Multi… and Inter…Faith (Our new home at No 11)

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It’s taken a while, but here are some photos of the Chaplaincy Multi-Faith Centre in our grand new home – 11 Princes Gardens.

In September we moved into five rooms on the ground floor ( just in case the photo suggests we occupy all five floors!)

It is great to have one place to offer hospitality to  a multi-plicity of groups from different faith and world views. It is also good to see signs of inter – faith collaboration and working together. Such as, the student led ‘Seeker’s Corner’, a  weekly interfaith discussion group.

It is proving very popular with student groups, for prayer, meditation, talks, music, discussions and social events.

We are delighted to be welcoming  Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh student groups. We are especially pleased that the Community Action Group are using the kitchen to prepare for  their Sunday Soup Run working with local people who are homeless.

It was also good to welcome the Erasmus Society – supporting European exchange students – for a large social gathering.

And with our Meditation and Prayer Room, and the beautiful Garden Room, we now have great spaces for our  meditation groups – Buddhist, secular Mindfulness, and Christian.

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Silence in September: looking back

Today I had an unexpected gift of a free hour in the delightful RCA cafe down at the Battersea campus. A chance to finish my ‘Silence in September Blog Project’.DSC_0510(2)

Looking back over the month, the first ten days of Silence in September was like being on a retreat in daily life. Silence allows a greater personal awareness and an intention to actions. Together this gives ordinary everyday actions, like washing up or walking down the street, a particular quality. I might call it being ‘present to oneself’.

Then, as expected, the family party and weekend guests changed the routines of daily life for over a week. So the third week was an experience of ‘restarting my prayer and meditation life’. The silence was there as an invitation – not as something I had created myself.

Then the move of the Chaplaincy Centre to new premises, followed by the start of term, demanded a complete shift into action and doing mode. There was packing, unpacking, and a long list of practical issues to do with our new building. We were working to get the new Chaplaincy Multi-Faith Centre open to  welcome groups and individuals. At the same time doing all the start of year welcome events.

Amidst all this activity silence returned in a new form. It came from my new colleagues Karuna and Hogetsu. Both follow Buddhist meditation practices. From our different meditation (for me prayer) traditions we have a meeting place in silence. So began the habit of using ten minute silences during our working day. So, for me as a Christian, it feels like the monastic pattern of silence at the start of the day, at lunchtime and at the end of the working day. The daily tasks and irregular working patterns constantly disrupt the pattern – but that is OK, the silence is always there, always an invitation, always a gift. Silence is for life, not just September.

The light we share

Hindu CandleA quick post to say a big ‘thank you’ to the students who gave me such a great candle  for helping them to welcome his Holiness Radhanath Swami last month.It was such a great evening with Radhanath – as he told those inspiring  stories about love, truth, reconciliation and genuine service of others.
So a week later we placed the candle in the centre of our table when we had our Easter Day meal with friends and family.
Thanks to you all – Anesh, Janaki, Nikhita,Varun, Aman, Ishani, Nandita, the rest of the crowd!

His Holiness Radhanath Swami – the Guru comes to town

It was a great pleasure to welcome His Holiness Radhanath Swami to Imperial just before Easter. Around 150 students came to hear him speak at an event hosted by Sachi Kishore the Chaplaincy’s Hindu Chaplain. Sachi was  working with

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the students who come to his regular  Bhagavad Gita study group. The event  also had great support from Imperial’s Hindu Society. They have impressive skills and experience at putting on large events.

So the event was also a satisfying moment to look back on three years work developing Chaplaincy provision for the Hindu communities at Imperial. Thanks to the students for making the event happen. And also to Professor Debra Humphris,  the Pro-Rector – Education, who kindly offered an official welcome to Radhanath on behalf of the College.

This was my second meeting with Radhanath. For me as a Christian it was inspiring to hear this great Hindu teacher talk about finding ways to allow ourselves to be motivated and prompted by love of God and by God’s love for us. Radhanath  used stories from his own life alongside stories and sayings from Hindu and Christian scriptures. He grasped the issues facing this generation of students – pressures to get jobs, repaying their student debts, starting a career in a time of austerity, and coping with the anxiety and hopes of parents.

I felt honoured  as a  Christian to sit  in the presence of a great itinerant spiritual teacher. Especially then during the next week when I listened again to all the Easter stories of Jesus the wandering  teacher going up to Jerusalem with his disciples.

Interfaith encounters can take us deeper into another person’s faith and at the same time deeper into our own – in surprising ways.

Here is a link to Radhanath’s website

Mindfulness Meditation

DSCN4267 Our Mindfulness Meditation has really taken off this year. A group of students from Imperial and the RCA have met each week since October. We have been slowly working through the exercises in the book ‘Mindfulness, a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.

The book applies the research of psychologists and psychiatrists at the Oxford Mindfulness Center. With a  science evidence base behind it Mindfulness is something that I can use in this scientific college. It also helps that Mark Williams research is linked to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The key feature of  Mindfulness is switching our attention away from thinking and into our senses and body. This is another good thing to be doing in a place that rates mental activity very highly! It is not that thinking is bad for us. Rather that there is more to us than just mental activity. the meditations help us to note all our other sensory experiences – or data. This allows us to move our attention away from unceasing mental activity  to notice the sounds, smells, sights, and sheer physicality of life.

I am going to write more about Mindfulness. It has been great at bringing together people from both religious and philosophical world views. And it has been a fascinating process for me as Christian. Since my own student days I have been drawn to silence, meditation and the contemplative tradition.  But for now there is more information at http://oxfordmindfulness.org/about-mindfulness/

If you are a member of Imperial, RCA or RCM see here for details of sessions.

Talking about difference:a simple way to do interfaith dialogue

Students have developed a very simple way of doing interfaith dialogue. Students from different faiths have joined the Baha’i Society’s weekly  meeting in the Chaplaincy Centre. The Baha’i group were meeting for their own practice of prayerfully reflecting on readings and key texts from different world religions. This is a key part of the Baha’i tradition that seeks religious reconciliation as one of its key aims. This turns out to be a great practical gift to those of us also wanting to radically improve understanding between different religious traditions.

So how does the dialogue work? Well, once everyone has gathered the selected key texts are handing around. We read them quietly to ourselves. Quiet music plays on someone’s iPhone. After the quiet personal reflectioncomes time for discussion. What I like is that becasue we come from different religious traditions we will have someone in the group who can talk about the text ‘from the inside’ of that tradition. So it is a discussion of the ideas present in the texts. Yet   we also  learn to hear the texts through the personal insight of those who live in that tradition. It means we get to hear how the text fits to other practices of that faith community. This also prevents the discussion from sliding into bland agreement. There are real differences expressed from Muslim, Christian, Baha’i, Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Yet these are handled with deep respect.

 With thanks to Steph and Jan from the Baha’i Soc for making it possible.