The gift of Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guibord’s genius in bringing people together was made evident in The Guibord Center – Religion Inside Out’s latest offering: the extraordinary, thoughtful, and rich exchange skillfully moderated by Seventh Day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell with the Episcopal priest-raised-in-Eastern-Christianity and teacher-of-Kriya -Yoga, Karen MacQueen and the professor-of-theology-specializing-in-Systematics -at Loyola Marymount University-who-LOVES-Buddhism, the Roman Catholic priest, James Fredericks.
One comes to such a conversation as this hoping to be fed and challenged – illumined and inspired. The conversation guided by Ryan Bell was everything a deeply spiritual person would want. As the rain came down in sheets just outside the door, those inside were drawn into the spiritual journeys of these two remarkably kind, soft-spoken and articulate human beings who shared their deeply faithful, heart-felt understandings of their faiths made richer through the experience of another faith’s tradition and practice.
The Rev. Karen MacQueen, raised in the Greek Orthodox Church in Canada, began by saying that her theology remains deeply Orthodox today. “Orthodoxy taught me to look for the energy of the Divine within me and everywhere, to look for the energy of the Divine that would come to me by meditation and prayer, especially The Prayer of the Heart, from holy places and holy people and to expect the Divine to show Herself everywhere – everywhere in all living things.” Bringing her Orthodox theology with her, she came to the Episcopal Church because of its position on important social issues. After completing her training as a nurse, she followed her spiritual pursuit to Calcutta, India where she volunteered with Mother Teresa’s sisters. It was there in India where she found a depth of daily spiritual practice that “blew me away and changed my life forever.”
When she returned to the United States, Karen felt called to leadership and became an Episcopal priest – an Episcopal priest who “belongs to the Christ of God” and practices in the Kriya Yoga tradition.
Father Jim Frederick shared his own spiritual life beginning by explaining that he not only teaches systems of doctrine, but that he loves doctrine. We saw the sparkle of gentle humor when he added: “I think everyone should love doctrine ….. just not too much!”
When a sophomore in college and already in a Roman Catholic seminary, he learned that his parents were moving to Japan and he was not about to be left behind. In the next year and a half he fell in love with Japan and the goodness of its people. An unexpected experience of stepping into a Buddhist Temple as the monk began the daily chanting utterly fascinated him and changed his life as well. When he returned and got his doctorate at the University of Chicago, he studied with a remarkable professor who had been born in Japan and baptized as an Episcopalian. His mentor delved into the question of what it meant to be deeply Christian and Japanese at the same time. The legacy of that became Jim’s path of studying Buddhism very seriously for many years and then asking: “How does that require me to look at my Christian faith in new ways?”
Those gathered in the room realized that this was a conversation between people of great integrity. The conversation deepened…
Karen spoke of Eastern Christian Spirituality moving one through three stages, (1) Catharsis: purification of the mind, heart, emotions and will; (2) Illumination: seeing the Divine Light in all things; and (3) Being filled with the Presence of the Divine and living with conscious communion with the Divine each day. As faithfully as she tried to achieve these practices, she didn’t know how. It was in India that she found the spiritual practices that, if done daily, enabled her to achieve the vital clearing of her heart, mind and soul.
She learned the deceptively simple Prayer of the Heart which guided her in asking for the mercy of God. Acknowledging needing the mercy of God is what opens us to compassion for ourselves and others, she said.
Jim offered a story about the spiritual practice of Zen meditation as a place of exquisite tension for Christians caught between the Zen requirement to surrender hope and the hope fundamental to Christian discipleship and the provocative challenge of finding the difference between hope and clinging.
Ryan asked both Karen and Jim to address popular pluralism and the plethora of spiritual seekers in these times.
“ Seeking is a good thing…” Karen said, “… particularly if it leads to finding.”
She continued acknowledging that, “…some of the seeking is about our own failure as churches. Speaking for myself and my own tradition in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion,.. it is about our failure as churches to provide a clear witness that is valid and through the lens of humanity rather than just through the lens of tradition, to act as if the Holy Spirit is not some big ghost that died a very long, long time ago…”
Jim agreed. Together they moved those gathered into an experience of spiritual authenticity that was both profoundly challenging and deeply rewarding.
While they both clearly define themselves as Christian and as belonging to the “Christ of God”, they also each spoke passionately of being empowered in their spiritual authenticity by being at home in another spiritual practice and tradition that feeds their soul.