Story, interviews and pictures by Leslie Gabriel Mezei
(A shorter version was published in the October 2013 The Interfaith Observer )
About 100 of my pictures can be found here

The gathering of some 200 of us from many traditions, and  some Spiritual Independents, at the first Dawn of Interspirituality Conference at the beginning of October, 2013 in northern Washington State was a groundbreaking event. The best way to report on it might be to hear from some of the key participants.

We begin with the interview below with Kurt Johnson, whose recent  book  “The Coming Interspiritual Age” , coauthored with David Robert Ord, was the main impetus for this meeting. He discusses the distinction between interfaith and interspirituality, and talks about next steps. Then we  hear about the aims of the Conference from William Keepin, who with Cynthia Bix  has graciously run the whole 5- day event. We also get a few words form the inspiring 93-year old Father William Treacy, whose 50-year old vision and dedication [Cascadian Center, Mt. Vernon, WA]   gave us the Cascadian Center, this beautiful location. And one of the highlights for me was talking (also below) to  Gaus Shabbir Sayyad from India, a rescued child laborer who rose to be a top student.

There was a rich variety of  opportunities  in the five days we spent together. We began with videotaped blessings from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which you can view here. Before the Conference, there was a reunion of attendees of 30 years of the Snowmass Interreligious Conference which recently became the Snowmass Interspiritual Dialogue. Father Thomas Keating, its founder, addressed us in real time over the airwaves, and we sang a Kyrie Eleison chant for him in three part harmony. Their valuable eight points of agreement can be found here
 [Father Thomas Keating]
[Rev. Matthew Wright]    

The talks in the plenary sessions were kept to 20  minutes, to have more time for small group interaction, musical interludes, chanting, worship, celebrations, silent contemplation, and walking in nature. We will mention just a few.  Reverend Matthew Wright’s topic was “Multiple Religious Belonging and the Evolving Interspiritual Landscape.” At the age of 28 he has been ordained as an Episcopalian priest, initiated as a Sufi Dervish of Rumi’s  Mevlevi Order, and an initiate in the Ramakrishna Order of Vedanta, founded by Swami Vivekananda. Adam Bucko and Rory McEntree talked about the “New Monasticism and the Interspiritual Revolution.”  Imam Jamal Rahman’s topic was: “Awakening to Interspirituality Through Sacred Humour,” and told us many Mulla Nasruddin teaching jokes. He is part of the Interfaith Amigos   — with a unique blend of spiritual wisdom and humour, and a number of books — with Rabbi Ted Falcon, who also spoke, and Pastor Don Mackenzie, who was not there. Rabbi Rami Shapiro urged us to be Holy Rascals,   “with a passion for spiritual truth and awakening, use humour to shatter the systems that bind us.” His Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent is a valuable sourcebook of “sacred teachings annotated and explained.”     Chief Phil Lane, a hereditary Chief and Elder, and an internationally recognized indigenous leader in human and community development, also participated.

There was a young adult panel on “What Spirituality Looks Like to the New Generation” and a demonstration by the young adults of the Snowmass Interspiritual Dialogue (SISD)   Spiritual Inquiry Method, which we then all got to experience.
A large group of people gathered throughout the Conference, with the leadership of Ed Bastian and Diane Berke, to begin to plan an Interspiritual Association, “ to link up different organizations and individuals that are passionate about this. [Ed Bastian’s Interspiritual Meditation and related workbooks are also valuable resources.]
This was all a rich and deep blend of experiences for me, and for all those I spoke to. I will give the last word to Will Keepin: “I am really happy that we designed it to make it a vehicle to support what wants to emerge, without us specifying what it is. We wanted to allow the energy and enthusiasm to come from the bottom up, we made  plenty of time for experiential work , for small groups self organizing around themes  of shared interest through Open Space, so that what is alive in the community would have a chance to be honoured and supported and manifest. I feel that that is what took place.”

[Kurt Johnson]

