We wish you a happy 2019!
No, that’s not a misprint. When 2019 rolls around, we hope and pray that we’re all able to look back on a year when we reached out to others in peace and unity.
Will this be the year, to quote priest and author Henri Nouwen, when “we lose our fear and even hostility toward people who are unfamiliar, speak another language, have another color, wear a different type of clothes and live a lifestyle that is different from ours”? Will this be the year that we turn strangers into friends? The year that we take the initiative to work for peace and human togetherness?
One way for us to do that is to get to know other people on a personal level. We can embrace the opportunities in our lives to spend time with people we don’t know. Two years ago, when Bob hosted a visitor from Syria, the woman told the story of a young activist who said, when she was about to be executed for her beliefs, “If you knew me, you would not shoot me.”
When we get to know people, they may surprise us. We may find out that we have more in common than we expected. We can start by just saying hello and greeting the people we see. Give someone a friendly smile. Invite a neighbor over for a cup of coffee or tea. Maybe even organize a neighborhood get-together. We can find out about the goals, interests and hopes that we share, rather than thinking about what makes us different.
When Bob traveled to Japan last October, he observed the respect that people often show each other in that culture. When you meet an individual in Japan, you acknowledge their presence by bowing to them. You honor their nobility as a fellow human being. God tells us that we’re all neighbors, no matter what country we live in. Our friends in Japan are different from us in looks, culture and lifestyle. But by taking time to get to know them, we learn that they have the same hopes and wishes in their hearts that we all do. We all want people to live together in respect and love.
Sometimes our difficulty is in taking the first step. We’re afraid that we won’t be accepted or welcomed. But great joy can come from spending just a few moments to exchange kind words or laugh with someone. Let 2018 be the year that we put our fears aside. We can rid ourselves of anger and suspicion and decide to see everyone in the best possible light. We can keep in mind that our way of living and believing is not the only way.
That’s what the Eau Claire interfaith community is trying to do. Our faiths share many of the same beliefs and goals. No matter what specific teachings we follow, we all want to make this world a better place. We believe it’s more important to be united than to be divided. And we believe that if we get to know each other, our hostilities toward individuals and their cultures and religions will diminish. With understanding comes peace.
The interfaith community comes together a few times a year to pray for harmony in our community and in the world. We leave our differences at the door. We come together as human beings who want to live in peace. We take the opportunity, after prayers, for hospitality and conversation. We get a chance to meet someone from another culture or a different background. We can listen to the thoughts of a Catholic priest, a Muslim imam, a Buddhist or a member of the Baha’i faith. We see that we’re more alike than different.
We invite you to take that first step toward human togetherness and attend the next interfaith prayer service on Wednesday.
When January of 2019 comes around, will we be able to reflect on a year when we got to know and love our neighbors? Do we want peace? Do we want harmony? Do we want human togetherness? Let’s do something in 2018 to bring peace, harmony and togetherness to our neighborhoods.
Bob Lesniewski is a monastic Catholic, a Benedictine oblate and organizer of the interfaith prayer services.
Amy Renshaw is a Baha’i and a writer for Brilliant Star, a kids’ magazine and website published by the Baha’ faith (brilliantstarmagazine.org).