Are you part of a religious or spiritual community? Do you feel connected and understood by your neighbors? Do you feel like we are all part of the community of humanity?
There are some religious communities that are trying to convert people from other religious communities to their way of seeing the world and interacting with the powers that be in the universe. But more and more today, interfaith communities are springing up, perhaps in response to hate speech or bigotry and sometimes in an effort to be proactive and create peace.
Communities that are trying to convert people to their religious beliefs and interfaith communities are very different and have a very different impact of world peace.
Spokane, Washington has a very active interfaith community. Each month or so, the Spokane Interfaith Council creates an event called Meet The Neighbors. This month we met at the Islamic Center of Spokane. The purpose is education, an opportunity to see the inside of another religion's sacred space, and talk with people—one person to another. At events such as Meet The Neighbors it is easy to see that we all have a lot in common, we want our children to be safe from harm, we want to learn and grow in the world, have a warm home, and meaningful work and lives. After listening to the Muslim call to pray, members of the Muslim community share what is most beautiful about their religion. "That moment in pray when I connect deeply with my creator," said one man.
Several people in the audience quietly nodded in agreement. Past Meet The Neighbors events have taken place in Sikh temples, Jewish synagogues, Bahia (Muslim) centers. Next month we will visit a Native American center.
In early February there will be another event in Spokane designed to encourage dialogue and learning. As part of the Being Religious Interreligiously Lecture Series and in honor of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate (an encyclical from the Pope) at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA, Dr. Amy Jill-Levine will be speaking on "Of Pearls and Prodigals: Hearing Jesus' Parables through Jewish Ears."
In an earlier interview with David Neff, Levine said, "In working with Christian congregations and clergy groups, I find an enormous interest in Jesus' Jewish context—how the parables would have sounded in Jewish ears and what the controversy stories suggest about early Jewish practice. I think that if Christians want to take the Incarnation seriously, they should also take seriously where and when and to whom it occurred. Hence the volume has 30 short essays on such topics as the Pharisees, the temple, the ancient synagogue, Jewish parables, Jewish miracle workers, Jewish beliefs in angels and the afterlife, Jewish family life, and so on. "The Jewish Annotated New Testament" also serves to correct unfortunate stereotypes of early Judaism that sometimes find their way into Christian preaching and teaching. It also addresses anti-Jewish teachings such as that all Jews are "Christ killers" or lovers of money or children of the Devil. The annotations provide historical contexts for the passages that give rise to such canards as well as note that the vast majority of Christians read their Bible as a text of love, not hate."
I also recently attended an Interfaith Havdalah presentation. Franciscan friar, Al Mascia and Steve Klaper, a cantor or Jewish musical leader ask Christians to come early to Catholic Vespers and Jews to stay after their Havdalah (Saturday night ending of the Jewish shabbat). "The Interfaith Havdalah is not a mixture of faith traditions; rather we are unique communities praying in each other's company," said long time friends and colleagues, Al and Steve.
As part of the Jewish Havdalah, Steve Klaper leads Mincha (afternoon prayers) and Maariv (evening prayers) with songs like Shalom (Peace) Aleichem (peace be upon you) and V'hi No'am which is taken from the 90th Psalm, noted Klaper, saying the Psalms are something both traditions have in common.
Making the transition from Jewish Havdalah to Catholic Vespers, the leaders ring a Tibetan bowl and encourage participants to take a deep cleansing breath. The candle in front of Friar Al is then lit and they sing "Upon the Lighting of the Lamp at Vespers". Other songs that are part of the Vespers service include "Rejoice, Rejoice" and "Shalom My Friends." Noting the inclusion of the song "Upon Giving Thanks for Incense," Brother Al explained that both the Jewish Havdalah and the Catholic Vespers has an olfactory or smell component.
As they close the service, Brother Al says, "Shavua Tov" wishing Steve a "good week" and Steve responds by wishing Al, "Shabbat Shalom" or a peaceful Sabbath.
"We light candles as an external expression of prayer, said Brother Al ending the event with a quote from the Sufi / Muslim poet, Rumi, "A candle doesn't lose its light by enlightening another candle."
