Last evening my wife Naomi and I attended the annual meeting of the area’s area’s Network of Religious Communities. Director Stan Bratton had personally invited me to attend a few days ago. I am glad we went.
The meeting convened at the Hindu Cultural Center in Getzville by its President, Meena Vivek. The Network of Religious Communities has participants from 18 different religious Denominations and 15 different congregations. It was wonderful to be among various Christian groups including the Unitarian Universalists but especially mixed in with Muslims, members of the Jewish community and Eastern based religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i and others. Four beautiful women sang a welcoming song following an invocation from the Temple Priest as he chanted a beautiful prayer. After a delicious India meal a short business meeting was conducted and officers were elected. The financial report and new budget were presented by co-chairs Dr. Nasir Klan and Rabbi Alex Lazzarus-Klein. An Imam from a nearby Mosque, Imam Nazim was the special guest speaker, speaking of the inspirational sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. It felt especially timely after which an interesting Q & A time followed. Amam Nazim had copies of his recently published book, “100 Inspirational Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad”. Copies were sold out in a short time following the talk.
Several of us then removed our shoes and were invited to follow President Meena and the Temple priest into the Temple itself, a large, beautifully carpeted room with several prayer centers depicting various aspects of the one and only God which the Hindu call Brahmin. The priest answered several questions along with Meena. It was most enjoyable and memorable of my travel to India for study in the Spring of 1987.
We were told that the Network of Religious Communities of Buffalo and Erie County is only one of two such organizations in the country. I would hope there will soon be more. In an age when religious organizations are under attack and suspicion, getting together to educate, share, and sense a common goal are healthy. When we listen to those we do not understand or even dislike, we cannot help but to be changed. Such is one of the reasons such dialogue and meetings are so rare and feared. Change is difficult yet in our country’s tradition of religious freedom, it seems critical to have such exchanges as the Christian majority continues in decline while organizations as Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist are on the rise. Freedom is a wonderful experience and deeply enriched as we feel encouraged and commended to share and learn from those whom we know so little and hear so many negative descriptions.
It seems much of the important work of the Network has been in combining efforts to alleviate the suffering of the poor and hungry among us. But there are also meetings to share short talks from various religious denominational representatives along with discussion. I also would encourage more sharing in prayer styles and experiences of meditation. As the late Jesuit writer William Johnston and mission worker in Japan once observed (The Inner Eye of Love), when various religious people gather together to be in silence and meditation, the experiences are very similar. Each participant experiences a sense of transcendence and peace, but when it is described, differences emerge and agreement seems impossible to reach. I believe it is this experience which can deeply unite people just it can with couples or any two or more who come together with a vision and respect of the innate divinity in each person. Yes, many teach such recognition is impossible and that without proper words and beliefs, people cannot be considered divine or loved by the Creator! But as more peoples of different races, languages, cultures and organized religions come together in prayer and silence, the experience of division and intimidation will diminish. And such unity seems as needed today for our times as never before.