The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
February 2013 – Vol. 15 Issue 12
For Baha’is, the primary issues today are the oneness of humanity and the unity of religions. To forward this unity, on January 20th the Baha’is of Sammamish invited the community to join them in celebrating World Religions Day at Sammamish City Hall. There were seven speakers – from the Native American, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Baha’i traditions – who each gave their perspectives on how their faith strives to make the unity of humanity a reality. Because of a tribal meeting later that afternoon, Ray Mullen, Drum Bearer and board member of the Snoqualmie Tribe, only had time for brief remarks and a traditional chant with drums. The speech by one of the Christian representatives, Branch member Lyn Lambert, appears below.
Representing Judaism, Phil Gerson of Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue told of his spiritual journey triggered by personal tragedy and the events of 9/11, a journey that has led him to study the Qur’an and participate in Together We Build, an interfaith program organized by local Jewish, Christian and Muslim congregations whose members work together to build Habitat for Humanity houses. His talk concentrated on the Jewish prophets who, because they are also recognized by Christians and Muslims, can form a foundation for dialog among the Abrahamic faiths.
In considering the idea that we are our brother’s keepers, illustrated in Jesus’ two great commandments to love God and to love others as yourself, Mormon Bishop David Call brought out that to be able to take care of others, one must first take care of oneself. He explained some of the ways Mormons help those within their faith who face misfortune, which in turn better enables Mormons collectively to engage in global humanitarian efforts, particularly in response to natural disasters and poverty. In these ways Mormons seek to make the world is a better place for all people.
The remarks of the Muslim speaker, Tarek Dawoud of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound, centered on verse 49:13 of the Qur’an: “O mankind! We created you from a single male and female pair, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. The noblest among you in the sight of God is the one who is most God-conscious.” He pointed out that if we all looked identical and belonged to the same nation and faith, we would have no curiosity about each other. We would simply assume that everyone was exactly like us. Differences stimulate people to learn, and it is through sharing with others – intellectually, emotionally and spiritually – that humanity improves. Along these lines he praised those having the courage to read the scriptures of other religions, such as Mr. Gerson. The pilgrimage to Mecca, where everyone must put aside all symbols of worldly standing, brought home to him the reality of human equality. As an Egyptian in the US, where he contacts people of so many ethnicities and religions, he has had the opportunity to further increase his understanding of what the oneness of humanity truly means.
Namita Purohit of the Vedic Cultural Center spoke on the need for spiritual solutions to our individual and collective problems. If we see ourselves only as bodies, we feel a sense of separateness. But if we see ourselves essentially as manifestations of God, we will also perceive the divinity in others and then begin to treat them with greater respect and kindness. Realization of our spiritual selfhood leads us to embrace a life of service and gives us a growing appreciation of the oneness of humanity and all life. Awareness of the divine is, she held, the only sure basis for uniting humanity.
The Baha’i speaker, Sybil Berkey, provided insight into some of the ways Baha’is are forwarding their objectives: the oneness of God, the oneness of humanity, independent investigation of truth, the common foundation of all religions, the essential harmony of science and religion, the equality of women and men, elimination of prejudice of all kinds, universal education, and a spiritual solution to economic problems. She focused on the worldwide Baha’i Junior Youth Program, open to 12 to 15 years-olds, Baha’i or not. The activities of these grassroots groups center on study, art and, above all, service. Younger member’s service projects often begin simply, perhaps raising funds for charity through a bake sale or helping a neighbor in need. But as participants become more confident, they address more complex issues involving social justice. It was very encouraging to hear of this program that helps teens put the oneness of humanity into practice.
This World Religion Day celebration embodied the generous, inclusive spirit of the Baha’i symbol that leaves room for all the groups which it does not specifically name. It encouraged those attending to get to know each other and to contribute to the vision that “religion should be the cause of love and agreement, a bond to unify all mankind.”
“We have often heard that every great insight loses much of its greatness when it is institutionalized. One reason for that, perhaps the chief reason, is that the original insight becomes channeled to the human race through less mature people than those who first uttered it. The followers are less than the masters. The idea of human brotherhood, for example, which Jesus of Nazareth expressed with a superb passion, has become channeled through a multitude of followers so much less mature than he was, that they have not actually known what he was talking about, even when they have repeated his words. Thus an insight that has the power to save the world has become largely a verbalism.” – H. A. Overstreet
Many in my particular Christian church family, Newport Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, believe that two missing pieces in the puzzle that is world peace are a deeper, truer understanding of our own faith tradition and an understanding and appreciation of faiths other than our own. Two weeks ago on Epiphany Sunday, our pastor delivered a sermon that spoke of the appreciation of other traditions. Epiphany Sunday celebrates a Christmas story from the book of Matthew (2:1-12), the story of the Magi – not kings, but magi, Zoroastrian priests from “the East” – who followed a star to visit the infant Jesus. The Magi are not Jews; they are gentiles. They used astrology, which many would see as hardly Jewish or Christian, to find the Christ, to bring him gifts. Some see the Magi as spiritual seekers from outside the tradition, and with their inclusion in the book of Matthew those who are seeking and come bearing gifts, even in unorthodox ways, are being honored. Our pastor noted that when we truly appreciate what Matthew is doing in the story of the Magi, we will not be so arrogant. We will not think that our interpretation of theology is the only way to get to an experience of the Holy. We all need to be as passionate as were the Magi who followed that star from far away, but our passion needs to merge with a spiritual modesty.
At Newport we are trying to live into that spiritual modesty. We have recognized that a variety of spiritual traditions have things to teach seekers who aspire to an experience of God in their lives. While faithful in our desire to follow Jesus in loving God and loving others, we humbly appreciate people of other faith traditions, that we might catch a glimpse of their experience of God – that we may receive graciously the valuable spiritual gifts they may have to offer. Messages found in Matthew’s story of the visit of the Magi encourage us on that path.
In our appreciation of other faith traditions, we see that light is fundamental in essentially all of them – for example, the Bahá’í insight of “one light, many lamps.” In the Bible’s Creation story, the first thing called for on the first day was light. Many have come to realize that that this light is not the physical phenomenon of light as in sunlight, for the sun and moon didn’t come about until the fourth day. The light called for, therefore, could be light that brings understanding – clarity of thought, consciousness. When we become fully aware, fully conscious, some call that an epiphany – a sudden and important manifestation or realization.
Perhaps you’re familiar with an annual survey done to determine the most annoying words or expressions in the English language. Well, for the fourth year in a row, the word “whatever” has topped the list. But whatever appears repeatedly in a beautiful passage from the book of Philippians (4:8, 9): “Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, if there is anything of good report, anything praiseworthy, think on these things . . . and the God of Peace will be with you.” When I have been fortunate to spend time and share thoughts with people of other faiths, other wisdom traditions, in fellowship with people in the Theosophical Society, in interactions with those some call indigenous peoples, countless true, noble, just, pure and lovely things, things of good report, things worthy of praise have presented themselves. And in thinking on those, I am convinced that the God of Peace has been with us.
May all the efforts of all the people of whatever faiths and traditions around the world, celebrating events such as World Religion Day in peace and harmony, be appreciated and enlighten us, for surely if enough of us share enough of all of those whatevers in each other’s understandings, unorthodox though they may seem, scripture assures us that the God of Peace will be with us. And surely, God willing, insha’ Allah, humankind will experience a major “epiphany” and then I believe we will see peace on earth, goodwill to all.