This article was written by Peter Dziedzic, a sophomore at DePaul, who is pursuing a double major in Religious Studies and English. Peter is the co-President of DePaul Interfaith and member of the Executive Committee of the Better Together Campaign at DePaul University.
The 20th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Illinois began and ended in a way that solidified one of the great themes of interfaith engagement – we joined together in singing American folk songs, recalling the common narrative the binds our diverse religious and cultural backgrounds together, reminding us that among the many expressions of faith and spirituality, there is a thread that unites us as spiritual brothers and sisters. It unites our hearts in acknowledgement of the sacred mysteries and values of life, and turns our attention from fear and mistrust to joy and peace.
That thread is prayer.
We were introduced and exposed to expressions of prayer in a variety of traditions, ranging from Jews and Christians to Sikhs and Zoroastrians. Some sang, some spoke, some recited from holy scriptures, but in the varied means of prayer, we were united in our acknowledgement of life.The service followed the Papal Assisi Model, named for an interfaith day of prayer held by John Paul II in 1986, which calls for us to pray in the presence of each other. The Benedictine monks of St. Procopius Abbey graciously offered us their home and spiritual sanctuary so that we may build bridges that lead us beyond our limited understanding of each other and our traditions.
Sadly, those who support religious bigotry or discrimination do not take into account the fact that the most essential expression of spiritual fervor and faith, an outpouring of emotion and praise in communication with our experiences of the Absolute, is found in all traditions. Prayer has the power to be one of the most powerful uniting forces of religions, and in experiencing the prayers of other traditions; we find a link with our own spiritual tradition that sparks an understanding of our shared values and aspirations.
As Rabbi Bob, who is the Senior Rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim, a Reform Jewish synagogue serving DuPage and surrounding counties, stated in his welcome and introduction, “we share a desire to love our neighbors as ourselves…we gather in friendship and in gratitude.” Praying together, diverse in expression but united in purpose, confirms our friendship and common human gratitude, our shared love for each other and for the wonders of life.
Ending as we began, in singing American folk songs, we joined together, religious and cultural differences aside, in a prayer – a thanks for our livelihood, our possibilities, our freedom, and our commitment to a just world, reiterating themes we had experienced over the course of the night in the expression of a song known to all in the room. The power of this moment, of the materialization of this common thread in the vibrating vocal chords of many people with many backgrounds, truly inspired and cultivated my joy in the rising movement for interfaith cooperation.
I highly suggest that if anyone has the chance to pray with a tradition that is different from your own, to pursue the opportunity with an open heart and open mind, and embrace the commonalities that lie beyond our differences. It is an eye-opening, heart-rattling celebration of life.