Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
May 02, 2012
Kanwal Prakash Singh
INTERFAITH MINIVERSITY: RELIGIOUS NEIGHBORS IN STUDY AND COMMUNITY
BRIDGING THE FAITHS THROUGH THE ARTS
Northminster Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana USA
May 2, 2011
A recent interfaith spiritual gathering, “Bridging the Faiths Through the Arts” was hosted by Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, and Northminster Presbyterian Church. Sacred arts and architecture, music, Taize chanting, dance, and discussion took center stage in various sessions. The conference was presented by the Interfaith Miniversity: Religious Neighbors in Study and Community and aims to explore different facets of our faith and spirituality. KP Singh, a published author, engaged citizen, and interfaith leader was invited to give the keynote address.
REFLECTIONS OF THE SACRED IN THE ARTS AND ARCHITECTURE
Keynote Address: Kanwal Prakash (KP) Singh
All around us, we see elements of designs: in human creativity, in the master plan of Creation in myriad manifestations, and in ideas and images that fascinate, inspire, and intrigue us. The arts translate what we see and imagine, create special experiences that move and educate us about life and human spirit.
ARTS REFLECT THE SOUL OF CULTURE AND SPIRITUALITY
The arts are the soul of culture and spirituality; they define and mirror our humanity, offer us a glimpse of the sacred in myriad imaginative interpretations. The arts are a rich repository of human history, cultural legacy, and spiritual heritage. The arts form an intrinsic part and the universal language of worship and veneration, architectural designs, and traditional rituals in all cultures and communities.
We can hardly underestimate the healing power of the arts as the timeless messenger for the spirit.
ARTS CELEBRATE AND CAPTIVATE HUMAN IMAGINATION
The arts enrich the human universe through imaginative sensory portrayals and creative expressions that highlight beauty, surprise and splendor as well as milestones, mystery, and marvels in Nature, Creation, and the human experiences. The arts reflect an intense human yearning and a primordial passion to see our known and unseen universe through creative lenses, unusual prisms, and imaginative landscapes.
ARTS ADVANCE HUMAN CREATVITY AND CIVILIZATION
The arts provide us the expected and traditional window and the unexpected thought-provoking sights and sounds of the familiar, imagined, and exalted areas of the human spirituality. The arts offer us a rich legacy in multiple media of the awesome splendor, majesty, and mystery of our world in all its myriad manifestations and dimensions. Over the centuries, the arts have made immeasurable contributions to serve life: groundbreaking advances to life sciences, building arts, architecture, social and cultural education, environment, and to the evolution of ideas, sacred precepts, and human creativity.
There are missing links in what we have inherited. Many priceless artistic treasures have been lost due to neglect, shortsighted expediency, ravages of time, wars, and wanton destruction. We wonder about the fate of surviving irreplaceable architectural, cultural, and spiritual heritage, and whether we would be responsible stewards and the outstanding treasures of the past will have an honored future?
ARTS GIVE LIFE AND FAÇADE TO SPIRITUAL PRECEPTS
The arts are spirit-inspired; sacred arts lift our spirit, reinforce our faith in things far grander, indescribable, and mysterious than we can believe, or imagine. They capture our imagination with their living splendor; transport our thoughts to an exalted consciousness and make alive spiritual precepts.
Sacred architecture: a church, mosque, synagogue is not just an envelope of space with inlaid marble and gilded walls, its form and shape not just reflect its function, but it takes on the aura of a living entity where people gather: for fellowship, to hear sacred music, witness and learn about faith traditions.
Our understanding of the universe is anchored in faith revelations, scientific discoveries, and visual encounters. Iconic multifaceted images and interpretations offer us a window to the journey of human civilizations through the ages. Throughout history, the arts have been our timeless and illuminating tablets and tapestries: to know and celebrate Life through breathtaking marvels in music, paintings, stones and stained glass, precious metals and gemstones, a wide variety of media, mosaics, sacred relics, and masterful creations. Arts often crossed the familiar frontiers of Life and placed our spirit at the doorsteps of sacred, amidst the icons and happenings recorded in religious scriptures, hoping to connect our thoughts and souls to regions and realms beyond our earthly landscapes.
