Last Tuesday night I sat with a group of people that I have come to respect and admire. You see, the third Tuesday is our monthly meeting we like to call “Interfaith Contemplatives.” The intent of this gathering is to offer the citizens of Winston-Salem the opportunity to sit with people of different faiths for 30 minutes of silence. Afterwards, should one feel called to do so (and most of us typically do feel so called), we share any reflections that came up for us during the silence.
This group started with the call from our Interfaith’s group mission to educate the community about the beautiful diversity that can be found when looking under the rocks of stereotype, bigotry, and ignorance. There are many faiths that perform the act of silence. Look at the Quaker, who can sit with the Living Christ an hour at a time, or the Buddhist monk who will meditate on the Zen of a butterfly for days on end. What about the Jewish person rehearsing in her mind? As such, we felt it prudent to leave the style of meditating/contemplation/sitting-in-silence to be left up to the individual’s preferred faith’s style of doing so. That’s what interfaith work is all about, yes? To learn about another’s way of believing, rather than telling them how they should perform a particular action/ritual?
A major assumption that I had, being the facilitator of these monthly meetings, was that all who came to the session had either meditated before or knew how to sit in silence. Turns out, most of them had never done either before. As I have experienced many different types of meditations, I was struck again as to how to move forward without telling them how to go into the silence. Different styles of breathing hold different meanings between faiths, and as I’m sure you’re aware, according to a few particular evangelist Christians, even yoga is considered the work of the devil, so I didn’t want to go there.
After getting all the kinks worked out as to how the Contemplation session would go, the first session met last fall. Granted, it was a small group, as there are only a handful of people that are curious about other faith’s style of meditation. But that was okay. All one needs for a meeting to be had are two individuals to show up.
I must admit that on that first session I was a little wary. I’m the “Pagan” of the group. How would they interact with me? Would they get up in disgust once they found out? Needless to say, my worries were for naught, for I found myself with some of the most open-minded, curious, and self-confirmed individuals that I have met to date. Three or four are “Liberal” Baptists, a few “Generalized” Catholics, a Protestant turned Methodist Christian, and a student of Vedanta. Not to mention a walking Zen Master. These are some very enlightened, intelligent, compassionate individuals that I look forward to sitting in silence with, once a month for 30 minutes.
Last Tuesday night, as I sat listening during the time of reflection-sharing, it hit me so hard the profound respect and admiration I have for these individuals. These people are the types of individuals that continue to look outside of the box of comfort we are all taught as children to live in. For me, this is what the work of interfaith is all about. I hope someday, a Muslim will join us in the silence. A Jewish person too. An atheist wouldn’t hurt to add some spice to the evening, as well as a Secular-Humanist. But until that day, I look forward to sitting in silence with my band of ‘Contemplators’ the third Tuesday of each month.