There are many ways of participating and sharing rituals - Interfaith families work this out for themselves, religious leaders come together to speak about and pray for peace, people visit places of worship and observe what is going on and sometimes, as in the situation above, one community invites another to participate in a service. This expresses a desire to build bridges and share sacred space with another. The invited person comes as a guest and, as in all situations of hospitality, there needs to be an awareness of what is appropriate for both and how far each can easily enter into the world of the other.
One participant, a young woman doing a doctorate in Boston, read a paper on different ways of participating in ritual: observation, imitation and participation. This is helpful for me. I’ve been to visit places of worship and been invited to show respect, perambulate around the sacred image, receive prashad - simple ways of imitating what was going on which took me beyond simple curious observation. For some people this is difficult as it would suggest participation in or belief in another faith with which they are not comfortable. But it need not mean this. I’ve had the situation when I took students to visit a Hindu Temple and even observing a simple arti ceremony led one student to go to confession to confess participating in a false religion. I took it for granted the students would be interested to observe but had not prepared them by making the clarifying the differences between observation, imitation and participation.
This sense of observation and imitation is also helpful in thinking about our Catholic schools which, in some places, have more Muslim than Catholic pupils. I’ve been involved recently with Head Teachers and teachers in the primary sector exploring how schools keep their Catholic identity while being open to other faiths. An expression of Catholic identity is a school celebration of the Eucharist or Mass and Muslim pupils and parents are often invited to attend which many happily do. It could be helpful for us to reflect a bit on what we are asking of those of another faith – are we asking them simply to sit and observe, encouraging them to imitate in that they stand and sit at appropriate times or inviting a simply participation in some parts of the service such as receiving a blessing or bringing up the offering? Such reflection might make what is essentially a Catholic ritual into something that could be a bit more inclusive and expressive of the school community as well as the Catholic ethos.
Two other ways in which people can and do participate in another faith are dual belonging and practising Buddhist meditation. Engaging in interfaith is a journey into the faith of another and holy envy can well be part of the experience. To discover a helpful practice is a gift. Practices such as meditation and mindfulness are becoming common even for those not engaging in interfaith but seeking a way of coping with life. This could be a way of participating in a Buddhist ritual but reflection on that needs another blog