Archive for the ‘roman catholic’ tag
Sunday, June 10, 2-4pm
Federal Plaza, on the southwest corner of Adams and Dearborn
Eight Chicago Religious and Spiritual Communities to Pledge Interfaith Cooperation on June 10
“Sacred Solidarity” is a public event that is the culmination of an eight-month project called “Sharing Sacred Spaces” sponsored by the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR).
“Religious and spiritual communities standing with each other in the face of religiously-motivated defamation, hatred and violence is the meaning of solidarity,” says Dirk Ficca, Executive Director of CPWR. “Grounding a pledge of solidarity from within their religious and spiritual traditions makes it sacred. That religious and spiritual communities in downtown Chicago have made such a pledge brings a sacred dimension to the civil space they share.”
In the past eight months, people from different Chicago religious and spiritual communities have forged bonds of friendship and trust through the “Sacred Spaces” series of events. The pledge they sign will symbolize their ongoing effort to honor and respect their different traditions, as well as committing to spread this effort to the surrounding community.
Representatives from the eight participating communities will gather to sign a pledge committing to work together to reduce social tension and build bridges of trust and hope in the city of Chicago. These bonds were built as each of the eight communities invited others into their sacred space, engaged the visitors around matters of their tradition or practice and provided hospitality and conversation. Welcoming each other into their sacred spaces created appreciation of the various religious and spiritual traditions and a sense of community between the participants.
The public is encouraged to join in the pledge-signing event on Sunday, June 10th, 2-4pm, at Federal Plaza, on the southwest corner of Adams and Dearborn.
The solidarity pledge speaks to the many levels of understanding and respect that were built over the eight-month period among eight different religious communities in Chicago. The eight communities are the Midwest Buddhist Temple, Fourth Presbyterian Church, St. James Episcopal Cathedral, Chicago Sinai Congregation, First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, Old St. Patrick’s Catholic church and the Downtown Islamic Center. The pledge is as follows:
“Sharing Sacred Spaces” Solidarity Pledge
We, communities of faith and spirit serving in the Chicago metropolitan area, acknowledge and commit to these ideals:
- that the work of cultivating the religious and spiritual life of human beings is an essential part of the strength and progress of our wider community
- that supporting those who are committed to cultivating religious and spiritual life strengthens the entire fabric of our community
- that we honor the wider traditions of those affiliated with and worshipping or practicing with the communities listed here
- that we actively look for ways to stand in solidarity with each other and to serve our wider community
- that we stand together against any public attempt to disrespect or harm the well-being of any community of faith or practice or its sacred space
- and we celebrate our shared values of compassion, justice, peacemaking, and harmony in diversity.
The eight participating communities:
- The Midwest Buddhist Temple, 435 W. Menomonee, 312-943-7801
- The Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut, 312-787-4570
- St James Episcopal Cathedral, 64 E. Huron, 312-787-7360
- The Chicago Sinai Congregation, 15 W. Delaware, 312-867-7000
- The First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington,312-236-4548
- The Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, 44 E. Wacker,312-236-4671
- Old St. Patrick’s Church, 700 W. Adams St, 312-648-1021
- The Downtown Islamic Center, 231 S. State, 312-939-9095
Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, says the “Sharing Sacred Spaces” model of community building will be offered to other neighborhoods and suburbs of Chicago as well as to over 70 international Partner Cities. “Chicago is just the beginning,” says Ficca. “Together, we hope to chart a course that will strengthen bonds between diverse religious and cultural communities throughout the world.”
by Sarah Fentem
For the past eight months, Chicago has served as the site of a pilot interreligious program designed to foster religious dialogue and understanding, using a resource most religious and spiritual communities already have at their fingertips—spaces to gather.
The last of eight hosted events of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions’ (CPWR) “Sharing Sacred Spaces” series took place May 12, wrapping up a program that intended to “deepen appreciation for the diverse religious and spiritual traditions by focusing on the spaces that are sacred to these communities.”
