The Interfaith Complex: Attempts at a Stable Vocabulary-Dialogue and Interreligious Practice




 As religious and spiritual persons we base our lives on an Ultimate Reality, and draw spiritual power and hope therefrom, in trust, in prayer or meditation, in word or silence. We have a special responsibility for the welfare of all humanity and care for the planet Earth. We do not consider ourselves better than other women and men, but we trust that the ancient wisdom of our religions can point the way for the future.


The Interfaith Peace Project

Thomas P. Bonacci, C.P.
640 Bailey Road #301
Pittsburg, CA 94565
(925) 787-9279
[email protected]









a)       The dialogue of life, where people strive to live together.

 b)      The dialogue of action, collaborate for the well-being of people.

 c)       The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages.

 d)      The dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches.


A friend is someone
who knows the song
in your heart and can sing
it back when you have
forgotten the words.


             The question, “What do I truly believe?” engages the participant in what might be termed a “dialogue with self.”  In such a dialogue, others emerge in our memories.  Consequently, the memories might be pleasant, inspiring, transformative, or traumatic.  Spiritual direction and / or therapy may be required at this point to foster in the participant the courage to engage the self honestly and openly.  Past experience, including traumatic experiences, must become the memories out of which compassion for self, others, and all creation emerges.  The importance of this stage cannot be underestimated since the dialogue with others requires an ability and willingness to listen and engage in a way both free and profound.  Unless recovery from trauma (or painful memories) is profound, the dialogical exchange will become a situation in which the participants become “triggers” by which unresolved memories of past traumatic events, persons, and situations severely injure or completely destroy the dialogical exchange.  Such an experience runs the risk of unjustly hurting another person.  In this sense, profound dialogue is always dangerous.  

             Participants in the Interfaith Dialogue journey upon a road whose destination is the journey itself.  Religions as such do not meet one another.  Persons meet.  Participants are not representing a faith tradition as an ambassador of good will.  They are meeting one another in the depth of their mind, heart, soul, and person.  Every person is a unique expression of faith, piety, devotion, or ethical philosophy.  Religious systems are abstractions born out of the real experiences of actual persons.  Somewhere in our past, we emerged from a community of believers for whom the symbols, stories, myths, rites, and culture of that particular religion created a system of meaning.  Even if one were to share the “objective” teaching of a given tradition, they would do so autobiographically.  There is no way to open one’s mouth without engaging the spiritual and psychological “muscles” opening one’s heart.  Two hearts meet creating a sacred space called trust invigorated by courage and forged by deep personal respect one for another.


             Dialogue with others began before birth.  The song of our mothers, the words of our fathers, the heartbeat, the sounds of the world with its chants, recitations, cries, and rhythms have influenced us in our basic formation as human beings.  Sometimes the abandoned child seeks to find the mother of the song and the father of the word.  Long before we could see, we heard the world of self, others, family, and environment.  We are fundamentally constituted to hear and listen for that which is outside us for only then do we truly discover what is within.

            We deliberately recall the sounds and words of our lives.  The people who chanted, instructed, and spoke to and with us.  We recall the endearing conversations aware of the potential of traumatic remembering.  As we prepare to engage in Interfaith Dialogue, we recall events, experiences, and past dialogues by which our hearts were touched and our lives formed.  We consciously call to mind any encounter with a person from a faith tradition other than our own.  A second core question emerges:  


            Some participants in the Intrafaith Project might be unable to recall such an encounter.  The question for them is a broader one: 

“What core / important past experience forged, shaped, or influenced my life?
Who was my mentor in the ways of faith, personal philosophy, or life?” 

All participants might do well to ponder these questions as they prepare to engage upon the practice of Interfaith Dialogue.  The questions heighten our awareness inviting us to a profound mindfulness in which we become aware of who and what influences our lives.  We live uniquely but not alone.  Awareness of past voices heightens our perception for hearing present and future voices with discernment, attentiveness, perception, and respect.  Once we become aware of how speech can invite or offend, form or destroy, we dialogue with others diligently, respectfully, graciously, empowered by gratitude for such a profound opportunity.


            At the core of Interfaith Spiritual Practice is dialogue with others.  Encountering the other invites strangers to become spiritual friends, companions on the road of life.  Interfaith Dialogue is more than a technique or tool for accomplishing some future dream.  The dialogue is the goal since the dialogue in the here and now of life produces what is necessary in the present moment.  We journey together but uniquely empowered by our differences.  We face and ponder the issues of life together.  The “differences” are gifts we bring to one another.  These are the songs, rites, artifacts, teachings, dogmas, and perspectives participants share with one another as they treasure their dialogue with one another.  It always remains to be seen what is born when rich dialogue occurs.  There is a profound distinction between “differences” and “oppositions.”  Opposing forces cry out for reconciliation, compromise, and treaty.  “Differences” contribute to the richness of the dialogue.    

