How do you become ‘Interfaith’?

I had a very brief conversation with someone last weekend, which kept me thinking all throughout this week. I met this very kind lady who gave me and a friend a lift to the train station. Earlier that day I had seen her perform in a choir, singing interfaith songs.
I assumed she was a fellow minister, and asked her when she was ordained. To my surprise she explained she is not a minister, but does consider herself interfaith.

This really made me think about my own spiritual journey. I remember starting the interfaith seminary and realizing ‘I am home’. Not home in the seminary, or the organization organizing the training for me, but I felt home spiritually.
From a young age I had been looking at different traditions and looked into whether specific traditions would suit me. Not 1 religion felt right to me though, mainly to do with the fact that I am a very liberated and outspoken woman that sees herself equal to any man. I saw in so many religions that the essence was beautiful, but it was being spoiled by people putting rules to it. Mainly rules that makes men and women unequal to each other or makes followers of a specific religion better than those that don’t follow it. I have a thing about inequality and about people that consider themselves better and more spiritual than others.
Long story short, I found Interfaith, signed up for the seminary and found my spiritual niche.

The question is: How does one ‘become’ interfaith without following an intensive course and being ordained as a minister?
It’s a question which is very hard to answer. Interfaith is not a religion. It does not have specific scripture or a prophet to follow. It doesn’t have congregations that gather every week in a temple of sorts. There is no baptism or ‘conversion’ to Interfaith. In fact, most ministers find being an Interfaith minister a very individual journey.

For me, there are a few things that define being ‘Interfaith’, and they are to be found in the ethics of the One Spirit organization.
I aim to keep my heart and mind open to everyone, celebrating difference but not separation.
For me this really is the foundation of my being. Accepting everyone for who they are, celebrating the fact that the world is a garden with many different things growing in it, each having its own purpose in our magnificent ecosystem.
I recognise that all paths emphasise the importance of honesty, love for the self and love for the other. Regardless of how certain individuals use religion and spirituality to gain power over the self and others, I recognise that this is not the essence of what religion teaches us. I am committed to find the true essence in spiritual paths.
I understand that my spiritual unfolding is an ongoing process, and dedicate myself to continually deepen my personal spiritual practice, understanding of different faith paths.
I dedicate for my service to be grounded in an authentic and evolving spiritual life.

One thing I care for personally is the interfaith dialogue. To create understanding and dialogue between those of different spiritual backgrounds. We are all just walking each other home.

Anyone who commits themselves to learn about different faith paths and who seeks understanding about their own spirituality, accepting themselves and others just as much in their difference as communality in my opinion is serving the Interfaith cause. Regardless of their spiritual background.

Of course, all of this is just my opinion.

Namaste!

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10 of my favourite spiritual poems

I have a great love for poetry. I therefore love the Sufi tradition of using poetry to express our relation to the divine.
In this post I share 10 of my favourity spiritual themed poems. They are from poets of different spiritual and religious backgrounds, but are all expressing something about the poet’s relationship to the divine.
I would love to hear about your favourite poem!

1. God Says Yes To Me by Kaylin Haught:

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

2. Requests by Digby Mackworth Dolben

I asked for Peace—
My sins arose,
And bound me close,
I could not find release.
I asked for Truth—
My doubts came in,
And with their din
They wearied all my youth.
I asked for Love—
My lovers failed,
And griefs assailed
Around, beneath, above.
I asked for Thee—
And Thou didst come
To take me home
Within Thy Heart to be.

3. Unlearn and learn by Sri Chinmoy
#1203 from Ten thousand flower-flames

Anything that binds you,
Unlearn it.
Anything that blinds you,
Unlearn it.
Anything that limits you,
Unlearn it.
Anything that awakens you,
Learn it.
Anything that liberates you,
Learn it.
Anything that fulfils you,
Learn it.

4. Do not stand at my grave and weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

5. Turmoil in your hearts by Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi

Were it not for
the excess of your talking
and the turmoil in your hearts,
you would see what I see
and hear what I hear!

6. Guardian Angel by Rolf Jacobson

I am the bird that knocks at your window in the morning
and your companion, whom you cannot know,
the blossoms that light up for the blind.

I am the glacier’s crest above the forests, the dazzling one
and the brass voices from cathedral towers.
The thought that suddenly comes over you at midday
and fills you with a singular happiness.

I am one you have loved long ago.
I walk alongside you by day and look intently at you
and put my mouth on your heart
but you don’t know it.

