It was supposed to end with everyone participating in a dignified sort of blessing-dance. The meeting rooms at The Eternal Quest were filled, however, and we had to go through the motions standing where we were.
On Sunday June 15 was held a candle-lighting service symbolizing the theme “Light and Enlightenment,” in which representatives of major faiths participated. Well known in the city were the Trappist monk, the Buddhist monk and the Jewish cantor; others were prominent in their own traditions.
All were enthusiastic about taking part in this celebration which was modeled after the “Universal Worship” of the Sufis.
It had been a dream of mine to hold this service on our own, ever since 1983 when it was celebrated in the chapel of Emory University by Amnesty International, where I had been invited to represent Hinduism. The congregation had filled the chapel and been notably inspired.
Hazrat Inayat Khan of the Chishti Order of Sufis, who preached in America in the earliest decades of the century, devised this ceremony, and it has been used in Sufi circles many times, and probably in adapted forms by other groups. It was the return to Atlanta of Sufi affiliate Jacob Kabb which made this occasion possible. After giving careful consideration to the proposal, he graciously consented to provide the order of service and to serve as cherag or priest.
Because of our participating in several interfaith groups, notably the Interfaith Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta and COSM (Community of Seekers and Mystics), liberal leaders of the major faiths have become friends, and to secure their interest and involvement was no problem. The date was chosen for convenience, but it happened also to be Pentecost (Julian calendar) and the Baha’i month of Nur, Light.
Chanting could be heard in the chapel as the congregation assembled. It was punctuated by a light drumbeat; the Buddhist monk and nun were providing our Prelude.
Following the introduction of the participants, the priest rose and asked us to stand for his Invocation: “Toward the One … the Spirit of Guidance.”
The Candle-Lighting Ceremony began. An altar set up in the middle of the room bore a large lighted candle in the middle: the “God-candle,” around
which eight candles had been circled. The priest would light from this a taper, which was passed in turn to the representative of each faith for the lighting of that candle. “To the Glory of the Omnipresent God we kindle this light symbolically representing:” Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, Native American, Judaism, Christianity, Islam. The eighth candle? Jacob lit it in the name of all faiths not standing here today and even those not known, or no longer known, to the world.
A short period of silent contemplation on Light followed.
Scriptures of the World
Now taped music briefly played, music appropriate to the religion or the culture of the reading about to follow. For example, before the Gita reading we heard one of India’s greatest flutists. But later, in the case of Judaism, the cantor gave us both music and scripture in her selection from the Torah. For many of us this was a high point of the service, so enthralling was her voice, so evident her dedication.
After reading, each passed the book to the priest who would lay it upon the altar with a phrase appropriate to each religion, “with our reverence, our homage and our gratitude.”
Now a period of silent meditation. Then we stood to give a common prayer, beautifully expressing our debt to all the Messengers of Light. Concluding, as said, with a “dance” leaving us in situ, the cherag led us in the familiar song, “May the blessing of God rest upon you / May God’s peace abide with you / and may God’s presence illuminate your hearts / Now and forevermore.”
After the meeting, I suggested that our members get acquainted with the visitors not known to them, while enjoying the plentiful refreshments. The celebration was quite in consonance with the teaching of Vedanta and with the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of Atlanta.
volume 3, no. 2