Saturday Nov. 4th witnessed a soulful celebration of the sacred from various faith traditions at the Miller Chapel, Lebanon Valley College, Anneville, PA. This beautiful event was put together by Reverend Paul Fullmer Chaplain at the College to share the oneness of the sacred in the diversity of faiths and traditions. What was witnessed was an array of manners in which sacred may be celebrated in various faiths as also how the mundane may interface with the sublime in our search to connect with the divine.
The tone for the evening was set by Paul Fullmer when he remarked in his welcome address how the communication revolution is making a difference to the way we live our lives, connect with one another and the possibilities it opens to connect so much more easily with the diverse, the other among us. Paula Reimers had a similar message of opening our hearts to one another as children of God in her opening prayer followed by its reinforcement in the Muslim call for prayer, the Azan, by Kaleem Bhatti and Imam I M Kauser.
Imam Kauser made an impassioned plea for understanding the principles of Islam. Quoting extensively from the holy Quran he said that Islam is a religion of peace. The word Islam itself means peace. It is unfortunate that some Muslims have been misled into committing acts of terror resulting in loss of civilian lives. Such acts are not commended in Islam and he hoped that the moderate opinion and voice of reason will prevail.
The next presentation was a change from the serious to aesthetic. John Protopapas gave an excellent Sitar recital. His nimble finger movements reverberated the sitar strings to produce an enchanting, sonorous melody. No wonder this North Indian string instrument never fails to inspire if in the hands of an accomplished performer.
Shruthie Amin and Disha Joshi dressed in beautiful traditional attire performed a temple dance as an offering of prayer to the Deity. The dance mode indeed inspired surrender to the divine as an aesthetic expression of human spiritual yearning. Recitation of hymns from sacred Hindu texts by Mahua Bhattacharya and Jeff Long embellished the sublime message from the Hindu tradition. SoulQuest, an interpretive dance of the sacred in the Buddhist tradition by Andrea Minick Rudolph was a delight. Her gazelle like entry on the stage, her concentration, her movements in harmony with the music were like watching a waft of breeze trying to merge with the power that gave it life.
Susan Leviton then enchanted the audience with a variety of Yiddish songs expressive of spiritual yearning and longing for social justice. With her extremely well trained voice and her engaging style she had the listeners spell bound as she went from song to song, at times breaking it in the middle to explain the meaning. Believe me it seemed hardly necessary – the rendering conveyed the essence.
Paul Fullmer is indeed a fortunate man. Becky, his wife, with their daughter Juliana who is still to celebrate her first birthday, presented Alegria, with music by Salvador. It was a wonder that Juliana while no doubt enjoying her mother’s brisk dance movements never forgot her role to pick up the color sashes in what to me were moments when I had my heart in my mouth. The dance Shelter by the LVC college group Praise Him with Dance was very well choreographed and drew much appreciative applause.
The last few items of the evening were presented by little known Sikhs making their first appearance at the College. Their opening presentation of Sikh sacred music was a hymn from their scripture extolling the unity of man. It was accompanied by live music played by the performing group – violin, flute, keyboard, harmonium and tabla – set to a tranquil tune, led by Nina Grewal. Then two of their Tabla performers, Neil and Taj, who are 9 & 11 held the audience spellbound by their alternating playing of this unique percussion drum set ending with a crescendo played jointly. Yet another flavor of the young Sikh talent was the reading of a poem by Nirmal Singh – the poem is written by his grand daughter, who is 15, and her first collection of poems is expected to be published later this year. The finale was brought by Shruthie Amin and Disha Joshi presenting a Sikh folk dance set to light music.
All in all a great evening, inspiring, full of variety and a great way to celebrate diversity and promote understanding.