A final, culminating event, “Sacred Solidarity” will take place on June 10th in downtown Chicago, at which representatives from the eight participating communities with gather to sign a pledge committing to work to maintain the ties of trust and friendship built during the last eight months.
“At a time when hatred and violence erupts over religious differences internationally, [this] quiet collaborative effort in Chicago has forged alliances and fostered new friendships across religious lines”, said Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the CPWR.
Chicago architect Suzanne Morgan, inspired by her work with liturgical architecture, served as the impetus of the program. Since mosques, churches, synagogues, and temples are in a sense a spiritual group’s “home,” sharing them would lend a sense of kinship and community not unlike when neighbors visit each other.
“Spaces become sacred through the meaning they have for their communities,” said Morgan. “Sharing that meaning can build bridges of trust and reduce social tension and cultural misunderstanding.”
Chicago served as the inaugural city for the event, with one of eight participating communities opening its doors every month to give a tour of their community’s “home,” explain their traditions, and answer questions for visitors. The program kicked off in October at the Midwest Buddhist Temple, an experience Sacred Spaces visitor Gale Kryzak said was “bridge-building at its best.”
The interreligious fellowship carried on through the fall, where visitors were touched by the Fourth Presbyterian Church’s spirit of reform and reinvention and St. James Episcopal Cathedral’s blend of history, music, and tradition.
In January, visitors were impressed by the Chicago Sinai Congregation’s intricate blending of architecture and faith. The First United Methodist Church and Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral both showcased how intricately a congregation’s history can be combined with the City’s past and present. The Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist and the Downtown Islamic Center offered clarity to traditions that are sometimes underrepresented or misunderstood.
While each venue was vastly different, visitors saw common threads running through each community. “Each time, I was struck by just how different the spaces, rituals and practices are from what I am accustomed,” said Peter Rubnitz, a member of Chicago Sinai who attended most of the events. “At the same time, I was equally struck by how similar the commitment to faith, values and community is to what I see at Chicago Sinai.”
“Whenever you see people who are earnestly striving for truth and living truth, there’s a heart bond here regardless what the theology or doctrine is,” said Lois Carlson, a member of the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist.
Carlson mentioned how learning about other traditions helped her grow in her own faith.
“Theologically, I learned something that contributed to my prayer life from every one of the events”, she said. “I didn’t expect that. I expected to be educated, but I didn’t expect it to touch my heart in the way that it did.”
“I was very touched when the Muslims explained the proportion of their ten-minute prayer period was nine minute praise for 1 minute of petition. I saw myself checking my conversation with God to make sure it’s weighted on the side of praise.”
“Sacred Solidarity,” the culminating event of the “Sharing Sacred Spaces” program, will take place on Sunday, June 10th at Federal Plaza at the intersection of Adams and Dearborn in the Loop from 2-4 PM. The event, which is open to the public, will feature the signing of a pledge of solidarity that the communities composed together as a result of their experiences of sharing their sacred spaces over the last eight months.
Said Ficca: “Chicago is just the beginning. Together, we hope to chart a course that will strengthen bonds between diverse religious and cultural communities throughout the world.”
by Dilshad D. Ali
I’ve recently taken up saying prayers on my tasbih – much more so than I ever did in my life before. I sit in the rocking chair in the corner of my son’s room fingering my tasbih (something akin to a rosary), doing dhikr while he burrows under the covers on his bed, pulling the weighted blanket over his face as he retreats from the world and takes comfort in the dark, close, muffled space where nothing assaults his senses.
My goal is that he should finger the tasbih while I say the prayers, especially when he shows signs that a meltdown is coming, or is in the throes of a meltdown. He likes to play with beads, stim on them. So I’m hoping he’ll grow to play with the tasbih and learn to use the tasbih as a method of grounding routine and ritual – something recently pointed out to me by a very astute Catholic autistic adult who read a recent blog post I wrote about my son’s struggles.
