In “Beyond Resistance,” United Church of Christ President Rev. John Dorhauer writes, “Postmodern Christianity is also post-Christian… it is a way of expressing a fundamental commitment to the way of Jesus without any need or desire to see that as the only way or the better way.” (p.111) He continues, “In its place will be a church filled with disciples of Jesus who walk in his way, and who do their best to be faithful practitioners of that they understand him to have been. They will be more comfortable with a seated Buddha on their desk or mantle than with a cross (have one on my desk). They will attend services at temple, synagogue, mosque, sweat lodge, and church. They will baptize those who find that meaningful...They will read from the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, Confucius, the Vedas, and many other spiritual texts. They will consult spiritual directors, life coaches, mentors, rabbis, imams, priests, shamans, and others who demonstrate a capacity to put them in touch with the sacred.”
That’s the world I live in.
As a Hospice chaplain for eleven years, I learned the art of meeting people wherever they are on the spiritual journey. I discovered that the practice of being a witness - someone who sees, listens, and is present in love - can be offered to anyone no matter what their religious background. I discovered that at the end of a person’s life, what matters most is love - how the person loved and was loved during life. I observed that a person’s religious faith could sometimes contribute to living a life of love and sometimes detract from love, by creating fear and judgment. I also observed that no two Christians or Jews or Hindus necessarily believe and value the same parts of their traditions; that a person’s faith was not necessarily constitutive of certain beliefs or practices. I even discovered that two mature religious people from different traditions might actually have more in common that two less mature folks from the same tradition.
When the opportunity arose for me to study at One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York City, I was surprised to discover how learning about different traditions contributed to my practice as a Christian. For example, learning Buddhist Metta Meditation helped me respond more calmly and compassionately when in intensely stressful situations. I learned in a deep way how the practice of gratitude is common to all religious traditions, inviting me to make gratitude the foundation of my Christian spiritual life. Because of all that I have learned about other traditions and what is common to many traditions, I more deeply understand the interconnectedness of all people and creation. I am grateful for my experience of interfaith dialogue (which started when I was a chaplain at Wellesley College) because it has made me a wiser and more compassionate person, Christian, and minister.
Rev. Sue Koehler-Arsenault, M.Div.
Serving Gloucester and Rockport, MA.