After 911, our spiritual community came together to offer comfort, to be a benign and gentle presence, to merely sit among people who were as shocked and sad and angry as we were. It was a good time for interfaith work because we all felt the call to do more, to be more than our individual congregations.
In fact, Asheville was one of the first places in the country to have a truly multi-faith National Day of Prayer event. Most NDPs consisted of a lot of Protestants, an occasional Jew, maybe a Catholic. It’s somewhat different now, in some places–thank goodness!–but some folks did and do interfaith more as interdenominationally Abrahamic, which is more interfaith than the usual splash of Protestant Christians but doesn’t begin to touch the range of spiritual traditions that are this–and many–communities.
We had a long and good interfaith meeting this afternoon–this is a very focused and heart-felt group. But we got onto the notion of a moment of silence and I mentioned that a moment of silence should not be introduced by saying–now bow your head for a moment of silence. Because then it probably isn’t a moment of silence you’re encouraging but a prayer.
That engaged us in a discussion of the notion of a moment of silence and one of our number said he’d actually prefer if everyone just got to pray briefly out of their tradition. Which is fine, I suppose, if there are only a couple of traditions present. But that is never the case and who is going to be in charge of seeing how many traditions are present and who’s going to police the whole thing and…
It’s easy to see why a moment of silence is the politic and efficient thing to do.
I’m often in groups who assume that it’s okay with everyone if you say a general sort of prayer to a general male sky god. Which doesn’t work for me, of course. And sometimes the more culturally sensitive will opt for “O, Divine Presence” or “Spirit of Love” which implies that this divine being is singular and I (and many others) think in terms of a plurality of divines.
When that wonderful interfaith group came together on the first anniversary of the World Trade Center/Pentagon horrors, we tried our best to come up with a prayer that everyone was comfortable hearing and saying.
And we couldn’t do it. Well-meaning and well-mannered as we all were, there simply wasn’t a way of creating a generic prayer. By the time we’d gotten all the specifics out, it was bland and useless. It certainly didn’t satisfy any of the needs of that sweet group and I’m pretty sure the Divines were having a good laugh at us even attempting it. A gentle laugh, because they love us and know we had good intentions.
It ended up being a gentle, loving program and there were several prayers and some poems and music. Everyone went away glad we had survived, sad about what the anniversary meant and I don’t think anyone went away feeling oogy about some bland insulting prayer. Mostly because we didn’t do one.
There’s a global group called the United Religions Initiative that I’ve been involved in off and on for over a decade. The premise of the group is that one makes peace in the world by figuring how to make peace amongst the world’s religions.
One of the ways to do that is to let everyone stand firmly and happily in the spiritual tradition that sustains them and to share their collective knowledge from that empowered and loving place. I like that idea. You talking about your spirituality should be an excuse for me to learn something new or to see a new friend glow from the best of their spiritual tradition shining forth.
And if you have some cool clothes you wear or can teach me a few words in a different language, I like that, too.
As long as we come to the circle with the understanding that we are not there to change other people’s minds and bring them to some “one true religion”, we are usually okay.