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Sharing Sacred Space

Sharing Sacred Space: Interreligious Dialogue as Spiritual Encounter
by Benoit Standaert
Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009 
119 pages
Reviewed by Christine Luna Munger

As a reproduction of the third section of a larger work, this version of Benoit Standaert’ssacred space project serves the purpose of reflection on interreligious study and encounter. Standaert draws on the categorical concept of sacred space as a spiritual ground from which to begin interreligious dialogue, which he distinguishes as an alternative to the dogmatic or historical perspectives that often negatively mark such conversations. Standaert supports the notion that one best serves as a conversation partner when one begins firmly rooted in one’s own tradition. Consequently, he coins the phrase Jesus space as particular to Christians, and he heads each of his chapters with “Jesus” in conversation with Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and unbelief.

Standaert’s assertion throughout the text remains that Christians will best dialogue with persons of other traditions when they begin the conversation informed by the stance of openness and freedom that characterizes Jesus space. He argues that from within the spiritual spaces of the major religious traditions, much more common ground is to be found than from within dogmatic or historical starting points. While he does not seek to dismiss dogmatic or historical perspective—in fact, he exhibits more than casual awareness of non-Christian traditions’ historical background—he does assert that those who enter into interreligious dialogue are more likely to be open to, receive, and truly listen to the other if the starting point is a spiritual one.

The text is divided into six sections—an introduction; one chapter each on Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Unbelief; and lastly a reflective epilogue on scripture. Judaism is treated more extensively than any of the other sections and is especially informed by historical perspectives and theological questions such as Jesus’ Jewishness. Standaert presents Islam from a distance in relation to the other traditions; the chapter on Islam poses theoretical questions and offers suggestions for better Christian and Islamic dialogue, more so than it demonstrates dialogue itself. Buddhism is covered through a focused, personal lens based on the author’s own five-week encounter with Japanese Buddhism. The section on Unbelief also takes on a suggestive tone that intends to include nonbelievers in the Jesus space conversation. The epilogue serves as a climax of the mostly personal reflections throughout the text (with the exception of the chapter on Judaism), revealing the author’s own spiritual journey using lectio divina and visio divina related to the topic of interreligious dialogue.

Sacred space is a helpful, creative prominent concept. Themes of listening, openness, and freedom run throughout. Standaert seems to be writing for an audience that is still on the fence about the value of interreligious dialogue. Spiritual directors might recommend this text to seekers who are beginning processes of dialoguing with others who are distinctly different. I would not recommend the text to those who are well immersed in such a journey, unless they are specifically seeking a text that is personal.

Christine Luna Munger is a mother, spiritual director, and student pursuing doctoral studies in practical theology. She lives in Florida, USA.

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