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. Follow Peter on Twitter.
As a Catholic, I often turned to Gregorian chanting for spiritual focus and meditation. In these hymns, I found an enchantment that journeyed beyond concepts of doctrine and creed and reverberated within a deeply transcendent, deeply mystical core of my being. On February 8, many individuals from the DePaul and Chicago community fought frigid temperatures to learn from, and meditate with, Sufis and Benedictines. While the first half of the night was dedicated to rediscovering a joy found in familiar Gregorian chants, the second half of the night was an invitation to something truly beautiful, a journey into the heart of what unites us as religious and spiritual beings.
After the Benedictine monks had ended their presentation, Shayk Abdur Rashied and members of the al-Haqqani Community Center offered the ceremonial dhikr, an Islamic devotional act that involves singing and chanting the Names of God. While I had never heard Sufis engage in the chanting before, I had studied Sufism and was aware of their status as a mystical dimension of the Islamic faith. The performance was a wonderful contrast to the solemn, contemplative Gregorian chants. Drums were beat, voices soared, and bodies swayed and dance energetically to the intoxicating rhythm of the dhikr. While the chanting was offered in Arabic, there was a power in the rhythm and beat that defied any need of understanding. Here was offered a language of the heart, a language of the soul. Here was a power that was found and offered not only by Gregorian chants and favorite songs, but a power found in a sincere, joyful outpouring of oneself, surrender to the world, an intoxication of life. That spirit animated the room that night as the Sufis swayed and sung in unfamiliar tongue.
I paused in my meditative trance to glance around the room. Many were engaged in head-bobbing and foot-tapping, even the Catholic monks. Here was an offered prayer that transcended religious boundaries, doctrinal claims, and engaged a spiritual melody of joy, of energy, of life, of love that is shared by all traditions and communities. Here, the essence of spiritual connection and fulfillment I had found in Gregorian chants was offered in a new light and in a different expression.
I left the event feeling refreshed, energized, and more aware of my surroundings and my place in a religious community and pluralistic society. I not only developed a new appreciation for the contemplative pursuits of my own faith tradition, but of the wonderful and inspiring paths offered by other traditions. The event affirmed my commitment to pursuing interfaith engagement and leading others to the realization that beneath the veil of our differences exists a beautiful, transcendent core that unites us.