I am your third arm and your second
shadow, the white one,
whom you don’t have the heart for
and who cannot ever forget you.

7. Pygmy (Zaire) Chant, author unknown

In the beginning was God,
Today is God,
Tomorrow will be God.
Who can make an image of God?
He has no body.
He is the word which comes out of your mouth
That word! It is no more,
It is past, and still it lives!
So is God.

8. The Moon of Your Love by Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

Not a single soul lacks
a pathway to you.

There’s no stone,
no flower —
not a single piece of straw —
lacking your existence.

In every particle of the world,
the moon of your love
causes the heart
of each atom to glow.

9. I have no name by Jiddu Krishnamurti

I have no name,
I am as the fresh breeze of the mountains.
I have no shelter;
I am as the wandering waters.
I have no sanctuary, like the dark gods;
Nor am I in the shadow of deep temples.
I have no sacred books;
Nor am I well-seasoned in tradition.
I am not in the incense
Mounting on the high altars,
Nor in the pomp of ceremonies.
I am neither in the graven image,
Nor in the rich chant of a melodious voice.
I am not bound by theories,
Nor corrupted by beliefs.
I am not held in the bondage of religions,
Nor in the pious agony of their priests.
I am not entrapped by philosophies,
Nor held in the power of their sects.
I am neither low nor high,
I am the worshipper and the worshipped.
I am free.
My song is the song of the river
Calling for the open seas,
Wandering, wandering,
I am Life.
I have no name,
I am as the fresh breeze of the mountains.

10. Secretly we Spoke by Rumi

Secretly we spoke,
that wise one and me.
I said, Tell me the secrets of the world.
He said, Sh… Let silence
Tell you the secrets of the world.

Mother Teresa (26 aug 2010 – 5 sep 1997)

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.”

Form and Essence

One of the most important lessons I learned in spirituality was around the concept of Form.
Form, the outward expression of the philosophy behind any religion.

Form can mean wearing orange robes, black robes, white robes.
It can also mean honouring your ancestors through various ways such as visiting their grave, having a home altar or dancing together with them.
Form is what makes any religion or spiritual conviction recognisable.
As an interfaith minister, I study form in different religions and see how it unites and divides.

Form can unite. It can unite through prayer, song, any ritual that is shared between different religions. As form is the outward expression of the love for one’s god of understanding, it is a most beautiful thing. As the motto of the UN interfaith week says: ‘Love of God & Love of the neighbour, or Love of the Good & Love of the neighbour’.

Form can also divide. Form divides when it’s no longer the outward expression of love for one’s god of understanding. Form divides when it loses its essence and becomes a vehicle for fear based decisions. I do feel for people that live with a ‘do this, or else’ kind of god in their life.
I wish for everyone to have a loving relationship with the god of their understanding.

Form can easily bring people in a space of ‘wrong and right’. Many religions teach that the form they have for worshipping god is the right one. But what if we bring worship back to simply loving god and loving the neighbour? What if everyone would choose love over being right?

It is exactly this idea that the interfaith dialogue is promoting. In my work as a minister, this is the subject I feel most passionate about. I would never try and convince someone that they are wrong. I will ask people how their expression of their spirituality meets loving God and loving your neighbour.

Thinking about your own spirituality, what form does it have? Do you consider this the right form to express spirituality? Would you try and convince others that your way is the right way?
These questions can bring us in an uncomfortable space. It’s hard to meet ourselves in that space of wanting to be right and have all the answers. Go gently, we all have this being within. In trying to find answers to unanswerable questions, we tend to hold on to our own form, because that is what we know. The most important thing to remember is the divine essence in whatever form your spirituality takes. Remembering the essence will allow us to stay open minded to change and towards others that might prefer to do things differently.

May peace be with you and within you.

Namaste

The God of My Understanding

Since I started training as an Interfaith minister I have had a lot more conversations about God than ever before in my life. I like these conversations, because every single one of them helps me explore my understanding of what we tend to refer to as ‘God’.

The most important question I have been asked is:
‘Who is the God of your understanding?’

Now, regardless of whether you call the divine God, Love, Allah, Yahweh, if you do belief in some sort of divine force, you have a God of your understanding. What does this God look like?

The question obviously is, does it even matter?

In Interfaith it doesn’t matter, that is why I am on my current path. There is absolutely no rule that says what my God should look like, and there is no rulebook that says how I should relate to God. The important bit is the acknowledgement of a divine force, no matter what shape it appears in.

