Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The 28th annual Interfaith Concert

Sikh Kirthani Jatha performs hymns

"A Celebration of the Sacred in Song, Dance and Chant," was held at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception just up the street tonight. A friend from grad school and his wife are in one of the participating choirs (The Metropolitan Baha'i Chorale) and very graciously gave me a couple of complimentary tickets.

It was well attended and quite enjoyable. Sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington, this is a regular feature, it seems, on the Capital's religious calendar every year. The Basilica hosts the event every three years.

Religious groups participating:
  • Native Deen (Muslim)
  • The Association of United Hindu and Jain Temples
  • Pushpanjali Dance Group (Hindu/Indian)
  • The Mount Vernon Stake Singles Choir (Latter Day Saints)
  • Fabrangen Fiddlers Band (Jewish)
  • Metropolitan AME Mighty Men's Choir (AME/Protestant)
  • SGI-USA New Century Chorus (Buddhist)
  • Sikh Kirthani Jatha
  • St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church Adult Choir
  • Metropolitan Washington Baha'i Chorale
I have to say, and I'm not being partisan, that the St. Francis of Assisi choir kicked butt! They gave a stunning performance of Palestrina's Sicut Cervus and another absolutely mystical rendition of a modern arrangement for Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (which is a prayer from the ancient Liturgy of St. James). [And why is it that when we're representing the rich Catholic musical heritage in an inter-faith event we'll trot out this kind of beautiful stuff that one is quite unlikely to hear in ordinary Catholic worship around the country?] The Mormons were neat too, and I've always enjoyed Sikh kirtans and gurbani. Native Deen performed a piece honoring the prophets of the Abrahamic religions -- a beautiful a capella Arabic chorus, with the verses in English rap!

Some stereotypes were challenged a bit: the Buddhist group was largely African-American and white. A reminder that American Buddhism is not necessarily an ethnic phenomenon at all.

And even though such events have a bhai-bhai* atmosphere, and are, especially in today's world climate, rather important (for instance, there's an inter-faith concert held annually in the Holy Land and, according to a priest who lives in Jerusalem, one of the few times that Muslims and Jews actually get together, along with Christians!), one doesn't have to go too far below the surface to witness some tensions: for instance, one of the pieces performed by the Baha'i chorus was a hymn composed to strengthen Baha'is facing persecution after the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. And, though the adhan performed by Native Deen was quite lovely, I must say, it was a bit startling to hear that Islamic call to prayer, proclaiming the greatness of Allah, and of his Prophet, resound through this beautiful Byzantine basilica.

Don't get me wrong: such initiatives are good and nothing unites people like lifting voices together in praise. And yes, there is the danger of simply adopting the relativism of the larger culture. However, people of different faiths coming together, not ignoring or trivializing our differences, but sharing in our common humanity, especially in our common humanity as religious creatures: now that's something to celebrate.

*bhai-bhai is a Hindi expression. "Bhai" literally means "brother." The expression signifies an artificial cordiality or friendliness, or a false irenicism (to use Papal language). Perhaps the most famous use goes back to Nehru's huge mistake with his China policy. "Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai" was how it was described, until the Chinese turned around and invaded India in 1962.


george wesley said...

With your permission I would like to excerpt from this post and link.

Gashwin said...

But of course, as long as there's a link back to this post. Standard blog ettiquette!

George Wesley said...

Thank you, Gaswin. I have re-posted today.