Kurt Johnson, PhD, scientist, former monastic, principal author  of  “The Coming Interspiritual Age.” He is widely known as the closest associate of the late Brother Wayne Teasdale, the founder of the modern interspiritual movement.
Leslie: “To what extent have your hopes for the book come to fruition?”
Kurt: “I think it was a win-win, which continues to grow. Our hope was to write a comprehensive book that is easy to read, is well documented, and lays out the entire interspiritual vision in the context of globalisation, multiculturalism, the advances in consciousness studies, what’s going on at the cutting edge of science, and where the entire planet has to go if we are going to actually thrive…. Not only are we very satisfied with the book, but it continues to find new audiences…. Some institutions are talking about a course based on the book. “
Leslie: “ What do you see the main difference between the interfaith movement and interspirituality?”
Kurt: “Interfaith is really a horizontal dialogue across fixed positions in the interest of understanding and tolerance and dialogue. Interspirituality is going into this deep space in the heart and consciousness, in the entire realm of mystical experience, where that unitive consciousness is both in the heart and the mystical dimension, that underpins everything as one thing. Becomes self-evident as all beings joined at the root.”
Leslie: “Scholars find that there are two kinds of religious pluralism, the first one being “convergent pluralism” where the metaphor is used of climbing a mountain by different paths, but arriving at the same place. The other kind is “nonconvergent” or “divergent” pluralism, where we are all on different paths and arrive in different places, yet they are all equally valid. 
Kurt: “Even within the interspiritual landscape and the contemplative alliance there is no universal agreement whether there is one universal experience. A lot of us would say that our experience would appear to be experienced as a unity experience,  that would be commonly accessible to all…. Some would argue that you cannot metaphysically say that. There is not universal agreement on it, especially for academic reasons.  My own feeling is that most people would end up declaring that there is such a unifying experience that’s available to everybody.
Leslie: “Do you think that in the coming interspiritual age there will be room for those who remain within their own…”
Kurt: “Oh, totally. Absolutely…. Wayne Teasdale said that the religion of the third millennium is spirituality itself. That allows for lots of latitude… The old understanding was that unity is unison, now we see that in the heart mystically is unity in diversity.”
Leslie: “To what extent did this conference meet your expectations?”
Kurt: “It was even better than I thought . My hope was that all these confluences come together and bring it into a higher momentum, but a momentum that is extremely skilled in seeing everything that is going on. And the level of the people here and what has come out of it is excellent…. The diversity was here and the contemplative depth was here. “
Leslie: “How do we move toward this interspirituality?”
Kurt: “I think we need to orient the conversation toward this deeper place in the heart, and the deeper place in the unitive consciousness, so that people are able to take that down to that deeper level. Then they see that it is not such a didactic exercise, there is something in the field of resonance and love and connection that people feel, and that is extremely profound and simple, everybody gets that. You can invite people to go there, and then they can set aside all the things they do with their head. Most people can get that…. It is that deeper connection, that’s what will make the world a different place.”

William Keepin, PhD, physicist and former whistle-blower in nuclear science, has researched global warming and sustainable energy. Co-director of the Satyana Institute (with his partner Cynthia Brix.)
Leslie: “How do you feel about the way  the conference went?”
Will: “I feel gratified that it seems well received. It seems that there is a deep hunger, a spiritual thirst in people, both across the religions as well as those who are not formally part of any religion, for a coming together of the religious and wisdom traditions of the world. This conference validates that:  people are here from all the major world religions, and a number of people who are yearning for spiritual community, spiritual practice and discipline, a spiritual life of service, contemplative practice, but not necessarily fitting into a religious tradition. These various groups seem to come together in a  community spirit, we did some collective worship service that was beautiful: Hindu Aarti ceremony, Sufi Zikher, Christian prayer, chanting and   choir together, silent contemplative practice.  We sampled some of the different practices to experience the contemplative presence.”
“ There was a lot of enthusiasm, and people want to do it again next year. We are encouraged that there is truly a dawning of spiritual awakening across the traditions. It is building on some of the pioneers that led this work in the last 50-75 years. … The religions are coming together in a  new way. There is a deeper recognition of an inherent oneness of the foundation of them all, a supreme light that shines through them all. People want to gather around that light and begin healing the divisions among the religions and finding that common ground in which they can all share in community together, and through that friendship heal the divisions both across the religions and within  the human family in general. I feel that we have done a little droplet of that work here this week.”

[Cynthia Bix and William Keepin]
[Father William Treacy]

Father William Treacy, ordained a Catholic Priest in 1944. In 1960, two years before Vatican II, he and Rabbi Raphael Levine created a television program on interreligious dialogue which aired for 14 years with 300,000 viewers each week. In 1968 they founded the Cascadian Center (formerly Camp Brotherhood) near Mt. Vernon, WA,  as an interfaith retreat. At the age of 93, he actively participated in all the sessions.
Leslie: “How do you feel about what happened this week?”
Father Treacy: “I feel very good. Look out at this field here. In 1966 I stood there with the Rabbi and the owners of this 220 acre dairy farm, to make a deal. I had no idea that I would be standing here in a million-dollar building, talking with you about the Holocaust. Hoping that we can make a better world. That’s why I named my talk at this conference A Revolution in Religion. … As the Pope said at the United Nations, never war again, and certainly never a  Holocaust. … The seed planted  fifty years ago has ripened. We have people here from all over the world: USA, India, South Africa, Australia, Denmark, Ireland, Canada, Columbia, Germany to talk about unity and how we can make the world a better place. It will now be an interspiritual center, a Light in the Dark.”
Gaus Shabbir Sayyad, age 21, was saved from child labour, washing cars,  at the age of 6 in India by Sister Lucy Kurien, (also at the Conference) founder of  Maher, an interfaith NGO, a caste-free organization that provides shelter and care to destitute and battered women and children in 26 locations. (The whole conference was so impressed, was fundraising for it.) Gaus, now a university graduate, has won many awards as a top student. He has enlivened the Conference with his smile, his wit, showing us Indian dancing, and leading us in Bollywood dancing.

[Gaus Shabbir Sayyad]
Leslie: “Tell me about your experience here.”
Gaus: “Oh my God! Fabulous! Spiritual, inspiring, it changed my life. I see here different religious people, different cultures, and they have only one way, and that is the way of love. I like very much their speaking, their culture, their thoughts, their knowledge. I feel I am the richest person in the world, without money.”

“Sister Lucy is my second mother, gave me a chance to learn. I was in child labour and she took me and gave me education, and a platform to learn many things, like dance, acting, karate, drawing. She is a Catholic and I am a Muslim, and others are Hindu.  I have grown up in an interspiritual environment. I am very grateful to her, and to everyone here at the Conference.”

[Sister Lucy Kurien]