Diverse Faith Traditions Address Care for Our Common Home

Diverse Faith Traditions Address Care for Our Common Home

Mother Earth’s heartbeat came to life in the form of a booming rhythmic drumbeat. A showcase of respect for lives around the world followed it as international students carried the flag of their homeland onto the stage. Following a welcoming message from University Chaplain Rev. Michael White, C.S.Sp., cherished faith traditions of Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Native Americans were expressed eloquently and powerfully by words, song, dance and meditation. Student voices were present, too, delivering prayers of intercession.

Together, this comprised the University of San Diego's 23rd annual All Faith Service, built around the theme of "Care for Our Common Home." A traditional event that kicks off the first week of the spring semester, this year's presentation provided not only a beautiful cultural kaleidoscope of inclusion and diversity, but also served as a motivational call to action for everyone to take better care of ourselves, better care of each other and of the Earth.

Coming Together Through Faith

"I think it's so special for the different faiths to come together and create this tapestry, this garden of cultural diversity that is so beautiful. A garden with only one flower wouldn't be nearly as beautiful as a garden of many," said Daron Joffe, an organic/biodynamic farmer, educator and eco-entrepreneur who represented the Jewish faith at the Jan. 28 event in Shiley Theatre.

"And," Joffe continued, "it's so important in this day and age to be a part of a conversation, to be sharing traditions, seeing how similar and how beautiful the differences are, but coming together around this theme of taking care of our common home."

Inspired by Pope Francis' recent letter, his encyclical, Laudato Si, each moment of the 75-minute service gave the USD audience comprised of students, faculty, staff, administrators, President James Harris and wife, Mary, and even the participants themselves a deep feeling of togetherness and a common desire to act on caring for our home.

“I was honored to be asked to participate in it,” said Georgia Andresen, a senior psychology major who sings in the Founders Chapel choir. She and another senior, Jazz Tinsley, performed a short chorus after each faith tradition. Andresen also performed with three other choir members during the Christian offering. “Each time I’ve attended the All Faith Service, I’m floored by how different, but yet the common threads that are present in each of the inspirational songs, dances or talks.”

Karma Lekshe Tsomo, a Theology and Religious Studies professor, was pleased, too.

"There's definitely strength in unity," said Tsomo, who provided a Buddhist meditation focused on an expression of compassion and loving kindness for all living beings. With inner peace and respect for each other, the hope is to direct a greatly united focus on taking care of the environment.

"We're all interdependent now, we can't deny that. Climate change has made everyone intensely aware. ... If the different religions in the world can come together and unite our congregations behind some common themes, then I believe we have tremendous power to work and to help address these issues."

Offering Perspective

The mood throughout the All Faith Service was bright, poignant and thoughtful.

• Swami Harinamananda had the audience follow his lead and respond in unison during his vespers service, or arati, a Sanskrit word for light.

• Brother William Short, O.F.M., spoke about a poem by St. Francis of Assisi during the Christian offering and Founders Chapel Choir singers/USD students — Mackenzie Minehan, Michael Franklin, Mark Sasaki and Andresen — sang Marty Haugen's "Canticle of the Sun."

• The Muslim perspective was pronounced by words read by Banafsheh Farahbakhsh and beautiful music accompaniment from Farishah Barzin on tar and Masih Salafzoon on daf. "We were very happy to be part of this," said Farahbakhsh. "There was a great balance. It was very interesting to know that we're all different, but we are able to have a common thing, the same belief in the heart."

• The Native American presentation consisted of a beautiful music solo by Steve Garcia, a member of the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe. He then donned the makings of a gorgeous eagle and, along with Lakota herbalist Kathy Willcuts, performed a sacred and symbolic Eagle Dance. The dance is considered one of the most important traditional dances for the Hopi and other Pueblo tribes, telling the story of an eagle's daily life cycle.

"I always tell people that these feathers represent you," Garcia explained. "It's about taking your spirit and carrying it up because the eagle flies highest to the Creator. This dance does not belong to me, it belongs to everybody."

So does our common home.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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