Bahai News - Coming together with open hearts Published Wednesday, October 31, 2001<>

Coming together with open hearts

By Jennifer Shaw

I continue to be amazed at the resiliency of the human spirit. During consecutive events last week, Lamorinda's interfaith group offered a place for that to occur.

Last Wednesday during a Prayer for Peace service, Jaleh Kirkpatrick of the Baha'i faith sought a "binding of the hearts" and to "invoke a kingdom of clemency" while Rabbi Roberto Graetz prayed that we "never again know war."

Greg Arthur of the Church of Christian Scientist said, "we can stay stunned or do something that makes a difference."

"Prayer is necessary. What else can we do... Hopefully God will do what we can't do for ourselves," remarked Moraga resident Martha Grisier of what inspired her to attend.

The organizers all took note that the service coincided with United Nations Day.

The notion that such aspirations start with introspection rang true.

It begins with the individual. I was sitting in a pew at St. Monica's Church in Moraga, candle in a paper cup in one hand and notebook in the other. Pragmatically, this service was fodder for a column.

I happened to catch a fellow columnist from our newspaper who was hoping to achieve the same aim. I let the fear of being scooped by daily deadlines over weekly timelines creep into a spiritual experience. However, the global message echoed by priest, rabbi, and Muslim shifted my focus.

A Buddhist reminded us to diminish ego while Brian Stein-Webber, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County invited us to "know those things that matter and to not spend time on those that don't."

Consistent with my paid-to-learn philosophy, I soon realized that I was there for my own fulfillment. The column I would write seemed almost ancillary. A feeling of inner peace ensued.

Another inspiring element I derived was how Sharyn Larson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints spoke in one breath about the atrocity of terrorism and the appreciation she felt about living in an area where petunias still bloomed while the pistache trees were already changing color. "We need to open our hearts metaphorically to see which emotions are residing there ... Gratitude is the parent of all other virtues: When you're in survival mode, it's difficult to give thanksgiving daily," she said.

I immediately thought of a classmate in a poetry workshop a few years ago at JFK University in Orinda who spoke heart wrenchingly about how her village in Ireland had been bombed the night before, and a short time later was relishing in a description of a perfectly ripened Comice pear.

At the beginning of Wednesday's service, Ardeen Strasser of Our Savior's Lutheran Church, offered a tangible sense of hopefulness and appreciating the moment as he cradled his newborn daughter near the pulpit.

The next evening at St. Perpetua's Church in Lafayette I gleaned another lesson in humility. The church's committee for social justice had invited Amer Araim, an imam at the Dar-Ul-Islam Mosque in Concord to speak about the Muslim faith. The former U.N. employee had left Iraq 24 years ago.

I continue to be amazed at the receptiveness of the human spirit.

The parishioners knelt, made the sign of the cross and took their seat. What felt uncustomary was their subsequent applause.

At the end of his presentation, Araim pointed his prayer rug in the direction of Mecca and in front of the curious Judeo-Christian crowd humbly lowered his knees and face to the ground.

"The most important thing is intention," he said, noting a customary practice which crosses denominations. "The human being is always short-sighted. When in difficulty, they will come to God."

Another lesson.

The interfaith group is holding its annual Thanksgiving eve service at 7:30 p.m. on Wednes- day, Nov. 21 at the chapel at St. Mary's College. For more information, call 933-6030.

©Copyright 2001, Contra Costa Times

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