I wrote this article to go into the newspaper the Saturday before the service, but some others from the Prayer Service had written something, so I modified the original to reflect that the service had already happened and it was published today, January 18, 2020.
The Leader-Telegram is a pay-only site, and my column wasn't published on the website anyway, so there is no link.
Here is the article. What have you experienced/learned/seen anew from your interfaith and ecumenical work?
Seeing in Focus
My eyes don’t see in focus. There is nothing shameful about that. It means wherever I look, I see a beautiful Monet landscape. And without the cost of buying one! However, it is also frustrating. I see multiple images, making stars and street lamps into circles of 6-8 lights. Less Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and more Boschisn sensory overload. Night driving is nerve-wracking, particularly in rain. To thwart the bad vision, I must carry a special tool that bends light waves to fool my brain. Many of you reading this are using that tool now: eyeglasses! Thank God for the science of lenses, and for my extraordinary eye doctor who keeps my eyes healthy and my prescriptions accurate so I can see accurately.
The physical world isn’t the only thing that suffers misapprehension. If we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit none of us has 20/20 vision when it comes to spiritual or religious matters. No one and no tradition can know “it” all. Or even what “it” is. Claiming to hold all the truth is extreme hubris. And dishonest. Like my eighth-grade self discovering my failing eyesight and getting my first pair of glasses, I am forced to admit I need spiritual correctives as well.
As lenses in my eyeglasses help me to see in focus, the lenses of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and partnerships help me more clearly see my faith claims. Hearing faith stories, singing music, participating in prayers and worship with others, shows me the breadth of human understanding of that which is greater than any of us. Seeing the world through the lenses of others shows me how impotent any of us are to claim a singular apprehension of Truth. Talking theology with my Jewish and Muslim neighbors in seminary; worshiping with Jews, Muslims, and Hindus; meditating with Buddhists; spending silent time with Quakers; being in spiritual formation with Baha’is and Unitarians; these have all enlarged my vision and drawn my spiritual self into greater focus.
Last Wednesday night, my congregation, Plymouth United Church of Christ hosted the Interfaith Prayers for Peace that happens every four months. We had a choir of people from three churches (representing the Reformed, Lutheran, and Catholic traditions), and prayers from our Baha’i, Jewish, Quaker, Buddhist, Protestant, and Catholic neighbors. We gathered, and will continue to gather, as people of faith to pray for peace and understanding, to learn from and about one another, to share in our similarities and celebrate our differences. We gather also as a witness against the cynical and fear-mongering voices of our current time that want us to fear one another, to dehumanize, to bear false witness against, or otherwise cause strife among people of faith. Instead of accepting that toxic narrative, we gather for prayer and community, and then when we’re done we stay for more conversation over coffee and cookies.
These triannual interfaith prayer gatherings (the next is May 20 at the Unitarian Universalist Church), and the interfaith co-operation of groups like JONAH, are eyeglasses for our souls helping us all to see the world - and ourselves - with truer vision. Only through the lenses of my neighbors’ insights can I hope to ever resolve the fuzziness in my own tradition and beliefs, and I am as thankful for them as I am for my eyeglasses.