By Patricia Keegan
There are key points in history when sacred lines are crossed, when the unthinkable happens. In the last century there were two world wars, with all the accompanying atrocities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These caused irrevocable shifts in the world's balance that has taken over half a century to restore, and the healing continues.
Since the horrendous attacks on September 11, we seem to be sieged with a series of events and revelations that have shaken the civilized world. One current example is watching the Israeli tanks moving into Bethlehem, bringing a violent disturbance to that little town where we believe Christ was born. For the first time since the 4th century, mass cannot be heard in the Church of the Nativity. A sacred place revered throughout the Christian world is now standing in the crossfire of violence. For over two thousand years, this sacred place has been respected. Now a tense world watches, fearing violence will only breed more violence. Some may remember the prescient words of the Christmas hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehem.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight
We are also going through a time when two of the world's great religions are being challenged. Islam was hijacked by Osama Bin Laden and used to carry out a mission to destroy America and Americans. Catholicism is being challenged by the terrible betrayal of some of its own messengers.
The distortion of Islam and the use of religion to support political extremism, no matter what denomination, is the blatant exploitation of faith, which, in its strength, exists only between the individual and God. The scrambling to interpret the variations of Islam to the secular world has been confusing for many. However, if, instead of accepting blanket generalities, we open our minds, not just by reading books about Islam, but by reaching out to people of the Islamic religion, we may be surprised with what we find. The majority of Muslims are peace loving, generous in spirit and gentle.
Catholics are experiencing heart wrenching disappointment with the actions of the church hierarchy. The sacred line crossed by the Catholic Church in covering up the perversions of some of its priests has shaken the very foundations of the Church. The most sacred of sacred lines is the treasured trust that exists between a child and an adult, priest or otherwise. It is a gift, blessed and God-given. No greater gift exists in this world!
But once these sacred lines are broken, what happens? For violence in war and the violations of the innocent in any situation, there is no retribution.
We have a choice, we can turn away in disgust or we can become proactive. Religions and their symbols are the pillars that uphold our civilization. The world has been nurtured by them for over two thousand years; we cannot watch them crumble. But we cannot look to them as crutches either.
The challenge now lies ahead. Can we take what we have learned, can we take the inspiration of all our different religions, their message of hope, not what we know intellectually, but what we sense, what we feel, the strength of our faith, its beauty, and begin to build the pillars within. Like the beams of light that have taken the place of the towers of the World Trade Center, can we begin to create beams of light for all to see that signify there is no separation between us and all people of the Universe.
Where religions of the past built cathedrals, synagogues, temples and mosques, let us build beams of light that gently intertwine, leading to more open dialogue between religions and supporting and strengthening those who clearly see that we are all one with the Universe and co-Creators with God.