“Rhinestone Reflections” on Christianity and Interfaith Spirituality

by Rev. Sharon Leman, MLA

July 2008

Rev. Sharon Leman

In seeking a description of Interfaith spirituality, I can’t help but recall a time, about 14 years ago, when I was working at my Catholic parish. The church secretary and I had become close friends in spite of the fact that we were about as opposite as two people could be. Patricia was an outspoken African-American Southern woman who was raised Baptist but considered herself Pentecostal. I, on the other hand, am a soft-spoken cradle Catholic with Northeastern family roots.

Although Patricia and I both shared the Christian faith, our experiences within Christianity were a study in contrasts. Yet in spite of our differences, we were open to experiencing each other’s religion. I attended her Pentecostal services, where people spoke in tongues as they swayed and sang. In return, Patricia attended my Catholic services—which frankly were dull in comparison, yet full of symbols, ritual and structure.

Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh describes what Patricia and I experienced: “When you touch someone who authentically represents a tradition, you not only touch his or her tradition; you also touch your own.” What Thich Nhat Hanh is pointing to—and what Patricia and I were experiencing—is Interfaith spirituality.

To experience Patricia’s faith tradition in an open and non-judgmental manner not only deepened our friendship; it also deepened my own spirituality. A personal sense of the unity of religions began to build… Sure, Patricia and I belonged to different religions—but God didn’t.

As expressed in the words of the Sufi poet Rumi:

“I have put duality away
and see two worlds as one.
Abandon your stagnant pool
for the running waters of life…
from the world of separation
to the world of union.”

One day when I arrived at work, I noticed that my friend was wearing a big pin on her clothing: the name “Jesus” spelled out in rhinestones. I told her how much I liked her jewelry—which I could say truthfully, because the pin fit Patricia’s personality to a “T”.  (In a way, it seemed to me, the pin was just like her Church services: bold and flashy.)

A few days later, much to my surprise, I found a present sitting on my desk. When I opened the box, wouldn’t you know it—there was a rhinestone-studded “Jesus” pin of my very own! My jaw dropped. There was no avoiding the situation, so I thanked her for the gift.

In the name of friendship, I had to wear my new flashy “Jesus” pin every now and then. What I found was that people who knew me would give me a funny look that begged for an explanation. It turned out that my wearing “Jesus” in a flashy way just didn’t work, because it wasn’t “me”.

What I learned from my rhinestone-studded fashion foray is that Interfaith is not about taking on labels or traditions that don’t fit. That isn’t unity; it’s simply falseness.

As Wayne Teasdale says, “Spirituality is always about what nourishes.” Even though I am a follower of Jesus, wearing a flashy rhinestone Jesus pin nourished Patricia’s spirit, but it didn’t nourish mine. Although Patricia’s gift didn’t convey my personal spirituality, it did represent the love of a friend—a friend who helped open me to Interfaith experiences. I dearly miss her, since she died just a few years after we met. I cherish the pin and the memories it evokes.

As a closing, I would like to offer you the following blessing:

May the Divine, the God of all
Bless each of you with your own special pin.
May it never be too comfortable to wear,
so that it might challenge you to grow.
May your special pin represent
openness to new experiences
along with a deepening of your own unique faith.

And, in Rumi’s words, may our efforts lead us “from the world of separation to the world of union.”