Saturday, November 14, 2009

Faith in Interfaith

It seems that most of my work within the Faith is without the Faith.

This does not mean that I am without Faith during most of my work (give me a break), but that it is spent outside the common boundaries of the Baha'i community.  You see, most of my time is spent in the interfaith arena.  But how, you ask, did this come about?  I'm glad you did.  You're very good, O Reader, at picking up these cues.

In my search for a faith path, I spent a lot of time searching many different paths and developed a love for them all.  While most would say, "We're right and everyone else is wrong," the Baha'i Writings said different.

Baha'u'llah, in His Most Holy Book, said, "Consort ye then with the followers of all religions".  This is in the same paragraph in which He "abolished the concept of 'uncleanness'", which was often an excuse for abuse in the name of religion, either of people or things.  In that same paragraph, He refers to God as "the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Generous", and "the Most Compassionate".

I believe it is worth noting here that I do not think anything in the Sacred Text is accidental.  I believe that every word is exactly what it needs to be.  If an attribute of God is in a particular place, it seems to me that Baha'u'llah is alluding to that same attribute within us for our edification, or perhaps to assist us in fulfilling what is called for in that place.  What I mean by this is that if God is the All-Knowing, and we are created in His image, then we can have some knowledge.  If God is the All-Wise, then we can have a bit of wisdom.  If He is the Most Generous, we can show some generosity.

Here, when we are told to "consort... with the followers of all religions", we could stand on an egotisitcal "I'm right" pedestal and see the reference to "the Ever-Forgiving" as an admonition to "forgive" those who are "wrong," but I suspect that is not what is intended.  I prefer to see it as a release from the guilt we may feel if we ever did avoid someone, or hurt someone, because we felt they were in some way unclean.  It is a reminder that God forgives us, and that He is Most Generous. We, in our turn, can also be generous to those who may have been abused for reasons of seeming "unclean", and we are reminded to be compassionate.

But in that particular quote, one word was unclear to me: consort.  What does it mean to consort with someone?  At first I had thought it meant to kind-of hang out with them in a sort-of friendship kind of way (as you can see, it was fairly distant and not clear to me).  But then I looked it up, and realized that the word is a bit more intimate than that.

While there are numerous definitions, when looking at them all they give a sense of closeness that I had not previously associated with the word.  I noticed that Prince Philip is Queen Elizabeth's consort: her husband.

This became my guiding principle in my interfaith work.  I was to be so close to the followers of other Faiths, truly united with them (I'm not talking about a physical intimacy but a spiritual one, sheesh) that it is as if their faith is my own.

Over the past few years, it has been summed up in my own mind as "I regard what you regard as sacred, because it is sacred to you."  When the Buddhist monk spins his prayer wheel, or the Aboriginal American elder smudges with the sacred smoke, this is the same, to me, as my recitation of the daily obligatory prayer revealed by the Blessed Beauty.  Prayer is prayer, and they all go to the same Creator.

Recently, a friend asked if this is what is meant by tolerance, and I had to laugh.  I pointed out that if my wife only "tolerated" me, it would be a pretty good definition of a living hell.  No.  The attributes of love, compassion, respect, honour, and so on and so forth, that I show my wife in our spiritual discussions are the same attributes that I need to show people of all faiths.

OK.  I think I have shown you a bit about how important interfaith work is to me, and how dear it is to my heart.

But what does it mean in practical terms?

First, I love to read and study the Sacred Texts of all faiths.  Second, I look at them through the lens of "Baha'u'llah's matchless utterance" and teachings.

If there is something that I find within Sacred Text that does not agree with Baha'u'llah's teachings, then I know that I have misunderstood what they say and need to go back and check it again. 

When some friends and I were studying that priceless book commissioned by the Universal House of Justice, One Common Faith, we ran across the following statement in the foreword about the principle of interfaith:  "Far from challenging the validity of any of the great revealed faiths, the principle has the capacity to ensure their continuing relevance."

Later, on page 39, when we read "even so influential a figure as Mohandas Gandhi proved unable to mobilize the spiritual power of Hinduism in support of his efforts to extinguish sectarian violence on the Indian subcontinent", someone made the comment that this showed that "Hinduism has lost its power and everyone should become Baha'i".  We sat up and all decided to go back to the foreword.

"The principle has the capacity to ensure" the "continuing relevance" of "the great revealed faiths".

We knew that we needed to go back and re-read that statement about Gandhi, for what we had done was try to dismiss the relevance of one of "the great revealed faiths".

And what we discovered was that what was said was that not that Hinduism was irrelevant, but that Gandhi was not able to mobilize its power, which was still relevant.  The reason was due to the many reasons stated earlier in the book about why faith seems to be losing its relevance in the heart of many people, and this was just another example.

Most of the people in that study came away with a far greater appreciation of the importance of other faiths.  And it showed me, yet again, the Baha'is Faith's overwhelming love and respect for all faiths.

I was going to finish with an analysis of a teaching of Jesus, to demonstrate the second point above, but I think I'll leave that for the next post.  For now, the day is beautiful and it's time to go out and enjoy the weather.

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