Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Interfaith Retreat -- The Interfaith Path: Many Roads, One Way

Marin Interfaith Council offers periodic retreats, open to all.  Two speakers from two different religions reflect on the same topic.  This is about the most recent retreat, held at Green Gulch Zen Center last week, and posing the following questions.

What would interfaith spirituality look like if we practiced it faithfully?  How do we engage the unique practices and teachings of our own traditions in a way that includes, rather than excludes, those of other traditions?  Is there a life-giving path in each tradition that is both unique and inclusive?

 The first speaker was Fr. Thomas Bonacci, C.P.  Our paths had not crossed prior to the day of the retreat, even though we are both active in interfaith locally.  A scriptural scholar and activist, Fr. Tom is founder and director of The Interfaith Peace Project, which “encourages interfaith peace and mutual respect through small discussion, study, prayer, ritual, and practice.”  Here are some of his observations that I managed to note:

“Jesus is only one way.”  “The way” is one route; we are to be the road, not the obstacles.”  “When you go to the ‘soul of your heart,’ you sense interrelatedness, interdependence, not as ‘we’ but as the awesome One.”

“The tao is a bucket of water.  Tip it over and it flows to the lowest places where it is most needed.”

“Who do you think you are?  God’s gift to the universe.  You are the light of the world.  Your responsibility is to let your light shine.”

He spoke eloquently of “the river of peace, the pool of healing, the lake of serenity.”

Fr. Tom also explained, for us non-Catholics, that there are different kinds of priesthood:  Diocesan priests “make a promise.”  Monastic priests and nuns in orders “take vows.”  I had no idea.

The second speaker, the Rev. Shokuchi Deirdre Carrigan, is a Soto Zen priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, founder of San Francisco Zen Center.  She met her teachers, Zen Master Tenshin Reb Anderson and Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher Donald Moyer 30 years ago.  She has been practicing, and later teaching, Zen and Yoga. 

After Fr. Tom spoke, Shokuchi, who was brought up in a Catholic family, was visibly moved when she said that if she’d been brought up with the kind of Catholic scriptural interpretations and teachings Fr. Tom offers, she may not have sought spiritual sustenance elsewhere.

At our quiet delicious vegetarian lunch with other Green Gulch residents, I enjoyed an infrequent opportunity to catch up with my friend Sister Marion Irvine, “the running nun.”[1]

When we returned to the zendo after lunch, Shokuchi had us read aloud together this Loving Kindness Meditation:

Loving Kindness Meditation (Buddhist)

This is what should be accomplished by the one who is wise,
Who seeks the good, and has obtained peace.
Let one be strenuous, upright, and sincere.
Without pride, easily contented, and joyous.
Let one not be submerged by the things of the world.
Let one not take upon oneself the burden of riches.
Let one’s senses be controlled.
Let one be wise but not puffed up and
Let one not desire great possessions even for one’s family.
Let one do nothing that is mean or that the wise would reprove.
May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety,
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
In high or middle or low realms of existence.
Small or great, visible or invisible,
Near or far, born or to be born,
May all being be happy.
Let no one decieve another nor despise any being in any state.
Let none by anger or hatred wish harm to another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life
Watches over and protects her only child,
So with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things.
Suffusing love over the entire world,
Above, below, and all around, without limit,
So let one cultivate an infinite good will toward the whole world.
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down,
During all one’s waking hours,
Let one practice the way with gratitude.
Not holding to fixed views,
Endowed with insight,
Freed from sense appetites,
One who achieves the way
Will be freed from the duality of birth and death.

After that, she invited us to do a slow walking meditation in the glorious gardens of Green Gulch Farm.  Unfortunately, I twisted my knee on the walk down the hill, so did the rest of my meditating on a bench.  (This was on the right leg, the one that was affected by the stroke I suffered last year and that I’ve been working to heal and strengthen.)

It’s been several months since MIC has sponsored a retreat, and I for one have missed them.  The current staff, including Interim Director Rev. Scott Quinn, Acting Programs Associate Stephanie Humphrey, and Executive Assistant Janice Lum, did former Executive Director the Rev. Carol Hovis proud.

[1]           More about Sister Marion hereherehere, and here.  There’s lots more.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Table to Action Initial SF Bay Area Meeting

Last week I attended an invitational meeting at Starr King School for the Ministry (UU) of the first local iteration of the Table to Action Project.   This project is co-sponsored by Auburn Theological Seminary in NYC (where I have presented and served on panels for several years, with, among others Judy Harrow, Katrina Messenger, and Grove Harris, in case you happen to know those Witches in interfaith) and the Arcus Foundation.  I really didn’t know quite what to expect, except for this description on the invitation:

 that seeks to bring together faith and moral leaders from across the landscape of the social justice sector to build an activist community and network grounded in right relationship. 

Our goal is to craft a blueprint for multi-issue organizing that presses past transactional and competitive ways of working and being together toward a vision of progressive organizing that can allow us to stand with and for each other in honesty, truth and compassion other over the long haul.

When I checked the website, I found that I had engaged with several of the key people over the years, at both Auburn and MountainTop about which I’ve blogged.  I was glad to have another opportunity to engage with the convener, Lisa Anderson, her colleague in Atlanta, Melvin Bray, and Gabriella Lettini of SKSM.

The first meeting was held in Chicago, the second in Atlanta, and this was the third. They plan more in other cities, which is where you, my Pagan colleagues, come in.  I will be asked for suggestions of participants.  So if and when one of these meetings takes place in your area, I can let them know of your interest.

About half of those 20 religious leaders at last night’s meeting were POC and the majority seemed to be (some said, some didn’t) LGBTQ folks.  There was one Muslim, several Jews, and lots of Protestants.  Evidently two participants were Buddhists, but I didn’t hear them state that.  Needless to say, this collaboration needs more diversity among its participants.  Same problem at MountainTop — a noticeable absence of Catholics, Buddhists, and Hindus, much less Pagans.

I spoke to the convener, Lisa Anderson, about that observation, and disappointment, at MountainTop (also co-sponsored by Auburn) as well as at Table to Action.  She said they were well aware and wished to remedy that.  So for the next meeting in this area I will be inviting some Catholics, Buddhists, and Hindus whom I know in local interfaith.  Maybe a Pagan or two as well.

To be clear, there were four Witches at the first MountainTop in 2013, which I consider a more than adequate representation.  Evidently there were others at the second MountainTop gathering; I did not attend.

I also mentioned this observation to Dr. Lettini, the local host, who told me the same thing I heard after MountainTop, which is that others were invited and for whatever reasons were unable to attend.

I told both Lisa and Gabriella that I was surprised, because in my experience in local interfaith, my friends from the Roman Catholic Dominican Sisters of San Rafael are among the most committed activists.  So are my friends and colleagues at Green Gulch Zen Center, Spirit Rock (Vipassana), and other local Buddhist groups.

It’s tricky to address the organizers about these omissions or unbalances without seeming critical and ungrateful.  I did, though, and they were very receptive.  (If I’m not good for anything else, I can really network well.)

So for our next meeting I’m soliciting one or more of my Catholic interfaith colleagues, whom I know would be a good addition to the mix.  By that I mean they’re open-hearted and caring, accepting of diversity and not hesitant to work.

I’m eager to see what Table to Action does and to participate to the extent that a congregation-less Pagan can.  That said, I thank the Covenant of the Goddess (an assembly of smaller congregations called covens) for financial support for my more distant interfaith activities.