Quite a few people have assumed that, since I train as a minister, my God is an old white bearded man sitting on a throne in a bunch of clouds in space that plays evil ant farm with this world.
‘I don’t believe in God, because how could HE do all of this to the world?’ These people ask me, waiting for me to give some sort of response.
That is not my God. If you are waiting for me to defend that God, you’d have to wait for a long, long time. My question to those people is, ‘Why do you assume that God is making everything on earth happen? Is this something you thought of yourself, or is this something someone once told you?’

My understanding of God has evolved throughout my lifetime as much as I have evolved throughout my lifetime. I have even had times where I imagined there to be no God at all, and us humans just being a very highly evolved species trying to control all forces on this planet. Even referring to God as God now, doesn’t sit with me 100%. I’d rather call it the divine.

And, absolutely, if you really do not feel that there is any divine force whatsoever, cool. I’m not here to tell the world there is a divine force. I could try and explain to you the difference between an atheist and a humanist, but that is that.
One of the things I love about my training is that in the group of about 50 people, absolutely no one has the exact same idea of who or what God is. Isn’t that beautiful? We’re like a really big bouquet of all different ideas about the divine.

In my experience it is very natural for opinions to grow and change. I remember in my youth, thinking that everyone over 35 was ancient! I am very happy I didn’t hold on to that believe.
The same with God. My current idea of God is an energetic force that exists in everything and keeps the equilibrium. This changes the idea of prayer to the idea of redirecting the energy because of intention. I don’t pray to a person. I believe my prayer, because of its intention can have a direct effect on the divine energy that is alive in everything and everyone.
Will this still be my idea of God in 10 years’ time? I don’t know.

I would love to hear from you about the God of your understanding. Especially if your ideas on that are still evolving. Your God can be whom- or whatever you want that to be, imagine.

Go Placidly Amid the Noise

I found this poem by Max Ehrmann on the wall of a church outside of Conna (co. Cork) last weekend. I love it, given the fact it was written in 1927 it couldn’t be more accurate for this present time.
I often assume that the way this world is made of noise & haste is prone to modern times,  reading this brought me the realization that maybe it is prone to being human.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

 

Breaking all the rules

This month has led me on the path of the Abrahamic traditions. Abrahamic traditions are those religions that trace their origin back to the figure Abraham. Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Eastern Monotheistic religions. Or, in my world, the religions of ‘right and wrong’.

Rules are there to be broken. My favourite story to illustrate this, is based on the experiment ‘Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys (the Hollywood version).’

An experimenter puts 5 monkeys in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, is a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder.

The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one begins to climb the ladder. As he does, however, the experimenter sprays him with a stream of cold water. Then, he proceeds to spray each of the other monkeys.

The monkey on the ladder scrambles off. And all 5 sit for a time on the floor, wet, cold, and bewildered. Soon, though, the temptation of the bananas is too great, and another monkey begins to climb the ladder. Again, the experimenter sprays the ambitious monkey with cold water and all the other monkeys as well. When a third monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pull him off the ladder and beat him.

Now one monkey is removed and a new monkey is introduced to the cage. Spotting the bananas, he naively begins to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pull him off and beat him.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The experimenter removes a second one of the original monkeys from the cage and replaces him with a new monkey. Again, the new monkey begins to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pull him off and beat him – including the monkey who had never been sprayed.

(source: http://johnstepper.com/2013/10/26/the-five-monkeys-experiment-with-a-new-lesson/)

What do monkeys have to do with the way we spiritually live our lives?

Do not indulge in evil thoughts and sights (Num. 15:39)

Do not crave something that belongs to another (Deut. 5:18)

Issue 2061: If a person does not possess any wealth, and it is obligatory on him to maintain his dependents, like, his wife and children, he should start earning. Moreover, to earn is recommended for Mustahab acts like providing better means of livelihood to one’s family, and helping the poor persons.

Above are just 3 religious rules that seem so common, we often don’t even question the impact they have on our life. Yet, hands up if you feel a slight ping of guilt moments after you have a negative thought towards that lady who struts through the office like she owns the place and doesn’t even acknowledge your friendly smile.

I am definitely not saying, stop being kind. Please do not stop being kind. What I am saying is that we need to look at the background of the ‘rules’ in our lives and why they are there.

Being a true rebel though, means you question the rules that are in place and challenge them. Being an avid fan of dr Martens I would say ‘kick them’, but appropriate footwear does apply here.

