What is Interfaith or Multi-faith Practice Like? Maybe it’s like this….

interfaith welcome2Forests are great diverse communities, many different kinds of trees and vegetation, birds, insects, squirrels, moles, streams, deer, all sorts of critters chipping in to make the forest healthy and whole. Forests are a totem for multi-faith practice.


I lived in a forest hermitage for eight months in Northern Wisconsin at the Christine Center, a Franciscan retreat center in an oak forest. My cabin’s name was Love, and that it was. In the winter cold at night I worked out a deal with the mice. They stayed in the attic. The squirrels stayed in the east facing walls. The chipmunks borrowed under it. The deer bedded down up the path a little way. We were a community. The owl’s last call before dawn woke me for predawn prayer. Everyone had their gifts to bring, especially the trees. They are great teachers and companions. I love this quote from Doing It Another Way: The Basic Text, a book I wrote about Franciscan spirituality a while back. So I am quoting myself about what I called the “condition of being.”


The Giving

The teachings of our brother and sister trees instruct us on our true condition of being. Trees rise up by rooting deeply in solid ground. They shelter and feed the nesting ones. They shade the weary; protect the frail from mighty winds; nourish the soil with their leaves, hold it safe from rushing waters or erosion, and provide needed oxygen for other creatures. In the rain forest one tree can harbor a whole species of insects. A tree does only two things, branch to light, root to water. Yet, out of its essence everything is accomplished.

The Receiving

What tree can grow without soil and minerals? Or continue to live without light and water? Or send forth its seeds without the aid of wind and bird, squirrel and insect? What tree can hide itself from the cycles of growth and diminishment? Trees in their death provide shelter, heat, light, and fire.

The Condition of Being

Trees appear solitary and individual, rising to the sky, standing unto themselves, yet their lives reflect unspeakable union, cooperation, an interrelationship of being, a co-arising with their companions in the world. In the fourth order we recognize this true condition of being, and the healing properties of right relationship. We are dancers in the wind, servants and upholders of life who are ourselves upheld by our fellow creatures. Trees remind us that those who live in their true spacious nature uplift, uphold and love their companions on the way.

This blog is about that very quote. In a world that appears so divided there is an underlying unity, a great beauty. That is what the interfaith/multi-faith adventure is all about. A celebration of the One who moves within and among, celebrated by the many diverse spiritual traditions, appearing distinct and unto themselves, yet holding a wealth of common core values – like compassion. Yes, compassion. That is a good beginning. A good way to welcome you to this blog.


Sit quietly with your breath, breathing deeply a few times and then allowing the breath to take its own natural rhythm. The goal of this meditation is simple – to experience community – com (with) unity. Take the inner sword of discernment and cut through the veils of the illusion of separation into the core reality of our unity. In your imagination allow the images of your present community, including family, friends, co-workers, members of your own faith, and those you know of other faiths to come before your inner eye. Allow the images of those you love and those who irritate and annoy you. those who shelter you and the ones you shelter. With each image and on the breath, allow the inner truth to arise, saying, “Thou.” Breathe the truth of it until you feel the connection, but don’t force. Know that if you cannot come to “thou” with a particular person there is simply inner work to be done on your part. Let the meditation continue until it subsides on its own allowing you to come into silence.


May they gather around the lamp of guidance. May every portionless one receive a share. May the deprived become the confidants of Thy mysteries.[i]                   ~Abdu’l-Bahå


Tugging at a Single Thing

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.     ~ John Muir

Losing Fear

Who sees all beings in his own Self, and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear.   ~Isa Upanishad


The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another. ~ Thomas Merton

Understand Well

We should understand well that all things are the work of the Great Spirit. We should know that He is within all things: the trees, the grasses, the rivers, the mountains, and all the four legged animals, and the winged peoples….All these holy peoples and holy things are now hearing what I say! O Wakan-Tanka, I shall offer up my body and soul that my people may live!…We know that we are related and are one with all things of the heavens and the earth. We all wish to live and increase in a holy manner.[2]           ~ Black Elk

Buddhist Blessing

Just as the soft rains fill the streams,
pour into the rivers and join together in the oceans,
so may the power of every moment of your goodness
flow forth to awaken and heal all beings,
Those here now, those gone before, those yet to come.

[i] Bahá’í Prayers. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States. Wilmette, IL1991.

[2] Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks, New Edition (Paperback) Bison Books; 3rd edition, Lincoln, NE 2004.

Author: baflaherty

My background includes work as a counselor, a chaplain, and a trainer for behavioral health clinicians. I have taught at universities. Throughout my life I have had a passion for interfaith and intercultural connections. I am the mother of two and the grandmother of two. Life is good.

2 thoughts on “What is Interfaith or Multi-faith Practice Like? Maybe it’s like this….”

  1. Dear Friend Barbara, I’m so excited that you have started this blog on Interfaith dialogue. It feels like all of your life experiences have converged in this holy moment, the holy now–your Work with The Fourth Order, Our Lady of Las Palomas, The Cristine Center, teaching, behavioral health training, counseling, chaplaincy–what a blessing that you are sharing your life with us through this writing. I love the image of the tree as the teacher of true community. I’m looking out into my garden and preparing to gather spruce tips to make tea and medicine! This act of gleaning and appreciating the gifts of tree are definately made more special through your sharing.


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