            At first, participants might not like what they hear.  The encounter with the “difference” of the other may challenge the way the world is seen and judged.  Differences enable dispute when the participants forget the commonality of their humanity.  Differences empower the search for wisdom when participants are grateful to be in the presence of one another.

             Listening another person’s “soul into life,” to use Douglas Steere’s phrase, is a holy and spiritual act.  Each of us has the capacity for such listening, and we are called to such listening. …
            … When we “listen another person’s soul into life,” we foster greater experience of the divine power within others and ourselves.  …  Our role as listeners is to help others create the emotional and spiritual conditions needed to discover and articulate the spiritual and emotional truths within their souls.
            …  Soul listening fosters the discovery of riches buried deeply within our souls.

Jackson, Cari
The Gift to Listen
The Courage to Hear
Augsburg, 2003
pp. 2-3

To listen to another is to hear the voice of God sounding in the depths of our hearts inviting us to the wisdom born of living a life of deep reflection. The dialogue with the other always invites us to the on-going dialogue with self.



            Interfaith work and outreach is a phenomenon requiring an appreciation for complexity and simplicity.  The simplicity is discovered in the human capacity to reverence and love all people.  This rather “simple” intention becomes complex when referring to “real” people in the “real” world.  We cannot love others apart from the “real” persons they are.  Consequently, we must become aware of the dignity and beauty of the other person precisely as a person in their own religious and cultural context not to mention their political and economic circumstances.  Individual persons stand uniquely within the traditions from which they come.  A person, then, is appreciated “within” the context from which they arise.  The complexity of interfaith work appreciates, celebrates, and delights in this discovery of the other person precisely as a person of beauty, dignity, and mystery.  One should never conclude another person has been fully discovered or appreciated.  Such a search belongs to the enterprise we call life and it is a lifelong journey.  In the final analysis, the religious “other” becomes companion on the road of life.  We need not and cannot become the same.  Our difference reveals the splendor of what it means to be alive, rich, and varied. 


             The language of interfaith practice and spirituality is slowly developing at this present moment in our history.  Never before have we humans found ourselves in such a situation.  At one and the same time we are experiencing unbounded creativity and the threat of world catastrophe.  Our religious heritage has the capacity to contribute to peace-making based on justice and mutual understanding.  Interfaith spirituality is no longer reserved for a few esoteric types but is rapidly becoming our hope for the future of the world and humanity.  The strategies by which such a spirituality will develop are quite uncertain at this juncture.  The following suggestions are precisely that – suggestions.  Perhaps these provisional definitions will afford the opportunity for deeper dialogue and understanding as to how an interfaith spirituality and practice might emerge.      


THE MULTI-FAITH EXPERIENCE     –     Participants from different religious communities come together to share, work, and celebrate in an atmosphere characterized by mutual respect and common cause.  Usually participants will explain their particular faith tradition and share a prayer or ritual from their respective religious community.  There is a respectful “distance” kept in such encounters.  Sharing and working together on a common cause establish the basis for coming together in a peaceful and caring manner.   

THE INTERFAITH EXPERIENCE     –     Participants from the varied faith communities of humankind witness to the beauty and dignity of their individual faith experiences.  Participants move beyond commonality discovering the power of differences to enrich both communities and individuals of faith and common purpose.  The more mystical aspect of a given tradition contributes to the quest for transcendence by which individual persons of faith converge in mutual trust and understanding.

THE INTRAFAITH EXPERIENCE     –     Participants in the quest for interfaith practice discover within themselves and their experiences aspects thought to exist only in the “other” communities of faith.  Intrafaith practice invites one to explore their personal faith history seeking insights based on personal experience in the quest for interfaith appreciation and practice.    


The faith traditions of the world belong to every individual person by virtue of their common humanity.  I, as a Christian, for example, can ritualize as I am creatively inspired by the Hindu tradition and pray as I am inspired by Muslims.  As an individual practitioner of Interfaith Spirituality, I enjoy a heightened awareness of the Divine Presence in all persons even as their insights and spiritual contributions transform and touch my life. 


COMMONALITY     –     Somewhere between the multi-faith and interfaith experiences the quest for commonality dominates the dialogue and work of participants seeking justice and peace through mutual understanding.  Commonality assumes what we hold in common will bring different peoples of faith together.  Difference is judged to be unhelpful and unnecessary.  Commonality comes about through agreement, consensus, and / or discovering through dialogue what is essential in our faith traditions now seen as common to all persons of good will and faith.   

TRANSCENDENCE     –     Mystical experiences are by their nature transcendental experiences in which the boundaries of individuality dissolve as the interconnectedness of all emerges.  Silence may very well characterize this experience.  This experience is also expressed artistically in various mediums such as painting, music, poetry, and dance.  The rituals of any given religious tradition might very well provide the “medium” by which transcendent interfaith ritual can develop in the practice of both communities and individuals of faith.  

