Interfaith Insight - 2023
Next week is the beginning of Lent for many of us in the Christian faith tradition. Ash Wednesday begins a time intended for introspection, for reflection, sometimes for fasting—it is a time of meditation and renewal. It is the first of several similar religious practices this spring, including in several weeks, the ritual of the Jewish Passover and the Muslim month of Ramadan. These, and others, are times intended for us to get in touch with our most inner selves and with our own spirituality.
One of the persons who helps us in this “finding of ourselves” is Valarie Kaur from the Sikh faith tradition. Many of you know that she will be speaking on February 23 on the downtown Grand Valley State University campus. As Brian McLaren suggests, it sometimes takes someone outside your own community to come along to help you see yourself. You may wish to see a conversation between the two of them that expands on the following story.
Valarie tells of how she grew up in California’s Central Valley, a brown girl among mostly white people; a Sikh among mostly Christians. Her best friend was astonished when Valarie explained that Sikhism was not a sect of Christianity. That was a revelation that led to the fracturing of their friendship because her friend could “not continue to love her while convinced that Valarie was going to hell.”
Her friends and her teachers tried to convert her; one day a neighbor brought a woman to Valarie’s home to attempt an exorcism. For years she “burned inside” from trauma and devastation—until her frustration prompte her one day to pound on the door of a church where she heard organ music inside. The organist, rather than the “priest” she was expecting, answered the door. Taken aback, she asked if she could sit and listen to the music. “Of course,” said the woman. Soon the music was overwhelming her and as it ended, tears were pouring down her face. In her book See No Stranger, she writes on pages 25-26:
I tried to understand what just happened. This was my first
since childhood of ecstatic wonder, the taste of Oneness sweet as
nectar, the gift I had longed for...and it happened inside a Christian
“What do you feel?” The organist was looking at me.
I remembered my mission here. I wiped my tears and gathered myself
up tall. I saw this woman as every Christian, every white person, who
had hurt me, who had made me feel like a dog and condemned me to
“I just can’t believe that there could be a God who would send me to
hell,” I said....
“I can’t either,” she said. “I think that there are many paths. It just
doesn’t make sense otherwise. Of course, some people don’t agree.”
She was the first Christian I had ever met who did not believe I was
going to hell....I would go on to meet many more people like her and
learn there are many ways to be Christian, just as there are many ways
to be Sikh...she chose a vision of Christianity that saw me as beloved:
You are not a stranger to me, she said to me with her music and her
embrace. You are a part of me that I do not yet know. Sit down. Tell
me who you are.
An important part of meditation, of understanding my own spirituality, is getting in touch with who I am, and, understanding the context in which I am. All our faith traditions teach us that we are not alone, that love binds us together in community, with each other, including with those that we do not yet know.
Valarie Kaur calls it revolutionary love. And, she says, wonder is the beginning of that love. Sit down. Tell me who you are.
It is a worthy Lenten discipline.