by M. Doretta Cornell, RDC
One of the things I am grateful for this year is the growth of interaction among people of different faiths. This time of year seems to invite that sort of cooperation: many cities and towns have had an Ecumenical Thanksgiving service for many years. Valhalla’s service on Tuesday evening included Catholic, Methodist, Muslim, and Jewish participation. And of course, the relief efforts for people hurt by Hurricane Sandy have brought people of all persuasions, and many of none, together.
A new venture this year: Three congregations in White Plains initiated a Community Thanksgiving Service here, with the White Plains Presbyterian Church, the Church in the Highlands, and the Sisters of the Divine Compassion sharing song, scripture, stories and prayer. All who attended contributed food for the Food Pantry. Pastor Jeff Geary suggested the collaboration at the blessing of the Wangari Maathai tree that WP Presbyterian donated to Good Counsel in October, and we hope this will grow to include others in future years.
This year I have noticed, with gratitude, the growing climate of solidarity with our Muslim neighbors among people in Westchester and New York City. The recent repulsive advertisements in New York subway and Metro North stations, equating Islam and all Muslims with the terrorist actions of the fringe groups that get the headlines, have wonderfully prompted a counter-movement of support for our Muslim fellow citizens who are working for peace and just trying to live an ordinary life, like so many other Americans.
Another local venture bringing together people of different faith traditions concluded last Monday evening. The Interfaith Connection, a group of lay people of Jewish, Methodist, Buddhist, Catholic, Unitarian and Quaker beliefs, and the Westchester Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute for Nonviolence recently hosted a series of discussions titled Music in Religious Observance. Here we learned about the very different roles music plays in various faith traditions.
Because of the storm, the first session, on Christian music, had to be postponed until spring. But the session on Music in the Muslim tradition was fascinating. Using video clips of Islamic music in venues ranging from Mecca to Turkey, from mosques to public arenas and even an English Cathedral, Khusro Elley introduced us to several kinds of Islamic music. Although only the human voice is used for chanting in the mosque, other devotional settings feature a wide variety of instruments and voice to create a prayerful atmosphere.
Last Monday, Shinnyo-En Buddhist temple in White Plains hosted a program about vocal and instrumental music in Buddhist practice. Again, video clips brought us around the world, to Japan and Hawaii, for demonstrations of music in rituals mourning, purification, and celebrating ancestors. In the course of the evening, we also learned basic tenets of Buddhism and the particular character of this group, which draws on the final words of the Buddha. The local Taiko drummers (a popular feature in our Interfaith Concerts each January – January 13, this year, at Good Counsel) not only performed several pieces for us, but at the end of the program invited participants to drum with them.
Thanksgiving Day, our uniquely American feast, presents an opportunity for us to learn about and celebrate the gifts of people from many diverse cultures and faiths. Let us give thanks – to God, to our Founding Fathers (and Mothers), and to each other, for the great privilege of living in a nation where all are welcome!