Tag Archives: dialogue

The Art of Prayer (with Video)

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Kiss of the Muse, Alex Grey

What, Me Pray?

For most people at a modern or rational stage of development, prayer is something for children and the superstitious. Its etymology is from the Old French preier (“ask, entreat”) which is derived from the Latin word precari, which means to “ask earnestly” or “beg.” And in the modern world, begging is something that poor people do.

Most of my young adult life, I considered prayers to be uttered before meals, before bed each night or to be reserved for when someone was injured or dying. My family didn’t model this behavior, but I assumed other (Christian) families did.

When I discovered the Unity Church and the New Thought movement, my eyes were opened to prayer as a form of dialogue with Source (or Christ Consciousness). I embraced my “allergy” to prayer and jumped in with both feet, studying and practicing the act of prayer and serving as a chaplain for a thriving church community from 2012-2014.

Just like yoga and meditation, I learned that there are different methods (or modes) of prayer, and hundreds of ways to actually pray.

Dialogue and the Other

The idea of God is so personal that the way each individual relates to God (with fear, awe, devotion or worship) is as unique as themselves (not to mention framed by their current geography and cultural worldview and colored by shadow material from the unconscious mind). The Ultimate Other looks, feels and sounds different to everyone.

There are three perspectives from which all of us might describe and experience God (or the idea of God) — 1st-person (the interior of the individual, meditative, internal arising of Spirit, witnessing), 2nd-person (the other, relational, one-on-one/face-to-face, devotion, prayer, God the Father, Mother Earth, various deities) and 3rd-person (the physical universe, nature, science, God-as-the-Kosmos, Spirit-in-Action, all that is observable and that we may witness, tat tvat asam). Put simply, we can talk “as God,” “to God,” or “about God.” These three value spheres (see Chapter 2) are useful when discussing or contemplating spirituality. All three are very real perspectives, and all three simultaneously arise together.

It is this 2nd-person language (talking “to God”) that we use when we pray.

Prayer is sometimes looked down on as being a subservient act. When most people think of prayer, they think of a plea or an appeal to God(s) in the sky for their desired outcome to be granted. Part of the reason we may not be comfortable with this form of dialogue is that the “other” is 1) outside ourselves, 2) invisible and 3) more powerful than we are. Most of us are told, when we move into the stage of development known as modernism – and are exposed to the branches of science and philosophy – that no self-respecting human being would prostrate themselves before this kind of creator God.

But this assumes that the power (to create meaning or change) resides somewhere outside of ourselves. And for the traditionally religious, this is true (or, at the very least God remains worthy of our reverence, awe and devotion).

Post-modern forms of prayer (centering, affirmative) simply assume and strive to express what already is. When you pray in the affirmative, you declare that you are not broken or fallen or diseased, but that you have the infinite power within you to heal yourself, and to live your highest potential. When you practice centering prayer, you invoke the perfection of the moment and all thoughts that may be arising (including the prayer itself).

When you pray, you are engaging with Spirit-in-Action in 2nd person language (addressing the “thou” or Ultimate Other). And unlike meditation, where the goal is to let thoughts go completely, prayer is the training of our actual thoughts to be more positive, kind, gentle, loving and forgiving.

Prayer is a way of aligning your mind with the Divine (or what Sri Aurobindo called Supermind). If meditation is the act of being unattached from your thoughts and simply letting them drift away, then prayer is the act of holding onto and turning your thoughts, one at a time, over and over in your hands until they are perfect. Until they have been smoothed like stones in a river. Continue reading

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Interfaith Week 2015 Recap [Video + Photos]

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1 week
1 city
2 films, 2 keynote presentations
4 shared meals
7 panel discussions/workshops
Over 15 faith leaders engaged in dialogue
43 events listed on this year’s calendar
hundreds of attendees and participants

and thousands of people made aware of this important event happening right here in our city.

By all counts, the second annual Interfaith Week St. Petersburg was a huge success.

Interfaith Week Graphic Recording copy

On September 13-20, 2015, the community of St. Petersburg, FL celebrated many things — religious tolerance and respect, peaceful activism, deep listening, open communication, leading by example, the building of bridges between people and communities, the healing of deep-seated wounds and historical divides, the planting of new seeds for the future.

