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A Readiness to Listen

November 04, 2001|KAY LINDAHL | Kay Lindahl is founder of the Alliance for Spiritual Community, a grass-roots interfaith organization, and co-convener for the Religious Diversity Faire. She is an ordained interfaith minister, and author of "The Sacred Art of Listening: Forty Reflections for Cultivating a Spiritual Practice," to be published by SkyLight Paths Publishing in December. She can be contacted at

More than ever before we need to rediscover--or discover for the first time--the skills and practice of listening. Our lives are enhanced in so many ways when we learn to truly listen to ourselves, to each other and to the heartfelt beliefs of people with religious faiths different from our own.

Until recently, this type of interfaith dialogue was not well-known. Quiet attention by a few kept the conversation going and the momentum growing. But since Sept. 11, this semiprivate conversation has become an imperative public dialogue. The events of September forced us to reorient ourselves toward the rest of the world. Interest in other faith traditions, particularly Islam, has increased exponentially. It's as though we've awakened from sleep to find ourselves suddenly confronting our ignorance about people of different faiths, both locally in our neighborhoods, workplaces and schools, and globally in faraway lands.

We live in one of the most culturally and religiously diverse regions in our country and in the world, with practitioners of more than 600 religions who call Southern California home. This gives us a challenge and the opportunity to discover how to build on this extraordinarily rich base. We are the laboratory for diversity. How we live our lives is an experiment of what's possible in the world at large. We must continually explore the question: "How can we live together; how can we all live together in communities that flourish and nurture?"

One valuable resource--and a personal source of hope for me--is the emergence of interfaith work in Orange County and around the globe. Interfaith work focuses on education and relationships. Interfaith study means learning more about each other's traditions. Interfaith experience is about honoring and respecting each other's beliefs while discovering and celebrating what we have in common.

Often people from vastly differing belief systems find they share almost exactly the same values. My hope comes from knowing good people all over the world who are engaged in interfaith dialogue and interfaith projects--even in the most war-torn and weary countries. The interfaith movement began more than 100 years ago with the Parliament of the World's Religions, held in Chicago in 1893 in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition.

The seed for interfaith dialogue had been planted. The next Parliament was held 100 years later, in 1993, when more than 7,000 people from all over the world and representing hundreds of religions came together for a week of learning, once again in Chicago. In the meantime, interfaith organizations had begun to form, slowly in the 1930s, gradually increasing through the 1980s to a rapid expansion in the 1990s.

Here in Orange County we have seen the emergence of nearly 20 interfaith groups in recent years. For the past seven years, the Religious Diversity Faire has offered an annual program designed to inform our community about the many religious faiths practiced in our county. The mission of the fair is to promote respect, understanding and appreciation among our many faith traditions.

On Saturday, the eighth annual Religious Diversity Faire will offer this opportunity, with a theme of "Integrating Spirituality into Everyday Life," and a format that encourages small group dialogue--an interfaith "cafe." The event is being held at the Student Center at UC Irvine, beginning with registration at 12:30 p.m. More information can be found on the Web site:

My heart was broken that day in September by the unspeakable violence that human beings are capable of committing.

The good news is that there is more room in the heart for love, kindness and compassion to flow in and out. It is time for us to learn to listen to each other in a new way, one that includes our different religions and cultures while honoring our differences.

There seems to be a readiness for dialogue now, for sharing and for learning--a readiness that simply wasn't there before. The interfaith movement offers the opportunity to nurture the possibility that humanity can learn to live in harmony. Even though we may disagree with each other, we can finally understand we are all part of the same family.

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