US interfaith group focusses on meditation as its season events start

(Photo: Interfaith Meditation Initiative)Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and Jewish members of the Interfaith Meditation Initiative. From L: Bhante Pannawansa, Sr. Farhanahz Ellis, Fr. Tim Hickey, C.S.Sp., Andrew Stern.

The U.S. Interfaith Meditation Initiative spring schedule is launched by Rabbi Becca Gould and the Rev. Carol Cook at First Christian Church in Baltimore.

The Interfaith Meditation Initiative, located in Washington, D.C., has organized interfaith meditations since 2010 and, in that time, more than 1,200 people have joined faith leaders from seven faith traditions.

Andrew Stern, the organization's founder, said meditation is an important part of interfaith work because of its psychological benefits at Thursday night's event.

"Clinical research from the University of Wisconsin is revealing that meditation can promote empathy and compassion, including for strangers," he said. "According to a Stanford University study, even a few minutes of meditation can increase connection among strangers."

Gould, rabbi at Congregation Beit Tikvah and a religious mentor for Interfaith Youth for Climate Justice, has been leading interfaith meditations since 2005.

She said interfaith meditation helps people to realize the necessity of their oneness.

"We are no longer living in a time when peoples can be separate," Gould said.

"We must expand our belief systems to embrace the diversity of faiths while honoring our own traditions and our own relationship with divinity. One way to do this is through meditation because everyone experiences meditation in a unique way."

Gould's co-leader, Carol Cook, pastor at First Christian Church, agrees.

Thursday was her first time leading an interfaith meditation, but she has a well-established devotion to interfaith worship.

"As much as I am a Christian, I think we are called to love all of God's creation," she said.

In that vein, Cook has opened her church building to three other Christian congregations (First Christian is a Disciples of Christ congregation) as well as a synagogue.

First Christian and synagogue regularly worship together and held a special joint worship after 9/11.

"Interfaith work is very important because we become too categorized and isolated, I think, in our faith," Cook said.

"And it's really important to recognize the gifts that other faiths also bring and how similar we are in so many ways. It takes away that fear of the other when we spend time with one another."

Gould said her practice is to bring meditation participants to a place where they can reflect upon the Torah, Jewish written law, which Cook appreciates.

She believes the silence and individual reflection allows participants to take whatever theme has been given and bring it into their own faith life.

"And doing it together, with people of other faiths is that way of strengthening our ability to accept one another," she said.

"While there may be irreconcilable difference on the level of religious creed, the universality of meditation across religious traditions is a path forward for deep reconciliation across religious lines," Stern said. "What has divided us can dissolve. Our shared humanity can be realized."

The Interfaith Meditation Initiative will host three more interfaith meditations in April, and two more in June - the final one at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. on June 25.

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