…you unconsciously give others permission to do the same.” – Marianne Williamson
Some people just have an incredible, innate ability to inspire. You can just tell that they have come in touch with their own connection to the divine (a connection I believe each of us has, but which some have a harder time finding than others). These are people who have a certain light, a certain joy.
These are people I met at Coming Together 6.
Enter the Hindu student who was teased for his faith in middle school. Determined to build understanding, he set out on a journey in high school to learn about the other religions out there. He studied with Mormons in their early-morning before-school classes for a year. He lived in a Buddhist monastery for a summer. He grabbed on tight to every opportunity that he could, making friends and building connection along the way.
Enter Elizabeth Davenport, the charming British Dean of UChicago’s Rockefeller Chapel (yes, those Rockefellers), who played the bongos on our first night and had us look around the table and tell people that we loved them with our eyes.
Enter the Muslim UChicago divinity student who is training to be a hospital chaplain. Or another divinity student who said that out of being gay, socialist, and Jewish, the Jewish part was the hardest for his evangelical family to cope with. Or the Mormon doctorate student struggling with the flaws of his church but still dedicated to the family of believers.
Yes, there were panels and events and speakers and important educational opportunities at Coming Together. And I fully appreciated them (might I also mention that I fully appreciated the chocolate-covered strawberries and cake pops at the dessert reception?). But what was most meaningful to me were the human experiences–the conversations over dinner, the chats in between events, the deep late-night conversations while finding the secret stairway to the very top of the cathedral-like chapel, with the best view on campus.
One of my favorite ways of understanding our relationship to the divine is through the Quaker metaphor of an inner light. I like to think of it as a candle.
On one of the nights of the conference, a wonderful Middle Eastern music group called the Yuval Ron Ensemble (its members are Muslim, Jewish, and Christian, and their aim to build peace through music), played a concert at the chapel. The final song was very simple–the words were, “Shalom…Salam…Hallelujah.” They were repeated, over and over again, beautiful and trance-like. Yuval Ron and his fellow musicians stood up and encouraged us to join in. “Shalom…Salam..Hallelujah.” Our words echoed in the vast spaces of the chapel, warm and filled with melody.
And as we sang it, a cappella, all of us in harmony, I couldn’t help but envisioning hundreds of tiny candles, one burning deep in the heart of each person. The longer we sang, the more they blazed together into brilliant light. I may have gotten teary-eyed. It was beautiful.
Enter the future peacemakers.