In today’s interconnected world, it’s easy to observe how divided we humans have become. And, so it’s refreshing when a prominent world leader such as Pope Francis takes a high-profile stance in favor of setting aside longstanding differences of religion, ethnicity and political ideology to focus on our common humanity.
The esteemed former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan once said, “We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race.” I was reminded of that vision when I heard about the Pope’s recent visit to the United Arab Emirates. It was the first time that a Pope had ever visited a country in this predominately Muslim region of the world. By virtue of this historic trip, the Pope extended an olive branch between two of the world’s great religions whose adherents represent literally billions of people. As history can attest, Islam and Christianity have not always co-existed in peace, which is why the Pope’s message of mutual respect and dialogue was inspiring.
The courageous trip made me reflect on my own spiritual journey. Over the course of many decades, I’ve evolved my understanding of people from different religions, values and beliefs. When I was growing up, almost everyone I knew in my hometown were Protestants – Baptists, Methodists, members of the Church of Christ, or Presbyterians. One of my best friends was Catholic and another close friend, Ellen, was Jewish. Ellen’s family owned a dry-goods store in the rural Texas town where I grew up, and they kept their shop open on Sundays, a rarity in those days. One day, I asked her about why her parents kept their store open on Sunday. She explained that the Jewish Sabbath was on Saturday. I’d never heard of such a thing, but I was curious and asked her to tell me about her family’s faith.
I learned that Ellen shared many of the same teachings I had learned as a Christian. She knew about the Old Testament stories of Moses and Joseph; just not about Jesus in the New Testament. I realized as we spoke that we shared more commonalities than differences. My education and understanding of Judaism continued later in life. I took a job in Highland Park, Illinois, a community where almost half the population is Jewish. The many Jewish teachers and friends I met there embraced me and taught me many things about their rich religion.
I learned about the Torah, the Hebrew Bible. I visited a synagogue, attended Jewish funerals, and was a guest at several bar and bat mitzvahs. I used my experiences learning about Judaism as a bridge to discover the traditions associated with other great religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism.
After years of reflection, I’ve come to believe that this life was not meant for us all to worship in the same way. We must all follow our own path in our quest for spirituality. So whatever faith you follow, do things that make you feel reverent. Sing out loud. Dance. Go stand by the ocean and smell the salt and laugh as the waves wash up on the shore and spray your face. Live as if today is your last day, and if you wake up tomorrow, say thank you and do it all over again. Never lose your hunger to know more and experience as much as you can in this life. Like the Pope extending a hand to the Muslim world, try to meet and befriend people of different religious backgrounds, beliefs and life experiences. It will enrich your soul and help make this world a better place.
© Tyra Manning 2019