Day 21: Dialogue (Intercultural/Interfaith)

December 18, 2021

Interfaith Gathering and Iftar, May 2018

Day 21: Dialogue (Intercultural/Interfaith)

The suburb where the church I serve is located happens to be one of the most diverse, multicultural, multi-ethnic areas of the Chicago suburbs. The two high schools that serve that suburb are among the most diverse – in terms of languages spoken, countries of origin and ethnicities – in the country.

All that is to say that the place where I serve is a marvelous place and space for intercultural and interfaith dialogue. And, I’ve done my best to reach out to diverse friends, neighbors and community members in the years I have been pastor at St. Luke’s Church in Morton Grove.

In November 2016, I was invited to be a panel discussant at an interfaith discussion on Empowering Diverse Voices at the Muslim Community Center in Morton Grove. This was shortly after the national election of 2016, and many people in our area were very shaken by the heightened rhetoric and attitudes of different groups, nationwide. At that panel, I offered an opportunity for interfaith friends to come together in what I called a monthly gathering for prayer and mutual support.

I was so humbled and gratified to have a diverse group of between 12 and 16 people gather for the next 12 months at the church for these Interfaith Gatherings. These were folks from different groups, diverse faith communities (and a few with no faith affiliation), and of multiple cultures. They gathered to talk, to listen, to support each other, and to pray. For some meetings, we had a definite focus. For others, merely an opportunity for warm fellowship and sharing.

Since I had previously served as a chaplain at a busy urban hospital in Chicago (which was also in quite a diverse, multicultural area), I felt comfortable in such a setting. I suspect my comfort and less-anxious presence aided the open sharing and caring that quickly developed in this Interfaith Gathering group.

Several positive outcomes developed from this Gathering. St. Luke’s Church hosted two community Iftars: one in June 2017, seven months after the beginning of the monthly Gathering, and another in May 2018, several months after the Gatherings concluded. These Iftars were opportunities for the wider community to come together, to learn together, and to enjoy breaking bread with a diverse group of people. I made some lasting friendships from those many months of coming together! And, I was honored to serve as host and facilitator for not only the Interfaith Gatherings, but also the Community Iftars and Outreach Programs in both 2017 and 2018.   

I’ve done a number of interfaith events before and since. I do not know what or how God will direct me in the future. I am saying, “Here I am. I am available.” And, I really mean that.

O Holy One, thank You for Your marvelous diversity in this wonderful world. Thank You for bringing these diverse cultures and ethnicities together in such places like urban settings. But, wherever it is, wherever different people encounter each other, bring forth a comfort level and less-anxious presence. Thank You for open sharing and caring among different people. And, thank You for Your creative diversity, within all You have created here on earth. Thank You for everything.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

Day 4: Meditation

December 1, 2021

Chicago Botanic Garden, Japanese island, photo credit Elizabeth Jones

Do you meditate?

Many people around the world meditate on a regular basis. Many of these people come from a variety of faith traditions. That is, vast numbers of people who practice meditation come from a faith tradition other than Christianity.

I did not know much about meditation when I was growing up. (I guess there were not too many Lutherans who were in the habit of regular meditation during the 1970’s, at least in my area.) By the time I really got interested about different types of prayer – which was during the late 1980’s – I found a number of books published about meditation and contemplation. And, these books came from a variety of different faith traditions.

If no one in your family or among your friends practices meditation, it might indeed seem different.  But, is meditation any more different than certain types of prayer that are practiced in many homes of devout Catholics in the Chicago area? Or, the types of prayer practiced by Orthodox acquaintances of mine around Chicago? This is an honest, sincere question. (I really would like to understand!)   

I love the simple definition given by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh: “Meditation is simply the practice of stopping and looking deeply.” [1] That means to me stopping and looking deeply – with no judgment.

A snap response might be: “Oh, that is easy!” But, is it? A non-judgmental, open, interested stop, with a deep gaze – this might indeed be a challenge, whatever your faith tradition!

Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to say, “With mindfulness and concentration you can direct your attention to what is there and have a deep look. You can begin to see the true nature of what is in front of you.” [2] Isn’t this a way of looking at things (and people) the way God must see them? At least, starting to see them with God’s eyes?

I have practiced the different ways of meditation and contemplation this monk suggests in this small book. Mind-opening, to say the least. I cannot meditate on a regular basis, because my mind is too wedded to the written word. (I really enjoy praying with Scripture! But, more on that, later.) However, when I do try to meditate, I receive rich rewards. God knows that this is not my preferred way of praying, and I believe God honors that, and understands.

Yes, I have meditated, a number of times. I have been refreshed! And, I deeply respect and honor Thich Nhat Hanh, and his practice of coming before the Holy. This slim, little book holds a valued place on my bookshelf devoted to books on prayer, contemplation and meditation.

Please, pray with me. Dear Holy One, thank You for many different understandings of You and how You are in the world. How You relate to individuals, as well as how You might be as different people approach You in different ways. Thank You for helping me to open myself to new experiences in prayer. Thank You especially for this little book How to Sit. Help me glean words of wisdom and ways of prayer and meditation from its pages. In Your divine Name I pray, amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )


[1] Nhat Hanh, Thich, How to Sit (Parallax Press: United States of America, 2014), 18.

[2] Ibid.