I was intrigued by the invitation, which stated that the event would begin promptly at 6:26pm and end at exactly 9:00pm, with a note that said “We’ll tell you why when you get here.” It stated the goals of the dialogue: “to promote understanding of Colorado’s diverse faith traditions; to create a time of learning and sharing about a facet of the host tradition; and to learn about and practice small-group dialogue using the theme – Sustainability and Faith.” They delivered on all counts.
The dialogue was held at the Zen Center of Denver, a Buddhist community (traditionally known as a “sangha,” from the Sanskrit word meaning “assembly,” “company” or “community,” implying a common purpose) offering Zen Buddhist practice and training.
At 6:26pm*, almost fifty people from a diversity of faiths, beliefs, cultures and communities gathered at the Zen Center and learned, from Danan Henry Roshi about Zazen, seated meditation and the heart of Zen practice. He took us to the mediation area, where we sat on cushions and, for a few moments, meditated with him. We also received, from Interfaith Alliance of Colorado volunteer instructors, a lesson in communication, based on the book Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together by William Issacs. After a break for refreshment, renewed by the meditation and armed with an extraordinary understanding of true dialogue, we broke into groups and ‘thought together’ about sustainability. Environmentalism seemed to be an important issue for many of the represented traditions, ranging from stewardship to relationship and connectedness issues. Danan Roshi helped us to quiet our minds and center our thinking, while the TIA-CO instructors helped us to ‘think together’ and engage in real dialogue.
Nine o’clock came too soon. People were still chatting, sharing ideas and business cards as they walked out of the Zen Center and across the street to their cars. Interfaith Alliance of Colorado had finished its dialogue series for 2009 with great success, and left me thinking about the extraordinary power of real dialogue. How different could our society be if we were intentional about truly hearing and engaging with people who hold beliefs that differ from our own?
*6:26, it turned out, had nothing to do with Zen Buddhism at all! Anyone who arrived at exactly that time was entered in a lottery to Tattered Cover Book Store, a reknowned Denver institution.