We’re not there yet, but for now, me just doing dhikr while fingering the tasbih seems to help calm my autistic son. Maybe it’s the prayers, maybe it’s not. But it gives me comfort; it’s something to do, a way to throw my line back to God and put some previously lacking trust back in His will.
For the past nearly 12 years of raising my son (and other two children), ten of which have been dictated by his severe autism, my faith as a Muslim has waxed and waned. I have searched for the words, the examples, the feelings that would help me believe, help me have complete trust that Allah knows best, that He will answer my prayers. I’ve sought guidance through my family, through friends and halaqas (religious study groups), through YouTube videos of inspirational sermons and lectures, through the words of Qur’an and hadith.
But, when you’re in the throes of helping your severely autistic son live his life, when your prayers turn from hopes of recovery and independence to just wanting him to be happy and at peace, when you beseech God time after time and still see your son suffering, when you see your entire family affected by one child’s disability, faith and trust can grow tenuous. And so I found my daily prayers growing one dimensional. I found myself continuously frustrated.
Common Grounds across Special Needs
Last fall, purely with intentions of self-therapy and autism awareness, I turned to one of the things I do best: writing. I launched my own blog at Patheos, a multi-faith news and blog website where I’m a managing editor, and began writing about Islamic issues, autism and my son.
The response was overwhelming, and the connections that came from Muslims the world over as well as from people of other faith traditions lifted my spirits. I’ve always felt divided between my faith and autism communities of friends, that neither group understood what it was like to live our life. In sharing our story, Muslims with autistic children reached out to me from around the world, sympathizing, asking me questions, offering advice and prayers.
But another profound thing to emerge from this journey has been the bolstering of my Muslim faith from connections I’ve made with people of other religions. I shouldn’t be surprised, really. As a journalist and editor, I’ve sought to cover Islam in America in both horizontal (to reach out to other religious groups) and vertical (to deepen the conversations in the American Muslim community) ways.
Whereas I knew that the heartfelt thoughts shared by Muslims would help bolster my faith in Allah, what resonated even further at times was how people of other faiths ignited a kindred spirit in my struggles. Reading and speaking with them about their struggles and lessons learned gave me fuel to think of Islam, Allah’s will and innocent children in different ways. Soon after beginning my blog, I was blessed to become friends with Amy Julia Truesdell Becker, a writer who blogs at “Thin Places—Faith, Family and Disability” at Patheos and is the author of A Good and Perfect Gift.
Becker has three children, one of whom – Penny – has Down’s syndrome. She writes about accepting Penny and loving her as she is and growing stronger in her Christian faith, about finding strength and acceptance in God’s will and how He does or doesn’t answer her prayers – things I’ve struggled with for years with my children.
“So many people I know [with their own special needs children], whether or not they’re of my faith tradition, understand the traditions and value of my daughter in an intuitive way – it’s a special bond that goes beyond theology,” Becker said to me in one of our conversations.
“I think that most parents of children with special needs, regardless of their faith background or lack thereof, have some sort of innate understanding of humanity, of life in all its diverse form. I then understand that or make of that experience through a theological lens. There’s a point of difference between our faiths, but [this understanding of diverse humanity] is a powerful commonality,” Becker said.
It’s this common respect for all of God’s children, this idea that life is diverse, imperfect, difficult, beautiful, and a gift that helps me to accept that although I may not understand His purpose or plan, Allah indeed has one for my son.
Tradition, Routine and Self-Control
Now, I’m not a strong woman. I falter a lot in this thinking. I backtrack, and have to find that trust in Allah time and time again. Two weeks ago I wrote about the Jekyll and Hyde of autism, how Mr. Hyde’s awful persona has taken over my son for months now, how we are desperately trying to figure out what has changed, what may have triggered it.
