SASKATOON — Three Christian panelists offered reflections on Christian-Islamic relations during the final session of “A Christian Study of Islam: An Introduction” Nov. 15 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon.
The five-week diocesan Foundations series included presentations by scholars and faith leaders, as well as a guided visit to a local mosque. The final session opened with a presentation by Rev. Bernard de Margerie, one of the organizers. Panelists then offered reactions and insights.
Sarah Donnelly — who offers spiritual direction, retreats, workshops and grief support groups to the ecumenical Christian community — began her reflection by recalling the five pillars of Islam: faith, prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage. She connected these with four non-negotiable pillars of Christian life outlined by Rev. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, in his book, The Holy Longing: nurturing a personal prayer life, worshiping in community, charitable and social justice actions, and cultivating a grateful and generous heart.
“We see that we share much in common with our Muslim sisters and brothers,” Donnelly said. “The three monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — teach that we must nurture the balance between praying as individuals and praying in community.”
There is also a shared commitment to charity and social justice across both faith traditions, she stressed. “This pillar is our commitment to care for the poor.”
She said that it is essential to Christian spirituality to live out of a spirit of gratitude and generosity. “The people who are true agents of transformation in our world are those who hold a lovely balance of truth and energy, and their graciousness, humour, humility, wisdom and courage draw people to them.”
Gathering together over the five weeks of the series has been a time of learning, listening and prayer, Donnelly said. “This has been a privileged time for us. We commit ourselves to the practices and traditions of our own spiritual tradition, and at the same time we intentionally walk alongside and learn from those of different practices and traditions,” she concluded.
Ponder and prayer were the two words offered by the second panelist, retired Lutheran Bishop Allan Grundahl. He described how he has been pondering and praying on the extravagance of God’s love for all, and on the words of Jesus about “other sheep that I have who are not of this fold,” as well as “in my Father’s house are many rooms.”
He posed some of the questions this has raised: “Can we really think that our God of love could possibly exclude any of God’s created beings? Or do we Christians believe that only Christians are included in God’s family?”
He also observed that in his daily Bible readings, he has increasingly noticed the word “all.”
“God repeats it over and over again: ‘I will gather all peoples to myself,’ ‘I will gather all nations to myself.’ What does that mean for all religions around the world?”
Grundahl said he also prays and ponders about the tantalizing words near the end of John’s Gospel where Jesus promises the coming of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. “Obviously there is more for us Christians to learn,” he said, reflecting on how Christians are challenged by “new stuff.”
“One of the great temptations of all human beings is the temptation to limit the guiding of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “Certainly we Christians are centred in the revelation of God in Christ Jesus, but we must also be ready to learn more from God’s Spirit guiding today.”
Grundahl concluded with a call for Christians and Muslims to continue to walk together. “Let us keep on being friendly with one another, and at the same time freely express to each other what are the most meaningful aspects of our own faith, and then trust that God’s Holy Spirit will continue to work through our pondering and praying.”
The third panelist was Elaine Zakreski, a retired educator, author and parishioner at St. Anne Parish in Saskatoon, who along with her husband Peter founded the Hope for Malawi foundation to provide outreach and support for communities in Africa.
“We have heard many stories about hate and violence and fear,” she said. “I think we need some love stories.” She described profound and welcoming experiences and encounters among Christians and Muslims in Jordan and in the Malawi communities she has visited in Africa.
This included praying with women raising their grandchildren, relating words that resonated across cultures and faith traditions: “The light within me is the same as the light within you, and together we are one.”
“Last year when we returned again we were joined by Muslim men, and people who didn’t look old enough to be grandmas. I’m told that it has expanded in the village and I asked them why they are doing this, and they said ‘because we feel good together, we feel at peace, because we feel happier and calmer, and we feel more unity.’ ’’
Rita Taylor, co-ordinator of the Foundations: Exploring Our Faith Together program in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, concluded the evening with words of thanks for the hundreds who have attended the series, and noted that many of the supporting documents and resources have been posted on the diocesan website at: www.saskatoonrcdiocese.com/foundations.