The 13th century Persian poet also said, “Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field. I'll meet you there." And sometimes it is enough just to pray beside each other because as Rumi said, "When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”
Bowls of colored sand stood ready on October 15th, 2015. Across the hallway people were preparing vegetarian food. Hanging from the walkway ceilings were flags and banners with quotes on peace, the environment, and faith. A walking mediation labyrinth was being laid down in bright blue tape. Stages were being prepared. The words of spiritual leaders and seekers were about to fill the rooms of the 515,000 square feet Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah.
A pattern was forming. An empty convention center transformed into a sacred space, a microcosm of life on earth. Ten thousand people from every continent and corner of this round earth filled the space with consciousness of the devastation and the challenges the community of humanity face but also hope, love, and a commitment to peace. There were turbans, scarves, yamaks, crowns, masks, robes, crosses, and all manner of symbols as people of faith talked together from their respective vantage points on how best to show gratitude for the blessings of life.
Five days later the bowls of colored sand were transformed in the hands of Tibetan monks into a stunning mandala for some people: a tool for gaining wisdom and compassion. For others a mandala is a geometric piece of art that blesses this world with beauty and gives pause to all of us consumed in a busy life. The pattern emerges only through the work of someone willing to have patience and dedication to express themselves in compassion.
The vegetarian food, prepared by the Langar Sikh community brought nourishment and joy to thousands. It also won the heart and minds of everyone open to seeing the strength and magnificence in the face of the men and women who welcomed each person. "Thank you for coming, Kimberly," a Sikh man said each day I visited. Giving for no other reason than because there was a need to be filled and a desire to be of service, a beautiful pattern emerged from the work of the Sikh community.
Nearby the spires of the LDS (Mormon) temple were recognizable with the gold statue of the angel Moroni on the top. The yellow leaves on the mountain trees, the cool water in the fountain, and decorative pumpkins all converged in a warm and welcoming pattern of the fall in Utah.
The 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions graced us with a glimpse of what this world can look like when people of all faiths listen to the other and see in their eye a neighbor or relative. What do you need? What can I share? What can we do together to take our message of peace into the world?
"It is difficult to change how you read a text but ask a new question: Do I need to read the text in a new way as I find myself in a new situation?" Brandan Robertson noted, "Many communities fear, unnecessarily, that there is a relationship between change in belief and decline." How can we find success in breaking out of a negative pattern and gain an expanded vison of love?
"We have had thousands of years of hatred and slavery. Let's try a little friendship, " said Wande Abimbola, a Yoruba man from Nigeria. In other words, let's change the pattern where it is not working for us.
The Imam Jamal Rahman started his presentation with a Koranic whoooooooooo huuuuuuu, creating with sound a pattern of peace. "Silence is not the absence of sound. It is the absence of the little self," he said. Can you find your pattern of peace in the silence?
"Mother Earth the source of life not a resource," said Chief Arvol Lookinghorse. Take a little and give back some. Breathe in a little and give some back. This is how we can all continue to live in peace and abundance.
"God is Echad," said Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, quoting from the Jewish Shema prayer: God is One. "One is not a person alone but all connected into oneness," she added. Can you find yourself in the pattern of oneness?
Participants at the 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions also had a chance to see films and theatre productions weaving poetry and light into a pattern that can change the world. Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids teaches us that we can break free of the patterns that keep us in poverty, prostitution, or uneducated. But it is easiest and most successful if someone gives us a hand and we take their hand, and work with them.
Referring to her home on the other side of the world in New Zealand, where they are already in tomorrow, Rangimarie Turuki Rose Pere said, "I have come from the future. What do you want to know?" She also shared an image of her land where 6000 hectares of indigenous trees grow. "Children come in with intuition. We only have to love them," she said.
Arnold Thomas taught us, "Relatives, what if this is—heaven all around us? Are we behaving in a manner that our grandchildren seven generations from now will enjoy this earthly heaven?"
In this microcosm that was the 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions we learned that peace and harmony are possible. Today, we begin again to put into action what we learned.
Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Integrative Medicine)
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