Letter to my fellow Interfaith Ministers upon our Commencement
I’d like to begin by expressing gratitude to the staff of One Spirit, the graduates who have gone before us, and the students yet to come.
We offer thanks to our ancestors and our mentors who have inspired us. We offer thanks to our family and friends who have supported us. And we offer thanks to those difficult teachers who have challenged us. All of you are a part of why we are here today, and we thank you.
So I wonder how many of us, when we were children, thought, “I want to be an interfaith minister when I grow up,”? Maybe not any of us. And I wonder how many of us, maybe even up to this day, have asked of the Divine, “What do you want me to do?”
It’s as if we’re waiting for Yemaya to arise from the water to make a proclamation or Buddha in the sky with diamonds to give an utterance or maybe Tinker Bell to fly from Never Never Land to sprinkle us with fairy dust.
We all know that this seminary journey has been one of self-revelation and self-discovery. And we hold those dear ones who are coming after us with such love and tenderness. And we thank those interfaith ministers who have gone before us, breaking down the barriers of gender, sexual orientation, race, culture, and age, so that we can be here today.
And we arrive at this moment knowing now that the question is not, “What do I want to be?” or “What do You want me to do,” but, “How do I want to manifest on this planet at this time. Like our fellow seminarian, Martha, said, “It’s not the right way. It’s not the wrong way. IT’s just my way--today.”
And so what is our hope, what is our invitation?
My patron saint, Teresa of Avila, (Thank you, Rev. Tony) wrote advice that informs my life daily. She wrote, “Remember, if you want to make progress on the spiritual path and ascend to the places you long for, the important thing is not to think much, but to love much and so to do what best awakens you to love.”
What best awakens me to love? I love that question! What does it mean to “awaken to love”? We know that love can be a feeling of homey belonging; and love can be an action in the form of compassionate service. But I think on a deeper level, awakening to love means to acknowledge the Truth of Who We Are. We are Love in manifestation. And certainly, for most if not all of us, this two-year journey has been a journey of awakening to this felt-knowing.
So how do we “wake up” to this Truth each day? And by extension, as interfaith ministers, support that Journey in others?
I believe it begins with our vows.
When I was praying about my vows, I decided to research the traditional vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty that are taken by many religious from various traditions. And as I learned about these vows, I considered what they might mean for me--and you--as interfaith ministers. Here is what is true for me. Perhaps it is also true for you.
Obedience is the willingness to listen. It is a submission to a Higher Authority. That Higher Authority is the Truth; and before I can know the Truth in myself and others, I have to listen. I listen for the Truth in myself so that I may validate and affirm it; and I listen to the Truth in others so that I may validate and affirm it also. It is that simple and that challenging.
Chastity stems from the word “chaste.” Chaste connotes purity. In this case, it is a purity of heart that looks for--seeks out--the innocence in self and others. And a commitment to chastity--a purity of heart that looks for innocence--awakens my heart of compassion. This does not mean that a boundary does not need to be set at times when my own security is threatened by the insecurity of another. Rather as a minister, my commitment to see the inherent innocence, raises the level of awareness in a situation so that compassion is possible.
Finally, the vow of spiritual poverty refers to a lack of something. This lack in not in the negative, as in a lack of abundance. Rather, it is the lack of a preconceived notion of how things “should” be--a “don’t know mind.” It is a non-attachment to outcome symbolized by emptiness--the emptiness of a cup waiting to be filled by the ever-renewing immediacy of this present moment, this holy moment. The empty cup is a fertile void where all things are possible and everything belongs. When I commit to spiritual poverty, I am making the statement that I don’t know how things “should” be; I don’t know what you “should” do; I don’t have the answer. It is a statement that I am willing to sit with the mystery, in childlike wonder at the unfoldment, like a trusting child holding up my cup saying, “Fill me.”
So we come full-circle to our original inquiry, “What best awakens me and you to the Love that we are?” We can all come up with answers like being in nature, fellowship in community, ritual, prayer, creative expression, etc. I am also offering that awakening to the Love that I am and you are will also involve listening deeply for my own Truth and the Truth in others; cherishing my own innocence and the innocence in others; and showing up with an empty cup, in hopeful anticipation.
These vows are a in direct opposition to the values of society. These values are control, esteem, and security. The need for control says, “I’ll do it myself, and I’ll do it my way. I am taking control now, regardless of what is true for you. I know how things should be.”
The need for esteem builds its base by comparison, competition, and image. It says, “I must look good even though I feel flawed.”
And the need for security has no room for emptiness. It says, “I must build my barn and fill it with grain. I cannot trust in daily provision unless I provide it myself.”
Now the needs for control, esteem, and security are human needs, and they are not wrong, they are necessary to a certain extent. However, they take no account of the Holy. And that is why obedience, chastity, and spiritual poverty are also necessary. They give meaning to life; and we, as ministers, are society’s reminders of these things.
You see, people will make assumptions about us when they hear the word “minister,” just like we do. They will conjure up images of “A minister does this,” or “A minister does that.” But it is not that we, as ministers, are called to follow certain rules of behavior or embody human perfection, whatever that means. Rather, a minister is one who commits to spiritual discipline, who represents a higher call to all of society, reminding us of the Holy, and role modeling compassion to self and others.
So my prayer for us is this:
May we be obedient to the call to listen deeply to our own Truth and to the truths of others.
May we practice a chastity of heart that seeks to find the innocence in ourselves and others.
May we meet each moment with a spiritual poverty, hungry and thirsty to be filled with the ever-renewing immediacy of this present moment, this holy moment.
And may we commit to supporting one another in the living-out of our individual, personal vows.
“Amen!” “Aho!” “Ashee!” Shanti Shanti, “Om.”