PATRONS OF ARTS AND BUILDERS OF “CATHEDRALS”
Everyone has been the beneficiary, but traditionally the arts have been often the domain of the powerful rulers, influential dynasties, and religious institutions that have been among the most ardent patrons of the arts. Employing, often time exploiting, the best talents of the time, they built grand monuments for opulent living, to display power and glorify self, honor cultures and the faiths that they embraced. The arts paid a reverential attention to Nature and Creation: incorporated familiar, native, and traditional elements - sunlight, water, landscape, shapes and space designs, materials and architectural styles to enhance the visual, sensual, and spiritual environment and experience. They created magnificent and majestic “cathedrals” and ornamented them with awe-inspiring treasures. Over the centuries, the masterful geniuses spared no effort to create images of timeless beauty, undertake daring assignments, integrated sacred elements to give vision and glorify the Divine. The sacred arts unto themselves are a spiritual library, a cultural encyclopedia that provide us a glimpse of the religious teachings and traditions, myths and mythology, significant highlights and passions of the faith journeys; illustrate the evolution of religious arts, architecture, sacred devotional music in settings worthy to venerate and commune with God. The arts are the sacred crossroads where senses encounter and serve as gateways to the realm of the Divine, to lead our mind and spirit forward to the worlds of blissful exalted awareness.
SEEING OUR WORLD THROUGH LIVE PRISMS
The arts stretch the human imagination, transcend boundaries of time and space, past the familiar, and known, on faith and belief carry us to the thresholds of the unseen. The arts, from times immemorial, through light, color, script, and music; treatment of space, architecture, and environment: with frescoes, and mosaics, mandalas and ragamalas, paintings and sculptures, other myriad creative embellishments capture the essence of divine mystery and myths. The surviving evidence: visual fragments and cultural clues from antiquity magnified by the latest technology offer us an impressive record of the journey of human civilization - from the prehistoric cave dwellers to the trailblazing innovators through the centuries. The arts, while disproportionately focused on the privileged and mighty, dazzling opulence and indulgent excesses of the powerful, have not spared us from facing the darkest moments in human history, nor the pain and suffering of the disadvantaged, neglected, or the persecuted. The arts have introduced us to life: championed causes, highlighted events, and offered robust affirmations of ideas that anchor life, faith, freedoms, and our individual and collective humanity and happiness.
ENHANCING CULTURAL AND SPIRITUAL INSIGHTS
A rich variety of artistic creations embellish sacred architecture, initiate and strengthen our spiritual connections and passions to the matters of spirit, and the veneration of those who brought the Divine message to us. The arts have served as a powerful resource to enhance our devotion to the higher spirit and introduce us to the god-light and the sacred within. The dazzling creations, enshrined in and around the major cathedrals of spirit, educate and offer illustrations of historical events, spiritual leaders, distinct and defining precepts of faiths. The marvelous design elements: the lofty columns, interlocked arches topped by vaulted ceilings and fluted domes decorated with paintings and reverberating with echoes of sacred music with a wide variety of ancient, indigenous, and contemporary musical instruments in languages and styles that proudly reflect their origin and significance, aim to inspire. Majestic domes, minarets and clock towers, gilded cupolas declare their significance and dominate the skylines. The doorways and entire facades covered with sculptures of gods, saints, angels, and celestial beauties; inside, the brocaded canopies, paintings, and hanging tapestries recounting the stories associated with faiths, sacred music and fascinating surprises, greet our eyes and spirit. The sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows and dancing across the sanctuary spaces and inlaid floors, sanctify the interiors and give an aura of celestial grace manifested before us. The integrated floral, geometrical, unique motifs; reliefs of birds, human figures, mythological animals, and war scenes; rich fabrics, colors, and furnishings introduce us to a symphony of creative attractions aimed to prepare the sanctuary of our mind and spirit for an exalted spiritual and cultural experience, reminding us of the enchanting living universe that surrounds us.
Some of what we see in a sanctuary enhances the worship experience. Other elements and activities jolt us into action. Some features reconnect us with our deeper Self; other elements, remind us in living color, in light and sound, dance and music, traditions and enactments, about the celebrated moments, the painful chapters, the incredible opportunities to broaden our understanding of the true meaning and spirit of life. Here the arts take on the mantle and the mandate of a great teacher, guiding the awakening, renewal, and emancipation of human spirit from the powerful worldly distractions all around to a state of higher purpose and prospects beyond the immediate present.
