E S S A Y S , A R T I C L E S A N D R E V I E W S
Interfaith Alliance for Earth holds Inaugural Event
by William Sadler, Ph.D.
Over one thousand people climbed the steps of Grace Cathedral on Earth Day, Sunday, April 22, to participate in an unprecedented celebratory event. The day marked the inaugural event for the emergence of a new interfaith ecology movement in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Spiritual Alliance for Earth (SAFE), which began just a year ago, is a rapidly growing interfaith coalition which includes, thus far, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Native Americans, pagans, and the United Religions Initiative. SAFE has formed a close working relationship with Grace Cathedral, a co-sponsor of the Earth Day event. EarthLight Magazine was an early sponsor, as was the Sierra Club.
Activities started at 3:00 pm with an Environmental Fair in the Cathedral plaza. Thirty co-sponsors with tables displaying information were spread around the plaza allowing personal contact for those who wanted to learn more about their commitment and activities. A festive atmosphere was provided by folk singers and Native American drumming and dancing.
Shortly before 4:30 pm the Cathedral bells pealed, calling people inside. A creative interfaith liturgy began with a dramatic opening of the great Cathedral doors. A Shinto Rite of Purification was performed, followed by a call to prayer by Native Americans. The Cathedral Men and Boys Choir, chanting a song of Creation, led a procession of musicians, dancers, and over a dozen colorfully robed spiritual leaders from the Bay Area and around the world through the crowd of nearly 1,300 people towards the narthex.
For the next hour-though the time passed so quickly it seemed like minutes-we heard incredibly lovely praises and prayers from a rich array of traditions - the Sufi's Salima and Taneen, a rabbi's song of lamentation for the destruction of Earth, a pagan's praise of Gaia, and the incredibly deep bass chants of Tibetan monks.
The Cathedral's Dean, Alan Jones, provided a framework for interfaith prayers and blessings; the Rev. Sally Bingham gave a narrative that recognized the threat to Earth and our commitment to care for Her. This powerful celebration was followed by a special performance by Mickey Hart, former drummer for the Grateful Dead, and his entourage of singers, dancers, and musicians.
The celebration concluded with a people's pledge to care for Creation and signing of letters addressed to Senator Feinstein. The letter urged her leadership in Congress to confront the Bush administration's ecologically destructive actions and to help us protect Earth.
SAFE's plan is to have an annual interfaith Earth Day celebration in the Bay Area at different locations each year. The celebration will unite people from all spiritual traditions with environmental groups in promoting Creation care as a vital part of cultural, spiritual, and social life.
SAFE is planning educational programs and invites people from every spiritual tradition to join with them in celebrating, supporting, and affirming the importance of SAFE's common cause (see sidebar).
The words of Thomas Berry serve to frame the initial intention of many of our group: "In the end, the Universe can only be explained in terms of celebration."
You can listen to the entire liturgy on webcast. Go to www.gracecathedral.org and click on "A Song of Creation."
William Sadler is Chairperson of SAFE.
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