Star-Bulletin Features

Saturday, December 15, 2001

Retired professor finds comfort
in multifaceted spirituality

By Mary Adamski

Before the Wednesday evening interfaith service at the Honpa Hongwanji Mission began, attendees were invited to partake of juice and a small snack, a gesture of unity with Muslims who would be similarly ending their all-day fast.

For Reynold Feldman, it was more than just a gesture. This year is the 30th time that he has completed the monthlong Ramadan fast, which is a basic pillar of faith for Muslims.

Feldman is celebrating the Eid al-Fitr feast that ends Ramadan this weekend, as well as Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, in deference to his ancestors' religion. An active member of the Calvary-by-the-Sea Lutheran Church, he is also in the season of Advent, anticipating Christmas.

The concept of adopting a spiritual practice from another religion isn't all that rare these days when New Age groups and new religions fill their plates from the smorgasbord of techniques, images and beliefs to be found in the history of religion.

But this retired professor is no dabbler. He has been curious about others' religious beliefs ever since he was a teenager sent by Jewish parents to a boarding school where he got good grades in Christian studies, and on a path of spiritual development since college undergraduate days when he found a guru of the Muslim mystic persuasion. The journey continued with scholarly exploration of Judaism as a graduate student, marriage to a Lutheran and a "conversion experience" in a Yale University chapel that led to his baptism as a Christian at the same time as his infant daughter.

"I'm a walking interfaith person," he said. In a paper, he described his four religions as beginning with secular humanism and growing with his Judeo-Christian experience. He also counts Al Anon, still attending meetings of the 12-step program for families of alcoholics, and Subud, the active meditation discipline he still practices.

Today, Feldman is putting those multifaceted spiritual interests, plus career experience as a professor, academic dean and financial consultant to nonprofits, to practical use. He joined Jerry Chang, president and founder of Humanity United Globally, in a full-court press to bring the Parliament of World Religions to Hawaii in 2005.

Honolulu is in competition with Barcelona, Spain, and Glasgow, Scotland, for the conference, which was first assembled in Chicago in 1893 and most recently convened in South Africa in 1996.

But back to the Ramadan fast. His 1960s spiritual guide Pak Subuh suggested the fast as "an accelerant to our spiritual progress." When Feldman came to the East-West Center as intercultural activities officer, Indonesian Muslim students challenged him to join them in the discipline.

"It was pretty rigorous. I struggled with hunger, headaches, anger, almost the same kinds of feelings as when I did the marathon, and the same sense of having accomplished something difficult. Each year, it gets a little bit easier. I don't get headaches. It seems to be cumulative.

"It's a kind of a spiritual technique that has actual benefits. While I was fasting, I felt insulated against worrying about the things I usually worried about."

He said that one year, when he worked through financial problems that usually would have left him sleepless, "I was able to sleep. I attribute it to spiritual effect of the fast. It gives you an internal, spiritual self-esteem."

Feldman was forced to skip two years' Ramadan discipline while being treated for an ulcer. This year and last, he broke the fast for one day to run the Honolulu Marathon.

He said that if he had to label himself, "I'd probably say I am a Taoist, which includes balancing, reconciling, interaction of all opposites.

"I consider myself a modern person, maybe a person of future because I can combine religions and also humanism. I disagree with fundamentalists who put their religion up against science and humanism. I see Puritanism as a dead end.

"I have no problem combining being a very religious person with totally enjoying the world. I'm walking my talk."

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