By Leslie Gabriel Mezei
REPORT FROM MT. VERNON, WASHINGTON, SEPTEMBER 29-OCTOBER 4, 2013
The Dawn of Interspirituality conference brought some 200 of us together from many traditions for a groundbreaking event exploring the idea and practice of interspirituality. We gathered at Cascadian Center, near Seattle, Washington.
The event was rich with opportunities, largely because of the remarkable list of presenters during the five days we spent together. We began with videotaped blessings from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which you can view here.
Before the Conference, there was a reunion of attendees from 30 years of the Snowmass Interreligious Conference, which recently became the Snowmass Interspiritual Dialogue. Father Thomas Keating, its founder, addressed us in real time over the airwaves, and we sang a Kyrie Eleison chant for him in three-part harmony. The Snowmass eight points of agreement about spirituality helped set the context for this conference.
The talks in the plenary sessions were kept to 20 minutes, leaving more time for small group interaction, musical interludes, chanting, worship, celebrations, silent contemplation, and walking in nature. Afew of the presentations stood out to me. Reverend Matthew Wright’s topic was “Multiple Religious Belonging and the Evolving Interspiritual Landscape.” At the age of 28 he has been ordained as an Episcopalian priest, initiated as a Sufi Dervish of Rumi’s Mevlevi Order, and an initiate in the Ramakrishna Order of Vedanta, founded by Swami Vivekananda.
Adam Bucko and Rory McEntree talked about the “New Monasticism and the Interspiritual Revolution.”
Imam Jamal Rahman’s topic was “Awakening to Interspirituality Through Sacred Humour.” He told us many Mulla Nasruddin teaching jokes. He is part of the Interfaith Amigos trio, which includes Rabbi Ted Falcon, another presenter.
Presenters at the Dawn of Interspirituality conference. Rabbi Rami Shapiro urged us to be Holy Rascals, “with a passion for spiritual truth and awakening, use humour to shatter the systems that bind us.” His Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent is a valuable source book of “sacred teachings annotated and explained.” Chief Phil Lane, a hereditary Chief and Elder and an internationally recognized indigenous leader in human and community development, also participated.
A young adult panel addressed “What Spirituality Looks Like to the New Generation” and offered a demonstration of the Snowmass Interspiritual Dialogue (SISD) Spiritual Inquiry Method, which we then all got to experience.
A large group of people gathered several times during the conference, under the leadership of Ed Bastian and Diane Berke, to begin planning an Interspiritual Association. Its purpose: “to link up different organizations and individuals that are passionate about this.”
I asked Kurt Johnson, co-author of The Coming Interspiritual Age (2013), about the difference between the interfaith movement and interspirituality: “Interfaith is really a horizontal dialogue across fixed positions in the interest of understanding and tolerance and dialogue. Interspirituality is going into this deep space in the heart and consciousness that underpins everything as one thing. Becomes self-evident as all beings joined at the root.”
This was a rich and resonant blend of experiences for me and those to whom I spoke. The last word goes to Will Keepin who, with Cynthia Brix, organized the event: “It seems that there is a deep hunger, a spiritual thirst in people, both across the religions as well as those who are not formally part of any religion, for a coming together of the religious and wisdom traditions of the world.
“I am really happy that we designed the conference to make it a vehicle to support what wants to emerge, without us specifying what it is. We wanted to allow the energy and enthusiasm to come from the bottom up. We made plenty of time for experiential work, for small groups self-organizing around themes of shared interest through Open Space, so that what is alive in the community would have a chance to be honoured and supported and manifest. I feel that that is what took place.”