Nurturing 'Spirituality Without Borders'

Author: Rev. Sharon Leman, MLA
Newsletter Issue: January 2009

Is religion a prerequisite to spirituality? The other night when I turned on the television, I heard Deepak Chopra voice this opinion while discussing religion and spirituality with Unity Minister, Wendy Purcell. This surprised me. Then I reflected on my past year as a student at the Chaplaincy Institute (ChI), where I am about to complete my final module. I realized that, because of my time at ChI, I do believe spirituality can exist without a specific religious affiliation.

In many ways ChI is like any other school, with a curriculum that relies on didactic teaching. However, what sets ChI apart is the opportunity to engage various faith traditions in a personal way. Students travel to temples, churches and meeting halls to worship alongside Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Protestants, Jews, Sikhs, Native Americans, Quakers and more.

My experience of worshipping together with my sisters and brothers of differing faiths has made it clear to me that the face of god is manifold. To me, god has been revealed again and again in the faces of the people as we are united in prayer.

Contrary to logic, embracing other religious practices does not dilute faith. This paradox of embracing diversity within religion is counter to the black-or-white, right-or-wrong culture that we live in.

For me, initiated by my exposure to various faith traditions, I experienced a sense of spirituality stretched to the point of bursting. This release created an implosion that collapsed internal barriers. The result was an integration of my intellectual, heartfelt and mystical definitions of unity. This sense of oneness started with self, then expanded outwards to become transpersonal. My soul was imprinted with a connection to creation, stretching beyond individual, beyond time, and beyond dimension.

No matter what path leads students to ChI, or what particular work each is drawn to (e.g. hospital chaplaincy, officiating at weddings, hospice work, etc.), interfaith ministry requires spiritual discipline. To connect deeply with another person, one must achieve depth. Unless an interfaith minister is willing to go deep and wade through their own spiritual and emotional "stuff", their words carry no weight.

Supported by a caring community of staff and students, there is a basic safety at ChI which allows one to surrender to the process of internal work. Without embracing dogma, there are no rote answers to fall back on. By undertaking inner work, a voice grounded in experience is created, bringing a legitimacy and wisdom that cannot be faked. Surrender to spirit becomes the sacred foundation for an interfaith perspective.

To some, old preconceptions are familiar and can be comforting. Just the thought of change can be frightening. This is where interfaith ministers can step in to create a safe space for people to engage spirit and one another. ChI is an excellent model of this type of nurturing. 

It is difficult to explain how safety is created without experiencing it. Like trying to explain faith, there is an intangible element. Just as a person needs to experience many faiths to truly understand interfaith, ChI has to be experienced. ChI's goal, in building a community that embraces diversity of spiritual expression, is to release spirit from confinement, allowing it to flourish. 

So yes, I do believe spirituality can exist without subscribing to a specific religion. As a model for community growth, social change and faith development, the ChI learning community is cultivating 'spirituality without borders'.

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