Spiritual Vocations In a Multireligious World

Beverly Lanzetta Articles

There is a new spiritual movement in our midst initiated not by religions or masters, but by the action of the divine in the souls of people around the globe.  It is a direct touching of the inner spark of the soul by Divine Mystery that is calling people to a deeper experience of the sacred that is related to but may be outside of formal religious community.  While individual in the context of life experience, this global spiritual movement shares certain common characteristics that herald the unfolding of a new revelatory consciousness for humanity. In naming it “revelatory,” my intention is to emphasize that this multi-religious spiritual focus is not something constructed to assuage religious doubt and confusion or to be rebellious and prideful.  Rather, it emerges as a faith experience of the utmost seriousness that compels each person to give up whatever is oppressive, superior, exclusive, hurtful, or violent in one’s religious worldview.  It is felt as a deep compunction in the soul to dispense with religious sectarianism, pride, or possessiveness.  Sometimes, such life-changing transformations occur in a torrent of illumination.  More often, realization is arrived at through struggle, suffering, and pain.

The journey of openness to other religions or to a spiritual life without religion is born of prayers and tears.  It is not a superficial entertainment or a naïve belief.  Rather, it is a wounding felt deep within the self that calls into question and suffers over the violence of exclusion, indifference, superiority, injustice, and oppression—subtle and overt—that inhabits religions and turns the heart against itself.  The call to mystical openness is echoed across millennia of humanity’s wisdom to discover the unitary point of view that holds the promise of a more just and peaceful planet.  It is God’s dark night in us, an impasse between spiritual paradigms that is leading us to a new and deeper understanding of the sacred and of our part in the transformation of the world.  While religious authorities and institutional structures advance or impede its flow, the spirit comes in the silence of night to teach us in secret about love, true love, that knows no difference of creed.   (Excerpted from Beverly Lanzetta, Emerging Heart: Global Spirituality and the Sacred, pp. 53, 55.)

This stunning global journey advocates for new spiritual models that affirm the mystical oneness of life and the prophetic call for justice necessary to sustain the holiness of our world.  Concerned with the profound changes affecting life today, I believe it is a sacred duty to forge a global spirituality that is socially responsible and deeply nonviolent.  By placing the collective heritage of religious traditions and contemporary scholarship in service of a divine community on earth, spiritual solutions can be found to alleviate personal, social, ecological, and political concerns.  Through innovative research, educational materials, and sacred practices the boundaries and new dimensions of religious and non-religious forms of spirituality are further understood and formalized.

In this pilgrimage, many people realize that multireligious faith and practice requires the formation and education of clergy, spiritual directors, and community leaders sensitive to God’s call to humanity today.  For over thirty years I have been involved in new spiritual vocations, and with the creation and development of programs that lead to ordained ministry, profession of monastic vows, and spiritual direction training in a global, multireligious context.

Interfaith Minister:  A contemporary religious figure who respects all paths leading toward a deepening of a person’s relationship with the divine, and who upholds the sanctity and oneness of creation. Through peer spiritual leadership and small faith community, Interfaith Contemplative Ministers combine spiritual practice with active participation in life.

Interfaith Contemplative Ministers are prepared to serve as spiritual caregivers to people of diverse religious and non-religious traditions. They study the scriptures and theologies of the worlds religions; learn about spiritual counseling and guidance from an interfaith perspective; gain a deepening compassion for the causes of suffering; and develop forms of worship and spiritual practice responsive to our religiously plural world. Holding that the deepest level of spiritual care has to do with liberating the seat of consciousness, or ground of the soul, Interfaith Contemplative Ministers are committed to the holiness of our relationships and our world.  Interfaith Contemplative Ministers are ordained clergy and have all the rights and responsibilities of clergy, including conducting religious ceremonies, serving as chaplains, and applying for membership in professional ministerial associations.

Interfaith ministers or chaplains often approach ordination in the context of their life profession—physician, educator, holistic practitioner—and tend not to serve within a church structure or congregation, although that is changing.   Many interfaith practitioners use their ministry training in such fields as hospital and prison chaplaincies, campus ministry, hospice and bereavement centers, AIDS clinics, care for the elderly, and other forms of social ministry.  Other designations:  Interfaith Chaplain, Interfaith Contemplative Minister, Minister of Spiritual Counseling.

