Friday, July 1, 2011

Guidelines for Interfaith and Intertraditional Worship-cont.

Last week, we posted the first four of eight guidelines for interfaith/intertraditional worhsip, as proposed by Susan White. The first four guidelines are significant: they require that we make no assumptions about what worship is or does; they require that we pay attention, that we watch, and that we listen; and, above all, they require our willingness to learn from those we so often label "other." The remaining four guidelines are as follows:
    5. Abide by the conventions. Some practices are simply part of religious “good manners,” even though they may have deep historical or theological roots. These conventions may be most apparent when you enter a place of worship outside your own faith. A man attending an Orthodox or Conservative synagogue will be asked to wear a yarmulke (kippah) to cover his head as a sign of respect for God. Before entering a mosque you will be expected to take off your shoes. At a Hindu festival meal you may be expected to eat with your right hand.

    6. Respect the practices reserved for “insiders. ” Clearly, there are some liturgical words, postures and observances that only faithful adherents to a religious tradition are admitted to…Here again, having an informant or talking beforehand to a leader of the community is invaluable…Among Jews, for example, the wearing of the tallith (the prayer shawl) and the tefillin (the binding, containing the commandments, which is wrapped around the head and forearm) has ritual significance and is forbidden to outsiders. Some traditions ask that outsiders sit in specially-designated sections of the building, thus exhibiting a measure of control over your behavior. Though “blending in” is more difficult in these circumstances, you may find that customs of this kind provide a certain sense of security.

    7. Expect surprises. If you are paying close attention to the proceedings, surprises will be an inevitable part of worshiping with people of another religious tradition…If you can enter into worship taking nothing for granted, you will very likely be better able to enjoy the surprises rather than be alarmed by them.

    8. Reflect theologically on your experience…Who is God for the people who worship in this way? How does this God operate? What does the action say about the nature of the human person and the created order, about revelation and salvation? In word, symbol and gesture-implicitly or explicitly-the cultic answers to these questions are being expressed. [From Susan J. White, “A new relationship: Guidelines for Intertraditional Worship,” Liturgy 10.1 (Spring 1992): 45-50.]
In what ways do these guidelines suggest a new approach to the work of interfaith worship?

Susan J. White is Emeritus Professor of Spiritual Resources and Disciplines of Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, TX. She and her husband Kenneth Cracknell now run Sutton Books in Norwich, VT

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