Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

The agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster for Interreligious Dialogue

Westminster Interfaith Newsletter

Issue 65 – February 2010

Music from the Faiths

Multifaith events to foster inter faith harmony have become quite common in many parts of the country in recent years. Some are held on the occasion of a religious feast of a particular Faith like Christmas or Diwali, others are held on the occasion of One World Week, while others are more based on culture such as food or dress. To mark the Inter Faith Week, an initiative of the Inter Faith Network for the UK and the Department of Communities and Local Government, the Hounslow Friends of Faith held a musical concert. Believed to be the first of its kind, this was a concert of religious music from different Faiths held at the Watermans Art Centre in Brentford on a wet Saturday evening in November. What made this concert special was the fact that the Faiths that have a presence in Hounslow took part and that the pieces sung and played were hymns, chants and prayers that are actually used during services in the places of worship in the Borough. It was therefore a very prayerful and spiritual experience which is why the audience was requested not to clap at the end of each item but was welcome to give a round of applause for all who took part before the interval and at the end.

The value of music and song in prayer was highlighted by the compere at the start noting that prayer that is sung by a congregation has a unifying effect. St Augustine’s saying that he who prays singing, prays twice, was recalled. There is a saying in the Talmud that there is a mansion in heaven whose doors are only opened by music. And it was the Indian poet saint Kabirdas who wrote: “My brother, it is those who sing of the ever pure glories of God who are close to my heart”. The programme booklet distributed to the audience had English translations of the Jewish, Hindi, Punjab, Arabic and Latin texts.

What emerged from this programme was the fact that although there are differences between the faith traditions, music and song betray much that unites them. For instance, Jews, Anglicans and Russian Orthodox contributions were all from the same source: the book of Psalms in the Bible. It was interesting that an Anglican group sang in Latin while the Catholic group stuck to English. Similarly, the Hindu and Sikh pieces were from the same poet saint, Kabirdas. When the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib was composed, some songs of Kabirdas were incorporated in it. The lyric from Kabirdas sung by the Hindu lady is a gem. In English it could be translated as; “When I was born, all around were overjoyed but I was crying. When I died, all around cried but I was overjoyed” (because I was united with my Lord).

This was not a song contest. It was a sampling of how people of faith opened their heart to God, how they adore, thank, make petitions and intercessions in languages and forms of music developed in different cultures. It gave the audience a flavour of the universal, the global richness of the human family reaching out to God. The three-minute-silence by a Quaker group reminded the audience that there is another way of communing with God, a way that is beyond words. The Absolute is beyond sound and images. Communing too, implies an active passivity, a humble, silent waiting to receive and be filled with Love.

It is hard to put in words the joy experienced by the audience at the end of this concert. It all started with an idea that the secretary of the Hounslow Friends of Faith had, of trying something new. The hard work Bessie White and her associates put into this project, the cooperation of the faith communities and the response of the audience itself all contributed to the success that this event was. We hope God accepted this small effort at bringing some unity in a divided world.

Alfred Agius

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