By Joy Allan
#interfaith #multiculturalism #GMABlog #JoyAllan #Christianity #Islam
Amongst the ancient communities of faiths within the confines of the ancient chapel of Aberdeen University, something fledgling flickered into existence on 26 November. Candles upon granite tombs, glinting upon the faces of contributors and congregants alike.
Under their watchful gaze an academic procession processed to a packed church, the Students’ Association arrived, readings were read, and songs were sung. Beneath dimming lights and fluttering flames faith representatives climbed up steps, turned to a lectern and shared their hearts, their passions, their faiths and (most importantly) themselves.
‘Light’ was the theme, carefully chosen at planning meetings over biscuits, tea and conversation. In those meetings the same faithful few showed up, clutching pieces of paper and invitations to events. Friendships were forged as invitations were accepted, events were attended and heart to heart conversations were had.
Being a woman of faith, it would appear, carries with it similar heartache in many communities. Similar intra-faith arguments emerge, similar relational problems occur, and the same salt-water tears are shed. I am sure that being a man of faith is similar too, but as I am not one of those I shall refrain from comment.
What I shall comment upon however, is the resilient faithfulness, companionship and care of those who were contributors on 26 November. The event was entirely imperfect. I, with a full-time PhD and a sieve-like memory sitting side-by-side with my role as ‘interfaith coordinator,’ struggled to pull a bunch of students together in the dark, essay-laden month of November. My ever-faithful boss ended up picking more of the slack and less of the credit than she deserved, as always. I failed in many small ways, as always.
And yet…Yet, as I blew out the candles with the aid of the 12 year old youngest Muslim representative, I looked over to the dispersing crowd and felt utter happiness. Why? In the arms of our beautiful (Muslim) ambassador around our (Christian) Chaplain, in the kissing and hearty hand shaking of our (Jewish) Lecturer, (Humanist) Chaplain and (Pagan) colleague, in the enthusiastic flinging of arms around my quivering self by my beautiful (Baha’i) sisters and (Buddhist) brother, I saw something flicker. In their cheer, in their conversation, that flicker was friendship. From that friendship I saw a light greater than that of a hundred thousand candles. I saw my friends, gathered around a flickering light, their voices of glee bouncing off of the ancient walls.
Ancient walls need fledgling movements. Rarely does the plaintive solo of sung Arabic, spoken Hebrew and chanted Latin wind their way around the pillars and crevices of King’s College Chapel. Rarely do the voices of these ancient faiths melt into song with one another. Rarely do these faiths even meet together, unless one counts the parties held in stone houses over vegetable curries. But of course, one does count these things, for in the end of the day, these are the only things which count.
When the agendas are set and the minutes have been taken, it is the committed sharing of hearts at which true interfaith work lies. The distinctiveness of belief is easily glazed over in our policy making. It shouldn’t be. Beneath those ancient walls we all held distinctly different views on deity, theory and practice, even within our own ‘faith groups.’ The temptation is to say that it doesn’t matter, yet it does. It matters in all the best ways.
The best friendships are those from whom we are different, the introvert and the extrovert, man and woman, Baha’i and Buddhist, ancient walls and fledgling movements. These friendships are those which flicker like flames against the darkest pain and suffering of our times. In these friendships we hear of hearts shared and troubles halved, yet internationally we hear of Muslims risking their lives to give shelter to Christians fleeing from Isis http://goo.gl/PGmI1j vigils held, governments petitioned and light shone in to the darkness of division, deception and death.
Joy Allan grew up in a small, close-knit Christian community on the West Coast of Scotland. She spent her 20s wandering across countries and through careers, working as a teacher, a preacher, a healthcare worker and a youth worker from the richest parts of London to the poorest parts of Scotland and Southern Italy. What she hashed out on Middle-Eastern streets and Oxford floors gathered around great pots of kabsah and falafel, she is hoping to carry into her professional work as Inter-faith Co-ordinator for Aberdeen University Chaplaincy. She is also currently working on a PhD in Divinity and Religious Studies, looking at the response of Pentecostal/Charismatic communities to depression.