From April 19th through the 26th, I traveled from Indianapolis across the Canadian border to Toronto, Ontario for the 2017 conference of Spiritual Directors International.
The opening plenary began with a lively and often humorous dialogue with full audience exercises led by the Inter Faith Amigos (www.interfaithamigos.com). These are three clergy from Sufi Muslim, Christian (United Church of Christ) and Jewish traditions who have been dedicated for over fifteen years to "supporting more effective interfaith dialogue that can bring greater collaboration on the major social and economic issues of our times."
Following the opening exercises by the Inter Faith Amigos, Rene Thomas Hill of the Mohawk nation shared the Mohawk story of the beginnings of all that is. Rene Thomas Hill is a teacher at Hamilton University and is a traditional counselor and healer. What I found most impactful in her presentation was a sense of gratitude for all that is, living and not living, including things I might not normally name such as mud, cauliflower, carrots, beans . . . . she noted that we must be grateful to these parts of creation because they care for us.
In the following days, I enjoyed especially the workshops that were offered. I attended four of my selection. They included one on group spiritual direction, another on "the appreciative way" or a posture of welcome and affirmation of directees and another describing a very innovative way of helping individuals work through discernment issues when they have a number of options and are stuck with a glut of possibilities.
One workshop that I particularly enjoyed was on Lectio Media, which is a way of dealing with and praying with images that come to us through the visual media. The leader of this workshop portrayed it as a kind of divine interaction with mass media. I think that for some persons, it would provide a way to be in touch with media and to pray the news that we receive. Maybe there is a Saturday morning "Souladventure" (informal occasional gatherings that I host in my house) on this where a number of us could practice the method. What do you think?
Even though the conference was held at the Lester Pearson International Airport, I opted for financial reasons to stay at Victoria University guest housing right in downtown Toronto. Since I was downtown anyway, there were some opportunities to see Toronto again (I was last there in 2013). The interfaith theme jumps out everywhere in Toronto because of the incredible diversity of the population.
One intercultural and interfaith connection that was very powerful was my visit to the Aga Khan Museum just before the conference began. Opening in 2014 and designed by Pritzker architecture award winner, Fumihiko Maki, this wonderful building and grounds constitute an aesthetic and spiritual oasis. The museum highlights Islamic art, Iranian art and Muslim culture. The five hours I spent in the building and on the grounds felt almost cleansing and life giving. I was appreciative of the clean lines of the building, the simplicity, the attention to detail and, above all, the attention to light everywhere. And I learned a great deal about Islamic artistic traditions and medias.
In addition to the conference, I met an old friend of the United Church of Canada, Rev. Jim Kirkwood, from my African mission days for breakfast; went to a wonderful exhibit of Georgia O'Keefe works at the Art Gallery of Ontario; and attended the beautiful sung Sunday morning Eucharist at St. James Cathedral.
Throughout the experience in Ontario, I was aware that this is Canada's 150th anniversary. There were celebratory references all around. People arriving at or leaving from Lester Pearson International Airport were greeted with this huge banner commemorating the event.
Actually, I did not travel to the Spiritual Directors International Conference by plane but opted for the much grittier and (not insignificant) cheaper means of Greyhound travel. Before I left I started wondering if I--a 73 year old--should embark on an a fifteen hour one way Greyhound adventure. But as a young person and in Peace Corps and international mission, I traveled often by bus and feel used to it. So off I went! What I learned very quickly was that the interfaith motif was present most of the time in the buses themselves. I remember on the way home that I noticed Muslim women, a Hindu woman from southern Asia, an Orthodox Jewish youth sitting just next to me and Latinos, African Americans and even a French couple. There were several Amish who, at their stop, were met by horse and buggies!
So, not just the conference but Toronto itself and the travel to and from reminded me that I am a spiritual director in a world of many identities and cultures and religions. I know that all of these rich expressions of humanity provide materials for good discernment of the Spirit's movement and presence . . . . .. . . I came home knowing of the presence of the Spirit in each person.