The wonderful interfaith service in Santa Cruz for this year was presided over by Rev. Beverly Brook from the United Church of Christ, who is a chaplain at the local jails. She told a very poignant story of a young man who is incarcerated, wanting to thank her for the only peace he gets, in his life in prison. When she comes to sit and pray with him, the chaos and noise around him fall into the background, and he can feel peace. I was very moved by her witness to this need for peace in a place and a person which is starving for it.
The hall at Holy Cross church is a lovely space, and it was lit with magical little lights; and the big candles, lined up for the ritual of each pastor lighting a candle, was like a set of Hannukah candles. We all said the prayer of St. Francis together, which begins "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace...". We said Namaste to our neighbors, and also Shalom in an Arabic Muslim greeting. There was a canvas labyrinth spread out on the floor to one side, and we were encouraged to walk it, if we were moved to do so. I have loved the labyrinth, and when I am in it, I feel like I am in the mystical rose, at the heart of space and time. In every way, it mirrors and magnifies our earthly pilgrimage, and our twistings and turnings toward and away from our neighbors and families. I have not been looking forward to the year ahead, and this pilgrimage into the labyrinth has given me more hope, more recognition that the ways of the Lord are far above our own ways, and that infinite creativity is the province of God, and making all things new is God's delight, as the universe moves toward the future, drawn by that infinite source.
There was a Hindu scriptural reference from the Vedas, and a song calling and responding to God, which starts with "I am Thine". In between each pastoral presentation, there was a gong-bell, to call us to silent prayer, peacefully being in the presence of our neighbors, wishing for peace. The Jewish song was "Spread over us wings of peace, Wings of peace, shalom". The person Mountain Eagle, who was also present at the 2012 service, spoke movingly about the human family, calling us to be closer to our brothers and sisters and to the earth. He is working with another brother from Standing Rock, and a Mayan time-keeper, weaving dream catchers which are huge 40 foot meditation domes, and the plan is to build them all over the world, working together to imagine a new human family future. His song was also very beautiful, and we sang along. His voice reminded me of Johnny Cash, full and beautiful and strong. The Baha'i prayer was lovely, and also the Buddhist chant from the Zen center, which contained the hope that all beings be free of suffering, and that we all be in right relationship. The pastor of Holy Cross church gave a small talk about the use of repetitive prayers, and the origin and use of the rosary. He also invited everyone to the mass following the service. Although it was not explicitly about peace, it was an attempt to offer a tool for going deeper into that meditative state in which peace flows from the heart and soul into the daily life of the prayerful person. His song about Mary's open-heartedness was also lovely.
What is most amazing to me about this event is the respectful generous listening and witness to each other's traditions and faith. No one is trying to convert anyone or argue about dogma. We are all simply trying to extend ourselves in good will to our neighbors, and to be in right relationship to the Holy. As we were called deeper into contemplative silence, in between the presentations, it truly felt that we were in solidarity and peace, with minds quieted and sweetened by love of God. I think it is a true miracle, that this event can exist, in our difficult and loud and clashing cultural surrounding. I am grateful to Sylvia Deck, who helped make it possible, because the "sangha" which has been an anchor of Holy Cross's meditation and prayer life for 2 decades is the underlying impetus for the event. I am grateful for the good will of many people of faith traditions, who might have found an excuse NOT to come and participate, but made the effort, and came to the event in generosity and willingness to pray for peace together.