By Marcus Braybrooke
REPORT FROM JERUSALEM, OXFORD, AND CHENAI, INDIA
I saw the world. A giant snake, enormously powerful, was coiling itself around the world. The globe seemed too weak to withstand the pressure. I could see the cracks in it. Then I saw a light at the centre of the world. Enter into this light I was told... That Light is the only hope - we, the poor and the rich, the oppressed and oppressors, the theists and atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus . We all must get to that light, for it is the light of love and life, the light of hope and future.
This vision, from the founder of an independent African church, is how theologian Choan-Seng Song ends his book The Compassionate God (1982). Three conferences I’ve been to recently have made me ever more aware of how many people are moving towards that light. I heard speakers from altogether different worlds, ranging from an Eco Biotech Institute to a School of Economic Science, the World Media Association of Israel, and many more, all in search of the “light of hope.”
The first conference, arranged by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF), was in Jerusalem, where it is difficult to be hopeful. Travelling there I had in the back of my mind words written in her school magazine by Bat-Chen Shahak, who was killed by a suicide bomb on her fifteenth birthday. (The Bat-Chen Diaries, 2006)
We’re marching forward towards peace.
Ready to understand the others, prepared to make changes
With one clear goal – to be rid of the hatred buried deep inside us for so long...
At the meeting there were members of several groups who are really trying to understand ‘the others.’ On the way back I read a particularly moving account of the witness of Rabbis for Human Rights that exemplified the challenge we were discussing. Members of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel challenge the abuse and humiliation which many Palestinians suffer. Some of them have helped rebuild homes, replant olive trees destroyed by the Israeli army, or participated in protests against the Separation Barrier.
At one protest, a rabbi was asked to come quickly to help an Arab boy being beaten by the police. He himself was arrested and handcuffed and, like the boy, used as a human shield. But when the boy, who had reason to hate all Israelis, gave his affidavit, he began by saying “And then a tall Jewish man in a Jewish kippah (or head covering) came to my rescue and told me not to be afraid.” When the Rabbi himself was asked what he was doing being with the protesters, he said, “I’m with them.” Many powerful stories were told at the conference. UPF has a downloadable report of the Jerusalem gathering.
The second gathering, in Oxford, was the tenth annual conference of Globalisation for the Common Good – an initiative set up and energetically led by Dr. Kamran Mofid. Besides being international and interfaith, it is multidisciplinary, seeking to create a world economy based on moral values and for the people primarily, rather than for profit. The theme this year: “Sharing the Wisdom, Shaping the Dream: Reclaiming the Moral and Spiritual Roots of Economics and Capitalism.”
A third celebration sent me to Chennai, formerly Madras, on the East coast of India, a celebration of the International Day of Peace. It was arranged by the Sri Ramanuja Mission Trust, whose motto is “Let none suffer – service, sacrifice, surrender.” The Mission is led by the charismatic teacher and leader, Swami S.A.R.P. Chaturvedi.
Sri Ramanuja, who lived in the eleventh century, was an outstanding thinker and founder of the Vishistadvaita school of Vedanta. It has been said of him that “his theology was an effort to combine social duties, religious devotion and meditation into one harmonious whole.” That same approach guides the Trust today. The first day was International Peace Day and we joined in a public march calling for peace. The next day was Swami Chaturvedi’s birthday, celebrated as a colourful religious ceremony.
The events keep coming. In October I hope to share at the Awakened World 2012: Engaged Spirituality for the 21st Century. Our biggest awakening may be the realization that hundreds of other interfaith events all over the globe are also scheduled next month. Last summer at the opening of the Olympic Games, hundreds of torches were lit and came together to blaze as the Olympic flame. Today we see many, many points of light around the world: how do we ensure that they come together to shine as a beacon of hope, lighting the way to the world of our dreams? We can begin by telling the stories, as The Interfaith Observer does each month in these pages.