Looking for hope? I found it in a shaman from Greenland, a shaman from Taiwan, a migration expert from Europe, an elder from Africa, and a spiritual healer from Central America. They opened a virtual gathering of spiritual and religious leaders from around the world.
The gathering began with land blessings from Indigenous leaders from five regions of the world:
- A shaman in Greenland. He gave an ice blessing to “melt the ice in the hearts of men.”
- A shaman from the Paiwan Indigenous tribe in Taiwan. She called on the ancestral spirits to protect the world from the pandemic.
- A Central Eastern European migration expert. She cast a protective, sacred circle and called on the old Slavic gods.
- A professor and Xhosa elder from Africa who invoked the ancestors. She emphasized the belief that “I am because we are…and since we are, therefore, I am.”
A Currandera Espiritu, a healer of the spirit, from the mountains of Central America. She blessed the waters of the world and called upon the Creator to bless humanity and all the animals so that life around the globe would continue.
This past October, I attended the 8th Parliament of the World’s Religions. The Parliament is an international, interfaith gathering almost 130 years old. Its first conference, held in 1893 in Chicago, is considered the beginning of the interfaith movement. I joined the 2021 conference –virtually– with over 4,000 attendees representing 244 different faiths, large and small, from 79 countries all around the world.
The conference spanned three days. It included 583 programs, panel discussions, religious ceremonies, and spiritual observations.
As I write this, 2022 is hours away. I don’t have to itemize the horrors of the last two years. The litany is long. Those who thought they could stay isolated from the rest of the world quickly learned that there is no wall – not in China, not in Mexico – that can stop a killer virus. The pandemic opened our eyes to just how small our planet Earth really is. In the words of astrologer Amma Li, “Our apertures on reality are expanding.”
Alongside the grim reality of a killer virus, the Parliament of the World’s Religions envisions “a world of peace, justice, and sustainability.” Their mission is “to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities; and to foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions to address the critical issues of our time.”
There’s no shortage of items on the list of critical issues the Parliament addressed. Here are a few: Climate change / biodiversity / deforestation / lack of access to clean water / discrimination toward the LGBTQ community, especially social justice and the transgender movement / violence toward women / the divine feminine / school shootings / hospice and grief counseling / the plight of refugees / a worldwide response to war, aggression and human genocide.
Separately, those critical issues are being addressed by governments, businesses, organizations, and nonprofits around the world. At the Parliament, I saw those same critical issues being addressed through the eyes of spirituality.
The Dalai Lama addressed the gathering, as did the Pope, as did author and activist Marianne Williamson, scholar Dr. Jean Houston, attorney and Wiccan priestess Phyllis Curott, and heathen Dianna Paxson.
Overall, presenters included Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Bahhais, Sikhs, Hindus, Pagans, Native Americans, Indigenous people. There were representatives of Celtic and Norse mythology, spiritual leaders from Africa, an Inuit shaman, a Mayan Curandera Esperitu, a Lakota grandmother, an African elder, and many more.
As you can imagine, the spiritual beliefs varied widely. Yet, these presenters and those of us in attendance gathered to support the Parliament’s Mission: “To cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities; and to foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions to address the critical issues of our time.”
An ambitious task? Oh, for sure! In fact, after these last two destructive years, I’d say the Parliament’s mission was a pipe dream.
But the more sessions I attended, the more I realized that while people may practice different faiths, or no particular faith at all, members of the Parliament don’t merely tolerate the beliefs of others. Members respect each other’s beliefs. Those beliefs may be attached to an organized religion. Or, in something “spiritual.”
What do I mean by “spiritual”? Different people will have different answers. For me, “spiritual” is a belief in something – an energy, a force, an idea, a philosophy – bigger than I am. That “something” makes me feel connected to everyone and everything else, that being part of something bigger also carries a responsibility to do more, to make a difference where I can. For me, that bigger “something” is Nature, the life-and-death story that unfolds in the cycles of seed, root, stem, flower, fruit, and back to seed.
I was raised in an organized religion. I left the church in my twenties. That’s when I formed my own checklist of what a religion had to provide in order for me to follow. My list had only 3 items:
- It had to make sense to me.