Interfaith Monastic: A religious figure who commits one’s life to deeply held vows, and who affirms silence of the heart through daily acts of prayerful practice and spiritual openness inclusive of all creation. The usage of the designation “interfaith monastic” implies that the contemporary person seeks a new expression of the monastic archetype – the contemplative interiority that is intrinsic to humankind’s spiritual nature – as a formal designation of spiritual vocation outside the role and institutional affiliation of the professional monk.

Interfaith Monastics pursue a formal program of study in preparation for taking spiritual vows and living a personal rule of life in one’s inner monastery or in association with a contemplative community or tradition.  Interfaith Monks may, but are not required to, take formal vows of celibacy, the unmarried state, or extreme renunciation.  Rather, the goal of this new monasticism is to discover and live out of the center point of silence that holds all creation in the circle of divine belonging.

Interfaith monastics are mature in their spiritual grounding and are committed to living a contemplative monasticism in the context of their life, work, and spiritual background.  They dedicate themselves to the mystical study of monastic texts and spiritual disciplines necessary for the growth of the heart.  Interfaith monastics prepare for the profession of vows after several years of deep study, practice, and spiritual guidance.  Having discovered the common silence intrinsic to all religions, interfaith monastics dedicate their lives to the alleviation of suffering and to a daily devotion to nonviolence, compassion, and nonharm.

Since my early youth I have seen myself as a monk, but one without a monastery, or at least without walls other than those of the entire planet. And even these, it seemed to me, had to be transcended—probably by immanence—without a habit, or at least without vestments other than those worn by the human family. Yet even these vestments had to be discarded, because all cultural clothes are only partial revelations of what they conceal: the pure nakedness of total transparency only visible to the simple eye of the pure of heart. ~Raimon Panikkar

Interfaith Spiritual Guidance:  The ancient art of soul guidance—often called “spiritual direction” in the Christian tradition—is considered an essential dimension of a person’s spiritual life.  It is the process whereby a person is assisted in developing his or her relationship with God, Ultimate Reality, or the Holy, however named or defined.  The primary focus of spiritual direction is on religious experience, not ideas, and how this experience touches the most profound level of the person.  It is concerned with the inner life—that dimension of existence that deals with the heart, and the deep feeling states that arise from the closeness of the person to his or her divine source.

In all traditions, spiritual direction is the tracking of the subtle stirring of the spirit within the person, in order to discover and discern one’s original, undivided nature.  The intention of spiritual direction is to foster communion between the person and the Divine through a process of attentive awareness to the movement of the spirit in the inner life of the person. The main role of the spiritual director is to listen for this movement within the person, and to guide another to an awareness of the spiritual signs and deeper levels of transformation that lead to a new life interpretation and a new understanding of the self in the world.  As St. John of the Cross reminds us, the work of the director is not to give spiritual direction but “to prepare the soul. It is God’s work to direct its way to spiritual blessings by ways neither you nor the soul understand.”

Spiritual guidance today is challenged to develop theories and practices and styles suitable to the multireligious sentiment.  Individuals seek out spiritual guides or directors to assist in their special desire to grow in the spirit and to attain wholeness, freedom, and divine union.  The person entrusted with guiding a soul must be open to the multiple ways the spirit calls individuals today and have a profound respect for and sensitivity to the uniqueness of each person’s journey.  In this way, the primary purpose of spiritual direction or spiritual guidance is upheld:  to aid a person in achieving enlightenment or in deifying their souls: to find the Spirit, discover Buddha within, experience samadhi, or unite in mystical union with God.  This quest for authenticity and love, this quest to know one’s true self and to know the Divine, is the purpose of spiritual direction.  Although people employ spiritual direction for all types of interior issues and for soul healing, it always aims at the mystical unity and purity of heart that constitutes personal holiness. It involves the heart, the core, of the person.  ~Beverly Lanzetta

The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of a person’s life, to get behind the façade of conventional gestures and attitudes which one presents to the world, and to bring out one’s inner spiritual freedom, one’s inmost truth, which is what [Christians] call the likeness of Christ in one’s soul.  This is an entirely supernatural (spiritual) thing, for the work of rescuing the inner person from automatism belongs first of all to the Holy Spirit.   ~ Thomas Merton

Copyright © 2008  Beverly Lanzetta. All rights reserved.  Fair Use citation for educational purposes only.
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