promote unity of faith
BY CHRIS MEEHAN
Riding into the town of Haifa, Israel, Jenai Douglas was struck by the beauty of flowers climbing in terraces up the side of Mount Carmel.Accompanying her family to the ancient city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the 26-year-old Kalamazoo social worker had the job of baby-sitting her siblings while her parents made a pilgrimage to sites sacred to the Bahai faith.
"That was a very spiritual and moving experience," said Douglas. "The gardens are intermingled with many of our shrines. It was an awesome sight."
Ever since returning from that trip a couple of years ago, Douglas has looked for ways to share the ongoing effect of those gardens and her visit to the Bahai shrines.
The journey to the Holy Land inspired her to become more deeply involved her faith. Among other things, she agreed to serve as a member of the governing council of the local Bahai community. The trip to Israel also played a role in her decision to help coordinate an interfaith devotional gathering from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Parkview Hills Clubhouse, 3707 Greenleaf.
God is one
Called "Uniting Our Hearts in Prayer," the service is a way to offer people a chance to unite in peace around one God, something many feel is necessary in light of recent terrorist events. On a personal level, it is another way for Douglas to pass on the joy she feels in being a Bahai.
"We want to bring together people so they can share their thoughts and prayers from their holy writings," she said.
"We believe in the oneness of religion and of God and believe all other religions are true," said Douglas. "We believe that manifestations of God come to all people of all religions at an appropriate time."
The Bahai faith was founded more than 100 years ago by Bahaullah, the son of a royal family. Born in Persia (now Iran) in 1817, Bahaullah declared he was the final messiah and that God had entrusted him with a revelation addressing humanity's current needs. He was eventually banished from Persia and imprisoned in Iraq. But he kept preaching and adding followers.
In a series of writings, he promoted daily prayer, meditation and study of all sacred texts as a way for a person to transform his or her character.
There are about 110,000 Bahais in the United States and more than 5 million around the world. A group with no ordained clergy, the Bahais include people from more than 2,100 ethnic groups and tribes.
In a time in which a war with religious roots is being fought in Afghanistan, local Bahais say they are committed to promoting the underlying truth of a God not bounded by denominations.
"As Bahais, we believe we all essentially worship the same God," said Frank Lucatelli, a local architect and Bahai."If we do worship the same God, why are we at one another's throats?"
Psychology and faith
Another local group trying to break down the walls of religion is the Coptic Circle of the Winged Heart.Part of the Grand Rapids-based Coptic Fellowship International, the small, 1-year-old organization traces its roots to the city of Alexandria, Egypt, where the Coptic church was established by St. Mark the Evangelist.
"We are not really a religion. We honor all traditions," said Maryesah Karelon, minister of the local group, which has only a handful of adherents. "We are more interested in uplifting and the enlightenment of the human spirit than in converting anyone."
A universal energy, fueled by mutual understanding and awareness of one's own strengths and limitations, undergirds the approach of the local Coptic community, which is not related to the Coptic Orthodox Church, a much larger Christian group with ties to the Catholic Church.
Mixing theology with philosophy and psychology, followers work to confront and conquer fears that separate us from one another, said Karelon, a former Presbyterian preacher.
"We have a very deep tradition of the importance of conscious discipline of the mind," said Karelon. "We believe that positive thoughts can help bring about peace, love and healing."
The Coptic Fellowship has ties that go back to the ancient order of Essenes, an aesthetic, pacifist group that some scholars believe trained Jesus for his ministry.
As part of its focus on unity, the local Coptic Fellowship is offering a seminar next Saturday titled "Ascending Glory: The Christ Race."
The daylong event, which costs $55, will present a "meta-scientific-spiritual understanding of ascension based on the esoteric teachings of Coptic, Gnostoc and Judeo-Christian sources."
"We are talking about mystical Christianity," said Karelon. "As we search for unity, the touchstone is the human heart. We want to help others be more in touch with their heart."
The Coptic Fellowship also is holding a concert to promote peace during this time of war.
Scheduled for Nov. 30, the event will feature Barbara Keefe, a singer and seminar leader who has performed on television and before international audiences.Donations from the 7:30 p.m. concert at People's Church, 1758 N. 10th, will go to the American Red Cross to help the people of Afghanistan.
Tearing down walls
Members of the Coptic and Bahai groups in Kalamazoo vow to keep pushing to break down ethnic, cultural, political and cultural walls that divide people.
"It is hard for people to see things in a different way," said Lucatelli. "Coming to a better understanding of how we are linked is a very slow, gradual process."
At Sunday's devotional service, area religious leaders are invited to read and pray and offer the audience a look at how they are coping with the recent crisis.
"This will be a small effort by a small community to do what we can for the common good of us all," said Lucatelli.
Jenai Douglas will be trying to pass on the spirit she felt of visiting the Holy Land.
"I believe it is important for us to hang onto the sense of unity that has certainly grown since September 11th with Americans of all backgrounds," she said.
For more information on the Coptic Fellowship's Nov. 10 seminar, contact Maryesah Karelon at (616) 553-9963 or e-mail email@example.com.
Chris Meehan can be reached at 388-8412 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Copyright 2001, Kalamazoo Gazette