“There is only one river. There is only one sea.
And it flows through you, and it flows through me.
There is only one people. We are one and the same.
We are all one spirit. We are all one name…” – Peter Yarrow
One of these things is not like the other.
One of these things just doesn’t belong.
Can you guess which thing is not like the other
By the time I finish this song?” – Big Bird
Both Peter Yarrow and Big Bird are correct. And that’s the paradox of interfaith engagement.
We are one and the same: human beings.
We are different: not like the others.
Interfaith engagement is the exploration of our differences from the place of that shared humanity. It’s interesting. Challenging. Fun. Scary. Educational.
And it can be life changing. Yes, life changing.
If we take interfaith engagement seriously—if we open ourselves up to The Other—we can be personally and communally transformed.
Five Characteristics of an Effective Interfaith Engager *
How many of these attributes can you muster to maximize chances for successful interfaith experiences?
- Humility. No one has all the answers to the mystery of the Divine. Can you acknowledge there is much to know in the Infinite and that you do not know it all?
- Commitment. Interfaith dialogue requires a loyalty to care for and honor your own religious tradition. Can you remain rooted in your personal faith without proselytizing? Is your commitment to your belief strong enough that you can talk honestly without feeling threatened or under attack?
- Interconnection. Connections to Holiness are everywhere. Many religions share common values like attitudes toward social justice or a strong sense of environmental responsibility. Are you open to discovering that the place where they meet is a shared holiness, equally relevant to both your own religious practice and someone else’s?
- Empathy. The heart often gets what the mind cannot comprehend. Can you put yourself in the spiritual shoes of someone else and feel what s/he/they are feeling? To the extent that you are willing to go beyond religious history, facts and information and instead experience the depth of your dialogue partner’s faith, your own experience of the Divine will expand and personal transformation can occur.
- Hospitality. To be hospitable is to be friendly and welcoming. Are you open to the possibility that another faith tradition has something to offer you? This characteristic above all the others can help ensure a meaningful interfaith experience. If you are open and generous, the other traits will follow.
* Adapted from The im-possibility of Interreligious Dialogue, Catherine Cornille, Crossroad Publishing Company, 2008
Click here for a printable list of the Five Characteristics of an Effective Interfaith Engager