Sunday I had a most stimulating time in my morning’s visit to the small Universalist Unitarian Church in the village of Hamburg. Having visited a few weeks ago, I was greeted with renewed warmth and kindness. I had read that an Iman from the Masjid An-Noor (Mosque) at the Islamic Center in Getzville would be their speaker. I have visited the Islamic center a couple times in recent years with young people from Wayside when I was pastor.
Shaykh Nazim Mangera, the prayer leader and Iman of the Masjid An-Noor, was a delightful person to meet and hear. His topic was “Islamic Religious Festivals and Holidays” and as he spoke, I saw again how closely Islamic traditions are linked to Jewish and Christian traditions. In fact, Muslims follow the Jewish Lunar Calendar, which for the first time helped me realize why such major festivals as Ramadan and the Yearly Pilgrimage to Mecca are not the same each year as on our calendar. It would be like celebrating Christmas on a different date each year. (Oh what would commercial interests do??) Yet Christians do celebrate the Easter celebration based on the Lunar Calendar, moving it around in time with moon changes.
What struck me anew was the similar goals these religious groups all have for their celebrations and practices; the establishment of the love of God in human hearts and the treatment of others with kindness and respect. Each tradition follows its own forms and customs in order to hopefully get to the “ah” or “awe” moment of truth, the sense of Divinity within. I thought as I left and later drove home, “It would be so wonderful if we didn’t let our many forms and customs get so special and interfere with our respect and kindnesses for and toward each other.”
Because of my birth and exposure to Christianity, its forms are the most familiar to me, albeit I have modified the understanding and application of these considerably over the decades. (Just ask the poor folks at Wayside!) I am mostly at the place where I just want a simple form to help settle my mind and realize God indeed is with me, one with me. It doesn’t even need to be called “God” but that is just the word I learned to name it. Whenever we begin to define it, God, we seem to move further and further away. I think of the verse from the old Hebrew Psalm, “Be still and know I am God,” or just “I am.” I also have grown to like the Eastern terms used such as Unknowable, Ineffable and the Infinite.
It truly is a wonderful time in our world’s history that we have such access and exposure to other forms of faith and religion. I also thought driving home, (traffic was slight) “It would be so great to just combine all the forms into one” but realized this would be impossible. If we could, people would have to “police” the whole world to make sure the forms were kept pure and inviolate! The record of that attempt has a sad and brutal history. Yet, the One can always be experienced just by the realization of surrounding Peace from sitting and breathing It in. (Or even walking, driving, jogging for that matter.)
So what’s the answer? Each person finds a teacher, hopefully an inclusive, broad minded one, and begins the journey of understanding and practice. If the teacher no longer fits the student, then he or she can move toward another, albeit not too fast. In my years of trying to learn the art of golf (and trust me, it is an art), I have visited and been helped by various teachers and books. Saturday night, Naomi and I attended a wonderful Chamber/Jazz concert at the Wayside Church, and I read how each of the young talented artists had already worked with several recognized teachers in their stages of development. So it is with spiritual learning and growth; we begin where we are and keep moving, always to find that Inner Still place where Peace and Love abide.
The practice usually comes back to something very simple like “sitting in silence” or taking quiet walks, or raking leaves, or working the lawn, or walking the dog. The practice is simply to give one a renewed experience of the Now moment, the sense of Oneness with All that truly is. How do we know we have reached such a moment? Could it just be a moment of ecstasy that is “unreal?” Perhaps, but the test is always, “Have I been made more loving, kind, and patient with myself and others?”
It certainly does help then to find a group, and it doesn’t need to be very large, to share and growth together. It is in groups, committees and projects, that the test of forgiveness and letting go is tested. It’s “easy” be feel peace perhaps on a island or all by oneself, but encountering others is the test of depth and maturity. (If this doesn’t work, try golfing!)
So I appreciated the stimulating of the time with Iman Mangera and the fine folks at Hamburg UU. I appreciated the sense of oneness the Iman nurtured by his very attitude and words. I was even surprised when a woman recognized me again as the retired pastor from Wayside. She told me she had visited there often and once picked up one of my sermons. As the speaker was late arriving due to a missed turn, she said she thought of getting one of my old sermons to read! Yes, many different forms and gifts, but the same Spirit. I’m glad, though, the Iman found his way. He helped renew my faith and experience in the Oneness of us all.