Reflections on the Interspiritual Ceremony for Peace
Gently walking, gently walking, Yvonne Brecht quietly -- meditatively -- followed the circular walk in Union Theological Seminary's quadrangle courtyard. Gradually we joined her -- three, five, twelve, twenty, fifty, eighty people circling in a meditative procession, celebrating and contemplating September 21st -- International Day of Peace.
David, a first year student at Union, blessed a kettle of Dead Sea salted water at the entrance to the chapel. After the blessing, Matt Mitler signaled for us to proceed into the building itself, following Yvonne in single file. As we did, Rachel Whitman handed each of us a small glass bowl, which was then filled by Casey Groves with the blessed water.
Reverently, we carried this precious symbol up the twenty-odd steps to the chapel level and the one hundred feet to the center of the chapel -- a chapel empty of chairs and draped floor to rafters and rafters to floor with a flowing blue-and-white dyed cotton cloth. At the center stood a single round blue cloth-draped table surmounted by a wide blue glass bowl.
We each approached the table and poured our cupfuls into the bowl, eventually filling it nearly to the brim. Once our cups were empty, we placed them on the table, picked up a small tea light candle, and formed ourselves into a large irregular circle filling the chapel. After the last cup was poured, Luca Valentino rang a temple gong letting its sound to fade into stillness.
As Yvonne lit the first of two tapers and then her own tea light, she began to sing a "B'rucha" (a Hebrew blessing) as a call and response. Reverently and while singing, she then set her tea light floating in the waters of the bowl.
When Yvonne neared completing her ceremony with everyone singing along with the blessing, Luca approached her to receive the lit taper. He then began chanting the Buddhist mantra "Namu Amida Butsu," which was quickly echoed then joined by those gathered about. While chanting, Luca lit his tea light and set it floating in the bowl as the congregation continued chanting.
Matt Mitler then broke in with a magnificent "Kyrie Elieson" and all around joined voices as both the first and second tapers were passed among the circled crowd, each lighting the other's tea light. With lit tea lights the participants approached the table and set the lights afloat in the bowl or placed them on the blue draped table supporting it.
The next chant, an Islamic Praise to Allah, was begun by Casey Groves and quickly and exultantly joined by all. Meanwhile, members of Dziecii Theater Group, while encouraging all to improvise ecstatically as they sang, weaved joyfully throughout the circled throng, joining the participants in a living theme of flowing water.
After the chants were completed, the Gospel Choir of Union Theological Seminary began singing a hymn and all present thoughtfully stood still. When the hymn ended, the choir and the gathered picked up the refrain, "We shall march through the valley in peace." The choir, then stepping forward, passed on the blessing from individual to individual and, continuing with a fluid movement, processed out of the chapel, down the steps, and into the gorgeous sunlight dappling through the trees in the quadrangle.
When the last person had left the chapel, Luca rang the temple gong once more, bringing to a close a moment in which, in the face of the horrors of manifest differences, we separate and separated people could gather together and experience our intrinsic and ultimate unity.