“I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of ward bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship and happiness………….
Do not think the peace of the world an ideal impossible to attain! ……… do not despair! Work steadily. Sincerity and love will conquer hate. How many seemingly impossible events are coming to pass in these days!
Take courage! God never forsakes His children who strive and work and pray! Let your hearts be filled with the strenuous desire that tranquillity and harmony may encircle all this warring world”.
With these thoughts in our heart, praying for peace for those places we were about to visit we hoped that our walking together and entering into the world of a faith different from our own would
“be a foreshadowing of what will , in very truth, take place in this world, when every child of God realises that they are leaves of one tree, flowers in one garden, drops in one ocean, and sons and daughters of one Father, whose name is love.”
Our first visit was to a local Synagogue in time to share in their Shabbat service. What a wonderful welcome they gave us. It’s a privilege, I think, to be welcomed in to someone else’s world, whether it be their home or their worshipping community. It’s a risk because it involves a certain vulnerability as it’s possible others might be overcritical or judgemental. It demands openness and friendship and hospitality. Those of us visiting too need to be open and set aside our own expectations, assumptions and judgements and enter into the new experience. It was easy to do this at the Synagogue because the singing was so beautiful. We could let the music waft over us even though we didn’t understand any Hebrew. Central to the service is the procession with the Torah Scroll which is greeted with obvious joy and reverence before being read. For Jews this is a living Word which connects them to God. Sitting there in the Synagogue I was very aware of being part of a great ocean of tradition going back centuries and felt quite sad when the Torah scroll was put back in the Ark and the curtain drawn for another week. Traditionally the service is followed by Kiddush i.e a blessing said over bread and wine with tea and cakes which gave plenty of time to talk to the community who were so happy to have us with them.
Our next visit was to a new Gurdwara about half a mile from the Synagogue. It’s a magnificent building, not long opened and central to it, too, is the Word of God contained in the Sikh Holy Book, the Guru Granth Sahib. We were lucky enough to be there on a day when there was continuous reading from the Holy Book. Read in Punjabi we sat in the prayer hall and let the words waft over us and enter into us just as we had in the Synagogue. While the Gurdwara was indeed magnificent it was also simple with the focus being on the Holy Book which, for Sikhs, is a living Word as the Torah is for the Jews. Sikhs the world over are known for their hospitality. Second to the prayer hall in any Gurdwara is the Langar, the kitchen and dining area in which food always seems to be available. I don’t know how the community does it. Recently we had a Burns Supper there and the community happily and generously fed 138 of us. Yesterday we too were served a meal, generously and happily before being shown round the building.
Yesterday’s pilgrimage was short but memorable. It allowed us to enter into the world of another, to see how central the Word of God is to both traditions even though they were different in so many respects. But it is the warmth of the hospitality offered by both communities that will stay with us. I hope we Christians are as hospitable when it comes our turn to welcome others.