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Was it Baba Farid or Rumi who said something like, “out beyond what you are sure is right and I’m pretty sure is wrong, there’s a field—let’s meet there”?

I think that’s a pretty good—albeit broad—description of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, the suspension, not the forsaking, of deeply held convictions in favour of discovery. I picture all of us who have desired enough to learn about God more deeply and who have had at least enough courage to prepare ourselves for conversations that might change us or even convert us, all standing around in the Sufi’s field smiling and hoping. We are hoping for transcendence—or at least a more fulsome picture of the Truth.  It’s work that demands courage and grace in equal measure.

All of a sudden there’s some movement in the tall grass. Some of us instinctively move toward it, some of us start cautiously backing away, while some of us stay put to wait and see. As the waving sea of green parts, we all at once realize that it’s a tiger, and we react. How do we react? I think it depends on just how long it takes for each of us to realize that the tiger is God, and that not one of the traditions of faith that we hold so dear has fully prepared us to recognize the revelation of God as God is now revealing Godself to us.

When I was eighteen, just after high school, I travelled to a little island off the northern coast of Papua in the Biak archipelago of Irian Jaya, Indonesia to build a school with a missionary group from Florida. That was the first time I found myself in the Sufi’s field with other folk who believed very different things than what I believed. I didn’t recognize the field then as a place of challenge, growth and surrender, but instead of courage and grace I only had youthful naivete (I wonder now if that wasn’t better), but my time there changed me irrevocably.

Perhaps that’s why I have always felt more at home in faith communities that were not formed around the traditions and beliefs of my youth. I have found that living out my faith in other people’s houses, so to speak, has made it easier for me to move out from seeing and recognizing the tiger for what the tiger is, while—all at once—refining the things that I confess as critical to my identity as a Christian in the Lutheran rite.

These days, almost all of my ministry time is spent among our Anglo-cousins at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver. As our full communion partnership proposes, we—Lutherans and Anglicans—are more similar than we are different , so I wouldn’t necessarily call the cathedral a Sufi’s field. But it is a cathedral, the “city’s cathedral” as we fashion ourselves, and as such all kinds of folk from all kinds of faith traditions, from all over the world, wander in and strike up conversations. That’s the field, it’s not a place but a convergence of grace and courage and possibility.

Every now and again, when my grace and courage reserves are up, I’ll follow one of those fellow pilgrims out of the cathedral and back to the places that their faiths call home. These excursions are always replete with learning and, for the most part, are full of hospitality and blessing. Sometimes, when we are lucky and all of the conditions are just right, we will catch a glimpse of some movement out in the tall grass, and we will run out to find it together.

Matthew, as well as being assistant to the bishop for Ecumenical and Interfaith Dialogue is also assistant to the dean and rector of Christ Church Cathedral Vancouver.  When he is not living out his vocation as “worker priest” in the church, he is running his family-owned construction company and looking for tigers in the tall grass.