Monday, May 8, 2017

Song and Spirit Institute for Peace's new location is, for me, at the intersection of interfaith and Kosen-Rufu

In a 2014 post about my experience with the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, I made the point that “being part of a religious community doesn’t necessarily mean you all have to practice the same religion.” The original worship services conducted at Song and Spirit are Christian and Jewish, and while I didn’t fit into either of those categories myself, I always felt spiritually at home there. 

Song and Spirit was an important part of my spiritual life from 2013 through early 2015, and I realized last Friday while attending my first Kabbalat Shabbat (Shir Hanishama) in over a year that it still is—regardless of the fact I now practice Nichiren Buddhism and no longer blend elements from different religions into my personal spiritual practice.

When I shifted my interfaith focus from shared worship to “the individual friendships and working relationships I have with people of other faiths,” the bonds I made at Song and Spirit were among the top of that list. I decided last weekend that the services at Song and Spirit can still fit into my spiritual life as celebrating sacred time with my friends, enjoying singing spiritual songs, and hearing the wisdom from Chazzan Steve Klaper and Brother Al Mascia, OFM, that transcends the contexts of their individual religions.

I don’t take the religious elements home with me to incorporate into my personal practice anymore, but I do take the warm memories of my experiences with my friends home with me—Even more so since last Friday’s Shabbat was the last one to be held at Song and Spirit’s original location in Berkley, Michigan. This summer, the organization will be setting up shop in a new space, and has already begun hosting some of its musical worship programming at Unity of Royal Oak.

Instead of feeling sad during or after the service as I looked around the cozy, vibrantly-colored combination library and worship space, I felt so grateful that I got to have one more heartwarming and soul-moving experience there.

I spent a lot of time at Song and Spirit’s Berkley building as both a worship participant and volunteer in 2013 and 2014, and I was pleased to notice that the positive vibration of those memories pre-empted any sense of sadness that could have come up. For sure there will be times I’ll think of how I’d love to be able to sit in that library again, walk those halls again, and socialize with the volunteers and the Duns Scotus friars there; regret and loss are feelings I’ve been working very hard to kick out of my life, though, and I was pleased to see how much progress I have made in not letting them crowd out my enjoyment of the present.

I hadn’t brought a camera, so instead I looked closely around the room during and after the service, to inscribe in my memory how everything looked and felt—The Shabbat candles, the beautiful rainbow-mosaic banners on the walls with the names of the Divine and the word “peace” in several different languages, the brightly-colored Tallis that the community made for Steve Klaper as a gift for his ordination as Chazzan which hangs over the altar-space, the stained-glass flaming bush (a community art project on which I assembled one of the leaves) atop the arc-cabinet housing the Torah, and of course the arc itself. I was struck by how much Song and Spirit's arc looks like a giant butsudan, so in my head I now think of it as the “Jewish butsudan.” 

Most importantly, I was so glad to re-kindle my relationships there, and though I won’t start attending every event again, I do look forward to participating with the Song and Spirit community in both the organization’s new headquarters and its new worship-space at Unity of Royal Oak. Song and Spirit hosts many interfaith educational opportunities, and I’m particularly interested in the Torah study that Chazzan Steve Klaper is thinking of re-instating, to help people understand key teachings and historical elements of the Old Testament that have been totally misinterpreted and mistranslated ever since Christianity removed them from their original Hebrew context.

While having more than one spiritual home used to feel like a crowded house that I needed to clear out some space in, I now see that there is enough room in my Buddhist home for participating with Song and Spirit as part of the interfaith component of my vow for kosen-rufu.

Image: "Interfaith Collective 2" by Karla Joy Huber, 2008 and 2015; Prismacolor and Sharpie marker

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