- It had to provide real comfort in times of sorrow.
- Living by its principles had to make me a better person than I would be otherwise.
For me, the church of my childhood didn’t measure up. I began a search for something else. I got cynical.
I’m not the only one to discard the beliefs I was raised with. According to the Pew Research Center, back in 2007, 16% of adults in the United States did not identify with any religion. In 2021, the number increased to 29%.
Another study from the Pew Research Center shows an increasing number of Americans self-identifying as “spiritual but not religious.”
At the Parliament, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama acknowledged a world made up of people who believe in one god, or in no god, or in reincarnation and said we all have an important role to play, that we all have the potential to bring about peace and harmony, that we have to be active. He called on us to remember that compassion is the seed of peace.
I’m not going to recap all three days of the conference. I just want to highlight a few. They give me hope. Maybe knowing that these conversations are happening will give you hope, too.
For instance, there was a plenary session on grief and another on hope. In “Bereavement of the World,” presenters talked about the impact of grief on the human spirit, about the “soul sickness” we feel when we see environmental destruction caused by fires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, the extinction of a species, the pollution of our oceans. Six experts on grief talked about how we can help heal our planet by having compassion for ourselves and each other.
In another presentation, panelists talked about how grief is taking a toll on the mental and spiritual health of our youth. Panelists noted that outside of organized religion society doesn’t offer the rituals we need to validate loss. I took heart. Not because of the situation itself but because I’m a Life-Cycle Celebrant. I create rituals. That’s something I can contribute.
Presenters also talked about how art, particularly poetry, music, and meditation, can be used to help today’s youth get in touch with grief, process their emotions, help them heal. Are you an artist? Get involved in your community. Volunteer.
The world is definitely not without hope. That was evident in the words of three women in a presentation titled “The Wisdom and Prayers of the Indigenous Grandmothers at This Time of Crisis.”
- Grandmother Flordemayo comes from a family of spiritual healers in the mountains of Central America. She is the founder of The Path, an organization “dedicated to the conservation and preservation of heirloom and heritage seeds.”
- YeYe Luisah Teish is an initiated elder in the Ifa/Orisha tradition of the African diaspora. She is the author of Jambalaya: The Natural Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals.
- Unci Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance is an Oglala Sioux who lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She is a Lakota keeper of the traditional ways. Much of her work is devoted to the struggles of single parents so they can best help their children.
There were Zoroastrian devotional songs, Sufi dances, a Pagan water ceremony, a Heathen ritual to honor the ancestors, an all–women Sikh worship service, a session on the Hindu belief in the divine feminine, the Great Mother. Recognition of the divine feminine continued in a reconstruction of an ancient Egyptian ritual to honor the goddesses Eset, the great goddess of compassion, Sekhmet the reliever of illness, and Maat, the goddess of truth and understanding and the greater good.
In another session, a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Lutheran pastor, and a Muslim imam shared personal stories and hard facts they’ve each used “in public and closed-door events to dispel myths, stereotypes, and conspiracy theories about religion and interfaith dialogue.” They also presented a framework that students and youth groups can use to discuss religions.
Yes, I know that the wounds of our world aren’t going to be healed overnight, or by any one person or group. If healing is to come, it will take time. It will take all of us working together. So, what can you do, right now?
Listen to episode 9 of this podcast. It was all about Spirit Spoons and a Magic Soup Ritual to Heal the World. The soup ritual is for a group. Creating and using a Spirit Spoon is something you can do on your own.
Simply select a spoon – a new one or an old favorite, dedicate it to your magical work, use it to stir something you’ve made – a soup, a stew, a sauce – something you’d like to share with others. The key is to build positive energy by stirring clockwise, the direction of the sun’s daily movement. As you stir, infuse your creation with your own blessings for the world.
If you can share your creation with others, do so. If Covid concerns prevent such sharing, envision others benefitting as you consume your healing creation.
For more details, here’s a link that will take you to the episode and the blog post.
Here’s a link to the website for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The next conference will be in 2023, back in Chicago. Plan ahead.
In the meantime, if you know someone who isn’t feeling all that hopeful about the world right now, please share this post. I know attending the conference helped me. Maybe hearing about it will help you, too.