The Notion of "Return"

Towards Elijah Interfaith Institute Summer School 2022 (24 - 29th July; 31st July - 4 August)

Elijah Interfaith Institute - logo

Source: Elijah Interfaith Institute

When: Thursday, July 7 July 2022.

  1. Multiple Understandings of "Return"
  2. Art of Prayer
  3. Praying Together in Jerusalem
    • Prayer and Listening to the 'More'
    • How to open our attention to the possible

Multiple Understandings of “Return”

The concept of “return” is fundamental in many religious traditions. It has multiple aspects which are understood in diverse ways. For that reason, we are tackling the concept of “return” in our 2022 summer school and interreligious leadership seminar. Our first theoretical session will deal with the need for “return” – loss and restoration, grief and consolation. Each presenter, (teachers representing Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism), will open the conversation by describing exile and loss in their key sacred narrative, enabling us to understand the centrality of ideas of return in each of these traditions.

We then move on to other concepts of “return” in religion – repentance, purification, reunification, forming identity, return of individual to collective; dialogue and reconciliation.

Bishop William Shomali, who will be presenting on day 3 of the summer school explains:

The concept of return has many connotations in Christianity

  • First: the restoration of the image of God in the sinner. Created to be free, holy, and happy, the sinner disfigured that image by his sins. Conversion and metanoia signify the return to that image.
  • Second: the return to the house of the father. The prodigal son, in Luke 15, after leaving his father’s house and dissipating his father’s wealth, regretted his action and made the trip of return, filled with hope that his father will not rebuke him. It is a parable about conversion of a sinner and his return to God’s precepts and communion with him.
  • Third: the return of Christ to heaven after his incarnation and the fulfillment of his mission. Christianity believes that Christ will come back again for the final judgement, which will assess everyone according to how he treated the poor and needy.
Rabbi Daniel Kohn, who will be presenting at the same session, says the following about Judaism:

The theme of national exile and return forms the background for the individual's path towards reconnection to one's authentic and divine selfhood in Jewish teaching.
This learning session will focus on both the broad and the personal aspects of humanity's processes as they are reflected in Torah and our lives.

Shrivatsa Goswami, who will be presenting on day 4 of the summer school, where we will be analysing return to holy places – the idea of pilgrimage, offers the following:

In one word, the Hindu tradition is a history of returns. Spiritually it is a constant journey return to the source of ones own being, the Divine. Theologically, the Divine keeps returning to the human arena, to guide and help the suffering lot. Textually, Hindu tradition keeps returning to its shastras, the sacred texts for renewing their understanding. And, amongst the popular places of such returns, Vrindavan the Playgrounds of Krishna, is a living pilgrimage centre.

In her presentation, Professor Marcia Hermansen,

who has performed the Hajj and multiple Umras (lesser pilgrimages) to Mecca, will speak on the Hajj as a return to the divine source. The Hajj incorporates many dimensions of religious experience that embody sacred space and sacred time. While performing it Muslims recall the pre-eternal covenant of encountering and acknowledging the divine while having a foretaste of the final assembly that will mark the end of historical time, both turning to and returning to the source.

Art of Prayer

"The Art of Prayer" is the theme of week two of our forthcoming summer school. Click here for more information and to register.

A second element of our upcoming summer school program is prayer. A foretaste of our discussions was offered in June’s Praying Together in Jerusalem event, featuring scholars from different religious traditions exploring the “Art” of Prayer.

Alon Goshen-Gottstein opened the gathering by referring to the Jewish festival of Shavuot and the Christian Pentecost which were to occur three days afterwards. Shavuot marks the Revelation at Sinai; Pentecost is about the descent of the Holy Spirit. A challenge addressed to our teachers was to explore the relationship between concepts of “revelation” and “inspiration” and prayer.

Christian scholar, Professor Douglas Christie, articulated a struggle facing both those who define themselves as “religious” and those who don’t: how can we pray in difficult circumstances, like the situation in which we find ourselves today? He referred to the context of our gathering – the slaughter of children in the USA earlier in the week and the ongoing prevalence of gun violence, the terrible war in Ukraine, the continued suffering because of the Covid 19 pandemic – and guided us to recognise that the struggle to know how to pray is not new to our generations. One of his lessons was that prayer is not an intellectual activity but is a “gift” – an outcome of Divine inspiration or help. He presented a range of teachings, of which this was the first:

Swami Atmapriyanda strengthened the description of prayer as an activity in the heart and not the mind. He compared authentic prayer to a child who cries to be comforted by her mother. The child does not need to be taught how to cry; crying is a natural human expression of need or desire. That is real prayer. It cannot be taught – and if it is, it loses its authenticity. What can be taught is to shed the barriers to authentic prayer. Here is an excerpt from his teaching:

A Jewish prayer was offered from Jerusalem by Hanna Yaffe. She selected words from the High Holy day liturgy when worshippers ask for divine assistance to be able to pray. It is a recognition that prayer does not usually come easily and that reciting the correct words may not constitute “prayer.”

Sr Rita Kammermeyer, a Sister of Notre Dame de Sion in Jerusalem, offered a Christian prayer. She prayed with conviction that the experience of Pentecost was not a one-time historical event but an ongoing possibility and that the Holy Spirit could descend and inspire today.

The idea of the “Art” of prayer is inspired by the work of Baruch Brenner and Dana Ganihar, who will be leading a workshop on the theme as part of our summer school. Baruch opened the gathering by sharing some inspirational words about the importance of prayer to the individual and about the ability of each and every person to find prayer within themselves.
After providing an explanation of his method of helping each individual to pray, he led us in a prayerful experience, shared here:

Our prayer experience concluded with a meditation from the Buddhist tradition, led by Shelagh Shalev from Jerusalem. She brought the uplifting gathering to a beautiful conclusion.

"The Art of Prayer" is the theme of week two of our forthcoming summer school. Click here for more information and to register.

Praying Together in Jerusalem

Prayer and Listening to the 'More':
How to open our attention to the possible

Continuing our exploration of the Art of Prayer, teachers from four religions will share their wisdom on Prayer as a vehicle to change the way we see the world.

Teachers from Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism will share their wisdom on Prayer and Divine inspiration.

We will be meeting on Zoom and in-person at St Andrew's Scottish Church, Jerusalem.

Thursday, July 7 at 6:00 pm Jerusalem time
  • 11 am ET time
  • 8 am Pacific time
  • 4 pm UK time
  • 5 pm Central European time
  • 6 pm Israel time
  • 8:30 pm India time

Save your spot by signing up here.

Dana Ganihar (Jewish, Israel)
Dana Ganihar, M.Sc. is a teacher and researcher certified as a Focusing Coordinator by the international focusing institute in New York. Over the last couple decades she has led numerous workshops and seminars exploring the work of psychologist and philosopher Eugene Gendlin: IBF – Instancing Based Focusing, PoI – Philosophy of the Implicit, and TAE – Thinking At the Edge.
Dana has initiated cooperative research exploring the potential impact of Focusing practices on diverse fields such as biology, architecture, creative writing and religion.

Swamini Adityananda Saraswati (Hindu, India)
Swamini is the Associate Executive Director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute. Having served humanitarian and interfaith causes for over 20 years, Swamini has worked from the ground level to the United Nations and World Bank levels towards addressing climate change, hunger, thirst, violence, AIDS, war and other concerns within nations including India, the United States, Tanzania, Uganda, and more. She is a Hindu monastic of the Saraswati order

Sign up