One man, reminiscing about his childhood when he had been told to retaliate first before someone else got him, spoke of his conversion to the Bahai Faith because of a gentle man he had met at work, a man by the name of Andy McCafferty. I knew Andy when he was a member of Glasgow Sharing of Faiths many years ago. He was a gentle man who spoke wisdom with sincerity and authority. Andy sadly died at a young age but his memory was rekindled for me yesterday and I realised how alive his influence still is. No matter what one believes about life after death it is certainly true that people's goodness lives on.
The story that most moved me was from two women, one Christian the other Muslim, who belong to a long established women's interfaith group. Together this group had travelled to Iona and their account reminded me of John Dunne's belief that the spiritual adventure of our time is to pass over to the faith of another and return to one's own challenged and changed. Of course they had adventures like missing the ferry and the weather being awful but it was the spiritual impact that stayed with them.
After attending the Christian prayer of compline that completes the day the group had recited Psalm 97 with the verse "Shame on those who worship images, who take pride in their idols". A Muslim woman asked how the Christians reconciled that verse with the images and ikons around in the chapel and why they did not listen to God's word! A direct question and one that led to a good discussion about the meaning of images in Christianity. Many a one would have hesitated about asking such a question but it says a lot about the depth and bonds of friendship that allowed the question with no offense taken. Often people say that interfaith has no teeth and is only about tea and cake but without the rituals of friendship hard questions can't be asked.
The Muslim woman talked of her pilgrimage to Mecca which to her mind was one of the holiest places on earth. She had often imagined the hills and desert where the Prophet Abraham's wife, Hagar, had run from one hill to another in search of water. But there were no hills or desert when she got there, only marble halls and chandeliers as people walked round the Kabah. On Iona there were plenty of hills and describing her visit to the House of Prayer she said " Walking back from there I could see the hills. It was like the missing piece of the jigsaw. I felt so spiritual. Some jigsaw pieces are here and some are there. God Almighty is everywhere"
May many more people experience this reality during this interfaith week.