When Jewish families and communities sat down for the Passover Seder recently, they were reflecting on the story of their escape from slavery in Egypt. Jews remember this and celebrate Passover as a reminder that oppression continues to this day — anywhere a minority is discriminated against or terrorized. This memory was important to the enslaved African-Americans who sang “Let My People Go.” They saw the parallel.
Passover, this year, came at the same time as the Christian Easter and Islam’s Ramadan.
Passover, Easter and Ramadan are among the many religious traditions that hold important messages no matter what one’s personal faith is. It enlightens us all, if only we would listen.
Unfortunately, in many religious traditions the strangeness of a different religious faith is a barrier to new ways of looking at the human condition. It may even feel heretical. But paying attention to the larger meaning rather than the narrow theology can enrich us.
In the Unitarian Universalist tradition we seek to recognize the wisdom of all the faiths. As noted above, Passover is a moving reminder of the pain of oppression and slavery. The Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur, is a time when Jews are supposed to rectify the misdeeds they’ve done and atone for those acts. I find it one of the most meaningful of holy days. All of us would be advised to do much the same.
Easter, in the Christian tradition, has many meanings. It can be seen as centering around a death of a teacher who was viewed as a threat by the establishment. That teacher, Jesus, urges us to love one another. He cautions against the love of possessions and urges that we provide charity to those who are less fortunate. Whether one believes in the resurrection or not, Jesus’ life and words have tremendous value to us all.
Likewise, Christmas is celebrated for the birth of a child who was to grow to teach us about God’s love. In a way it can be a seen as a celebration of the birth of every child and the potential each has to contribute to our world.
At the same time, this year, followers of Islam are marking Ramadan. This month-long festival involves fasting from sunup to sundown. Ramadan is much like Lent in Christianity — it is a time of reflection. It is a time when charity and community are emphasized.
When we had Muslim students living with us, we’ve found they placed a great emphasis on charity and community — important in all traditions.
Islam also calls on its adherents to pray to Allah at regular times throughout the day. One of our Muslim students said these prayers may feel a great deal like meditation, giving people the chance to slow down, change pace and remind themselves of their faith.
Knowing about other faiths and finding the wisdom in their messages doesn’t require rejection of one’s own faith. This is particularly true when we consider some of the elements all traditions held in common: the love of the Creator, the importance of community, the value of charity, and the value of faith.