Rabbi Ted Falcon, Pastor Don Mackenzie, and Sheikh Jamal Rahman, known collectively as the "Interfaith Amigos," have been learning and teaching together since 2001. They will be blogging weekly for YES! Magazine. This is their first entry.
Rabbi Ted Falcon: If you’re anything like us, the beginning of the year calls forth New Year’s resolutions, and we certainly want to support all of us in framing and achieving our highest desires for 2010. But we prefer to talk about intentions that can help us walk in healthy and healing ways in our world. More specifically, we want to encourage you to choose a Sacred Intention to serve as a guidepost for this year.
An intention represents a commitment to pursue a specific goal in our lives, such as “I intend to exercise at least three times each week.” In order to work with any intention, it needs to be translated into a present-tense statement: “I exercise at least three times a week.” Then that intention can be supported through the imagination, when we allow ourselves to imagine meeting that goal.
A normal intention points either to a “doing” or to a “having,” since we are choosing to do something or to have something in our lives. The doing is illustrated above; the intention of having might be something like, “I intend to have special time with my partner each day.” That intention would also be framed as a present-tense statement, and supported with the imagination until we feel that it is real already.
A Sacred Intention does not focus on what we do or what we have; it focuses on who we are. A Sacred Intention has to do with the nature of our being, so this is an intention that is more central in our lives. In fact, a Sacred Intention is one against which all our other intentions can be measured.
One of the ways of thinking about Sacred Intentions is to consider what we normally think of as attributes of the Divine. Since that divinity awakens within each of us (and if your “divine” is less theological and more scientific, that’s just fine!), we grow ourselves best when we bring forth those qualities in ourselves. So a Sacred Intention of being might focus on an attribute like Love, Compassion, Truthfulness, Integrity, Kindness, Justice, Humility, Blessing, or Creativity.
We might choose, for example, to be more loving. We could then measure all our intentions of doing or having against this central intention, to make sure that we are in line with our deeper yearnings. “I intend to be more loving” would then become our Sacred Intention, to be stated in the present tense: “I am loving.” You can imagine, perhaps, how this statement could be used as a focus for meditation, as you sit silently and gently repeat those words in your mind: “I am loving,” or “I am love,” or “I love.”
Pastor Don Mackenzie: One of the best ways to sustain a sense of intention is to maintain a sense of the blessings in our lives. We all have blessings and we all have curses. If we can maintain a focus in our lives through blessings, we can cope with our curses. But if we see our lives through our curses, our blessings are lost to us.
Here’s a verse to a song that helps to focus on blessings. We first heard it from Pete Seeger and were very pleased to see it now in the United Church of Christ Hymnal. “My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentation. I hear the real though far off hymn that hails a new creation. Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing. It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?”
Singing actually externalizes important feelings and helps to make them real. And singing together is one of the strongest experiences of the oneness of creation. That sense of oneness coupled with a focus on blessings can help us gain access to the substance of these verses in Matthew 7:7, 8: “Ask, and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.” There is as much psychological truth as theological truth in these few words. But it takes a sacred intention to see our lives and our intentions through our blessings to give us the power to ask and to receive what we have asked for.
Sheikh Jamal Rahman: Another good way to deepen your being is to select sacred verses, poetry, or insights that illuminate your chosen sacred intention, and spend time reflecting on them. For instance, if my sacred intention is to be conscious of God in my life, I might choose a verse from the Quran that resonates in me: “Truly in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest” (13:28). If the divine quality I would like to cultivate is compassion, especially compassion for self, it could be poetry that I meditate on: “Not hammer strokes but dance of the water sings the pebbles into perfection” (Tagore).
Maybe my sacred intention is truthfulness. Mahatma Gandhi’s story might be a source of inspiration and awakening. At a time in his life when he felt humiliated and defeated, Gandhi came across a verse in the Bhagavat Gita: “Truth is God.” The words opened something in him and he committed himself to living the truth. In times of difficulties and doubts, he repeated the words to himself and found himself infused with courage and grace.
No matter what techniques we use to grow the sacred intention in us, remember that it truly pays to persist. There is a beautiful metaphor in the wisdom traditions to illustrate this point. Dip a cloth in a vat of dye and the cloth assumes a lovely color. However, over time, the color fades. But what happens if you dip the cloth in the vat again and again and again? There comes a time when the color becomes permanent and colorfast.
All: Taking time each day to focus on a Sacred Intention nourishes and nurtures us, and helps us achieve the other intentions we have set for ourselves. You are welcome to share with us your Sacred Intentions as comments to this blog. It’s even okay if many of us share the same Sacred Intention. Imagine what a world we could experience if we were all intending to be more loving when dealing with ourselves and with others! “I am loving” relates, as do all Sacred Intentions, to the ways we live in our world, and to the ways we interact with those around us. A Sacred Intention helps us all contribute to the healing of person and the healing of planet. Your Sacred Intentions support more compassionate action in the world.
Rabbi Ted Falcon is the co-founder of Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue in Seattle, where he served as rabbi for sixteen years. Pastor Don Mackenzie retired in June of 2008 as minister and head of staff of University Congregational United Church of Christ in Seattle. Sheikh Jamal Rahman is co-founder and Muslim Sufi minister at Interfaith Community Church in Seattle and adjunct faculty at Seattle University. They are authors of the new book Getting to the Heart of Interfaith: The Eye-Opening, Hope-Filled Friendship of a Pastor, a Rabbi & a Sheikh.
Abraham to Descendants: Knock It Off! Sarah van Gelder interviews the Interfaith Amigos about the common ground they've discovered through dialogue and friendship.