Lifting Veils

How do spaces held sacred by a community reflect and communicate the world view and values of the people for whom the space is sacred? This is the question at the root of our work this winter, and as our exploration continues, we will invite the group to reflect directly on that question and post some responses here.

In our search for answers, this week we visited four religiously sacred spaces in the area — the Basilica Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, the Friends Center and Race Street Meetinghouse, the Bharatiya Temple, and Congregation Beth Or. We have additional visits like these in the works; however, this seemed like a moment to pause and reflect on the “why” of such visits and what we believe to be their potential.

An important, even central, role of learning is to open one’s eyes — to make more understandable and even visible that which is experienced in the world. This applies to music, to art, to nature, to events in the news, to scientific breakthroughs, to fashion, to patterns, to literature. It is hard to conceive of an end to this list. While our perspectives and understanding may always be limited, the expansion of our view and understanding need not be. The exhilaration we feel as humans during this growth is referred to as “the joy of learning.” Typically, this growth happens in small steps, and those steps can go unnoticed.

Other times, those leaps in understanding and experience come in bursts. We feel and delight in the sudden shift in awareness — “I didn’t know this was here (or possible, or “a thing,” or something I was capable of doing).” Babies and toddlers have these moments so often and so unabashedly that we find joy in watching them unfold. Of course, they are not limited to very young children; however, as we get older, we often grow more timid about expressing our interest or delight.

On our trips this week, that delight was on full display, aided by the generous, warm, and informative reception we received every place we visited. There were audible, “wows,” children standing on tiptoes to get a closer look, silent observation drawing and writing, and questions followed by more questions, as we got an inside view of sacred places most adults never see unless it is connected to their own cultural identity.

Some of what is being experienced will be processed together in our classroom this week and in coming weeks. We’ll be looking for commonalities (especially the unexpected ones), and we’ll be working on answers to the central question, as stated in the first paragraph. Some of the learning may be years in the unfolding, however. As Rabbi Jason Bonder (at Beth Or) so eloquently described for the group, experiences like this make the kind of violence and hatred aimed toward groups different from us less likely, or even less possible. We now know something about each other and about what we value. And we can see that we are far more alike than different.

What a joyous week it has been.