Book Review

Getting to the Heart of Interfaith: The Eye-opening, Hope-filled Friendship of a Rabbi, a Pastor, and a Sheikh by Ted Falcon, Don Mackenzie, and Jamal Rahman. Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, VT, 2008; 183 pages, ISBN 978-1-59473-263-8, paperback, $16.99.

This is the most helpful interfaith book I've seen. The authors illustrate with the progress of their own friendship how to gradually build relationships with people of other faiths or spiritual outlooks, making the process concrete and human.  Modeling five stages of a journey toward interfaith understanding, they begin with stories of their life in relation to spiritual matters, then move to sharing what they consider as the core of their own traditions. Pastor Don speaks about "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." Rabbi Ted chooses the Sh'ma  and V'ahavta prayers, which read: "Listen, Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is One. And you shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all you might.  And let these words which I AM commanding you today be on your heart." (p. 62) His explanation is inspiring and illuminating. Sheikh Jamal chooses compassion, as seen in the verse "In the name of God, boundlessly Compassionate and Merciful," words that open all but one of the 114 chapters of the Qur'an.

They then write honestly of the the problems and promises of their own faiths, ways to handle difficult interfaith problems, and participating in each other's spiritual practices and ceremonies. It was interesting to see how little Pastor Don knew about the dark side of Christian history in relation to other faiths until his interfaith work caused him to investigate.  After researching Christian anti-Semitism, he says, "I discovered, with growing horror, the degree to which the Christian church had given theological assent to the Holocaust.  Centuries of anti-Judaism had culminated in the murder of millions of Jews.  I was weak in the knees, and even wondered if I could go on as a minister of a Christian church.  I wondered how I could be a minister and not have fully understood this.  How could it be that Christianity, representing the Gospel of Jesus, would give support to such suffering?" (p. 44).

Throughout, the reflections of the three "Interfaith Amigos" provide food for thought. For example, they explain that for them:

inclusive spirituality relates to the realization of Oneness, the Oneness toward which each of our faith traditions leads us.  The One we seek is a shared One – there is only One.  We believe the One, usually called "God" or "Allah" in our three faith traditions, is the One Universal Life that contains all that exists, yet is infinitely more than all that exists.  To the extent that we realize ourselves as integral parts of that One, we are moving toward the spiritual side of the [faith] scale . . .
     This inclusive spirituality is crucial because it leads to a very particular way of being in the world.  When we are connected to each other and interconnected with all beings, we naturally begin to care better for others and for our planet.  This spiritual consciousness allows us to see ourselves in all others and to understand that when we bring pain to another, we are actually bringing pain to ourselves.  When we support another, we are also supporting ourselves.   A strong ethic naturally flows from an inclusive spirituality, and this is the ethic we seek to celebrate together.  In our interfaith work, we have realized again and again that the more deeply we share, the better we are able to appreciate the Universal we all seek to serve. – p. 160

Among the spiritual practices they shared, Sheikh Jamal's five techniques for opening the heart particularly struck me.  As he says: "In Islamic spiritual terms, God resides in the throne of the heart; astonishingly and mysteriously, the Divine Heart is in the human heart.  Our spiritual task is to open a passageway from heart to Heart . . ." (p. 149).

Even though I've never belonged to any faith tradition, over the last several years I've been involved in interfaith events to support better understanding among people. During activities when people share perspectives from their traditions, I've often felt self-conscious, thinking "What am I doing here?!"  This book has given me insights that will allow me to bring more to and take more from these experiences. – Sally Dougherty (November 2009

Book Reviews