parliament of the world's religions

Surrender to the sacred

There was a time when the questions caused me a lot of agony, when the diversity of spiritualities and religions worldwide caused confusion and doubt.

How could there be such a wide variety of religions and spiritualities throughout the world? What is The Truth? Am I am fool for being a Christian — a committed Catholic Sister — without knowing for sure what I believe? What if I am wrong about God and faith and everything? The questions can cause torment if we allow them too much power, for sure.

I have written about my struggles with faith before and how surrendering to the Holy Mystery provided the grace and freedom to profess my final vows as a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration.

In recent years, my faith has been strengthened and deepened by an exploration of spiritual practices, formation as a spiritual director and vocation minister and encounters with people of faith from other traditions. I mean it: developing friendships and partnering with people who identify as members of other religions (or have no faith) has only helped me to become more grounded in my identity as a Christian and Catholic.

Deepa Patel, Tessa Bielecki and Ustazah Liyana R. Asmara join panelist moderator, Sister  Julia Walsh, in conversation about  "Creating Inclusive and Creative Spaces"
at the 2023 Parliament of the World's Religions on Aug. 14 in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Benny Oon and David Denny.
Tessa Bielecki, Deepa Patel, Sister Julia Walsh and Ustazah Liyana R. Asmara came together in conversation about “”Creating Inclusive Sacred Spaces,” at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions on Aug. 14 in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by David Denny.

Why don’t the questions cause me agony anymore? How does it work that having friendships with people in other faith tradition is helpful and not harmful? Why is difference not a threat?

Much remains mystery — a Holy Mystery. Yet I suppose the answer is simple, too. Difference isn’t a threat because I am grounded in certain principles of my faith. In particular, I believe that every person and their experiences are sacred. I believe every person is worthy of respect and honor. I believe all people have dignity and are children of God, no matter who they are or what they believe; what they do or have done. I aim to reverence everyone, and I hope to express reverence by being open — open hearted, open minded.

Living a life of faith may be messy, but isn’t it liberating that we don’t have to know all the answers?

And it is a type of surrender to the sacredness of The Other to be open. I must accept that I am uncertain, that others always have things to teach me. I must let go of my ideas and agendas and be open to wherever the conversation and relationship could take me.

Plus, a particular teaching from my Catholic faith tradition enhances this reverence and openness to people from other faith traditions. Christ is bigger than the religion that I am part of. Christ is bigger than the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church is not a box for the Divine to reside within.

I try to show up to conversations with those who are different from me as a student and listener, someone who is exploring and deepening my own faith. I aim to offer compassionate curiosity and respect to those who are different. I also believe that an open and caring disposition creates sacred space. Surrender can create connection and belonging no matter who is gathered.

Plus, my motives for creating and sharing sacred space are rooted in my Catholic and Franciscan identities. In 1219 St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan movement in Christianity, modeled the value of interfaith relationship; of seeing the holiness in the other when he befriended Sultan Malik al-Kamil, a faithful Muslim.  From this encounter, St. Francis of Assisi was transformed: his prayer life shifted, and he had new experiences with the Divine — even receiving the stigmata in 1224, towards the end of his life. 

In our time, I am motivated to enliven the Catholic doctrine that my Church “rejects nothing that is true and holy in other religions. The Catholic Church regards with sincere reverence those ways of … life … precepts and teachings which … reflect a ray of … Truth which enlightens all.” (Nostra aetate #2)

I believe I can encounter Christ in everyone and everything. Hoping to notice Christ’s light and love active in the other, I surrender. Christ is active and alive in many religions and spiritualities, for the love of Christ knows no bounds.

opening ceremony of the 2023 Parliament of the World's Religion
The opening ceremony of the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religion, Aug. 14 to 18 in Chicago, Illinois

Even though the questions of faith (and the doubts and uncertainties) once caused me a lot of agony, I now feel freedom and joy in the midst of diversity. It is for these reasons that I am excited to be volunteering at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions, Aug. 14 to 18, and I moderated a panel on opening day. Because I believe that Christ is active and I can surrender to the sacredness in every tradition, I am delighted to develop more interfaith friendships.

Living a life of faith may be messy, but isn’t it liberating that we don’t have to know all the answers? That we don’t have to understand all the Mysteries? Isn’t it great that all we must do is surrender to the power of love?

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