An amazing thing came from this post of despair. A person, who self-identified as a Catholic autistic, told me that when I am despairing of how to rid my son of Mr. Hyde, I should teach him to pray:
“Give him a prayer rug or a kneeler or whatever fits your family traditions. Maybe two so he won’t be scared the first few times if you can be with him. Then, when you hear the perservating, when you can tell a meltdown is about to happen- that’s the time to pray. The routine of the prayers is calming.”
“I may not be able to meet you on theology—but when it comes to tradition, routine, and self-control, Islam is equal to or better than Christianity on all three. And it’s those three things that the Autistic needs to survive in the modern world.”
This advice has been a turning point. As I wrote in a following post, “My son thrives on routine. And, when he is in the throes of a meltdown, his therapists and I often instruct him through short commands to help ground him and occupy his mind and hands (clap your hands, stomp your feet, touch your nose, do the puzzle, do this, do this, do this) until hopefully he comes out of it. Why not add the tasbih or rituals of salat (prayer) to his arsenal of meltdown-breaking weapons?”
You never know where religious strength will come from: divine inspiration, self-reflection on faith, immersion in sermons and scripture, or from a simple piece of advice given by a Catholic who understands how the rituals of Islam may help an autistic child.
Becker said to me, “Sometimes prayer’s purpose is to change us, not to change our circumstances.” It is with this thought, and with the words of the Catholic commenter, that now, for the past week, I sit in my son’s room, perform my Maghreb salat and then take a tasbih and whisper so he can hear, Subhanallah, Alhamdulillah, Astaghfirullah, Allahu Akbar.*
*Glory be to God, All praise is due to God, I seek forgiveness from God, God is Greater
Dilshad D. Ali is the managing editor of the Muslim Portal at Patheos, editor-in-chief of Altmuslim at Patheos, and she blogs at www.patheos.com/blogs/muslimahnextdoor. She is the mother of three children, the eldest of whom is severely autistic.
by Ruby Russell
from ENI News
Three Catholic churches in the west German region of North-Rhine Westphalia that may have to close this month have received a show of solidarity from the local Muslim community.
Muhammed Al, chairman of the Merkez Mosque Association, wrote to Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, head of the Essen diocese, on behalf of local Muslims last fall about the three Catholic churches in the town of Duisberg.
“We emphasized our long years of cooperation with the parishes and the importance of the churches in the area. We said this should be seen not just from a financial perspective, but also a cultural and social perspective [including] for the sake of interfaith and cultural dialogue,” Al said in an interview.
by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush
from Huffington Post
In the final days of 2011 we pause to reflect on the year that has past — the good, the bad and the ugly. Here are the HuffPost Religion Top Stories of 2011.
The Muslim Spring
It started with a simple vegetable seller in Tunisia who, humiliated by the police and autocracy, set himself on fire at the end of 2010. One year later, the seemingly eternal regimes of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have fallen to popular uprisings and several others, including Syria, appear to be teetering. Once called the Arab Spring, Islam is increasingly being recognized as the fuel that fed the fire of these revolutions — a fire that that may both warm and burn in 2012.
The Dalai Lama Steps Down
The Dalai Lama made history when he relieved himself from his responsibility as political head of the Tibetan people to concentrate solely on his role as spiritual leader; ending one of the most enduring, if benevolent, theocracies in the world. Lobsang Sangay, the Harvard-trained legal scholar, is the the new Tibetan Prime Minister in a time when frustrations with Chinese policy is leading to a fiery form of radical protests by nuns and monks.
Mormons in Politics
The potential success of the Romney presidential campaign has fed a frenzy of discussion of what it means that a Mormon is in politics. The fact that Romney is not the only Mormon candidate (Huntsman) and that the Senate Majority Leader (Reid) is also Mormon doesn’t seem to stop the endless punditry and speculation. Will religious suspicion on the part of evangelicals in the primary and secularists in the general election doom this Mormon moment?
