Answers in Action
Freshman Kathryn Kemp explores the question, “Why Interfaith?”
Since the time you first began to talk, questions have been inescapable. Your first words may have included “mama, papa”, or some convoluted form of the family pet’s name, and surely your parents were in awe of how much you learned as well as making a point to tell every living relative. But one day the show-stopping word came along that jumpstarted learning for the rest of your life:
While back then you were probably more concerned with the reasons why ice cream wasn’t a major food group rather than with the nature of the known universe, this pesky little question lies at the root of academic inquiry and the root of religious faith for countless people around the globe in our the search for ultimate explanations about the world around us. Over four days in early October, I joined a group of fellow Davidson students as we abandoned the how’s and why’s of academics and instead dove into the realm of religion, faith, and ultimate questions. Through visiting the various houses of worship in Washington, DC, I gained a renewed respect for the ways that all religious faith traditions provide not only an avenue for answers but a sense of connection, community, and purpose for each individual within their life.
In addition to exploring the Jewish, Hindu, Orthodox and Islamic traditions, we participated in multiple service projects throughout the city, including preparing food at a homeless shelter and volunteering at the elderly community center. As I thought about how these projects connected to my own faith journey, I began to realize how service and action in the face of pain are inextricably connected to any expression of faith. As we grow, face hardships, and recognize the struggles of others all around us, that pesky little question rears it’s head again; “Why does this happen? How can such pain exist in a divine universe? Where was God?”
Well, maybe a better question is… where were we?
Often times having complete and infallible answers to these ultimate questions becomes so important in our minds that we forget that how crucial our own action is to their resolution. We can ask and ponder all day long, but it is only in taking action for the good of others that we are truly responding to this divine challenge of humanity. While wandering through the church that served as our our home base throughout the trip, I came across a passage posted on the wall which related perfectly to our journey in the city. Written by Rachel Remen, it read: “Service rests on the basic premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose. Fundamentally, helping, fixing and service are ways of seeing life. When you help you see life as weak, when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole.”
Interfaith learning and action embodies this mission of service, as it honors the “whole-ness” of others, no matter their differences in daily hardships, cultural practices or religious views. Revering the common connections within humanity is the foundation of compassion and of the healing process, and with this attitude of service we recognize that the work of our hands is a fundamental way we express the divine good. Yes, at the end of the day, we might still have questions. We might choose to answer them differently. But rather than a pop quiz in which we hope to earn a gold star, faith is a journey, a holy mystery in which we all take part. And it is often the hardships in life that force us to look past our own opinions, beliefs, and disagreements, and instead work together to end the struggle, honoring life as whole.
“Why” might you ask?
Because in order to overcome it, we all have to believe that love, compassion and community are stronger than anything that makes us different.