By David McKenna
LISTEN TO THE TALK BY LAURENCE FREEMAN:
Fr. Laurence opened the day with a talk that would warm and open the hearts of many, not just to him as a man with an all-inclusive heart but to the all-inclusive heart of our WCCM community. All attending were deeply engaged by his presentation of the contemplative approach to reconciliation, peace and healing, in the aftermath of the experience of terrorism experienced in the City of Manchester on May 22, 2017.
Making reference to the unity of the people of Manchester, Fr. Laurence celebrated their strength of spirit as he showed how the contemplative way could be a common path toward interfaith understanding and appreciation. This involves more than merely responding with tolerance as we encounter the diversity of expression, worship, beliefs and approaches to God and the Divine. Rather, the contemplative dimension calls us to learn from one another about the actual richness and expansiveness of each of our traditions and of God, thereby transforming consciousness. He described how contemplation encourages us to continually re-affirm the positiveness of human nature and the world, rather than to hold onto destructive negativity, as we are tempted to do in the aftermath of tragedy and crisis.
The stillness in the Cathedral grew evermore as Fr. Laurence continued to unfold the way of contemplative practice, identifying the common characteristics among worlds differing traditions, specifically the need for a sacred space, entry into stillness and silence, being in the present moment, and the practice of a mantra or a sacred word. Just as quietly, naturally so, the 160 individuals in the Cathedral entered into meditation, creating a common silence together. After a short period of sharing over refreshments, Joanne Caine, WCCM Regional Coordinator for North Manchester and Lancashire, introduced a period of ecumenical prayers and words of wisdom, after which Rabbi Warren Elf offered his summary of the commitment of the Faith Network for Manchester to interfaith understanding.
Nidhi Minocha lead everyone through a tricyclic Hindu body prayer sequence. Other representatives, associated with the Faith Network for Manchester, contributed unique readings from Buddhism, Islam and Humanist. Maria Ellis, associated with “Peace Talks Oldham”, delivered her own beautiful, personal writings and reflections on the “Uncertainty Principle,” which many encounter on the path of contemplative experience.
Rabbi Elf then shared a beautifully sung prayer for world peace, with another prayer re-focusing on continuation of the work of interfaith understanding. Pat Higgins, WCCM Regional Coordinator for South Manchester, Cheshire and Merseyside, closed the period with a reading “Everything is One,” from John Main’s “Door into Silence. Following lunch, Caroline Uchima of the World Peace Prayer Society introduced the “International Flag Ceremony for Peace”. Each person participated in the ceremony, taking their turn in collecting and waving an international flag as a prayer for peace to prevail in that particular nation was uttered by all.
The bearing of international flags culminated with Fr. Laurence brandishing the larger Earth Flag, as all verbalised “May peace prevail on Earth.” The group then followed Fr. Laurence in a meditative walk around the cathedral to the second playing of “What a Wonderful World.” In the ambience of stillness and silence now permeating the Cathedral, we were settled into our second period of meditation after which Fr. Laurence offered his closing talk.
Making reference to “What A Wonderful World,” he spoke of our need to reaffirm and hold onto the positivity of life, of the world. Despite the magnitude of the crisis and tragedy around us, there is bountiful beauty and wonder in the world to focus on and to enjoy. And as we learn to more deeply understand and appreciate one another, we are able to play a greater role, faithfully and inter-faithfully, in contributing to and creating the wonder of the world.
Richard Broughton closed the entire day, as eloquently as he introduced it, with deep thanks to those who had dedicated their time and energy to make the day a meaningful experience for so many. Thanks especially to Fr. Laurence, Pat Higgins, and Joanne Caine, it was a profound day of unity, Oneness, much befitting our community’s interfaith outreach.