It may be a little premature to cast an eye over what is continuing to be a difficult and uncertain year. The pandemic has irrevocably changed the face of human civilization, including how we practice either our faith or spiritual path. Physical meetings have moved mostly online to facilitate safe attendance at faith based meetings and services, ensuring a life line is maintained for many. Not an ideal situation of course for those who miss human contact and the nourishment that gives to heart and spirit. Lockdown has seen an increase in mental health issues arising from isolation and loneliness, and I may go as far as to say trauma is affecting public health on numerous levels. Even I’m battling with health issues but gaining valuable insights and trying to apply compassion to the situation. Compassion in the classical teachings of the Buddhist tradition is defined as “the heart that trembles in the face of suffering.” I leave that image with you.
Current world events beg the question, what do we as interfaith participants do to support our communities? Many initiatives have been set up by faith communities to ensure people are being supported in a myriad of ways, including meeting the needs of spirit, mind and body. Covid-19 as we have seen is no respecter of ethnicity, age and socio-economic group, it also doesn’t care what spiritual tradition you follow, all are affected by its shadow.
The world hasn’t seen such a situation for decades and our ability to cope with its devastation has been challenging in the extreme. The threads of fear, anger and paranoia have been engendered, as have genuine kindness and compassion. The phrase “a new normal” has been oft repeated, but what exactly does that mean? Answers on a postcard please.
As Interfaith Manager for the Pagan Federation my 2020 so far has involved virtual “footwork” reaching out to different faith communities to engage in dialogue and establishing relationships. Some encounters have reinforced the belief that interfaith work is of paramount importance, as is education to dispel unhelpful stereotypes and build bridges. This endeavour is a long term and continuous process that requires commitment and perseverance, if not dogged stubbornness!
If we are to build bridges with other faith communities there should be a willingness to listen to the viewpoint of the “other” and vice versa. Dialogue and the ability to listen and give space to the other person’s viewpoint, even if we don’t agree with them, is important. It’s a simple but incredibly powerful act that can change mind-sets over time. It sounds idealistic but realistically speaking will take time to embed.
I leave my words for you to mull over and consider what you can do to foster relationships with other faith traditions.
Written by Jan Malique, PF Interfaith Manager