The election is over, the end of the pandemic is in sight, and while there is still much work to do, at this time of year we turn our attention to celebrating the various winter holidays. From the well known religious celebrations of Christmas and Hanukkah to secular traditions such as the Winter Solstice and New Year’s, to a variety of lesser-known celebrations such as Ayyam-i-ha and Diwali, There are ample opportunities to celebrate. Through time and across cultures people have set aside special times to rejoice together. Some commemorate important spiritual and historical events, others give us an opportunity to look forward to new beginnings. Most include visits to friends and family, charity, feelings of joy, and thoughts of peace and prosperity. With the holidays upon us we have a great opportunity to learn about other religions and their traditions. Yet in the wider culture there is sometimes a reluctance to meet with those who practice other traditions. For some there seems to be a fear of being negatively influenced by the practices of another tradition. As a Baha’i I have been lucky enough to be invited to join in many celebrations with friends of different faiths over the years. What I have observed at these celebrations is a genuine spirit of fellowship and joy. I have noticed that we have much in common, and that the differences are generally minor nuances of practice or interpretation. Learning more about the beliefs of others has never caused me to abandon my own beliefs. It has, however, caused me to deepen my friendships and to gain greater knowledge and understanding. Baha’u’llah encourages us to “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” In thinking about this statement it occurred to me that consorting goes far beyond mere coexistence. Oxford defines Coexistence as “the state or fact of living or existing at the same time or in the same place”. We have been coexisting our way through the last year. Trying to live in the same time and space while true connections have diminished. In order to truly connect we must get to know each other beyond a surface level-we must consort with each other. Understanding why a person believes what they believe, what they value, and how they express those values is a powerful way to make that connection. Diversity of opinion does not need to divide us, in fact it can bring us closer together. Having access to diverse traditions increases our knowledge and understanding of each other and the world in general. What’s more it teaches us that we can learn from other people and that we don’t need to fear differences. It brings us together when we allow it to teach us more about each other. Abdu’l-Baha tells us, “Behold a beautiful garden full of flowers, shrubs, and trees. Each flower has a different charm, a peculiar beauty, its own delicious perfume and beautiful color. The trees too, how varied are they in size, in growth, in foliage—and what different fruits they bear! Yet all these flowers, shrubs and trees spring from the self-same earth, the same sun shines upon them and the same clouds give them rain.” I would suggest that just as a garden wouldn’t be as beautiful without all the different colors, shapes and fragrances, our world would not be as beautiful without all the varied ways of worshiping God. In times where we are divided on so many ideologies, the holidays this year provide a special opportunity. As each religion celebrates its own traditions, we can take the opportunity to learn more about what matters to our friends and neighbors. Celebrations may look different this year, and of course we should do our celebrating safely, but we can create a new tradition of connecting with people outside our own spiritual tradition that will strengthen us far into the future. I challenge you to go beyond simply coexisting with those around you this season. I wish each of you a warm and festive holiday season, and a new year filled with deep and fruitful connections. Katrina Bradley is a member of the Baha’i Faith and leads the Spiritual Life Team for the Wyoming Interfaith Network. As a Licensed Professional Counselor she specialized in working with criminal behavior and substance abuse for 15 years before turning her energies to homeschooling. She is passionate about family, faith, education, and animals. Her life goal is to contribute to universal acceptance of the oneness of humanity.
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