Spanning the differences

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By Johanna Osman, Engage Minnesota

Today I attended the Interfaith Memorial Service at the Basilica St. Mary in Minneapolis, commemorating the anniversary of the 35W Bridge Collapse. My intention was to document, as a scholar, the cooperation between peoples of many faiths. This was to be another example of Minnesota’s interfaith activities to include in my study.

Everyone’s words were enlightening and encouraging, but the most powerful examples of unity among the many came from the intervals of music and singing. An African-American gospel trio sang a very simple song; its basic refrain was, “I pray for you; you pray for me… You are important to me, I need you to survive.” This song built in intensity very slowly, and I realized that it duplicated the effect of the Buddhist chanting. People were invited to join the singing and, as they did, we were all chanting—and crying—our prayers together. The Jewish rabbi, the Muslim imam, and the Greek Orthodox priest gave melodious recitations of their scriptures and this reinforced the power of music to comfort grieving hearts.

When the Native youth began their drumming and chanting, I was jarred by its contrast to the previous music. It was, at first, loud and completely unfamiliar to me. As I considered my reaction to this performance, my tears gushed forward and I realized that this was the essence of discrimination and racism. I never thought of myself as racist or bigoted. Now I could see that all of us have the potential for negative reactions toward the unfamiliar, and thus it is our obligation to confront and examine that reaction and to see it for what it is: fear of the unknown. Once I confronted my own perceptions, I could feel the prayer inside the drumming. It guided the voices that emanated the sounds of grief and supplication. It lifted us and set us back down. It confirmed that we were a gathering of many clans and communities and we were united.

Diana Eck, author of A New Religious America, challenges the American people to examine what we value most about being Americans. She writes:

“Religious freedom has always given rise to religious diversity, and never has our diversity been more dramatic than it is today. This will require us to reclaim the deepest meaning of the very principles we cherish and to create a truly pluralist American society in which this great diversity is not simply tolerated but becomes the very source of our strength”

Johanna Osman is an intern with the Minnesota Council of Churches.

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