more comfortable. It does not mean expecting that they alter their framework to suit yours, or that they become part of your framework. 

The real challenge of interfaith work lies in this: Do you want to minister to people or to your own framework? Do you want to lift others up or do you want to silence them so they don’t challenge your paradigm and possibly make you uncomfortable? Can you step out of your own paradigm enough to meet them half way? What kind of minister do you want to be? It’s a question you may find yourselves returning to again and again and again. 

Finally, please keep in mind that no matter what your intentions are, praying for people without their permission can be construed as coercive and psychic and/or spiritual assault. This is something that you will need to wrestle with as you develop your own code of Ethics. I really don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule here. Again, like so much of what we do, it’s something to keep in mind and for which we will each have to do our own discernment. I, personally, think it’s always better to get permission from the client him or herself. 

In the end, it all comes back to prayer being a crucial part of spiritual wholeness. When you pray with people, you are helping them move one step closer to that desired healing and wholeness. Be humble, be thankful, and when you can, take joy in the beauty of your calling because it really is a magnificent thing. 

 About Dean Galina: 
Galina Krasskova is a free range tribalist Heathen who has been a priest of Odin and Loki for close to twenty years. Originally ordained in the Fellowship of Isis in 1995, Ms. Krasskova also attended the oldest interfaith seminary in the U.S. - the New Seminary where she was ordained in 2000. Currently, she is a faculty member and mentor at the New Seminary, and is part of a team of ministers for the Interfaith Fellowship in NYC. She is the founder of Urdabrunnr Kindred (NY), a member of Ironwood Kindred (MA), Asatru in Frankfurt (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), the First Kingdom Church of Asphodel (MA), the American Academy of Religion, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She has been a state contracted expert on the Asatru faith, and is currently involved in prison ministry. Additionally, she took vows as a Heathen gythia in 1996 and again in 2004.

Ms. Krasskova holds diplomas from The New Seminary (2000), a B.A. in Religious Studies from Empire State College (2007), and an M.A. in Religious Studies from New York University (2009).
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