Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Celebrating spiritual diversity and unity - Capital City Hues article
(Capital City Hues is also available in print at libraries and other venues
throughout the Madison area)

Interfaith Awareness Week
Celebrating spiritual diversity and unity

By Laura Salinger

Christmas is everywhere. A whole troop of Santa Clauses hang out at
stores and plastic ones adorn lawns. Lights are strung and car roofs are
weighed down by shedding fir trees. Christmas carols reverberate from
pulsing speakers in offices, banks, and shopping centers. Many enjoy the
cheer that has become a trademark of the Christmas season, but there are
those that would like to remind everyone that December is not only the month
of Santa Claus, but also a very spiritual and holy time for varying
religions and cultural organizations. There is the Wiccan Winter Solstice,
Hanukkah, the cultural celebration Kwanzaa, and the Muslim Holiday
Eid-Ul-Adha - to name a few. There is also a sense that rather than becoming
all-consumed with the holiday season, we need to take a step back and
remember the spirit of unity and goodwill that is reminiscent of this time
of year.

The second floor rotunda in the Wisconsin State Capitol was a reminder
of this. But one had to first avert their gaze from the huge edifice that is
hauled to the Capitol each December. It's impossible to miss the 35-foot
balsam fir State Christmas Tree (donated by the people of the Menominee
Nation) standing stoically in the center of the first floor Capitol Rotunda.
Traveling up the stairs one flight will give you a second story view of the
tree, which peaks up through the balcony of the second floor Capitol
Rotunda. But from early- to mid- December, a display created for the 10th
annual Interfaith Awareness Week also shared
space with the giant tree.

From Dec. 9-15, numerous events and religious/cultural activities
marked Interfaith Awareness Week - a week devoted to promoting awareness,
understanding and respect for the many different religions in Madison and
beyond. Organized by Rev. Father John Brian Paprock, priest of the Holy
Transfiguration Malankara Orthodox Mission in Madison and director of
Inroads Interfaith Ministry, the weeklong event celebrates religious
diversity and unity among different religions.

Rev. Paprock stands firm in his assertion that recognizing and
appreciating other faiths does not diminish one owns faith. In fact, he
stresses, it further affirms a person's faith. "We have this opportunity to
recognize that people are all different," Rev. Paprock said. "Most religions
say we should treat people who are different with love, trust, honor, and

He further adds that when people reach out to groups practicing
different religions, they often find that they have more in common than they

"We are trained from very young to discern differences," Rev. Paprock said.
"The truth is, we have more in common than we have different. The only way
to overcome ignorance and fear is through knowledge."

The Dane County executive, Madison's mayor, and Middleton's mayor have
all signed proclamations declaring Dec. 9-15, 2007 Interfaith Awareness
Week. The week deliberately coincides with Human Rights Day (Dec. 10), a day
created by the United Nations 60 years ago.

A wide variety of religions and organizations were represented as part
of Interfaith Awareness Week as a testament to the rich religious diversity
that resides right in our own backyards. Here is a small sampling of such
organizations and what they stand for:

The American Hindu Association
The American Hindu Association (AHA) is a non-profit organization
founded to serve Hindus. This Association was established in July 1998 with
the initiative of a few devotees. The devotees attending weekly services are
from various ethnic origins such as Canada, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri
Lanka and the United
Hinduism is the ceaseless quest of perfection of the human personality,
at the innermost depth of which is found the truth of God. The sages of
Bharath (ancient India) understood the psychology of the human mind and
devised methods for an individual to attain this knowledge based on his
temperament, background and the time of his existence. This makes the
religion very diverse and maybe even very complex if not seen with an open
mind. But a sincere aspirant will definitely achieve the purpose, if he can
think and apply the wisdom of the sages. This is what the religion is all
about - Practical application of time tested ancient wisdom. Time and again
highly evolved souls enter the realm of our existence to practically guide
and encourage us, they could be avatars (divine incarnations) like Rama and
Krishna or spiritual masters like Sankara, Ramanuja or in more recent times
like Swami Vivekananda, Swami Sivananda or Mata Amritanandamayi.
Bharatavarsha (India) is a spiritual land, many great saints have walked its
soil since time immemorial. The lives of these great souls will inspire and
motivate anyone aspiring for the knowledge of the truth. - (From the
American Hindu Association Website)

The Baha'i Faith
The Baha'i Faith is an independent world religion with adherents in
virtually every country. Baha'is around the world represent nearly all
nationalities, classes, trades, and professions. Its membership of over 5
million is comprised of people living in more than 116,000 localities in
over 188 countries and 45
territories. The central principles of the Baha'i Faith are the oneness of
God, the oneness of religion, and the oneness of humankind. The Baha'i Faith
promotes the unity of humankind and the establishment of worldwide peace
providing solutions to problems that have been barriers to the achieving
these goals. - (From
the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'i of the United States)

Westminster Presbyterian Church (on Interfaith Dialogue)
We are called to relate to people of other faiths in full humility,
openness, honesty, and respect. We respect both others' God-given humanity
and the seriousness of their spiritual quests and commitments. It is our
Christian faith in the Triune God and our intention to live like Jesus, not
our cultural standards, that
require this of us. - (From "Interfaith Dialogue," Presbyterian Church,

Temple of Diana
We are a Goddess and woman-centered, earth-based, feminist denomination
of Wiccan religion. A vibrantly creative and evolving Women's Mystery
tradition, Dianic feminist Wiccan tradition is named after the Roman Goddess
Diana (and Her predecessor, the Greek Goddess Artemis) guardian of women and
wild nature. Dianic rituals celebrate the mythic cycle of the Goddess in the
earth's seasonal cycles of birth, death, and regeneration and as Her cycles
reflect women's own life-cycle transitions. - (From Temple of Diana, Inc.)

Unity of Madison
Unity of Madison is a heart-centered Spiritual Community. We live the
Christ Consciousness of Acceptance, Love, Peace, and Joy. Our purpose is to
inspire, nurture, and empower all people in their spiritual growth. We
provide creative worship, joyful gathering and educational programs as we
teach and live the message of Jesus. - (From Unity of Madison)

Holy Transfiguration Malankara Orthodox Syrian Mission Parish
Led by Rev. John Brian Paprock
Simply put, Orthodox Christianity is the most ancient expression of
Christianity, kept alive in historical continuity, to the present day.
Neither "liberal" nor "conservative" in the common use of those terms,
Orthodox theology predates many of the current issues dividing churches that
follow a variety of interpretations of Scripture. Much of our faith is based
on oral traditions that continue in the Orthodox Church. If you are visiting
our Sunday service, you will experience a form of worship that dates back to
before the Fifth Century. - (From Holy Transfiguration Malankara Orthodox
Syrian Mission Parish)

Other religions and organizations that were represented included Deer
Park Tibetan Buddhist Center, Dialogue International, Episcopal Church of
Wisconsin, Greater Madison Interreligious Association, Islam, Judaism,
Moravian Church, Roman Catholic Church, Sikh, the Sufi Order of the West,
United Methodist
Church, Wisconsin Satsang Society, Yuletide by Circle Sanctuary, and other
area Pagan churches.

Based on this list, it is obvious that the intention to gather a very
diverse group of religious organizations has been successful. Peace and
understanding, despite differences, seem a common goal. Rev. Paprock best
sums it up in a blog for the Interfaith Society; "We live in a global
society where faith traditions, religions, spiritualities collide," he
wrote. "We need to engage in the space between our faith traditions, so that
rather than colliding and fighting, there can be peace."

  • Buy "Neighbors, Strangers and Everyone Else" a book by Rev John Brian Paprock