An Ammonite or Moabite shall never marry the daughter of an Israelite (Deut. 23:4)

A widow whose husband died childless must not be married to anyone but her deceased husband’s brother (Deut. 25:5)

If menstruation stops during Salat and the mustahaza woman does not know whether or not it has also stopped internally, and if after her prayers she understands that bleeding had totally stopped, and she has sufficient time at her disposal to offer prayers again in the state of purity, it will be an obligatory precaution for her to act according to the rules applicable to her and pray again.

This is just a very small selection of the rules that I will continue to question. Why should any woman feel shameful about her monthly period, which is natural as sin? Yes, I said natural as sin. Meant it too!

I was having a great conversation around the topic of rules this morning. My conversational partner asked me: ‘if you were God, what rule would you create for this world?’

My statement being, ‘are rules really necessary?’.

My dream is to live in a world where we do not need something written down in order not to do stupid stuff like harming each other. We could just try taking our own responsibility and act from a place of wisdom and love. ‘Dream Big’.

The most interesting part of the conversation, was talking about the rules we set for ourselves. I was challenged to think of the rules I set for myself, being a woman who stands in her own authority.

My main rule is to live my life to the best of my ability, whatever that might mean in any point in time.

Secretly I do set myself a lot of rules. During the course of this day I am becoming more and more aware of what they are. ‘Do not have more than 2 cups of coffee a day.’ ‘No television during the day.’ ‘take 1 day a week to practice spirituality.’ ‘any day off should include a minimum of 30 minutes cardio exercise and yoga afterwards.’ There is no use of writing all of them down, but maybe it is time for a good review of my personal rule book.

 

“I am free, no matter what rules surround me.

If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them;

if I find them too obnoxious, I break them.

I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

― Robert A. Heinlein

 

 

 

 

 

The God in Me greets the God in You

I, the fiery light of Wisdom,

I ignite the beauty of the plains,

I sparkle waters,

I burn in the sun, and the moon, and the stars

There are few words that come with more pre-conceived notions than the word God. I will tell you that I have plucked up all my courage in writing this blog, because of the responses some people might have to it, and the assumptions people might have about me, daring to write about God.

I am not a Christian, or Muslim, or Jew, or any other religious label. I consider myself spiritual, but not bound by man-made religion. One of the challenges I am going to face this year is my relationship with God, and since this blog is about spiritual journeying, this is part of it.

Personally, when I hear the word God, I am taken back to my Christian background, to lessons of good and evil, and to fearing the wrath of God.

Also, I have been around too many people that sigh at the mentioning of God. God is owned by the likes of Ned Flanders and the do-gooders of this world. People that do not have fun and have to pray all the time and live by rules such as ‘girls need to wear skirts and have long hair’. This is not who I am, and this is not want I want to be associated with.

Too many people have used the name of God to do evil. It is time for some positivity around the true meaning of God. God is not a set of rules to live by, God does not tell people to do harm to each other, God does not install fear.

I think it is time that us good, fun-loving, kind hearted claim God back for our own.

Everyone will have a different definition of who or what God is. I personally do not think of God as a white bearded man that sits on a big throne somewhere in the sky. Although, it is pretty hard to let go of this image, having been brought up with it.

I also do not believe God is 100% good or 100% evil. For me, God, is neutral, not male, not female, but an all-sustaining energy force that is in perfect balance and that is there to keep the world in perfect balance, preferably by spreading love and light. I call ‘God’ the spark of divine energy that is the same within all of us. I see God in everything around us, plants, animals, everything that has life has God. It’s what makes us all equal and it’s what should stop us from wanting to do harm to one another (that and just being a decent human being of course).

Thinking of God and my definition of God brings about a lot of questions, which I hope I get to find answers for in this lifetime.

The Tao Te Ching reads:

Know the strength of man,

But keep a woman’s care!

Be the stream of the universe,

Ever true and unswerving,

Become as a little child once more.

 

Know the white,

But keep the black!

Be an example to the world!

Being an example to the world,

Ever true and unwavering,

Return to the infinite.

 

Know honor,

Yet keep humility.

Be the valley of the universe!

Being the valley of the universe,

Ever true and resourceful,

Return to the state of the uncarved block.

When the block is carved, it becomes useful.

When the sage uses it, he becomes the ruler.

Thus, ‘A great tailor cuts little.’ 

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. This is not about wrong or right about what God is or does. It’s what God means to you, and how it affects your life and ways.

 

Namaste: The God in Me greets the God in You