Deepening Our Interfaith Dialogue: Thoughts From Rabbi Rami Shapiro by Judie Kuhlman

Rabbi Rami Shapiro

First United Church of Christ hosted Rabbi Rami Shapiro on Monday February 22nd. Rabbi Rami Shapiro discussed inter-spirituality and how each religion addresses what it sees as “the essential problem facing humanity.”  Rabbi Rami looks at each religion promoting its own solution as THE Solution to common human problems.    For Hinduism, the approach is to understand and solve Ignorance; Judaism it is Exile/Alienation; for Buddhism it is Dissatisfaction/Suffering; Christianity; Brokenness/Sin and for Islam it is Willfulness/Pride.  Rabbi Rami suggests that we can recognize that each faith has a wisdom that we can benefit from.  There is common ground when each of us at some point in our lives must face ignorance, alienation, dissatisfaction, brokenness, and pride.  Rabbi Rami sees the new missionary in an inter-spiritual world not as someone who is ready to convert others to their religion and their solution, but one who can help others see the benefits of all the Others’ solutions.  Rabbi Rami views the diversity of other religions as “unique expressions of God.”  Once we can accept that there is diversity in religion, we can find love.

From Rabbi Rami’s experience he has found the most impactful dialogue happens in small trusted interfaith groups.  When these groups work properly, they can establish safe spaces so that each other can connect and share their deep religious and spiritual insights and not just the good side, but also the dark side.  They address difficult topics and issues so that as a group they can help each other find wholeness.  Exploring the areas of conflict and division is difficult and can be uncomfortable, but it can be done with great trust.  There are texts in our sacred traditions that are not pleasant, and we do not need to hide from them.   When we can openly discuss these areas, the walls that once existed can be taken down and we find ourselves in a very unique space with our neighbor.  This is a very holy space.  In this holiness, we can feel the deep connection we with one another that goes beyond space and time.  We need to be honest with ourselves and ask if  we can truly overcome our own feelings of fear and uncertainty in order to find this precious space.

There are unexpected moments that break through when your heart is open to receiving.   As we grow and expand our understanding of one another, those break through moments can go beyond one’s own religion giving us new insights to our own faith.  Rabbi Rami mentioned an experience that he had with the Perpetual Virgin, The Mother of all the Living, one night while he was on a retreat.  This experience made a profound impact on him.  The experience opened him up to see a new appreciation the many images of the divine feminine found in our faiths – Eve, Mary, Sophia, Wisdom, Shekhinah, Kali etc.  Speaking about an intimate moment is quite amazing because it is not easy to talk to someone of another faith about personal spiritual experiences.  You are not sure if the Other will be offended or whether they will trust what you are saying.  It is a risk, but it could be an amazing experience.  

Interfaith intimacy is just this.  It is sharing personal human conditions, feelings , experiences, uncertainties, and frustrations with one another in order to help each other grow deeper.  An inter-spiritual being sheds the fear and anxiety of intersecting with “Other” possibilities, and allows for an open heart to the great mystery of many religions, allowing the divine dwell in you to navigate you through the unknown.