Recently a member of our local interfaith association said that he was interested in starting a group that would meet for multi-faith silent prayer / meditation. He explained that all the major faiths have some tradition of silent prayer or meditation, although it may not be their best known practice. The suggestion was that this was a point at which people from many different backgrounds could meet and share together, even though their explanations and understandings of what they were doing may be different. Clearly there is some difference in the words used and what is understood by them, ‘prayer’ and ‘meditation’ both having a variety of meanings. It was agreed to arrange an initial meeting for those interested and then to consider how to go forward.
A small group met, spent some time in silence together, and discussed how to take the idea forward. At the next committee meeting a proposal was brought back from the group that a regular silent prayer meeting be set up, probably monthly, perhaps meeting in the quiet room of our local hospice, a space provided for people from all faiths and none wanting a place for ‘spiritual’ activities.
A fascinating discussion then ensued. Some of those present had been at the silent prayer meeting (an Anglican vicar, a Quaker/Buddhist, a Anglican follower of Sai Baba, a Unificationist) and some hadn’t (a Sikh, a Muslim, a Bahai). Those who hadn’t been there asked some questions about what we hoped to achieve and about how we could possibly learn anything from one another if we were in silence, and also spoke about their understandings of prayer and meditation. After a while it became clear that while some of us felt there was a huge value in silence and that in the silence something else, something very profound, could happen, others just could not perceive that this was even possible. There was a complete lack of communication between the two groups. When I spoke of my experience that something really important can, and does, happen in shared silence, I was met with the response ‘I wish I had your faith’. But to me it is not faith, it is fact because it is based on experience, even if that experience is beyond words. The person who had put forward the initial proposal said simply ‘a time of silence is a gift we can give to one another’, which seemed to me beautiful.
Anyway, despite the total lack of communication we encountered, it was agreed that the project should continue, so we will see how it develops. I feel it has the potential to be an important growing point in local interfaith relations.