In short, the week was an inspiring whirlwind of collaboration and connection that usually happens at conferences and symposiums in towns other than our own. This time, it happened in our own backyard.

Thank you to everyone who participated in Interfaith Week on any and every level. It was truly an honor to be a part of such thought-provoking and mind- and heart-opening activity and dialogue. New friends were made, and we look forward to seeing what grows from the many seeds that were planted.

Here are just a few of the people involved with the planning and production of the various workshops, panel and book discussions, performances, films and keynote presentations that made up this year’s second annual Interfaith Week event.

Imam Abdul Karim Ali, Imam Abdul Q. Aziz, Aiyana Baida, Lisa Brekke, Beverly Banov Brown, Rev. Dr. Lori Cardona, Vandana Dillon, Rev. Jack Donovan, David Enfield, Sepideh Eskandari, Lauren Haddad Friedman, Mayor Rick Kriseman, Erica Leggatt, Bishop Preston Leonard, Cynthia Lukas, Jan Magray, Dr. Kerry McCord, Rev. Doug McMahon, Rev. Russell Meyer, Susan Meyers, Janell Miller-Evans, Eric Rainbeau, Denise Rispoli, Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, Rev. Libby Shannon, Katherine Taylor Robinson, Ruth Broyde Sharone, Ashley Sweet, Dr. Frank Tedesco, Rev. Dr. Grace Telesco, Sarah Trinler, Rev. Shinkyo Will Warner, Denise Whitfield, Robin Whitlock, Martha Williams

Thanks also to this years sponsors and promotional partners: St. Petersburg Interfaith Association, Suncoast Institute of Noetic Sciences, The Bridge and The Connection Partners.

If you’re interested in helping out next year, or getting more involved with interfaith activities in your area, please contact me. We’re always searching for warriors willing to wage peace and build a brighter future.

Looking forward,
Joran Slane Oppelt
Founder and Committee Chair, Interfaith Week St. Pete

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Watch the mayoral proclamation of St. Pete Interfaith Week.


Top 5 Reasons You Should Attend Interfaith Events

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with members of the Dunedin Interfaith Council on the steps of St. Pauls Cathedral in Dunedin, New Zealand on June 11, 2013. Photo/Jacqui Walker

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with members of the Dunedin Interfaith Council on the steps of St. Pauls Cathedral in Dunedin, New Zealand on June 11, 2013. Photo/Jacqui Walker

Interfaith gatherings — in the form of peace marches, prayer breakfasts, demonstrations, panel discussions, academic conferences and inter-religious ceremonies — have grown in popularity over the last 5 years.

If you have seen one of these events advertised in your community, you may have thought it was a nice thing for other people to attend, but that it wasn’t for you. Or despite all the advertised information, you may have only noticed the word “faith” and thought, “that is an event for religious people or people who belong to a certain religion.” I assure you that neither are true.

Interfaith events may feature representatives from the various spiritual traditions from around the world, but they are certainly intended for — and convened around — everyone. An interfaith event may include attendees from religious and non-religious groups, atheists, scientists, politicians/city officials and academics. They may even include atheists or religious “nones” (those that don’t identify with a specific religion). These voices are gathered to engage in ongoing conversation about how to communicate effectively regardless of our differences, or how to respect the opinions of others, or ways to achieve peace in the world through non-violent means, and it is your perspective — and your voice — that deserves to be included.

Interfaith conversations can include such topics as ethics and morality; love and compassion; service to the community; climate change and global warming; personal spiritual practice such as prayer or meditation; social justice; human rights issues for women, children and minorities; or liturgy and the history of ritual as it relates to cultural and religious traditions from around the world.

But don’t fool yourself into thinking that these conversations are dry, academic, monotonous and uninspired — like some sermons or speeches tend to be. Most of these events are lively and passionate (sometimes heated), are fun and inspiring and most times involve great food and a focus on community.

Here are the top 5 reasons that you should start attending interfaith events:

1. Conflict resolution

No matter what model you’re using — the “Four S’s of Interfaith” or the “Interfaith Triangle” — using conversation to defuse violence and tension through peaceful means is something that we need more of in the home, the workplace, and the world. Using words to solve our disagreements and learning to take the role of other is one of the best examples we can set for our peers, our communities and our children. Peace begins with you.