The Muslims Are Coming, The Muslims Are Coming
Fear of the “Muslim menace,” fueled by cynical politicians and well funded think tanks, has led to anti-sharia laws proposed and passed in states around the country. The fact that these states hadno pending pro-sharia laws is apparently beside the point. Creating bulwarks instead of bridges, the anti-sharia (read Muslim) movements seem to ebb and flow according to the political tides (think Park 51 in 2010). Get ready for a flood in 2012.
The End of the World
In order to give people time to repent, people with May 21 Judgment Day signs started popping up well before the announced date of the end of the world. The “prophet” of this apocalypse was Harold Camping, an elderly man with a drawling voice heard most prominently on his Family Radio empire. People left jobs, families prepared to be raptured and as the clock ticked down, the entire world held its collective unbelieving breath. And then time went on, and oddly a little disappointed, so did we.
Presbyterians Acknowledge Gays and Lesbians Can Be Ministers
Ho hum, gays can be ministers, too. Yet, for the Presbyterian Church, one of America’s most famously and proudly plodding religious traditions, to change its laws to allow openly gay men and women in same-sex relationships to be ordained as clergy was a major step forward for LGBT rights and for the Church as a whole.
by Leo D. Lefebure
When I was a graduate student at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago in the 1980s, there were intense discussions of religious pluralism and theological understandings of religious diversity. My doctoral dissertation focused on the importance of the biblical wisdom tradition for contemporary Christian theology, concluding with suggestions that this trajectory could be a fruitful starting point for inter-religious reflection.
During this period, a couple that I knew moved from Casper, Wyoming, to Bangkok and invited me to visit them. This led to my first trip to East and Southeast Asia. I visited Kyoto, Bangkok, Myanmar/Burma, and Bali, and was deeply moved by the beauty of the Buddhist and Hindu art in these sites. I also stayed in the Buddhist monastery of Wat Rempoeng near Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I was introduced to the practice of Theravada Buddhist meditation.
Shortly thereafter, I came to know the noted Japanese Zen Buddhist philosopher, Masao Abe, who was then a visiting professor at the University of Chicago. He agreed to be the mentor to me for a post-doctoral research project funded by the Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada, which allowed me to go to Kyoto, where Abe introduced me to a circle of Japanese scholars, both Buddhist and Christian. These encounters led to my book, The Buddha and the Christ (Orbis Books 1993). My most recent book, The Path of Wisdom: A Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada (Peeters and Eerdmans 2011), continues this trajectory of reflection, responding to the wisdom sayings of Shakyamuni Buddha in light of both biblical and later Christian wisdom traditions. I continue to appreciate the deep wisdom of the Buddhist tradition and find it enriching on many levels.
In 1987, as I was beginning to teach at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary near Chicago, I was invited to participate in a retreat of Catholic priests and rabbis at the University’s Center for Development in Ministry, where we not only talked to one another but also prayed together. This began my decades-long engagement in Jewish-Christian dialogue, which continues today. In the spring of 2009, I participated in a very moving Jewish-Christian study trip to Poland, co-sponsored by Georgetown University and the Polish Foreign Ministry, exploring various aspects of Jewish-Polish relations past and present.
In the 1990s, I was invited to join the Midwest Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims, where I contributed to the drafting of a booklet on Revelation in Catholic and Muslim Perspectives. I was teaching at Fordham University in New York City on September 11, 2001. Afterward, I was involved in discussions of religion and violence at a number of venues, including Siena College near Albany, NY, the Islamic Center of Passaic County, New Jersey and in the Mid-Atlantic Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims in Queens.
I became involved with the work of CPWR when I went to a theology meeting at DePaul University and happened to come upon a group of colleagues who were on the CPWR research committee helping to plan the 1993 Parliament in Chicago. They invited me to attend their next meeting and join the research committee. I also covered the 1993 Parliament for The Christian Century. Later, when I was teaching at Fordham University, I participated in the Consultation on Interfaith Education’s planning for their symposium at the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, where I offered reflections on the Dalai Lama’s contribution to interfaith education.
