Celebrating Spiritual Difference - Curiosity, Connection & Hospitality
In recent months, Spiritual Directors International has provided much for us to think about in terms of “Welcoming the Stranger". When I hold this invitation in my heart, the passage that Rumi offered to us in the 13th century still rings true: Indeed, each “one” who crosses our path is nobody other than a unique and marvelously made manifestation of the divine. Who knows what opportunities for growth might come from our meeting?
And, yet, my heart also knows that on a deeper level we are not strangers at all. This knowing comes when I am able to connect with someone on an “interspiritual” level. What do I mean by this?
In his landmark work, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Traditions, Br. Wayne Teasdale explained interspirituality as “the sharing of ultimate experience across traditions.”
Ultimate experience. This phrase and our understanding of it is key. When we meet face-to-face or in the cyber world, and can safely and intimately share how our life intersects with the divine—how the God of our understanding reveals Itself to us and through us—we rise to the heights of what is possible when human beings come together. We step into an arena of hospitality where everyone and everything belongs, including their personal experiences with the Great Mystery. This is the landscape of interspirituality. It is the terrain of the mystic heart where its lovers can see the Beloved in everyone, without exception. No matter whether they are Christians or Jews, Sufis, Hindus or Buddhists, each one is a finger on the hand of the One.
Rumi, again, serves as the voice of interspiritual hospitality when he says:
Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of living, it doesn't matter
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come even if you have broken your vow a thousand times,
Come, yet again, come, come.
This is deep work for us as human beings (and as spiritual guides) to make room within ourselves for everyone. It requires mindful awareness (Buddhism), working with the false and true self (Christianity), radical humility (Islam), embracing prayers and rituals that point us toward the Sacred (Hinduism), and profound openness to this grace-bestowing One who is nameless and beyond rational understanding (Judaism). Isn’t it ironic how all these traditions can play a prime role in guiding the interspiritual heart? In opening us to interspiritual hospitality?
Teasdale goes on to say that there are eight qualities of an interspiritual person (which he equates with a spiritually mature person), and one of these is “Solidarity with all beings.” “This a deep realization of the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. This realization often comes through personal mystical experience of oneness—all realities are interrelated.” (p. 114)
This “logic”, therefore, follows: If we come to a common table to talk about our personal mystical experiences, we have already stepped into the realm of Oneness. Hospitality is nothing to be sought or perfected. It simply is. It already exists - as soon as we begin to share, listen and receive through our mystic hearts.
I sense, however, because our rational minds are habituated to dominating every conversation, even the most mystical, that we may have to unlearn and relearn new ways of welcome; of holding presence for and being in Presence with others whose traditions may differ from our own. As an interfaith/interspiritual guide, I've crafted my own coda for holding presence for seekers of all traditions. Perhaps you will find it helpful.
5 Steps to Fostering Interspiritual Hospitality
1. Genuine curiosity
When it comes to the sharing of spiritual experience across traditions, what do you really want to know about someone’s unique experience? Curiosity warms the heart and opens our minds to what is possible for any of us.
2. Openness to what you hear
Ask of yourself, ‘What can I learn from you?’ We step into kenosis and make room for new knowings. We refrain from judging or qualifying someone’s experience. We avoid comparing their experience to our own, to that of others, or against traditional standards.
3. Generous listening
Ask yourself, “How can I receive, purely receive, their sacred tale?’ and vow to hold it kindly and tenderly no matter what is shared. Set the intention to be magnanimous in your listening.
4. Exude natural warmth
Maintain inner thoughts of kindness and compassion as these can be conveyed to another even without words. We all want to feel genuinely heard and received, welcomed and understood.
Be glad for each person, for their unique experience, for their one-of-a-kind connection to the Sacred, as this is their gift bestowed by a most generous One. Delighting in the spiritual connection another has made highlights the universal nature of mystical experience that can be found in diversity.
This fifth practice, Celebrate, perhaps more than any other, elevates our conversation to the level of the mystic heart. When I can celebrate your relationship with Jesus, even though I do not consider myself a Christian, I have “arrived.” When I can honor your practice of the dhikr, even though I am a Jew, I am “home.” When I can sit by your side as you pray to the Great Mother at the river’s edge, even though in my heart I am praying to Ganesh, we dwell in Oneness together.
We are engaging in interspiritual hospitality, being “intermystics,” as Teasdale would say, “when we are open to wisdom wherever we find it.”
This is the beginning of birthing a global heart, a community of Oneness. It is beautiful work, and not for the faint-hearted. Teasdale would be proud of us though. And Rumi would dance.
Teasdale, Wayne. The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Traditions. California: New World Library, 1999.
Dr. Janice Lundy is the co-founder and director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute which provides education and certification in interfaith and interspiritual direction. She is an interfaith/interspiritual guide herself, the author of several spiritual formation books including Your Truest Self and My Deepest Me, and the creator of the Pure Presence® method of compassionate listening. She is currently Visiting Professor of Spiritual Direction at The Graduate Theological Foundation. She resides in Michigan, USA.