Thursday, March 20, 2014

Being part of a religious community doesn’t necessarily mean you all have to practice the same religion

I’ve always been a spiritual free agent. I pray from my heart, and I’m more interested in reading about people’s personal spiritual breakthroughs than I am in reading the scriptures of their religions. To quote a friend of mine with a similar mindset, “interfaith is my religion.” 

Since I’m becoming increasingly more involved in the interfaith community, both spiritually and professionally, as well as connecting with more individuals who are spiritual but don’t have official religious affiliations, I don’t feel at a loss for not having a single-faith community. 

This is why I love attending worship services and events at Song and Spirit Institute for Peace. Founded by Franciscan Catholic friar Al Mascia and Jewish Maggid Steve Klaper, Song and Spirit is an interfaith and intercultural arts and education organization which hosts spiritual retreats, Jewish and interfaith worship services, interfaith musical performances, seminars by local religious leaders, arts and crafts, health and education outreach for impoverished communities, and more.

The 20,000 square foot facility is run by a staff of three (Mascia, Klaper, and Mary Gilhuly), and includes meeting rooms, cozy meditation spaces, an art studio, an interfaith chapel, a well-appointed kitchen and dining room, and will soon feature an organic vegetable garden

Displayed in one of the hallways are dozens of portraits of peacemakers of many religions from around the world, many of whom I recognized from Daniel Buttry’s book Blessed are the Peacemakers. There are flags bearing symbols of various religions in a few different places throughout the building, and I was so glad to see a few which are usually overlooked, such as the Native American medicine wheel and a Goddess symbol. 

Naturally, the institute is rich in its celebration of the Jewish and the Catholic traditions represented by its founders; the two have expressed an interest in attracting more involvement by people of other faiths, and are always open to suggestions for how they can make the institute and its programs more inclusive.

Song and Spirit has become an important part of my lifestyle, so I was stoked when I was offered an opportunity to be a regular volunteer there. I’m currently the organizer of the donation room, sorting items to be loaded on and distributed from the Careavan, an important part of the institute’s ministry, to provide clothing and other essential items to needy people in the city. 

My favorite Song and Spirit program is the Interfaith Havdalah, a worship and prayer service closing out the Jewish Shabbat and passing the sacred flame to the Christian Sabbath. Steve Klaper and Judy Lewis conduct the Jewish part of the service, which has elements from traditional Jewish Shabbat-closing ritual; Brother Al conducts the Christian part of the service—accepting the pass-off of sacred time from the Jews to the Christians. 

It is important to note that services at Song and Spirit are not a mash-up of religions—there is a clear distinction between the Jewish part and the Christian part of the service. Brother Al and Steve did their homework to verify that what they’re doing is correct according to Catholic canon and Jewish tradition. They also did research to confirm that what they’re doing is truly unique—no other place anywhere else is doing services like Interfaith Havdalah. 

Until last year, I had never been fond of the idea of regularly attending community worship service, especially since I’m neither Jewish nor Catholic. Song and Spirit’s services are just so different, though, from any other worship service I’ve ever attended, that I look forward to attending these services and I told my best friend after the most recent Havdalah, “This is my version of going to church.” 

My family is Protestant, but my brothers and I went to Catholic school for a few years. I knew Catholicism wasn’t for me, but I always liked the music, the way they sang (despite the fact I don’t understand Latin) and the amazing bombastic pipe organ music. One of the many things I like about services at Song and Spirit is I get to hear that style of music—sung by Brother Al, whose smooth voice is perfectly suited to spiritually-soothing devotional music—and some of those songs, minus only the pipe organ. 

Song and Spirit is certainly at no loss for impressive instruments though—there’s a piano, guitar, tambourine, drums, and a fascinating array of other instruments Brother Al has brought to the circle—including some I’ve only ever seen in his hands, the names of which escape me at present. 

In addition to the Catholic-mass-style music, I’ve fallen in love with several of the Hebrew songs we regularly sing at both Havdalah and Kabbalat Shabbat—which include traditional ones, as well as those written or adapted by Steve Klaper or one of his mentors. At February’s Havdalah service, he even sang a praise song in Chaldean—“the language Jesus delivered all His sermons in”—which he composed. 

“Music has always been more than entertainment for me,” I wrote in my September 2011 post about attending my first ever outdoor Shabbat at Temple Israel. “Good and uplifting music is a spiritual experience that inspires my art, my writing, and my life in general. Experiencing music as the focal point of a worship service was thus a profound experience for me.” Getting to have this kind of experience twice per month has been an amazing enhancement to my spiritual as well as my community life. 

Image: “Hand-Tree Mosaic” by Karla Joy Huber (and grouted by Mary Gilhuly), made at Song and Spirit, 2013; cut glass, glass beads, and mosaic grout 


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  2. Thank you so much, for the compliment, Rendy, and thank you for taking the time to leave me a comment. I intend to start updating my blog more regularly, and I'm glad to know there are people looking forward to my upcoming posts. Peace to you.