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Spirit Unleashed: Reimagining Human-Animal Relations by Trustee Anne Benvenuti Nominated for Pulitzer (Excerpt)
Parliament Trustee Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti’s new book entitled Spirit Unleashed: Reimagining Human-Animal Relations has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction. The book applies both scientific and religious perspectives to the relationship between humans and other animals.
Excerpt Published with permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
“One summer morning it was a bat. I had set out early for a trail walk, hoping to get some exercise for me and for the dogs and some mental focus before the day heated up. I had planned to write about having learned from Molly to love the non-human world. As I started out on the trail, I calmed my mind, stilled my thoughts and asked all the beings there to help me to stay awake and not drift into the lulling and dulling chatter of thoughts. After a few minutes of watching the woodpeckers and the cottontails, the rocks and the ragged cianothus and sage, I noticed a dead blossom lying in the middle of the trail. As I bent to look at it, I saw its fine and fragile wing-like structure. I picked it up and turned it over, still not knowing what it was. Then face-up in my hand, I could see that it was a dead bat. I observed that his little mouth was open, tongue out and the tiny fragile fingers of both hands were clutching his throat. I thought he may have died of some poison, or gagged on contentious catch. I probably never would have picked up a dead bat intentionally, having heard terrible tales of bat-contamination. I carried the little corpse over and set it on a noteworthy rock, hoping that I would find it there for further study upon my return. As I turned to go, a wing fell open, or did he move it? I returned to investigate.
I understood then that he might have been one of the many flying creatures who have some kind of problem midflight that causes them to crash land, resulting in shock and dehydration, on top of any injury or illness. They frequently need water and safety more than any special care. I have learned that a lot of animals die just so of shock and dehydration, and I have also learned that they understand your intent in relation to them very quickly. I assured him in that soft hypnotic voice that creatures tend to love that my intent was to do no harm and to do what good I might. I lifted him gently and watched him unfold and open entirely; beautiful wings made of a fine frame of bone and joint covered with translucent fabric that wrapped his body, webbing the entire back of his torso in an enclosure. I didn’t have my glasses, and, at this point was interested to know if he had teeth. I peered at him closely and saw the soft petals of his pointed ears, but I never did ascertain the presence of teeth, in spite of his open mouth. His furry belly fluttered with uneven breath as his arm bent at the elbow and he reached for his mouth again. Then my mind’s ear heard clearly the words, “I thirst.” Ah, that. I do not know how to care for a bat and I know precious little about them, but I do know thirst. I decided I would carry him to the creek with me and see about arranging something between him and the moisture he so desperately craved.
I studied him as I walked, awed by the intricate beauty and the fragile toughness of him. He had tiny glass beads of eyes. Had I not heard that bats had no capacity to see? It was hard to tell exactly without my reading glasses. His body was about an inch and a half long with fine pointed little ears at the top and a webbed tail, which he used to completely pull up the blanket of his fabric and enclose himself. His wings were about six inches in span, huge by comparison to his soft little body, graceful as a geisha’s fan in their folding and unfolding. His arms were just like mine, bending at the elbow, with hands and fingers just like mine, except for the size, about an eighth of an inch. Again he brought his hand to his dry tongue. Do you doubt for a moment that he spoke to me about his thirst?
I set him down in the moist sand about two inches from the place where the water lapped the shore and I let my fingers dribble water down in front of him. He drank it; he gulped water down. Then he rested, then drank more, and more. Rested, more water. With no warning, he unfurled his wings, fanned out into the water as if he had a gentle breeze in his sails, and swam away from me. Have you ever seen a bat swim? Have you ever even seen a picture of a bat swimming? Oh glorious and graceful sight, oh human delight! He hauled himself with infinite grace onto the underside of a rock. I watched. He climbed, revived by mere water, climbed up under the rock and then over it and then up again. My work was done. On the definite underside of a rock, wedged well against other rocks, he hung upside down, asleep. So this is the dreaded bat.
