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Franciscan Spirit Blog

An Interfaith Prayer for 9/11

Sep 10, 2021
Candles and lanterns at night | Photo by Ryan Franco on Unsplash
As we honor the spiritual expression of others, we often find more mercy in our hearts.

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I am reflecting on how the world has changed since that day—and how the way that I experience the world has changed. When I watched the planes hit the Twin Towers from the TV in my freshman dorm room, I understood very little of US relations with the Middle East or of Christianity’s relations with Islam. But like all Americans, I immediately found these issues taking up newfound space in my mind.

As I watched my country cope with such grave trauma over the ensuing weeks and months, I felt simultaneously proud of the American spirit and newly fearful of Muslim people. Those were confusing times; many of us likely experienced prejudices and fears that we are not proud to admit.

Twenty years later, I understand just how painfully common it has been throughout history for one religion to do harm to another—Christianity included. How do we overcome fear and hatred of those who are different? Scripture tells us that perfect love drives out fear. There is not much action that most of us can take on the world stage, but we do have control over how we live our personal lives. In our own spheres, are we choosing to build bridges or walls? Are we being peacemakers in the spirit of St. Francis, who risked his life to befriend the sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil, during the Crusades? Or are we spreading further fear and division by refusing to focus on our common humanity?

 

Mystery of God

Since 9/11, I have attempted to educate myself on religions that differ from my own to combat the negative stereotypes and fears that arose from that tragedy. I’ve done this by seeking to learn about other faiths from people who sincerely practice them. The truth is that God is not exclusive: No single tradition or culture can communicate the entire mystery of God to the human spirit.

We Christians have an unfortunate tendency to assume we don’t need the perspective of anyone else, but that’s not true. Many of our beloved spiritual writers and thinkers formed their ideas through dialoguing with other religions or through secular philosophy.


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I’ve heard it said that trying to understand God is like feeling an elephant while blindfolded. One person will describe a tail, another a trunk, another a leg—and all the descriptions are true! But they only accurately reflect the elephant when they are put together. When we take each other’s experiences of God into account, we are left with a picture of the divine that is truer to the mystery of the whole.

We need each other’s experience and wisdom. We gain so much by listening—and we only miss out when we write one another off as ignorant or heretical. All people are made in the image of God, and so all the ways we seek a relationship with God are beautiful and sacred. When interfaith listening is done with an open mind and genuine desire for spiritual growth, it can be a deeply enriching practice in the Christian life.

 

Fruits of the Holy Spirit

When we seek to know and understand those of other faiths, it becomes more natural to pray for them. Praying for peaceful relations between differing religions has enormous consequences in people’s lives. Christians have a responsibility to pray for religious leaders around the world—to dialogue and relate with one another. Our prayers for world peace must begin with prayers for peace between religions.

Additionally, our personal prayer life can benefit from interfaith experiences because they can unlock our spiritual imaginations. We all know the feeling of a dry soul; sometimes hearing a new vernacular and encountering different approaches to prayer can serve as a glass of water in the desert.

When our imagination grows stale and our relationship with God feels at a standstill, the curiosity piqued by new ways of seeing the divine can offer us new tools for the journey. Prayer might just become wondrous again.

And in making room in our hearts for different ways that others reach for God, we are likely to notice the Holy Spirit’s expansion of our ability to keep the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. As we honor the spiritual expression of others, we often find more mercy in our hearts. Instead of labeling others “wrong,” we find the fruit of the Holy Spirit at work in our world views and relationships. This, too, is building our prayer life. In fact, could anything be more of a testament to growth in prayer than experiencing increased love for others?


Harmony through Dialogue

Dear God,
I know you reveal yourself
to all people. Help me
honor my fellow humans
on their faith journeys,
knowing that doing so
deepens my own spirituality.
May the religious leaders
of the world dialogue
with one another in a spirit
of love and unity.
Amen.


Murray Bodo, OFM, discusses St. Francis of Assisi and his mission of peace.

Comments

Christine LeVeen
Fri, 09/10/2021 - 08:43 AM
Christine LeVeen
This historical perspective is so helpful in today’s world.
Arlene B. Muller
Fri, 09/10/2021 - 09:38 AM
Arlene B. Muller
I think I need to add a word of caution here. I agree that we need to respect people whose faith traditions are different from ours, to seek to love our neighbor as ourselves as Our LORD commanded. & to seek peace & peaceful interfaith as well as ecumenical dialogue. I agree that God created all people in His image & with an inclination to seek Him & seek truth & that people of other faith traditions will have some segments of truth that we share in common. For example, Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Our LORD JESUS & honor Mary under her Semitic name Miryam, even though they do not believe in the Incarnation but believe that GOD created JESUS in the womb of the Virgin Mary. I agree that it is good to learn about other world religions & seek out what we have in common & to focus more on what we have in common than what divides us, as Pope Paul VI admonished us in his speech at the UN (1966 or 1967?). This will help us understand & relate to others & will become helpful in evangelization. Of course, evangelization should always be approached by setting a good example of our lives, our joy & our love & with gentleness & respect as St. Peter admonishes us in his letter. However, although we must avoid triumphalism & self-righteousness, we also need to be faithful & uncompromising in the Truth & avoid syncretism. JESUS said "I am the Way, the Truth & the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." We can hope that somehow JESUS can bring people to the Father & salvation that don't become Catholic or even professing Christians. But we cannot endorse or follow or become entrenched in whatever is in non Christian religions or in other Christian denominations that is contradictory to our Catholic Christian faith. In respecting others & in discovering what we have in common, we must br careful to avoid compromising the truth of our faith & to avoid practices that could lead us astray, especially any practice that could invoke or evoke any spirit that is not of our Triune GOD. If you remember, toward the end of his life Thomas Merton was exploring Eastern spirituality & I think GOD took him home early to protect him from going any further on the wrong path & going & leading others astray.
Carol Stephens
Fri, 09/10/2021 - 10:22 AM
Carol Stephens
I don't understand how you can say that the Catholic Church doesn't communicate the entire mystery of God to the human spirit.
Karen
Sat, 09/11/2021 - 10:03 AM
Karen
If humans could describe and communicate the entire mystery of God, then it would not be a mystery. God is much bigger than our theologies, liturgies and science.
Christina Pecoraro, OSF
Fri, 09/10/2021 - 11:21 AM
Christina Pecoraro, OSF
I love your take that drawing upon the experiences of other faith traditions can “unlock our spiritual imaginations.” Surely our good God is not the possession of Catholics alone. Is not anyone's “possession,” period. With respect, I differ with the previous believer who assumes Thomas Merton was on the wrong path. I believe quite the contrary. In the end we shall be caught up in a communion of LOVE.
Sara
Fri, 09/10/2021 - 02:57 PM
Sara
I agree Christina. Merton is one of my spiritual heroes!

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