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Faith leaders shed insights on their traditions

Thanksgiving Interfaith service

Leaders of the Interfaith Council Thanksgiving Service

Faith community leaders told how their faiths give thanks for diversity during the 2012 Interfaith Council Thanksgiving Service Nov. 22 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane.

The Rev. Todd Eklof, pastor there, said that “diversity makes our community work.  It makes it a cornucopia.  Our unique beliefs, backgrounds and lifestyles make us who we are. So our church does not just tolerate differences, but celebrates them.

“When we celebrate differences, sometimes we do not recognize our similarities, which are so great that our differences should not mean anything,” he said.  “Our differences should not make us dislike or mistreat anyone.”

Sr. Mary Eucharista of Immaculate Heart Retreat Center said she became a religious sister “to pray, play and work in community to serve God and everyone.” She said her name, “Eucharista,” means “thanksgiving,” and the greatest gift for which she thanks God “is the Eucharist, the bread of life offered at the Mass for the whole world.”  She sang a capella an ancient hymn, “Te Deum Laudamus,” a Latin Gregorian chant, “We Thank Thee, O God.”

Delores Forsyth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints told the story of only one of 10 lepers Jesus healed returning to thank him.  She challenged people to live with awareness of their blessings and to serve people as a way to thank God, “counting your blessings even though you may be burdened.”

She called people to give thanks at all times, to do “thanksliving.”

Joe Niemiec of the Interfaith Council said, “If we respect each other’s different traditions, peace will be possible in the world.  We can be thankful for what our faiths bring to our lives.  Even though we may not agree with each other, we can break bread together.

“News is created to excite us, not to tell us what is going on in the world.  Media tend to focus on the awful things,” he said, noting that three recent articles call this “the most peaceful time the world has seen.”

“The only way there will be more peace is if I don’t tell you what you should believe, because I think  I’m right and you’re wrong,” Joe said.  “When will we reach the point we ask what others believe and know it’s right for them?  Peace begins when individuals let go of anger, bigotry and the need to be right, and welcome others as they are.”

Aruna Bhuta, a Hindu, said uniqueness and differences help people understand each other and move forward.  By meeting people of different beliefs and cultures, we can see our commonality, become aware of our differences and accept goodness in different faiths.  This can help us live in peace and harmony.

“Hindus see God in every being and in every soul. That makes us think before we mistreat someone,” said Aruna, who shared a “Shanti” or peace mantra: “May God protect us and nourish us all.  May we work together for the good of humanity and may we never hate each other.”

She said Hindus do not forget “an act of kindness by others toward us,” but are “to forget one’s own acts of kindness to others.”

Baldev Singh of the Sikh Gurudwara in Spokane Valley appreciated people of different faiths gathering in August around their gurudwara in solidarity after Sikhs were shot in Wisconsin.

“Today we live in an increasingly diverse world. We are the same but different, each originating from the loving God and sharing in the tapestry of earth,” he said.  “We have different foods, sports, colors, eye colors, birthdays, shoe sizes and missing teeth.  Some want to make the world in their own image.  If that happened, every tree would be the same height and the only color would be gray.  Our greatest differences are our blessings and challenges,” he said, calling for embracing a multi-cultural world, for celebrating personal, interpersonal, institutional, racial and national differences, and for realizing how new demographics affect access to power.

“Look at the rainbow and celebrate every color.  There’s magic in the moment of embracing diversity in the world,” he said.  “We need to replace ‘either-or’ thinking with ‘both-and.’

“Most differences are from the accident of our birth, and should not be sources of hate,” he said.  “Respecting differences is the basis for peace.”

Toni Niemiec of the Center for Spiritual Living said that Science of Mind recognizes that “all sorts of paths lead to the same place.”

“The diversity of our uniqueness creates richness in our lives,” she said. “When we are young, we may look at how we can fit in.  As we grow older, we stand up for our uniqueness, and find beauty and power in being who we are, bringing to the world a unique part of the wholeness of life.”

Mona Ali of the Spokane Islamic Center quoted the Koran: “If you could count your blessings, you could never compute them.”

She said people are to give thanks every day, to praise God in prosperity and adversity.  Praying five times a day is a way to remember and be thankful.

“Humans tend to be ungrateful and think we don’t have enough,” Mona said.  “We need to thank God for what we have, and appreciate the simple things of life.”

Joe Urlacher said Bahullah, the name of the Baha’i founder, means “the glory of God.”  He said God, like light, is manifest and hidden:  “Rainbow colors are differences manifest and hidden in light.  They represent all humankind, religions, traditions, peoples, nations and colors.  Every color that existed comes together in light.  A prism turns white light into colors.  So powerful is the light of unity that it can illumine the whole earth.”

Sicco Rood, a Zen Buddhist practitioner, studies “the mystery” through the lens of Zen.  He sees each person and the world as expressions of the mystery.

“Each moment, each encounter is an encounter with this mystery, or Dharma gate,” he said “Each of us has a limited view, but a unique view from our time, place and culture.  In Zen, we experience and appreciate uniqueness and diversity, or the world of differentiation, in the foreground at the same time we realize the nondifferentiated boundless background.  Once we open up to that, we stop seeing the ‘other’ as a stranger,” he said.

“Rains and leaves fall, each moment is a gift,” he said.  “We need to practice thanks for every moment.  Similarly, we should not disregard a single being or encounter.  All are precious gifts.”

“Each religion, wisdom tradition, has a special way of practicing, seeing and understanding, which can contribute to other religions and humanity,” Sicco said, expressing hope that people from all traditions see each other as brothers and sisters, and work together to realize peace and prosperity on this precious planet.”

Copyright © December 2012 - The Fig Tree,