Love one little thing and you love the entire universe that holds it, as well as the essence from which it pours forth, and the pulse that beats in it, and the breath that heaves it, and the awareness that connects it. Save one little thing and you save your soul entire.
That tiny desperate thirst is indeed your own, and you are quenched beyond measure, awakened in the water, merely for being there, responsive. This is what I learned from Molly Brown, the little dog with great spirit, slowly over the many years of her patient instruction, that words hinder the communications of the heart, acting often as stoppers to the ears of empathy, which would otherwise hear every pulsing breathing body.
“God speaks to us secretly and in silence,” said John of the Cross. Perhaps the language of God is silence because only in silence can I listendeepluy; and God is not shallow. The whole world is here, waiting to be heard, but I am too busy producing private words and thoughts to listen to it. I am so lulled by my word-making that I don’t even know I am doing it most of the time. In silence, words are reborn and they become something expressive, something worthy of care. In silence, we learn love. You do not need information about bats to know a dry tongue and a hand reaching for a parched throat, but you are unlikely to see that reaching hand unless you are still.
Surprise! The whole world is a message under the words. What I learned by way of Molly Brown—she who would be understood and not just condescended to—is that the whole world is there, waiting to be known, interested in me, as I am interested in it, that we, multitudinous and embodied, are also inseparable and in Love.”
To Continue Reading Spirit Unleashed, check out the book on Amazon.com
Anne Benvenuti is a professor of psychology and philosophy, an integrative scholar, a licensed clinical psychologist, a priest of the Episcopal Church, a spiritual director, and a published poet, writer, and photographer. Her research interests include developing models for scientific investigation of qualia; explication of religious epistemology, especially with reference to the potential for neuro-scientific models of integrative knowing, policy implications of religious epistemology, and the clinical integration of spirituality, health, and ecology.
Nearly half a million people marched to save the only planet we have on the 21st of September at the People’s Climate March in New York City. After exceeding goals to stage the biggest climate march in history, the day ended with an interfaith service packing thousands into the largest Cathedral in the World, St. John the Divine. Leaders spanning the faith traditions of the world vowed there to commit unprecedented action to curb climate change.
In this historic moment the Parliament, in conjunction with partners Green Faith and Interfaith Center of New York, took part in the 3-day Religions for the Earth conference presented by Union Theological Seminary. Organized by Union Forum’s Karenna Gore, daughter of Former U.S. Vice-President and global environmental champion Al Gore, the conference that brought together more than 200 leaders of world spiritual communities and interfaith organizations also leveraged partnerships with the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the National Religious Partnership.
Months of planning and organizing- with Parliament Trustee Dr. Kusumita Pedersen at the core and Trustee John Pawlikowski advising- resulted in a great showing of support from the Parliament Board. Highlighting some of the ways that spirituality as a healing, connecting, and educational force can powerfully address the climate crisis were Rev. Andras Corban Arthen of the Earth Spirit community, who spoke on an Indigenous Peoples panel, Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti, author and educator, who discussed the spiritual connection of humans and other animals, and Phyllis Curott, attorney and Wiccan priestess, who led an opening session prayer. Parliament Trustee Emeritus Naresh Jain, who serves currently on the Parliament’s UN Task Force, was also in attendance. The Parliament’s Executive Director, Dr. Mary Nelson, connected with former Vice President Al Gore, as did Parliament Chair, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, who spoke at the closing Multi-faith Service.
What amplifies the voices of faith communities today is hoped to carry over into massive action at the forthcoming 2015 Parliament. Speaking to the Multi-faith Service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the evening of September 21, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid made a public commitment that the 2015 Parliament will take on climate issues and sustainable living as a prime focus.