CONVERGENCE      –     If transcendence invites us to move beyond the confines of self as individualistic to the power of the individual to love, convergence is the destiny which surprisingly blesses the interfaith practitioner.  The interconnectedness of all is not caused but seen by intrafaith and interfaith practice.  The religious other is seen as companion in the rich diversity of their uniqueness which blesses all who spiritually journey.


I practice my own faith tradition according to its deepest spiritual principles.  I discover those aspects of my tradition which invite me to self-transcendence as I forego all forms and temptations to see myself in competition with those who would be my spiritual companion.  My rootedness in my own tradition is the basis from which I discover what graces me and invites me to journey without hesitation or fear. 


DIALOGUE     –     Dispute, disagreement, and judgment are substantial aspects of any healthy dialogue.  We must become aware of the hurts, fears, experiences, and hopes of others.  Many faith traditions teach the necessity to repent and convert.  Conversion takes place at the deepest levels of dialogue in which one becomes aware of the necessity of seeing the other as an “I” and not a category.  One hears the other with one’s heart, soul, and mind.  To use Christian terminology, one is baptized in the reality of their companion.

ACTIVE LISTENING     –     Quakers teach the necessity of hearing the other without plotting an immediate response.  I cannot hear if I am busy preparing my response as the other is speaking.  I must listen to the other without defense or judgment.  It is my privilege to hear the other who now speaks with trust that I am truly listening.  Such hearing of the other invites me to hear aspects of myself I might otherwise never hear.

SILENCE     –     Transcendence becomes the experience of convergence in the silence of the moment.  My companionship with the religious other emerges as I hear in the silence of my heart the dignity of the other emerging in me.  This silence is truly communion in which difference becomes delightful and individuality becomes a gift of self for the well-being of the other.  Nothing speaks to mutuality of heart more than the stillness of silence.    


Explanation gives way to experience.  I sit quietly and well-centered in the silence of my soul listening to the other who is emerging as my spiritual companion on the journey of life.  The prayer and rituals of my companion blesses me as I emerge out of my fears and anxieties.  I embrace the courage to hear the other as companion.  I practice, in a consciousness way, trust in the other who is confident I will be their faithful companion.


TOLERANCE     –     There was a time when tolerance was a radical breakthrough in the complex world of faith, spirituality, and religion.  Some thought it was erroneous to tolerate the faith tradition of the religious other since error has no rights.  Tolerance permits the other to exist.  From any point of view, tolerance is merely a starting point.

RESPECT     –     Perhaps respect is the lost virtue.  Respect recognizes the dignity of the religious other who becomes my companion on the journey.  My companion is not my possession.  It is my blessing and privilege to be graced with this companion who needs not to be redeemed or saved by me or my faith.  I experience my companion as an equal with whom I am privileged to journey.       

DELIGHT     –     Delight might be the sign indicating the deeper practice of interfaith spirituality.  The sounds, prayers, rituals, and sights of the faith traditions of humankind delight my soul, transform my life, and lift me up to new heights of insight and wisdom.  


As I enter into the quiet and stillness of my soul I experience the power of my humanity to act humanely and lovingly.  I forego the necessity of judging those who believe differently than I.  My God now blesses me with this encounter with those I once merely tolerated or even disrespected because of my fears and / or hurts based on unfortunate experiences.  I realize anew my capacity to forgive.  I realize I might need to forgive myself and seek the forgiveness of others.  I might come to realize I harbored negativity and a condemning judgment against others.  I feel the call to make peace with myself as I come to realize how blessed I am to be in the presence of one I might have feared or hated in the past.  


COMMON QUEST     –     There was a time when I thought the religious other and I only had in common what we consented to do.  Our work for the common good was the extent of our commonality.  As we worked together we discovered the commonality of teachings, beliefs, and practices enjoyed by our different faith traditions.  Now our quest is no longer dependent upon agreements and common work.  What we enjoy in common is our humanity.  We quest together to be fully human and fully alive.  Our commonality is now discovered not invented.

MUTUALITY     –     I once defined myself as an individual who needed to be defined within safe and secure boundaries.  I viewed myself as if I were an object to be preserved and secured over and against any others especially those of different beliefs, cultures, languages, or races.  Commonality of work and belief matured into commonality of humanity which fosters mutuality in a faithful companionship by which and in which the individuality of persons can flourish.  I now treasure the uniqueness of my companion without whose love my uniqueness might have never been discovered.

SELF-OPENING LOVE     –     The great faith traditions of humankind teach the necessity of losing the self for the sake of finding the deeper meaning of life and self.  I have learned to love without demanding anything in return.  I invite others into my presence so I might reverence and honor them.  I have come to realize my hearts capacity to love beyond the limits the world might have imposed upon me.


I do not “represent” the faith tradition from which I emerge.  Rather, I testify to its wisdom and splendor as a practitioner of my foundational faith tradition.  All persons practice their spirituality uniquely.  All persons believe uniquely.  All persons pray uniquely.  All persons contribute significantly.  The power of any faith tradition is found in its capacity to inspire its practitioners.  Faith traditions do not meet one another.  Rather, persons of faith encounter each other.