I once heard Sr. Ishpriya of the International Satsang Association say that interfaith encounters can place in a variety of settings- for example, in the prayer hall, the library, or the marketplace. Those who meet in the prayer hall have a desire to join in worship with one another, to appreciate how each other”s communities gather, pray, and celebrate. Those in the library want to understand one another, to learn and respect the teachings, philosophy and traditions of the other. And those in the marketplace find themselves in interfaith encouter with their neighbor, needing to learn how to live together.
I have found in my own interfaith experiences that there are two other places that interfaith relationships and interest are often found and deepened- in the “gates” and in the clinic. In ancient cities, the city gate was the place where justice was dealt, where individuals could plead their case for the elders to hear, and where they could demand justice and fairness. Many people involved in interfaith relationships come to them out of shared concern for justice and for peacemaking. Our shared religious concerns for the poor, the dispossessed, the homeless and the hungry mean that we often meet one another on the soupline, at the housing project, or in the city council chambers.
I have also met a number of people whose concern for interfaith understanding arose from their engagement in healing– healing the physical ailments of people or their mental distress. Whether it be the institutional chaplain in a hospital whose calling is to be present to people of various religious backgrounds or the therapist who sees a link between mental health and spiritual health, healers of all kinds are drawn to interreligious cooperation and relationships.Each of us comes to interfaith space with our own concerns, talents, and arenas of action. Yet when we are bold to enter that space, listen and learn from each other, the rest of our lives is enriched, deepened and informed by our interfaith encounters.