The Parliament applauds the remarks offered by its partners, especially those shared by Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Jan Eliasson at the Religions for the Earth Multifaith Service. Concerning what spiritual communities who work together harmoniously can achieve, Eliasson said, “Faith leaders like you here today have an essential role to play. You can set an example of dialogue and of mutual respect. You can use your pulpits to convey important messages as we have heard today. You can reach across lines of faiths and across the lines of identities that might otherwise divide people. I ask you, I plead with you to continue to remind us of the ethical and moral dimensions of climate change. Such efforts related to higher morality are needed not only on environment, but in general, at a time when we are seeing so much of sectarian turmoil and hatred around the world. I thank you all for mobilizing the positive power of religion…”
Parliament Chair Abdul Malik Mujahid, Former V.P. Al Gore, and National Spiritual Leaders to Conclude Religions for the Earth Conference at Multi-Faith Service in NYC
On Sunday, September 21, Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid will be speaking at the Religions for the Earth Multifaith Service at New York City’s Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.
Mujahid’s view that “faith leaders must all join hands to save the only planet we have” will come to life at the service featuring a prestigious group of leaders in the religious, spiritual, and Earth-spiritual communities presented in collaboration with Former-Vice President of the United States Al Gore, who is also slated to speak.
Speakers and attendees will be enveloped in celebratory acts of music, performance and ritual all building toward a massive pledge of spiritual communities honoring the sacred environment in real, practical actions.
As a co-sponsor of the Religions for the Earth conference, the Parliament will be connecting with a strategic assembly of 200 other leaders in interfaith, religious, faith and spiritual organizations. Union Theological Seminary is hosting the conference as part of events kicking off NY Climate Week in advance of the United Nations Climate Summit.
In Mujahid’s view, the growing commitments faith communities are making to advance environmental protections will see more promising results by applying the influence leaders can have in multiple ways.
Mujahid says, “As more than 40 percent of America listens to pulpits every week, we must not only preach the gospel of sharing more and consuming less. But also, we must do our best to influence the guiding institutions to become more serious in urgently developing the relevant public policies. Better public policies and better consumer behavior both are needed. And this will be a major theme in the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions.”
Religions for the Earth Conference attendees will also participate in the biggest climate march in history, The People’s Climate March, expected to unite over 100,000 environmental stewards organizing from across all social institutions on Sunday, September 21. Faith and interfaith representation at the march will climb into the multiple thousands.
Peace activism in general will reach a global high on September 21, which is the United Nations official observance of International Day of Peace, coinciding with satellite climate events taking place all over the world.
The evening Religions for the Earth Multi-Faith Service is open to the public, featuring speakers including:
- Uncle Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Founder – IceWisdom International, Eskimo, Kalaallit Elder
- Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota Sioux 19th Generation Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle
- Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, Founder – Shomrei Adamah, Keepers of the Earth
- Ms. Dekila Chungyalpa, Environmental Advisor to His Holiness, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje
- Father Edwin Gariguez, General Secretary – Caritas Philippines
- Former Vice-President Al Gore, Chairman – The Climate Reality Project
- Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, President, Union Theological Seminary
- Reverend Dr. James Kowalski, Director – Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
- Iriama Margaret Lokawua, Director – Indigenous Women Environmental Conservation Project
- Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair – Parliament of the World’s Religions
- Dr. Vandana Shiva, Founder – Navdanya
- Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder – Sojourners
- Terry Tempest Williams, Writer and Teacher
When: Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 6 p.m. EST
Where: The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025
Religions for the Earth MultiFaith Service is being presented by host Union Theological Seminary, and co-sponsored by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, GreenFaith, Interfaith Center of New York, the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace, and the Cathedral Saint John the Divine.
The Board of the Parliament voted this weekend to hold the next Parliament in the United States in 2015. The next Parliament marks the fifth modern Parliament and the first American Parliament in 22 years.
“America is the home base of the interfaith movement and it’s about time the Parliament come back home. The Parliament in 2015 will strengthen the interfaith movement through our listening, sharing and networking with each other,” says Chair of the Board Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid.
The interfaith activism in North America has at least doubled in the last 10 years, whereas it is sprouting all around the world where people who have never heard of the interfaith movement are now becoming part of it. As the next generation connects to issues of peace, justice and sustainability it is time to introduce these emerging leaders to the Parliament.