OFFERING A UNIVERAL AND UNIFYING LANGUAGE
Once we strip away all the divisive rhetoric and narrow interpretations of our faiths and spiritual mandates, the language and the reach of the arts is universal, unifying, invitational, and inspirational; it resounds with echoes of our shared humanity and our common origin and familiar final destination. It is captivating, amazing, educational, and interfaith in nature; leads us to the discovery of elements that affirm common spiritual and cultural underpinnings built upon the Truth that One God is the Source of all Divine Wisdom and Life-sustaining blessings for all without distinction. The Interfaith University is all about exploring common ground among faith traditions: learning from each other; identifying spiritual crossroads where the unifying lessons of our diverse spiritual philosophies and experiences come together and find a welcome opportunity to see God’s Love and Light in one another; together pursue ideas that honor God and Man. In this journey, we may discover unmistakable connections and lessons that reverberate through all faith traditions and our daily prayers:
“To know God, is to serve God;” “Every living being is a repository of the same Divine Light, then who is holy and who is not worthy.” - Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh Sacred Scripture)
“If you do not see God in all; then you do not see God at all.” - Harbhajan Singh Khalsa
Therefore, let no man trample another man’s faith, culture, spiritual heritage, or humanity.
Instead, see and embrace common threads that inspire us to work together for the greater good.
CELEBRATING OUR HUMANITY, BUILDING A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
The arts are a treasured heritage of humanity and their study can lead us to a sense of community. The sacred arts challenge us to discover the divine in each other across our diverse and unique pathways and perspectives. Know that “Every living being is a repository of Divine Light,” and all spiritual wisdom originated from and converge at the Gate of One Timeless Immaculate Reality. The sacred arts brilliantly reflect and celebrate this unifying spiritual precept and revelation in many diverse ways.
We have to assure a rightful place for our collective artistic testimony and treasures. It offers us invaluable insights and reflections of milestones of history that changed and shaped our world; it relates a powerful story with special significance for us: an association with those whose life, vision, righteous defiance and sacrifices paved our way and anchor our lives. The careful preservation and imaginative integration of this vital resource into the cultural and spiritual fabric of our lives and environment, and its survival as treasure of incredible value must be an internationally proclaimed universal mandate.
In the next few moments, we will together take a journey with the help of digital technology/slides and witness the place of the arts in architecture, in our lives and worship, and how it enriches the human environment and experience; how the beautiful creations: facades embellished with sculptures, treatment of wall and ceilings painted with breathtaking scenes, colorful designs of the sunlit stained glass windows dance across the columns and inlaid floors, the reverberations of sacred music echo in our mind and spirit, flowers and plants offer our spirit an encounter with nature as an element integral to veneration and celebration, and other myriad surprises inspired by tradition and heritage:
. Add to the quality of visual pleasure and cultural connections
. Direct our attention to areas that fascinate and intrigue our imagination
. Reconnect us with our past history, tradition, and heritage
. Transport our thoughts to worlds and experiences we cannot fathom, nor fully visualize
The sensory stimuli and experience moves the human spirit. Our heart may experience spiritual tremors; emotional thrills and jolts as the encounter makes manifest before us in living color and sacred energy the power of the message of spiritual renewal, revival, awakening, resurrection, and emancipation from our mundane concerns towards something so uplifting and unimagined. Our spiritually inspired crossroads: sacred spaces, worship traditions, or contemplation aim to lead us past the maize of worldly distractions into the realm of peace of the Divine, the celestial Center and Source of All Creation.
It is the beauty and power of arts and architecture, in materials and imagination, in rich embellishments expressing awesome devotion to a higher spirit that helps us imagine the Divine in resplendent splendor before us, leading our souls to their Immaculate Origin. That is when the sacred arts elevate from just a means of introducing creative dimensions of the sacred to a high definition mirror focused on the limitless manifestations of the Divine.
Arts serve as a unique bridge across Nature, Creation, and human experiences: mystery and wonder, triumphs and tragedies, dreams and trailblazing, creativity and intertwined humanity. They offer us a view of the here and an imagined composite image of the hereafter and the ways to get there. From this perspective, the arts have a profound impact on our understanding of Life and our conduct during our journey through life and anticipation of a promising afterlife.
From the Sacred Sikh Scriptures (Guru Granth Sahib):
Vast is the canvas
Wondrous is the art
The world is but a painting.
Do not linger around it, though
The marvel to remember
Is the Painter Himself! - GGS, Kabir 340:15
One Master Potter, same Clay
He has fashioned each of us
In unique and diverse ways from the same clay;
God infused the same divine-Light in all;
Pray tell: who is holier and who is not worthy? - GGS,