The most powerful defining moment of the interreligious movement for me was the 1996 Gethsemani Encounter at Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky, which included the Dalai Lama, Maha Ghosananda (the Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism), and many other Buddhist and Catholic monastic leaders. The context of a Catholic Trappist monastery with its rhythms of silence, meditation, and prayer, provided a welcoming atmosphere for the week-long monastic inter-religious reflection. The spirit of Thomas Merton hovered around us as we continued his practice of inter-religious friendship. As an advisor to Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, I enjoyed many moving exchanges with Buddhist and Catholic monastics. Other powerful experiences have come on Buddhist-Christian retreats that draw upon the resources of both traditions.
Given the often problematic role of religion in the world’s conflicts past and present, I believe my involvement in inter-religious reflection is important in building bridges and shaping a healthy community of the world’s religions. I find much hope and encouragement in the wonderful women and men whom I have met in inter-religious encounters.
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN, Jordan (Reuters) – Only five years ago, critical remarks by Pope Benedict about Islam sparked off violent protests in several Muslim countries.
Never very good, relations between the world’s two largest religions sank to new lows in modern times.
This week, while protesters in the Arab world were demanding democracy and civil rights, Catholics and Muslims met along the Jordan River for frank and friendly talks about their differences and how to get beyond their misunderstandings.
The Catholic-Muslim Forum, which grew out of the tensions following Benedict’s speech in the German city of Regensburg, was overshadowed by events in Egypt, Yemen and Syria. The lack of any dramatic news here reflected the progress the two sides have made since 2006.
“We have passed from formal dialogue to a dialogue between friends,” Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Vatican’s department for interfaith dialogue, said at the conference held near the Jordan River site believed to be where Jesus was baptised. “We realised that we have a common heritage,”
Recalling the strains that prompted Muslims to suggest a dialogue in 2007, Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal said: “Since then, despite some misunderstandings, I dare say the general Muslim-Catholic ambiance has ameliorated considerably.”
The 24 Catholic and 24 Muslim religious leaders, scholars and educators meeting here debated how each religion uses reason to strengthen insight into its beliefs. Roman Catholicism has long argued that faith without reason can breed superstition while nihilism can emerge from reason without faith.
Click here to read the full article
In this program Carole Hallundbaek speaks with Dr. Leo D. Lefebure, Matteo Ricci, S.J. Professor of Theology at Georgetown University. A prolific writer and traveler of where religious paths cross, merge and support each other, he is the author of The Buddha and the Christ: Explorations in Buddhist-Christian Dialogue; Life Transformed: Meditations on the Christian Scriptures in Light of Buddhist Perspectives; The Path of Wisdom: A Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada; and Revelation, the Religions, and Violence, recipient of the Pax Christi U.S.A. 2001 Book Award. He has also served on the board of directors of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies; was a participant in the New York Buddhist-Catholic dialogue; an adviser to the Board of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue; and is currently on the Board of Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.
By Kevin Roose
From The New York Times
Not long ago, an unusual visitor arrived at the sleek headquarters of Goldman Sachs in Lower Manhattan.
It wasn’t some C.E.O., or a pol from Athens or Washington, or even a sign-waving occupier from Zuccotti Park.
It was Sister Nora Nash of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. And the slight, soft-spoken nun had a few not-so-humble suggestions for the world’s most powerful investment bank.
Way up on the 41st floor, in a conference room overlooking the World Trade Center site, Sister Nora and her team from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility laid out their advice for three Goldman executives. The Wall Street bank, they said, should protect consumers, rein in executive pay, increase its transparency and remember the poor.
In short, Goldman should do God’s work— something that its chairman and chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, once remarked that he did. (The joke bombed.)