2. It expands your own awareness

Discussing topics like spirituality and religion with others allows you to see the world through their eyes. And learning about others’ feelings, cultures and opinions helps you become more aware of the various perspectives that comprise our world. Allowing others to feel safe and encouraging them to share deeply — including sometimes personal details — is also a way to foster interpersonal connections that can bring about an expanded sense of awareness within your family, neighborhood and your community. By expressing and sharing together in this safe space, we are contributing more wisdom to the world — more goodness, more truth and more beauty.

3. It’s for a good cause

There is no equivalent of a “mega church” in the interfaith community. Most of these organizations are grassroots, very small and run by a few volunteers who are dedicated to a mission of unity and world peace. Most of these events do not benefit the individual faith communities, but give directly back to the community they are hosted in, donating proceeds to local charities and encouraging others to do the same. The charities are usually connected to universal concerns like human rights, hunger, poverty, the homeless and the abused. Consider showing up early and helping set up chairs or staying late and striking tables. It’s for a good cause and will be greatly appreciated.

4. Good conversation, good people

Interfaith events are not strictly educational, they are highly social and in some cases may put you in a situation where you have to think before you speak. This is great practice for the real world (especially the workplace). These gatherings usually attract a wide array of people from different backgrounds, cultures and walks of life. Introduce yourself to everyone you can and listen to their stories. Yes, you might learn something from passively observing a talk or panel discussion, but without an audience (or someone to ask meaningful questions) these conversations can be a lot of head-nodding and back-patting. Raise your hand, let your voice be heard. Interfaith events also attract people who are open-minded and who are willing to work out their problems (internal and external) through peaceful means. Be careful, you may unexpectedly find a new friend. Continue reading


Interfaith Week St. Petersburg 2014 (Photos and Video)

interfaith week st. petersburg proclamation

(L-R) St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Interfaith Week founder Joran Oppelt, and Ron Magray.

The first annual Interfaith Week was a success.

Thank you to everyone who attended or participated in our panel discussions and opened their campuses and communities up to those seeking to learn more about other faiths and forms of worship.

There were some great conversations, and many new friendships were started, but this is only the beginning.

Hopefully these new relationships and ongoing conversations can create a lasting effect in the greater community, whereby individuals and groups begin to see their own faiths, communities and cultures as part of a pluralistic whole. Something that exists in relationship to others, and depends on those others to give (and reinforce) meaning to their own beliefs.

Below are videos of the mayoral proclamation, the Interfaith Service at Crisp Park and a slideshow of images from the entire week.

Please keep checking back for more interfaith events.

 Mayoral proclamation of “Interfaith Week” before St. Petersburg City Council on 7/17/14.

“Faith, Hope, Love” by Ed Woltil

Ed Woltil and Swami Jinendra Kothari were special guests at the Third Sunday Interfaith Service at Crisp Park.

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Interfaith Week is Coming to St. Petersburg!

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On July 13-20, the City of St. Petersburg will officially recognize “Interfaith Week,” and we would love to see you out and about, visiting new communities, making new friends and learning more about the way our city celebrates the sacred.

For more info, visit the Interfaith Week event page.

Interfaith Week is a chance to see how others practice religion and spirituality in an open, educational setting. During Interfaith Week, individuals and families are encouraged to visit the many churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, meditation centers and spiritual communities in St. Petersburg to gain a better understanding of the people, values, philosophies, practices and cultures that make up our beautiful, historic city.

The week will also include free panel and roundtable discussions at different campuses and venues including such topics as: religious literacy, dialogue and listening, social work and charity, good and evil, definitions and expressions of spirituality, and more.

St. Pete Interfaith Week was inspired by “Other Religions Week,” founded in 2003 by Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, and like similar events (i.e. Louisville’s “Festival of Faiths“) seeks to become an annual happening that promotes a message of compassion and pluralism and holds up our city as an example of a community based on mutual respect, cooperation and collaboration.

If you would like to volunteer to help out at an Interfaith Week event, please contact us. If you would like your spiritual community to participate, there are a few different ways we can work together, and all of them are listed below.

