February 2, 2012 by LeVoyageur
It is one thing to go to an interfaith event, but sometimes I think my entire life itself has been an interfaith experience! Although I grew up in a practicing Catholic home, lived in a small town with many devout relatives, I moved away from the Church as a young man, unable to reconcile being gay with being Catholic. Still religious, seeking spirituality, I began to learn about meditation and alternative paths as many people do when they become independent.
While at the University of Michigan I spent about two years attending Meeting for Worship with the Ann Arbor Friends (Quakers). Ultimately, I did not feel as though I was a Christian any longer, nor did I feel I could be a pacifist, so I moved on, grateful for the experience with that community. I attended various worship services with friends over the years, from Christian Science to Evangelical to Unitarianism. But the one thing that kept coming back to mind was my interest in Judaism which I developed through reading as an adolescent.
As it happened almost 20 years ago I converted to Judaism. That in itself was only the beginning really of a lifelong exploration of spirituality both within Jewish culture as well as in other traditions, experiencing the religious teachings of other faiths as opportunities to do so have arisen. And so it was yesterday that I attended an interfaith conference in London to mark the beginning of World Interfaith Harmony Week. Organized by several interfaith organizations and hosted by the London Central Mosque, it was an afternoon of panel discussions among members of major world faiths on the theme of “Healing the World.”
Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Sikh representatives used traditional teachings and prayerful meditations to help participants look at world problems, particularly the environment, from new perspectives. While each tradition had its own unique response to the great peril we face in sustaining the health of the planet, in the end their ideas largely coalesced around the need for mutual understanding and good communication before any major problems can be resolved.
My largely passive interest in interfaith matters has been nonetheless very enriching. So it is with a sense of gratitude that I am able to attend such events where people whose lives are immersed in dialogue and who actively work in their communities for mutual understanding, share their experiences and wisdom with the wider public.
I was about 20 years old when I attended my first interfaith service, in Petoskey, Michigan. Then there was a small group, mostly Christians, but also Jews and Native Americans, who shared their spiritual quest for a better world with each other, if only for an hour or so. But that is how true understanding and mutual respect begins, by listening and by sharing. I believe in small steps and both my experience 25 years ago and my experience yesterday were my own small steps in pursuit of that understanding.
Note to readers: I have written about the interfaith “Healing the World” event at Positive News UK.