(Editor’s Note: Noel Singleton, a Buddhist, asked whether Spirit of Abilene is exclusively Christian. The answer is “no.” Spirit of Abilene is an online faith forum, open to sharing spiritual messages, reflections, meditations, commentary, human interest stories, events of interest, anything with a spiritual connection. Contributions are welcomed from all faith traditions and all must meet the same guidelines, primarily that they be spiritual in nature and not libelous or hurtful to others. Any submission may be edited for libelous content, length, grammar, clarity, etc.)
By NOEL SINGLETON
This year’s National Day of Prayer went incredibly well, surely our community’s best yet – which stands to reason, as we prayed in advance for it to be so. We prayed, and the time is past for making excuses like, “The answer is not always ‘yes.’”
Humankind has a right to demand at this point that prayer/faith/religion actually work and make things significantly better, or else step aside and give other methods a chance. Recently I said our City Hall favors a “Christian-only” observance that would run counter to the constitutional promise of “no establishment.” Now I have to backpedal a little and perhaps even apologize, as City Hall was wonderfully affirmative in giving us access and okaying an inclusive event.
I’d spoken too soon and I was wrong.
City Hall was in fact outstandingly nice about it, even knowing that my civil rights issues concerning the NDOP bring a certain element of dissent – which put it on me as a Buddhist to be compatible, neighborly and not unduly vexing to the Christians. Their “unity” theme this year was of course hardly to be construed as encompassing other faiths (it didn’t sound like it even included Catholics!), and in all fairness I was agreeable to keep my heathen stuff a little off to the side, there. We try not to be overbearing.
Dr. Rob Sellers, retired religion professor from Hardin-Simmons University and chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and I agree on the merits of “harmony,” that it is a goal perhaps as worthy as “unity.”
I got there early, as it has pleased God that I be unemployed of late. I went to praying like mad for America, of course, but also entered the building and plugged in. I turned on the little guitar amp my son gave me and greeted arrivers with prerecorded music, while I set up and tested the bell mic and attempted to light incense, frequently pausing to take up prayer beads and chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo for our country.
The playlist I put together was meant to express the freedom and equality thing, and spiritual sentiment we religious outliers might share. Thus, “Higher” by Creed, “Shine” by Collective Soul, “What If God Was One Of Us?” by Joan Osborne and one old antiwar Dylan song called “With God On Our Side.”
As noon approached, I was asked whether I intended to knock it off pretty soon. Hey, I may have been a little extra cranky lately, but I’d have to be nuts to give up my belief in the respect that goes both ways, and freedom that means a full range of options, and equality that comes of ancient Greek and 18th-century French and European humanism.
The church organization went ahead and fired up all manner of amplifier technology and undertook the terrific prayers, praise, faith speech and music most people were expecting.
Me, I toned it down and prayed quietly (though not altogether silently) for realization of the good we all desire for our society and the world. When the Christians appeared to be wrapping it up, I switched on again and recited the essential and eternal passage of the Lotus Sutra and chanted the chant so all could hear, which leveled the astral playing field very nicely in the space of a minute.
Religion is as imperfect as government, and philosophy almost as limited — but faith is the electricity that can put an individual, a society or a planet right. I hope I was as respectful and love-based as my dearly departed wife and my Sensei would have me be.