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The spiritual energy of a specific location I can sense pretty quickly. Do you ever sit in a park in your town and wonder about the spiritual health of your neighborhood? I do, often. For me, New York City consistently spiritually vibrates. As a Quaker friend once said to me, there is a spiritual flow in NYC that many traditions plug into.
Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and people of various religious identities, and people of no religious identities, live and work together. On a day-to-day basis we, overall, coexist. Kippahs, hijabs, ashes and the like display our faith for the outside world to perhaps peak the curiosity of others.
I was in Brooklyn the other day and the mosque by my friend’s house was bustling with people. It is Ramadan after all. I was waiting in line at the bus stop when the evening call to prayer was being sung. I love reverently listening. The first time I heard the call to prayer was in Oman with RCA pastors. The call to prayer reminds me, a Christian, to pray. I will usually pray a simple and quiet prayer “God, thank you for making so many different kinds of people. Teach us how to live together in peace. Amen.”
During Ramadan I ask my Muslim friends questions about their religious practices. “When do your kids start fasting? Do you have a favorite dish to break the meal in the evening? Is there a charity that you prefer to give to during this month? What does fasting teach you about God?” My friends and I have granted each other permission to be mutually curious. The questions are often returned during our holy days during Advent and Lent. “Why do you have ashes on your forward? What does fasting teach you about God? Why do you think they killed Jesus? Why does Easter give you hope?” The mutual questions ignite my soul.
In the early Fall I feel the spiritual energy in New York City shifting toward our Jewish friends celebrating Yom Kippur and the high holy day. When I run along Riverside Park on the Hudson River I will see Jewish congregations praying. One of my Jewish friends told me that the river is where sins are cast off into the sea. I love that imagery, it’s baptismal to me.
On Ash Wednesday the spiritual energy of the City begins to shift toward Christians. It’s one of my favorite Christian days and it’s one of my favorite days to live in New York City. I walk on the subway with my ashes on my forehead and there I see police officers with ashes on her head standing by the door. I walk down Broadway and there are people in powerful suits with ashes on their forehead. New Yorkers being reminded of our mortality, that’s a powerful symbol in a powerful city.
This Sunday I am preaching on peace. I am reminded of the theologian Hans Kung who said “There will be no peace between the nations without peace between the religions.” I am thinking of Jesus on the mountain in Matthew 5:9 which records Jesus as saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” I am not an expert in peacemaking, but I do think that there is something to be said for reverently holding each other’s traditions in prayer. I’m not interested in approaching interfaith work with the lowest common denominator, though sometimes one needs to start there. I am interested in holding our differing theologies in complex tension. I am also interested in holding our common humanity in reverence and prayerful goodwill. Peacemaking seems to mean that we are honest about our personal beliefs while curiously conversing, and working with, our neighbors. I learned this from the RCA’s great history of interfaith work in the Arabian Peninsula.
Do you have stories of interfaith peacemaking? I am curious to hear stories of personal, and congregational, interfaith work.
Prayers of goodwill to each of you, and to our Muslim friends during their holy time of Ramadan.