Speaking of religion: Wisdom of all | Religion
When Jewish families and communities recently sat down for the Passover Seder, they reflected on the story of their escape from slavery in Egypt. Jews remember this and celebrate Passover as a reminder that oppression continues to this day – wherever a minority is discriminated against or terrorized. This memory was important to the enslaved African Americans who sang “Let My People Go.” They saw the parallel.
Passover this year came at the same time as Christian Passover and Islamic Ramadan.
Passover, Easter and Ramadan are among the many religious traditions that contain important messages, regardless of personal faith. It enlightens us all, if we would only listen.
Unfortunately, in many religious traditions, the strangeness of different religious faith stands in the way of new ways of seeing the human condition. It may even sound heretical. But paying attention to the broad sense rather than the narrow theology can enrich us.
In the Unitarian Universalist tradition, we seek to recognize the wisdom of all religions. As stated above, Passover is a moving reminder of the pain of oppression and slavery. The Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is a time when Jews are expected to rectify wrongdoings they have committed and atone for those deeds. I find it to be one of the most significant holy days. We would all be invited to do much the same thing.
Easter, in the Christian tradition, has several meanings. It can be seen as centering on the death of a teacher considered a threat by the establishment. This master, Jesus, exhorts us to love one another. He warns against loving possessions and urges us to give charity to those less fortunate. Whether or not we believe in the resurrection, the life and words of Jesus are invaluable to all of us.
Likewise, Christmas is celebrated for the birth of a child who was to grow up to teach us the love of God. In a way, it can be seen as a celebration of the birth of every child and the potential each has to contribute to our world.
At the same time, this year, followers of Islam mark Ramadan. This month-long festival involves fasting from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan is very similar to Lent in Christianity – it is a time of reflection. It is a time when charity and community are emphasized.
When we had Muslim students living with us, we found that they placed a high value on charity and community, which is important in all traditions.
Islam also calls on its followers to pray to Allah at regular times throughout the day. One of our Muslim students said that these prayers can be a lot like meditation, giving people the opportunity to slow down, change their pace, and remember their faith.
Knowing about other religions and finding wisdom in their messages does not require rejection of one’s own faith. This is especially true when we consider some of the elements that all traditions have in common: the love of the Creator, the importance of community, the value of charity, and the value of faith.
Charles R. Putney is a longtime member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bennington.