” … an omen as welcome as the moon in a clear blue sky…”
— Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
I went to a wedding in Portsmouth this week. In a historic New England seaport, in a Roman Catholic church, I witnessed the joy of a Maronite wedding ceremony uniting a young woman of Lebanese heritage with a young man of Iranian, Shi’a, background. The blending of the church’s Eastern and Western rites, combined with the generous integration into the liturgy, by the Maronite priest, of a poem by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a 13th-century Persian Muslim poet, “This Marriage/Ode 2667” — “May this marriage be full of laughter, our every day a day in paradise” — reminded me of the beauty of this new interconnected, global, interdependent world which our young people have embraced so enthusiastically, and which has so much to teach us all if we will only open our hearts to it.
The young challenge us daily. Most of us think about diversity and imagine it’s a good thing. Our young people, our daughters and sons, live diversity on a daily basis without even thinking about it. They live without borders. Without acknowledging it they are responding to a hadith attributed to the prophet Muhammad that implored, “Seek knowledge even as far as China.” They read, learn and imagine a future free of the constraints that we, an older generation, have trouble getting our minds around. We get nostalgic about a past that will never return. They see the promise of the future.
Around my life on a daily basis, and around the church on Friday, I witness:
A young Maronite marrying a Muslim. A young Muslim woman dating a young Hindu whose family came from South India. Interracial couples. Married gays. Priests and Muslims and Jews side by side. A young Jewish friend speaks of his activism on Palestinian issues as a re-affirmation of his Jewish religious tradition. A Palestinian student from the West Bank speaks, movingly and quietly, of his visit to a concentration camp in Germany and helping to clean a graveyard where Holocaust victims are buried. Humbly, he explains how the visit changed his life.
A young woman gives up a year of college to teach in one of America’s troubled inner cities. A Korean girl, raised homeless in Seattle, sends Christmas greetings from her law offices in San Francisco. An Afghan woman, raised in Kabul by unconventional parents who believed that all children, boys and girls, should be educated, has become a feminist working to empower women, all women, to be partners in shaping new, just societies.
In the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Friday I witnessed one of those dreams.
I’ve known the bride since her high school days and am so proud of all she has accomplished with grace and hard work. After a brief honeymoon the newlyweds will return to their assignments — as diplomats working on America’s behalf in a dangerous part of the world. Daily, they use their considerable intellectual, language and cultural talents to try and make the world safer for the rest of us. Think of them in your prayers.
For young people today, race, religion and sexual orientation are simply non-factors in relationships. To them, someone being gay is no different than someone being left-handed. Someone being African, or Asian, is no different than someone coming from Kittery Maine, Portsmouth, N.H., or Sicily, Italy. Their friendships are based on character, love and mutual interests, on shared capacity for compassion, tears and laughter, rather than on the color on one’s skin. Peace and social justice matter more to them than social standing.
Share this pew with me. Be mindful of the Beloved. Pray. Contemplate creating an inner reality of everyday life that embraces both peace and passion. Find a moment to step outside and welcome the moon in a clear blue sky.
Witness a new emerging narrative. Today, on New Year’s Day, let me gift to you Rumi’s “The Guest House.” I invite you to join me in praying for the success of the global and inclusive community our young people, the left-handed, the diplomats, the dreamers and the builders, are trying to build.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.