EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Deep questions were pondered and insights were offered by clergy members who spoke at the Interfaith Dialogue hosted by the township of East Brunswick earlier this week at Playhouse 22. As a note to underscore the significance of the event, Freeholder Ken Armwood stated, "In a world full of hate, we've got to inject love somewhere." In this case, the movement toward love began with a deeper sense of understanding of how truth is revealed in 4 worldwide religions.
Each cleric spoke about the topic of revelation, the unfurling of truth and the rules that define God's relationship with His people. Ushering in the discussion, Mayor Brad Cohen began with the assertion that " Every religion has a rich and vibrant past. The character of an individual person influences how that person interprets sacred texts. If you seek to live in harmony with others, you will. if you seek to raise your children to live in harmony, they will. It is not scripture that makes us different. It is often a weakness of character or a lack of self-worth."
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer of Temple B'nai Shalom began by addressing the question, "What happened on Mount Sinai?" He discussed the receipt of the sacred books of the Torah by Moses. The Torah are the first five books of the Bible ascribed to Moses, as revealed to him by God. Said Eisenkramer, "The Torah provides the ethics and history of the Jewish people." People were terrified of the circumstances around these revelations, suggested Eisenkramer, who noted that Moses was sent back up Mount Sinai to receive the commandments on his own.
"How do we deal with the parts of the Torah that we find challenging?" posed Eisenkramer. The rabbi noted that some of the teachings reflect the times in which they were written. "Some specifics are still evolving." He suggested that, for the Jewish people, revelation comes through an examination of the sacred texts and the consideration and enactment of the ethics provided in them.
Father Tom Walsh of St. Bartholomew's Roman Catholic Church said that revelation is "the unfolding word of God, something for which we are thankful." Walsh pointed to the Hebrew scriptures and the 4 gospels that appear in the Christian Bible. The revelation of God's Word through Jesus teaches Christians to build bridges and to work for the benefit of all humanity, to reflect on what it means to be a man or woman of faith in the world."
Father Tom said that Catholics are taught a way of knowing God through "image, language and metaphor," a more literary view of revelation. He pointed to the stories told by Jesus and the images he drew to better communicate with people about how they should conduct themselves. "The heart of revelation is the incarnation of God in Jesus," said Fr. Tom. "It is important to look at one another not as adversaries, but as children of God."
Sami Catovic of New Brunswick's Islamic Center said, "Revelation is the heart of all our faith traditions. "For Muslims," he continued, "there is a tradition of prophethood. God would send individuals to be the guides of their people." In the Koran, the sacred text of Islam, "there are 25 prophets, beginning with Adam and culminating in Muhammed. Jesus is seen in the line of these prophets who reveal, disclose the sense of God's one-ness and transcendence. They teach us how to live a good life."
Catovic instructed the group of around 150 community members in attendance: "The Koran was revealed to Muhammed over a period of 23 years in the Arabic tongue. The language is important to preserve, as is the Arabic culture. There are three themes in the Koran; the notion of the one-ness and unity of God; the stories and events in the lives of the prophets; and the accountability of people for how they have lived their lives." Catovic also suggested that Muslims should "read" the world around them because "the book is nature." He concluded by inviting all present to attend services during Ramadan, the holy period of fasting which occurs in June, at the Islamic Center.
Dr. Mayurikaben Doshi of the Jain Center of New Jersey in Franklin Township presented the idea that revelation is ongoing until a soul is freed from impurity, a journey which may take several lifetimes. He focused on the "presence of the past in the present and future," s concept that central to the cyclical idea of life and death in reincarnation. "At the center is non-violence. No mourning, sorrow, restlessness or pre-occupation with possessions. Purify yourself and meditate." Doshi added that the best way to purify oneself is "by forgiveness."
Revelation, it seems, can enter the heart and mind through an understanding of law and stories, through the lives of prophets and a direction for life; through a constant cycle of purification.
Lots to think about on a spring Sunday night in East Brunswick. As Freeholder Armwood said of the scheduling of this first interfaith session, "You have dedicated yourself to making change in your township." What a revelation.