As Christians and Jews explored the heights and depths of spirituality together under the dome of a big synagogue in Pikesville, questions, doubts and parables were the shared road signs.
Wednesday night's discussions were part of a two-day program of the Pearlstone Institute for Living Judaism.
The Rev. Christopher Leighton, director of the Institute for Christian-Jewish Studies, which co-sponsored the event, said such cooperative spiritual programs help people of different faiths bring "order out of chaos" as they "face the rage of a Louis Farrakhan or a Baruch Goldstein."
Profound doubts about scientific and technological progress are fueling a desperate search for spiritual truths and values, especially among young people, said Sister Mary Jo Leddy, a Roman Catholic educator from Toronto.
"The myth of modernity has been shaken," she said from the bema, the raised platform framed by high windows and rustic stone in the Beth Tfiloh sanctuary on Old Court Road. "Jews know especially that that myth was shattered forever at Auschwitz."
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, an author and lecturer from Sudbury, Mass., who shared the platform with Sister Mary Jo, recalled a teaching experience. "I asked these Jewish kids, 'Who believes in God?' "
He said he expected half to say they did, half to say they didn't. And he felt a "sense of devastation" when no one in the class raised a hand. But then he asked the class, "How many of you have been close to God?" Everyone raised a hand. When Rabbi Kushner asked them to elaborate, he was deeply impressed. One boy had felt the divine presence after helping his father on a day when he really didn't feel like doing it.
"For us Jews, arguing about a belief in God is not only de rigueur but is considered healthy," said Rabbi Kushner, this year's Pearlstone Scholar-in-Residence in Baltimore.
Sister Mary Jo had her own parables. She illustrated what she believes is a tragic misuse of money and power "in the richest, most powerful nation on Earth" with a story about a poor, homeless immigrant who pointed to a big garage and asked her whose house it was. "The house of a car," was the nun's embarrassed reply.
Rabbi Kushner said guilt over spending money "on a house for a car instead of for people" was a "point of commonality between Jews and Christians."
The Catholic nun, a member of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, responded that in both faiths, spirituality comes from doing for others "not for money but for blessing."
Claiming that "the decline of the American empire" has prompted disillusioned liberals to turn inward and conservatives to "attempt to impose some kind of order," Sister Mary Jo reminded her Christian and Jewish listeners that religion "is not about political positions."