I think of religious diversity as a contemporary description. Historically it describes a newfound discovery of humanity across the ethnic, cultural and religious divide. I recently was sitting at an Interfaith gathering of the IFC. Far to my left was a Jewish colleague. To my right was someone from the Baha’i tradition. In front of me was a gentleman I had just met from the Zoroastrian faith. All this was occurring while a Roman Catholic and Sikh woman addressed those gathered. I had spent a good deal of time speaking and getting to know many of those present that evening, and what was clear to me, was that these people were the sturdy Oaks of their traditions.
What did I mean by a sturdy Oak? I meant that they were strong and persistent. They had to be, to be planted in the middle of their traditions of origin, and to face the wind of traditionalism that sought them to stay exactly where they had been placed. They were faithful and determined, like an Oak personified might be, as they had all probably spent years being the lone barer of an expansive spirit, which perhaps for long periods of the journey, had to be born alone. But above all things, I sensed the sacredness of the Oak, or perhaps as the Greeks and Romans believed, the presence of the holy in an Oak grove. These were people that had found a special disclosure of enlightenment through their efforts to see just above and beyond what was possible within their own fields. I was grateful to be there. It strengthened my own weariness as the life of those around me was alive with life.
Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, says that those who follow him should not be ashamed to let their light shine bright. In fact, that when they do, the light produced can light up an entire household (Matthew 5:16). I wondered about this passage as I sat there amongst the reaping of humanity’s encounter and healing through dialogue and friendship. What would it be like if this text, which I was taught as a child, was solely lived out for my own sake; my own light. How much light I would have to produce! We were in a large Roman Catholic church…but it was filled by the light and life of so many other lights that night.
I went to high school in a very homogenous area of California (Sacramento). I was asked to participate in a Zoom reunion (now available thanks to COVID technology), and as I thought about participating, I wondered how I would relate to those from that small town in my memory, especially with the diversity of religious pluralism that I now counted as the norm. As each person came into this small Zoom room, I suddenly realized that each person was descended from a region outside of the United States: Palestine, China, India, etc. As they each shared, they did not share where their ethnic heritage had come from, they shared about their faith as a Sikh, a Hindu, a Buddhist and a Muslim; and how at mid-life they sought to be faithful to it. How could I have not noticed that I was surrounded in my high school years by religious diversity?? These were my friends, and yet I never thought of their religious traditions at all.
Jesus said, “let your light shine before others”…. How much smaller and dim my upbringing was because my friends who I spent each day with, did not feel comfortable sharing their lights…. How much lesser I was for not knowing them in this way. We live in a different day, but it sheds greater clarity on the past. I am grateful that the house that we sit within in DC is large, and that as we journey to come to rest, the light from the windows glows strongly. As a Christian, I realize that Jesus’ words do not just apply to me, but also to others when I make space for them to shine as well . May more of our lights shine together as we realize the fullness of what is meant to be.
Rev. Jay Moses is a member of IFC’s Board of Directors and the pastor at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.