Dates and location will be announced shortly.
Since 1993, more than 37,000 delegates of 80 countries have come to the Parliament representing 50 plus traditions in programs, plenaries, cultural exchanges and dialogue. Parliaments held in the USA, South Africa, Spain, and Australia have amassed a global interfaith community committed to the advancement of a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.
We Want To Hear From You:
As the Parliament prepares to announce the next host city please kindly share with us your preferences on themes, plans and costs as we create a Parliament 2015 for you.
Please stay connected in the coming days for these important announcements:
- Parliament 2015 Host City Announcement
- Parliament 2015 Dates
- Exclusive Pre-Sale Registration Instructions for Parliament Ambassadors, Supporters, and Partners
- On-Sale Dates and Rates to attend the 2015 Parliament
- Sponsorship and Exhibition Details
- Program Proposals
- Pre-Parliament Events Planning Around the World
- Volunteer, Intern, and Professional Openings with the 2015 Parliament
Become a Parliament Ambassador!
Join a select network of global Interfaith advocates conducting listening sessions with their communities to create the next Parliament. Ambassadors extend the Parliament platform for mobilizing people of faith for social action in their local communities and play an indispensable role in the evolution of the Parliament movement. Read more…
Twenty international cities hailing from interfaith, municipal, and tourism institutions gathered to learn about the bidding process to host the 2017 Parliament on a webinar held July 10. Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid and Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson addressed the group on the history of the Parliament, the growth of the Interfaith movement, what happens at a Parliament, and the logistics of building a local organizing team.
10,000 activists from around the world come to share their faith at the Parliament. Mujahid explained why this is an attractive prospect for cities wishing to increase social cohesion and global tourism. It was also noted in the presentation that Nobel Laureates, Bill Gates, Tony Blair, Pope Francis and more leaders are now publicly vocalizing strong support for the interfaith movement. Endorsements from leaders as such represent a growing interdependence between secular and religious institutions in social, governmental, and humanitarian endeavor.
While presenting a multi-million dollar international gathering is a large undertaking, Dr. Nelson shared ways that corporate and faith-based sponsorships combine with civic partnerships to creatively and financially bring the Parliament to life.
An overwhelming response, half from U.S. cities as well as half from first world and developing countries indicates the demand for interfaith is growing universally. Representatives shared their desire to become a Parliament city in efforts to diminish local tensions and build harmonious relationships.
A question and answer session with Dr. Nelson and Imam Mujahid also provided attendees the opportunity to engage both Parliament leaders on ways to submit an optimal bid. Cities are currently sharing letters of intent to submit full bids for the 2017 Parliament.
For more information on becoming a Parliament city, please contact Office Manager Stephen Avino at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fifty peacemakers joining from Israel and Palestine have just completed a five-day “Vision Camp” the organizers say responded to the violence “exploding through the Middle East.” The West Bank-based camp reported through Facebook (and supported by a vocal campaign on Causes.com) sharing a culmination statement declaring “We refuse to be enemies.”
Over the week the activities captivating a mass following on social media inspired countless shares, likes, and comments to stand against a growing vitriol polarizing Jews and Muslims by stating #JewsandArabsRefuseToBeEnemies. Like organizations connected promoting moving images of demonstrations held in other Israeli locations.
The 50 campers speaking boldly for peace were moved to assemble stating, “today, in this turbulence, peace workers from Israel, Palestine and other countries are beginning a five-day vision camp in the West Bank. In the middle of the war they hold a peace vigil and create a frequency of calmness in which mutual perception, sharing, deep listening, clear thinking and vision building is possible. They say, “We refuse to be enemies.” And, “Together we can give a clear sign to end the war.”
