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This Kind of Envy Builds Bridges

Guest Author: 
Jeanette Banashak


What is "holy envy"?


September is a month that marks new beginnings: It’s a new school year for students and educators; it’s a new year for Jews; and new foods are harvested in the month of plenty.  For the past 37 Septembers since preschool in Mexico, I have begun a new academic year.  Each of those beginnings has been an opportunity to review my life, start a new hobby or continue an old one, and/or cultivate a relationship.

Krister Stendahl coined the term “holy envy," which means recognizing elements in another tradition that you admire and could, in some way, reflect  in your tradition.  In the 13th century during the Fifth Crusade in the month of September, St. Francis experienced holy envy after meeting the sultan, Malek al-Kamil.  In their first encounters, both men tried to convert the other, though quite quickly realized that they both had a deep love for God/Allah.  St. Francis was moved by the Islamic practice of prayer five times each day, which ultimately influenced his own devotion to prayer.

This September and beyond, I would like to leave room for holy envy.  Perhaps you might want to join me in this.

One of the ways that we can grow in our interreligious and interspiritual understanding is to become aware of and join in solidarity with our global and local neighbors during significant world religious holy days.  The following is a website that outlines the holidays for different traditions in 2017.  http://www.interfaith-calendar.org/2017.htm

Here is a website that offers more depth and provides information related to date, country, religion, and lunar phases. http://www.earthcalendar.net/index.php

If you are drawn to celebrating a holiday from a religious tradition other than your own, it may be helpful to check in with your interior world.  One way we can do this is to consider the bridge as a metaphor for interreligious and interspiritual connection. I have adapted the following questions from the theory of cultural intelligence and modified them for the purposes of this practice.

1) Why do you want to build the bridge? What draws you to the tradition or practice?  What are your reasons for exploring it?

2) What do you need to build the bridge? Who practices or participates in the holiday? What historical and cultural context do you need to know about?  Why is the holiday significant to the followers?  How do they celebrate it?

3) How will you build the bridge? In light of the information you gained from considering what you need to build the bridge, how will you choose to celebrate the holiday? Are there any adjustments you need to make in your context?  Will you celebrate it with religious followers of the tradition?

4) Are you ready to build the bridge? Once you’ve done your interior check-in, gained understanding about the holiday and the people who celebrate it, and discerned how you will celebrate the holiday, go ahead and celebrate!

My hope is to cultivate holy envy as I become aware of - and participate in -  holy days from a variety of religious/spiritual/ethical traditions. 

May we continue taking steps towards appreciating others and growing in awareness of our interconnectedness.

Dr. Jeanette Banashak is the co-founder and director of The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, an organization engaging in education, experiences, and relationships for practical, integrative, unitive living.  A bilingual interreligious/interspiritual guide, she also teaches mindfulness to K-2nd graders in Chicago Public Schools.  Jeanette is currently preparing to take a pilgrimage to Spain and Japan.

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