Sixth Parliament of the World’s Religions
Part Five of Five
There were over 600 programs at the Sixth Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, so it was mind-boggling to read the catalogue, let alone decide which programs to attend. After three days my head ached, so I took a break on the Sabbath.
Music and Dance: Responses to Hate
I began Sunday morning with Beyond Words: An Interfaith Ritual for Peace, performed by the Omega West Dance Company. I was so happy to sink into my chair, go “non-verbal,” and feel the dance ritual unfurl with greetings of peace, exotic chants, and movements from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Native traditions, complete with colorful swirling banners and sacred symbols. The dance was choreographed by Carla De Sola, whom I had not seen since her innovative and controversial liturgical dances in the 1960s. She described her dance as “social justice” and “a response to hate.”
Later in the day I reveled in a concert by the One Voice Children’s Choir, enjoying their carefree play in the foyer ahead of time. Nothing is more uplifting than the bright faces and innocent voices of young children in red singing “It Just Takes Love,” showing us that “Friends and song are more important than wealth.”
“We’re One Family”
Sunday evening the Parliament offered a free concert of Sacred Music from around the world at the Mormon Tabernacle, which was far smaller than I expected. I was thrilled to hear a shofar, a Northern Ute flute, and the Muslim Call to Prayer in that space. The Youth Multi-Faith Choir from Salt Lake was a bit chaotic, with all those little Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, and Baha’i children trying to line up on stage, but they were irresistible in their native dress, singing “We’re One Family.”
I was stunned by the Cambodian Blessing Dance and the “Whirling Dervishes” from the Mevlevi Order of America. But by far the most moving for me were the drumming refugees from Burundi, who perform to keep their African spirituality alive in their new Utah home. One of the men had survived the massacre in Rwanda. “The drum is the heartbeat of the community,” he wrote. Carried in and out on top of the men’s heads, the drums were enormous. They made my heart soar, and I could have listened all night. (For a while you can see photos of this concert of Sacred Music at the Salt Lake City Interfaith Roundtable web site. The group’s logo is also striking.)
The Sikh religion is the fifth largest in the world. The first Sikh Guru, Nanak Dev Ji, began the tradition of Langar, the Sikh word for “open kitchen.” At the Golden Temple in India, over 100,000 people are fed for free every single day. The tradition is designed to uphold the Sikh principle of equality between all people, regardless of religion, caste, color, creed, age, gender or social status. Long lines snaked through the Salt Palace for three hours in the middle of every day as local, national, and international Sikh communities cooperated to share this experience of inclusivity with all those who came to the Parliament.
I did not have the patience to wait in line, and I needed the short periods of silence and solitude at noontime to rest my tired brain from the morning’s stimulation and prepare for the afternoon. I’m sorry I missed this opportunity. The more I think about it, the more “open kitchen” becomes a metaphor for the Parliament and the planet. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is equal. Food is freely given and received humbly by each one sitting on the earth with bare feet and a reverently covered head.
What does it take to make the whole world an open kitchen? The Parliament of the World’s Religions gives us a way to begin.
The next Parliament is in 2017, location yet to be announced. Will I see you there?
My friend, Stephen Hatch, took this photo of me in the colorful little kitchen of my hermitage.