As peaceworkers from Israel, Palestine and various other parts of the world, we have been holding a peace vigil in the middle of a war in the West Bank over the last several days. We are gathering here under very simple conditions, creating community life, sharing from our hearts, in silence and in tears, in the midst of shootings and bombings. We are bearing witness and trying to stay in Grace. We have been faced with this senseless killing every day. There have been more than 1000 human victims during the last three weeks. In the last days three Palestinians were shot in the village near the place where we are staying. In these days, we have been faced with untold pain, suffering, desperation and speechlessness; we are also coming face to face with many different opinions and inner and outer struggles.
What we all agree on is: Enough! Stop this killing. No solution can come from war! Each innocent victim of this war is one too many! We refuse to be enemies. We are calling out to all parties: Stop this war! Our feelings are beyond words, but we can no longer be silent. The civil population is being lied to on both sides, and the world is mostly silent and misled by the media. It does not take much political education to recognise the injustice of this war. Many countries are delivering weapons and enriching themselves through the war. But who sits next to the beds of the injured children and crying mothers? Who feels empathy with their bleak destiny? Who heals the wounds, dries the tears and eases the pain of all those who have lost family members or beloved friends?
We, as members of humanity during this vision camp in the midst of the war zone, are striving to convert trust, peace, justice and compassion into realities rather than mere words. This makes us feel like new children from a new earth where war does not exist.
One of our Palestinian participants said, „In 2001, I decided to stop being a victim. We are not two sides; we are one side. We have one common enemy: hatred.” How many more innocent people have to be killed, how many more generations will have to carry guns so their people can feel safe? Are we aware that every killing creates new hatred, new fear and more revenge?
We have decided not to stay silent! We have decided to step out of powerlessness. We have decided to step out of the hypnosis of fear and raise our voices. We have decided to step out of our personal identification and look beyond all the different worldviews towards the fundamental healing of trauma. Compassion is not a question of worldview! Compassion is the emergency call of planet earth and the heart of humanity.
Together, we wish to create a clear and resonant voice, a voice for transformation! Killing cannot lead us to a free or protected land. We are shedding our tears and transforming our pain into a powerful NO! NO to this killing – no tolerance for the violation of human rights, regardless of its source. Israelis will never feel safe, and Palestinians will never be free, unless they begin building mutual relationships of trust and respect. And this land will never be holy while we keep watering it with blood.
Thousands of people are already taking to the streets and demonstrating that they, “refuse to be enemies.” May we grow in numbers and presence! The global system of domination thrives through our powerlessness. We can change this feeling of desperation and powerlessness into readiness for transformation. A true nonviolent revolution starts within ourselves.
We envision breaking the cycle of victimisation, occupation, hatred and revenge. We envision the awakening of the humane heart. We envision millions of people, all over the world, who no longer allow the economically motivated globalisation of war to be carried out on the backs of uncounted innocent women, men and children.
Now, it is our task to demonstrate credible alternatives: stepping out of the system of complicity and stepping into a network of solidarity and compassion. For years now, many of us have been working on new models for living. We are aware that those who are against war need a vision for peace.
This peace vigil is only the beginning. We are committing ourselves. We will dedicate our lives to finding solutions wherever we are.
We love our countries, our homes, and this earth. We declare ourselves to be global citizens for peace! Let us raise our voices: Another life is possible.
We are calling out to specialists from all areas – doctors, water experts, ecologists, technologists, peace activists, decision-makers, spiritual leaders, peace journalists, film-makers, politicians and each and everyone of you: Let us come together and put our wisdom to work! Let us overcome the walls of separation. Together, we will create completely new ways of sharing this planet.
Connect, like, and share: https://www.facebook.com/aVisionCampinIsraelPalestine
Download the statement of the 50 participants of the Vision Camp here:
The Parliament of the World’s Religions Board Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid extends congratulations to Rabbi David Saperstein on his nomination by President Obama to lead the United States Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom. Saperstein who serves as Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism would become the first non-Christian to take the office now vacant for nine months.