Long before Occupy Wall Street, the Sisters of St. Francis were quietly staging an occupation of their own. In recent years, this Roman Catholic order of 540 or so nuns has become one of the most surprising groups of corporate activists around.
The nuns have gone toe-to-toe with Kroger, the grocery store chain, over farm worker rights; with McDonald’s, over childhood obesity; and with Wells Fargo, over lending practices. They have tried, with mixed success, to exert some moral suasion over Fortune 500 executives, a group not always known for its piety.
From The Huffington Post
By Janet Haag
The word “prayer” is frequently used among believers and non-believers, but what exactly does it mean? Most of us have a concept of prayer that is limited to supplication for our needs with the expectation that a Higher Power will intervene in our lives and do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves. Yes, this is one way of understanding prayer, but it is not all that prayer is. Like many other values, our understanding of prayer is filtered and shaped by our experiences. Sister Joan Chittister, a visionary spiritual voice in our times and an advocate for peace and justice around the world, offers a full and rich perspective on prayer. Sister Joan is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, founder and executive director of BenetVision, and an internationally renowned speaker and the author. The text of the following interview first appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Sacred Journey, the quarterly multi-faith journal of Fellowship In Prayer. Sister Joan will also be presenting at Fellowship In Prayer’s 60th Anniversary Conference, June 24 to 27, 2010 at Princeton University. To subscribe to the journal or to register for what promises to be a landmark event, visit www.fellowshipinprayer.org.
Fellowship in Prayer: How do you define prayer in your life?
Sister Joan Chittister: After more than 55 years of growing into a life of prayer through a lifestyle based on it, my definition of prayer is consciousness, immersion, and relationship. Prayer makes us aware of the elements of the divine in human life, bringing us into contact with the God-life in and around us. Prayer is not personal devotion; it is personal growth. Prayer brings us to the ultimate and the eternal, the daily and the regular, the total consciousness of God now. Prayer enables us to be immersed in what is fundamentally and truly divine in life right now. It is not meant to be a bridge to somewhere else because God is not somewhere else. God is here. Prayer is the act of beginning the process of becoming one with the One we seek — eventually, melting into God completely. This can be accomplished through immersion in the Sacred Scriptures. As Christians, what drives us is not has Jesus died but who Jesus is and why Jesus died. How he defines life and death will become our own understanding if we live prayerful lives.
Did you feel this way about prayer from early on in your life or is this something you have slowly developed over time?
Well, there was certainly a time in my very young life, when prayer was an exercise. However I wasn’t long in monastic life when I realized, like a teabag, I was being steeped in an environment that spoke to me of another layer and level of life. In this environment the notion that prayer is somehow or other an exercise in words simply dissolved very quickly. You know, in the Catholic tradition, around the 15th or 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church began to talk about prayer in different forms — prayers of adoration, prayers of contrition, prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of supplication. These are types of formal prayers, based on words, but they are not prayer. Prayer moves us from the level of personal consciousness to God-consciousness, union with God or what we call the mystical life.
The Sufis tell a wonderful story about a seeker who one night hears a voice saying, “Who’s there?” and the Sufi seeker answers with great excitement, “It is I, it is I, Lord! I am right here!” And the voice disappears. Years later, the Sufi again hears the voice calling, “Who’s there?” The Sufi thinks, “Here’s that voice again!” and he gets very excited at yet another opportunity, and responds, “It is I, Lord, and I seek you with all my heart!” Once again, the voice disappears. Some years later he again hears the voice calling, “Who’s there?” This time, the Sufi replies, “Thou Lord, only Thou!” This story clearly describes the process of moving oneself into the mind, heart, and consciousness of God. It comes, yes, little by little, but it also comes instantaneously, once we move into what the ancient mystics call “prayer without words.” This prayer is the prayer of consciousness. This prayer is the very breath of life. Consciousness that the breath I breathe is the breath of God is the sum total of an attitude of prayer.