URI North America is spotlighting four exceptional women involved in Cooperation Circles in the North America region.
To Listen is Divine
Kay Lindahl has been described as an inspired presence with passionate energy. She has been intimately connected to the interfaith movement since the early 1990’s. Her entry point to interfaith was her deep interest in, and passion for, spiritual growth and community building. The unfolding of her journey has been fed by these passions and guided by spirit, which has led her to be involved in incredible projects, both personally and professionally, as a consultant, author and speaker. In the process of following these promptings, her connection to different people and organizations has continually expanded.
Most of Kay’s life experiences have evolved organically, as she explored the myriad of paths that she felt led to walk in her search for spiritual growth and meaning. For the past twenty-seven years the daily practice of Centering Prayer has been transforming her life by strengthening her relationship to Source. Kay describes what it is to her, “Centering Prayer as a form of silent prayer in which the intention is to be in the presence of the Presence.”
Kay has experienced many things in this nearly 30-year spiritual journey but her favorite part has been an experience of something other-wordly. “It is the sense of being in the presence of the sacred – that divine guidance is always available — and I have learned to just get out of the way,” she said thoughtfully. And then added, “And out of that experience relationships happen…I just love how people relate to each other and to the world through the work that I do — it’s like magic happens!”
So in 1991 Kay co-founded the Alliance for Spiritual Community (ASC), which naturally evolved from a group of people who felt a desire to support the spiritual aspect of their local community, which included all different faith practices and belief systems. ASC later became one of the very first North American Cooperation Circles in the United Religions Initiative (URI).
Her experience has been inextricably woven into various URI groups as her involvement and enthusiasm deepened. She was part of the four year URI Charter development process, and in 2002 was elected to the first class of Global Council Trustees for the United Religions Initiative, North America. In 2005, after ASC completed its target mission in 2005, the Cooperation Circle was dissolved and Kay became a member SARAH –Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope, another URI Cooperation Circle, which that fulfilled her desire to stay connected to the URI community.
Listening to her spirit, listening to the Divine and listening to each other, all became an integral part of Kay’s spiritual journey. After co-facilitating a retreat for an Episcopal Church, in which she presented Centering Prayer, Reflective Listening and the Art of Dialogue, she realized that this was the work that she was being called to do. That’s when she founded The Listening Center, which later became a URI North America Affiliate in 2009.
Kay’s conviction to the Sacred Art of Listening leads her to reach out to people of all cultures and creeds. “The cultural and religious diversity of our communities calls for a way of listening that transcends words and belief systems. Learning to truly listen to one another is the beginning of new understanding and compassion, which deepens and broadens our sense of community,” she explained.
“There seems to be an almost universal yearning for connection, which is nurtured in the experience of listening,” she added, and then went on to explain, “The Center is really your center – that innermost part of you -where in the silence you begin to remember who you are. You become the ‘center’ for listening.”
Then Kay added, “Truly listening to someone is one of the greatest gifts we give to each other. Listening from our heart — open and waiting for the other to speak what is truly in their heart …It is holy work. Speaking from the heart takes courage — to risk and be vulnerable with another. Connecting with someone at the heart level is a sacred experience. Listening becomes a sacred art and a spiritual practice.”
A Change for Women in 2009
Kay has been sharing and teaching the Sacred Art of Listening to others for many years. One of the avenues for her teaching has been at Parliament of World Religions. She has attended every Parliament since 1993, and reports that there was always a strong female presence, but not many women speakers — panels were often all male — and there were very few sessions on the divine feminine or women’s issues. But in 2009 in Melbourne, Kay noticed a change.
“There was a thread that was woven through the entire Parliament — I could just feel the voices of women being heard in a new way.”
She continued to describe the experience with enthusiasm, “People became aware of the lack of women’s voices and the visual of their [unrepresented] presence.” She went on to describe examples of activities that changed from what was considered ”the norm” — all-male panels, and all male discussion participants.
In one particular discussion session, there was a panel of all men on the stage. A Muslim woman stood up and offered to come up on the stage and be the “female” representation on the panel, and graciously, the men agreed without missing a beat! Women continued to do this, with the same result, in various breakout sessions during the Parliament. It was very empowering to the women that were present. “It was exciting and affirming,” she added. “We had a lived experience of the feminine rising!”
This Parliament was buzzing with feminine energy. Kay’s recollection can almost take us there, “Sister Joan Chittister was the rock star of that Parliament as she told the truth about the lack of feminine voices in all arenas of power — where decisions were made on behalf of all of us, with half of us missing from the table. And her stand that the oppression of women was also the oppression of men.” With resolve, she added, “Until all of us are liberated, none of us are liberated. Everywhere we went people were talking about the divine feminine, feminine principles, women’s leadership, women’s issues and Earth-based spirituality.”
It was shortly after that conference, in 2010, that she co-founded Women of Spirit and Faith, an organization with the sole mission to strengthen and nurture the leadership capacities of women for the sake of the human community. This group also went on to become an Affiliate of URI North America. Women of Spirit and Faith discovered that there was a hunger among women to engage in this conversation at the intersection of women’s spirituality and leadership opportunities. They believe that, as humanity is poised on the cusp of a powerful cultural shift into a new future, it is imperative for women to fully take their place alongside men.
Being a woman, in Kay’s mind, has made an impact in her thoughts about life and spirituality in a unique way. One of her powerful experiences occurred when she was in nurse’s training and witnessed the breath-taking moment of a child being born.
“It was like being present to a miracle.” Having her own children added to that experience and taught her about the fierceness of loving her children. “Now all the world’s children are my children,” she said. “My heart aches and breaks when I see what is happening to children around the world, and I must continue to work for all of them.”
Kay’s vision for the future is that men and women will see themselves as equal partners which leads to balance and harmony. “We have different leadership styles and gifts and both are necessary for the good of the whole.” She believes that, as we embrace these changes, it will lead to peace and harmony in the world that all of us want.
“As women of spirit and faith,
we know something important about this moment in history.
We know it from our rich experiences in the world
and we know it from a place of deep wisdom within.
Our unique patterns of knowing
are part of a larger pattern of feminine wisdom
being called forth at this time
in service of this Earth and of humanity.” ~~ WSF
Kay currently serves on the Program Group for Ecumenical and Interreligious Life for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. She also participates in many community projects and is on the Board of Directors for The Interfaith Observer, Women of Spirit and Faith (both URI North America Affiliates) and The Rumi Education Center. She is an Ambassador for the Parliament of the World Religions and is past Chair of the North American Interfaith Network. She is also member of the Forge Guild for Spiritual Leaders and The International Listening Association.
She is the author of three books on listening: the award-winning “The Sacred Art of Listening,” “Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening,” and “How Does God Listen.” She co-edited the award-winning book “Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power” based on a conference hosted by Women of Spirit and Faith. (All books published by Skylight Paths Publishing.)
This piece was written by URI North America Storytelling Intern Robyn Lebron.