Board Chair Mujahid welcomes the unprecedented move of the Obama Administration to advance a Jewish Rabbi to lead the office first established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
Mujahid’s congratulatory letter highlights Saperstein’s “admirable record of touching humanity through faith-based justice,” and commends his expert leadership as an example of how progress can be achieved through engaging the guiding institutions.
In addressing the interfaith movement at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, Saperstein hosted an engagement session entitled “The State and Religious Freedom,” and was featured prolifically on panels including:
- Poverty Must No Longer Be With Us with Huruhisa Handa, Jim Wallis, Katherine Marshall, Dr. A T Ariyaratne, Tim Costello, Sulak Sivaraksa and Sr. Joan Chittister
- Democracy and Diversity in Global Perspective with Anwar Ibrahim, Pal Ahluwalia, Bishop Peter Elliott, Dr. M Din Syamsuddin, and Dr. Barabara McGraw
- The Role of Religion and Spirituality in the Public Discourse with Archbishop Philip Freier
Designated in Newsweek’s 2009 list as the most influential rabbi in the country and described in a Washington Post profile as “the quintessential religious lobbyist on Capitol Hill,” Rabbi David Saperstein represents the national Reform Jewish Movement to Congress and the Administration as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. The Center not only advocates on a broad range of social justice issues but provides extensive legislative and programmatic materials to synagogues nationwide, and coordinates social action education programs that train nearly 3,000 Jewish adults, youth, rabbinic and lay leaders each year.
Read more about Rabbi David Saperstein.
Wiccan Priestess, NPR Journalist and Author Dies at 68
An interview on NPR’s Interfaith Voices with Phyllis Curott and historian Ronald Hutton about Margot Adler’s influence on contemporary Paganism will air Aug. 1-7 on NPR’s 74 stations across N. America; here’s the full list of when and where.
By Phyllis Curott
Parliament Trustee, Women’s Task Force Co-Chair
Margot Adler, one of America’s first public Wiccan Priestesses and author of the groundbreaking study of contemporary American Paganism, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today” (1979), passed away at her home in Manhattan on Monday, July 28th. She was 68.
Margot was also a reporter for NPR, working since 1979 as a journalist, political and cultural correspondent, host of “Justice Talking,” and New York bureau chief. She preferred stories about everyday people and her series on life in New York after 9/11 was often cited for its compassionate and salutary effect on the city’s recovery. Central Park, where she spent countless hours as a “birder,” was a favorite subject for stories, and like all of her features, were imbued with warmth, intimacy and wise appreciation.
These qualities, and an impish sense of humor, also made Margot Adler one of modern Paganism’s most beloved figures, a welcoming presence to the thousands of newcomers who found the movement because of her thoughtful book or because of her early willingness to publicly identify herself as a Witch when that word still provoked distorted stereotypes of Satan worshippers or wacky spinsters. Her courage and capacious intellect challenged and helped transform these misconceptions, and the media and its audience reconsidered their biases when confronted by Margot’s sophisticated New York sensibility which integrated a bachelor’s degree in political science from Berkeley, a master’s from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and in 1982, a Nieman fellowship at Harvard, as well as a family background which included her grandfather, noted psychiatrist Alfred Adler.
Margot’s death is a great personal loss for those who knew and loved her as a friend, three of whom have served as Parliament Trustees – myself, Angie Buchanan and Andras Arthen.
Margot and I met 35 years ago, both members of what was then a small, hidden community of Wiccan practitioners in New York City. We shared similar educational and cultural backgrounds, an interest in the return of the Goddess and the role of women as spiritual leaders, which appealed to our feminism, and an appreciation for the ecstatic and joyful practices that revealed the Divine embodied in the natural world. We worked together over the years, in public and private, teaching and celebrating and I treasure every moment shared, every memory created. Most precious of all is Margot’s immortal enthusiasm which was so deeply rooted in the term’s Greek origin, entheos: “to be inspired or possessed by a god, to rapt, to be in ecstasy.”
