◄ by Jean Berman – Peaks Island, ME ►
I had the privilege of attending and presenting at the recent Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake CIty, Utah in October. Having been involved in somewhat similar gatherings in the 1980’s and ’90’s, I felt a significant difference in the grounded, practical and diverse ways the participants expressed both their experience of oneness and the activities and programs they are part of. You who are reading this are part of the significant upswell of the forces of integration on this planet – thank you! What follows are some of my impressions of the experience. If you are interested in finding out more about the Parliament (which will be held again in 2 years), listening to some of the talks, or subscribing to the e-newsletter which highlights uplifting Interfaith activities internationally, visit parliamentofreligions.org.
2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions – Salt Lake City, Utah
Here, an elder smudges me with earthy, smoky sage. As I slowly turn I glimpse the teepee, breathe deeply, carry the sacred gift of tobacco that is given to me up the steps to the fire, offering my silent prayer.
Here, I come again and again to watch monks create an exquisitely detailed mandala of colored sand. Grain by grain, color by color, sacred geometry emerges minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. In the end, all is swept into a grayish pile, portioned into tiny bags for those who have witnessed the process.
Here, an entire Jain temple the size of a large room is beautifully constructed, complete with meditation pool and floating flowers, open for people to step into and just be.
Here, children of all ages, each in national garb, sing from their hearts. They are in a long hall hung with 50 banners of the Goddess in her many guises.
Here, I sit and watch people pass. Some wear orange robes, dress all in white, wear turbans, hijabs, skullcaps, robes, crosses, pentacles, tattoos, ornately decorated animal hides, saris, socks with sandals. Muslims, Baha’is, Jains, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, Jews, Christians, Indigenous Peoples, Sikhs, Yorubas, Nature Spiritualists and more.
I marvel at the sense of safety, pride, devotion, dedication, respect, interest and curiosity, passion for collaboration. This is the world I long for, right here. I engage with random passers-by. Thousands of individuals making a difference in grounded ways: faith and interfaith groups, ngo’s, businesses, books, art, films, creative projects and initiatives, governments, all facets of the jewel that is life integrating in thousands of ways because of each one.
Here, the great hall with speakers on topics that anguish my heart: climate change, extinction, war, inequality, slavery, domestic violence, genocide. Here, Indigenous Grandmothers, Nobel peace prize winners, Researchers, Emerging Leaders, Politicians, Peacemakers, Faith Leaders, Musicians, Dancers, Authors, Educators, Naturalists, inspire with how they meet these challenges of our times, how we can too.
Here, turbaned Sikhs all in white invite me and thousands more to remove my shoes, cleanse my hands, cover my head, sit and receive delicious Indian food at no charge. I get a feel for devotion as feeding the masses. I marvel at the fascinating people on either side of me as I learn a little about them, delighting together in spiced chickpeas, seasoned rice, saag panir, mango lassi, as much as we wish to eat.
Here, a red tent room for women, hung with glorious silks of red, orange and purple, the floor spread with fabrics and pillows. I visit here again and again, to hear heart-full stories, witness pain and healing, sit with a friend, and just relax.
Here, a hall with Interfaith quilts, massive banners of peace flags, inspiring paintings and sculptures. A labyrinth. Here, a long table with sand from the Great Salt Lake to run my hands through, make designs and messages in, let my mind take a break. The sand will be given back to the lake after the Parliament.
Here, prayer as song, dance, poetry, in different languages, in different ways, meditative, flowing, rocking, jubilant, millennia old, spontaneous.
Here, films that bring me to tears with their beauty, and leave my body shaking with weeping for people, animals, our Earth.
Here, the concert: Native American flute and drums, Scottish bagpipes, Mormon choir, Jewish and Muslim chants, Indian ragas, Buddhist drums and swordplay, Cambodian sacred dances, Burundi drummers, Sufi Whirling Dervishes, Multi-Faith Youth Choir, Hindu dance, ending with all of us singing for peace.
Here, the continuous challenge of choosing one session out of 25 fascinating possibilities. I realize there are no bad choices – each one opens a door of understanding and connection. Planning and spontaneity are both called for. I am aware of the privilege of being here and the responsibility to carry the spirit and work forward.
Here, almost 10,000 people from more than 70 countries, 30 major religions, over 500 sub-traditions, 1000 presenters, 1800 programs.