SMC Madeleva Lecture promotes religious dialogue
Kathryn Marshall | Friday, April 15, 2016
Saint Mary’s Center for Spirituality hosted the 31st annual Madeleva Lecture on Thursday, honoring the 175th anniversary of the foundation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. The event featured three keynote speakers, all women scholars, to discuss religious dialogue.
Sr. Eva Mary Hooker, professor of English at Saint Mary’s, began the night reading two original poems. The first was based on an image she saw in an illustrated bible, where lines of scripture were being pictorially hoisted into place with a bumblebee and pulley, and the other poem was inspired by the line of sycamores lining the Avenue, she said.
“I want tonight to celebrate in poetic image the mission of this college and the sisters who have worked here and the land upon which it stands,” she said. “We have all built together a place in which we seek wisdom.”
Following the poetry reading, Marianne Farina, a professor of philosophy and theology at Graduate Theological Union in Berkley, California, spoke on “Sacred Conversations and the Evolution of Dialogue.”
Mutual understanding and enrichment comes from sacred conversations, as such dialogue helps one appreciate the holiness of religions and cultures, she said.
“Sacred conversations contribute to a deep theology, which like deep ecology contemplates the interconnectedness of all the cosmos,” Farina said. “This deep theology evinces an evolutionary consciousness skilled at holding it in esteem, the unenthused complex and enthused connection that exist between all living beings and the goodness God has ordained for each.”
These conversations are opportunities for communication with self, God and others, Farina said. This idea is shared between Christian and Islamic traditions.
“For as the sacred texts of Christians and Muslims proclaim, ‘God spoke and creation came to existence.’ These texts also tell of God’s continuing communication with nature in ways that foster a deep interiority in our encounters with cultures and religions,” she said.
Farina said she had a religious experience of her own when providing cyclone relief efforts for an island off Bangladesh. The island population heard another storm was coming, and Farina spent the night of the scheduled storm in the second story of a building with numerous other women and children, many of whom were Muslim.
Farina said the eye of the storm spared the island and very few were harmed. She noticed the Muslim women never stopped praying that night, and asked why the following morning.
“Over a simple breakfast we had the chance to share our experiences of that fearful night,” she said. “They remained in the prayer circle because if that night was to be their last, they wanted to meet God together as a community uttering God’s own words on their lips. At that moment and in their telling, I gained insight.”
Farina said dialogue and communication are important and evolutionary when they enter into the depth of shared existence in God. This movement is not linear, but rather a discovery of God’s presence in everything, she said.
“Sacred conversation assists our entry into this depth, where we experience spiritual power,” she said.
The values of humility and hospitality are essential to inter-religious dialogue because humility affirms a status as situated beings, and hospitality makes people come to terms with traditional differences in a way that opens up to self-knowledge and new insights, she said.
“Whether we are engaged in dialogue or academic study, conversations focused on deep listening and the movements of the spirit are critical to developing scholarship and pastoral leadership responsive to today’s reality,” she said. “One example of such efforts in the story of Holy Cross. … Thus, the Holy Cross apostolic charism based on a spirit of union, and a gift of hope embodies the spirituality of dialogue.”
The response by Sisters of the Holy Cross in Bangladesh is an example of the way mission and dialogue crosses numerous boundaries, she said.
“Through [sacred conversations], we stand in solidarity with all others filled with hope, especially at the foot of the cross, bearing witness to … a future larger than ourselves,” she said.
Asma Afsaruddin, a professor in the department of near Eastern languages and cultures at Indiana University, said she has met Farina multiple times at various symposiums. Afsaruddin responded to Farina’s talk and said she appreciated Farina’s passion for open interfaith dialogue.
“Change is to be affected first internally in the individual before any meaningful external change can take root,” Afsaruddin said. “The most important site for bringing out genuine individual change, followed by social change, is clearly the human heart. Transformation of the human heart occurs by making it receptive to God’s will and becoming filled with God consciousness,” she said.
Both Christian and Muslim traditions emphasize internal transformation and reconciliation with the creator and created beings to live an open life which can develop profound self-knowledge, she said.
“It is fitting that Marianne should end her inspirational talk by emphasizing hope, to which God calls us to bear witness,” she said. “Both Christianity and Islam are founded on hope. The Quran and the Bible assure us that we must never despair of God’s love and solicitude for us and never lose faith in the ultimate goodness of human beings.”
Afsaruddin said she agreed with Farina that humility and hospitality are necessary for sacred conversations and inter-religious dialogue, because these conversations allow people from different traditions to celebrate interconnectedness and common responsibilities to promote what is good.
“Sacred conversations help to keep this compact among ourselves alive and relevant,” she said. “And most importantly of all, these sacred conversations help us to push back against other profane conversations that seek to divide and form hatred, of which unfortunately, as we know, there has been way too much lately.”