Countless homages posted on numerous social media sites affirm her impact on the personal lives of fans and followers, and her unique contribution to modern Paganism as one of the fastest growing spiritual movements in the United States. Margot Adler played an essential role in the rebirth of ancestral religious traditions as a vital new spirituality and that inspiration will continue, for what we remember, and those whom we remember, live.
New Suffolk, NY July 30, 2014
Phyllis Curott is an attorney, author and Wiccan priestess. An interfaith activist and advocate of religious liberties for minority faiths in the courts and media, Jane Magazinehonored her as one of the Ten Gutsiest Women of the Year, New York Magazine described her as one of the “culture’s most intellectually cutting-edge thinkers,” and Beliefnet has featured her in their video series Preachers and Teachers. Curott is founder and president of the international Temple of Ara and president emerita of the Covenant of the Goddess.Phyllis Curott
New Parliament Ambassador on Creating California-Based Children’s Interfaith Organization First Drops
Orange County, California area interfaith program First Drops teaches children about a variety of religions through fostering relationships and taking different religious sites and experience it for themselves. The curiosity of children and their eagerness to learn about religion fuels the organization. Parents and community members provide children resources as a means of learning about many religions. They also participate in monthly community service projects including feeding hungry families, as well as many more projects and activities. Recently the children’s filming of “An Interfaith Carol” submitted to the World Interfaith Harmony Week Film competition won in its category.
Farrah Khan, a new Ambassador of the Parliament and founder of First Drops shares the following reflection on how this kind of active interfaith community cultivates respect for everyone.
First Drops was founded in the Spring of 2011. The idea came from the need to answer various questions my son who was in 5th grade had about religions. Even with my knowledge, I knew that it would be best for him to get his information from the source, so I took him to my friend’s church. He enjoyed the experience of attending mass, that’s when I knew I had to do more. I called up a few friends whose kids were the same age as mine and asked them if they would be interested in joining up for small discussions. The group of six kids and parents developed into an organization in less than two months.
Currently, First Drops educates children and their families about the many religions that surround them through site visits. Each site visit is a unique experience. The host facility usually gives an over view of their religion, provides a tour of the facility, and an opportunity to observe or engage in their religious service followed by a Q & A session. Then we usually are invited to a more casual setting where members of the congregation and our First Drops families have a chance to mingle and munch on snacks. This is a great learning experience because the child has an opportunity to experience the religion rather than reading about it in a book. The children have visited during Christmas Mass, Easter Mass, Purim, Celebration of Nirvana (Buddhism), Celebration of Ridvan (Baha’i) and much more. These experiences are what will become a lasting memory.
Our children also engage in community service. Every 2nd Sunday of the month, the children serve 100-150 homeless people in the Santa Ana downtown district. The families prepare the food and the children serve each guest. This has taught the children that respect for humanity comes first. After the first few feedings, the children began looking into ways to help our brothers and sisters living on the streets. So each month, the children come up with ways to help even more. During the rainy season, the children collected 200 rain ponchos and passed them out. These ponchos were either bought by the children’s own money or by asking friends, family and neighbors to purchase them. On Mother’s Day, the children passed out flower bouquets to every woman. The flowers were contributed by Trader Joe’s. We have held several clothing, toy and book drives throughout the year.
The children are welcome to use their own ideas to help foster a more compassionate world. They have produced an interfaith film called “An Interfaith Carol” which won the World Interfaith Harmony Film Festival first place for Youth Film. They are regular participants at the Irvine Global Village Festival and The Newport-Mesa-Irvine Interfaith Council’s Celebration of Thanksgiving where they sing interfaith related songs.
We are teaching the children that in today’s world, it is important to work with others to improve. We partner with CROP Hunger Walk and collect money to help feed the needy around the world.
First Drops was recently asked to come under the Orange County Interfaith Network’s umbrella. This opportunity will give us access to over 12 interfaith councils and grow the organization.
My personal desire is to bridge the gap between those of us who are currently working in the interfaith arena and our next generation. One day, we will all be on the same page and the world will see peace.