1. Be listed on the calendar

We can list any events you already have happening that week, from your normal worship, prayer or meditation services to evening classes, music/dance performances or talks.

2. Participate in a discussion

We’re looking for people from all walks of life (academia, community service, faith-based organizations) to participate in this important and valuable conversation. If you (or a representative of your organization) would like to participate in a public discussion about interfaith relations on the topics listed above, let us know.

3. Host an event / Organize a panel 

If you would like to host or organize an event, performance or interfaith panel discussion, we would be happy to feature this event on the website and help you promote it.

We’re very much looking forward to the beginning of what will surely be an annual event that showcases the rich fabric and diversity of our community and that continues to grow year after year.

See you in July!

Sincerely,
Joran Oppelt


The Sermon on the Mount (of Intrareligious Dialogue)

“Religion is not an experiment, it is an experience of life through which one is part of the cosmic adventure” – Raimon Panikkar

Thanks to Jan Magray for sending this our way. Enjoy.

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The Sermon on the Mount of Intrareligious Dialogue
by Raimon Panikkar (from Bulletin 27, October 1986)

When you enter into an intrareligious dialogue, do not think beforehand what you have to believe.

When you witness to your faith, do not defend yourself or your vested interests, sacred as they may appear to you. Do like the birds in the skies: they sing and fly and do not defend their music or their beauty.

When you dialogue with somebody, look at your partner as a revelatory experience as you would — and should — look at the lilies in the fields.

When you engage in intrareligious dialogue, try first to remove the beam in your own eye before removing the speck in the eye of your neighbor.

Blessed are you when you do not feel self-sufficient while being in dialogue.

Blessed are you when you trust the other because you trust in Me.

Blessed are you when you face misunderstandings from your own community or others for the sake of your fidelity to Truth.

Blessed are you when you do not give up your convictions, and yet you do not set them up as absolute norms.

Woe unto you, you theologians and academicians, when you dismiss what others say because you find it embarrassing or not sufficiently learned.

Woe unto you, you practitioners of religions, when you do not listen to the cries of the little ones.

Woe unto you, you religious authorities, because you prevent change and (re) conversion.

Woe unto you, you religious people, because you monopolize religion and stifle the Spirit which blows where and how she wills.


God is Not One: An Interview with Stephen Prothero

We sometimes hear people talk about, “one God,” or “one love,” or that the many world religions are simply “different paths up the side of one mountain.” But, what if that mountaintop actually was different for everyone? What if it looked and felt different to everyone who found the courage to climb?

God can be described or experienced (sometimes in the same turn) as loving, wrathful, or ambivalent – not to mention perceived by some to be male, female, or even beyond gender.  The ground of Spirit is viewed through a cultural lens by those who are seeking to commune with it, and it can be described as pure energy just as easily as it can be painted as an eight-armed deity or rendered a winged female with a halo. Conversely, a person’s culture can be tinted by their spiritual worldview, leading to a rigidly hierarchical class system or a life committed to giving to those less fortunate.

Author Stephen Prothero (Religious Literacy), was recently interviewed by C-Span’s Sally Quinn about his newest book, God Is Not One, in which he points out some similarities, but mostly the important differences between the world’s “most influential” religions. The book objectively puts eight of the world’s largest religious groups side by side and provides a brief history of what they believe and why. But, the biggest accomplishment here by Prothero is determining the “unique human problem” that each religion solves for its adherents. For instance, the problem in Christianity is “sin,” thus the solution is “salvation.” The problem in Islam is “pride,” thus the solution is “submission.” The problem in Buddhism is “suffering,” thus the solution is “awakening.”

This approach goes a long way in assisting current methods of interfaith dialogue. When everyone thinks they’re talking about the same “God,” and the same definition of “spirituality,” yet still ends up leaving the conversation angry, frustrated and confused, it could be that not addressing religion’s “job to be done” is part of the reason.

Prothero’s book is highly recommended, but in the meantime, the following video features Prothero discussing many (if not all) major points of the book. It is an hour-long episode, and embedding is disabled, but click through to the C-Span site and enjoy! And, as usual, please leave your thoughts and comments below.