The Pope’s visit to America has dominated mainstream media for the past 3 days (some good news for a change). As he brought his message of love, charity, and care for those less fortunate from the Roman Catholic perspective (and generally made Congress and many American Conservatives uncomfortable), I was having my first Greek Orthodox experience at the wedding of a family friend.
Being somewhat of a religion junkie, I was enthralled by the surroundings as I sat in the church and took in the ornate and detailed paintings and other fixtures that adorned the altar, walls and ceiling of the church. The wedding began and I was comforted in hearing the back and forth chant between what I would call a Cantor and the Priest. They chanted/sang almost the entire service. The harmonic cadence in both Greek and English reminded me of the Friday evening Shabbat service at our local synagogue, where Hebrew and English are the norm.
The church provided a booklet with all of the prayers, in Greek and in English – also reminiscent of my years in Judaism. The few times we could sit I allowed my gaze to wander across the walls and ceiling – beautifully and busily painted with the stories of the Old Testament and the Gospel. I knew each story and thought about the strange dichotomy that existed in religions where we shared many of the same stories and yet for centuries have remained so far apart. I noticed the beautiful metal-covered bible that the Priest held and saw that embossed in the middle of the front was a beautiful star shape that had a decidedly Islamic influence.
I noticed too, the portrayal of Abraham, Sarah, Issac, Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel in the paintings and recalled the prayers (Avot v’imahot) from the traditional Hebrew service where we remember that the God we worship today is the God of our ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (and in modern congregations, the matriarchs are mentioned: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah).
Late last night as I replayed the events of the day, I thought back to that beautiful sanctuary and the simple messages I heard in Greek and English – messages I have heard for years in Hebrew and English; from Christian and Jewish perspectives and with Midwestern enunciations, Southern drawls, Brooklyn accents and Pittsburgh inflections. The world heard these same messages this weekend, in Italian, from Papa Francesco.
Caroline Myss describes religion as “nothing but the politics of god,… a costume party”, meaning that beyond all the categorization of religions, sects, sacred texts and rituals, …we’re all one underneath the costumes of our religious identification.
Wayne Dyer seemed to transcend religion of any stripe best in his comment that “when you have the choice of being right or being kind, choose kindness” which in many ways, echoes the message that Papa Francesco brought to the halls of Congress and shares with the world.
The convergence of similarities in religious experience from my own life came together this weekend in a fitting way as Papa Francesco continues to turn the traditional expectations for the leader of the Roman Catholic Church upside down. Aside from the controversy about women’s role in the church, and whether he did enough to address the church scandals of late, his message was a message as old as time; feed the hungry, care for the sick, clothe the naked, acknowledge the Divine Spirit that is alive within each and every person.
Humans have complicated this simple truth, but once we peel away the “costumes” and rituals it’s pretty clear: we’re all in this together.
We are One. And so it is.
Just prior to his departure, Pope Francis acknowledged the leadership role that the United States has in the world, and reminded all of us (likely targeting our elected officials) what Jesus said:
“…as you do to one of the least of these, you do it to me.”