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The Promise of Interfaith

Where can interfaith dialogue take us? I was asked this recently, and want to share my answer with you here.

There are many levels of interfaith dialogue: sharing accurate information and correcting of misinformation about our respective religions; sharing our personal faith journeys; sharing our respective scriptures on a topic of mutual interest; finding common ethical ground and working toward common social goals; etc. All of these are important, and all of them can work toward the creation of a more loving community.

I would like to suggest one more. All our religions are, to borrow a phrase from Zen Buddhism, fingers pointing toward the moon; none of them is the moon itself. I want to get to the point where we can say with the Hindu Rig Veda that “Truth is one, different people call it by different names;” and then, even deeper still, to say with the Taoists, “The tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.”

I long for an interfaith dialogue where participants, while steeped in their respective traditions, read these traditions as metaphor and myth pointing toward truths that can be articulated in no other way. I want to be in dialogue with people who not only learn about one another, but from one another; and where the participants can be changed by what they learn.

This kind of interfaith dialogue would be rooted in deep humility. All we could affirm is that we know we don’t know what ultimate Truth or Reality is; all we could say is that real meeting happens when we step out of our scripts and speak together from a place of common questioning rather than uncommon answering.

This is why I put so much effort into interfaith work. I want it to take us through religion and beyond religion to stand together in awe of What Is. At this moment silence reigns, opinions cease, and there is a wordless wonder that leaves us each humbled, hopeful, loving, and courageous.

Can interfaith dialogue bring us to this place? Yes. I have experienced it with the faculty of the Spiritual Paths Institute, with the participants in Father Thomas Keating’s Snowmass Group, and with the participants at my twice-monthly interfaith luncheons at Wisdom House.

I know this kind of encounter is possible. My hope is that more and more people get to experience it.


Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. In the print version of our magazine, he has an advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addressing reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art. Rabbi Rami hosts our podcast, “Essential Conversations.”

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