Katie Rose
from: Katie Rose
Category: General Discussion

Circles of Unity and Diversity

Circles of Unity and Diversity

Yesterday I attended the SOAS Interfaith Music Festival. I am always incredlbly inspired and uplifted when I see devout members of different religions speaking and singing together in peace.  That music can be a medium of connection across seemingly uncommunicable distances has always made sense to me.  For me, that happens because the music connects us with a innate vibrational intelligence that is present in every cell of our body and which can both support the expression of devotional lyric and take us beyond the realm of words and belief systems.

What I particularly enjoyed was the discussion and acknowledgement of the important of difference and diversity.  Whilst on one level it is true that many religions and spiritual practices have at their core similar values, aims and aspirations - including promoting ethical living and creating practices which support meditative experience - they are also radically different and incorporate very different forms of musical expression - ranging from strict Islamic or silent meditative practice where music is forbidden to the joyful songs of Hare Krishnas in the high street.  This beauty of this diversity is absolutely to be celebrated.

The perception that there is only One Way very obviously precludes the acceptance of diversity.  Fundamentalism exists across all forms of belief system, including secular and is usually accompanied by literalism whereby a set or texts or rules are applied word for word - or a tooth for a tooth.  Any other form of being is denied any validity whatsoever. What I realised today is that simplistic unity thinking can also be subtly restrictive.  To say we are all one, we are all going to the same destination, just by different maps can sometimes overlook the radical differences inherent in the maps, the destinations and the ones who are on their way.  Unity and democracy are fine concepts, but for the last two thousand years what that actually means has been defined by small groups of men in positions of wealth and power, who, like the current UK government, inevitably demonstrate immense ignorance of those in different social and economic circumstances to themselves.  Globalisation, sadly, rather than a true unity of peoples on the planet, has come to mean the rapacious consumption of environmental and human resources to feed a capitalist machine which assimilates, homogenises and destroys difference.

Peace is not uniform unity, it is the ability to be able to allow, acknowledge, honour and give autonomy to the infinity of divergent voices arising on the sea of sound.  Which is why choral music features so strongly in spiritual practice, as it enables each participant to voice and express their spiritual experience whilst sharing in a communal experience.  A friend recently shared the inspirational beauty of
Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir which is a wonderful composition of hundreds of people across the globe joining online to sing together.  I find myself wondering what would happen if the conductor disappeared - and we enabled everyone to sing their own song.   My experience of free singing is that far from creating a state of chaos, what actually happens is that a sonic intelligence arises within each person and within the group which allows a piece of music to be formed which contains both harmony and dissonance and which finds its own end and beginning naturally.  We have so long been conditioned to distrust and compete with each other and to fear our differences that we have forgotten the innate intelligence of diversity and its rich teachings for us.  When we remember, there is peace.

When we can hear the different voices within us without fear of being labelled schizophrenic, we can allow them to find their own intelligence and listen to them from a space of observing.  When this inner peace is found, we can find our ability to tolerate difference in others expanding.  That the circles and boundaries of our capacities are constantly being stretched and tested is absolutely perfect, because unless we encounter difference we cannot grow or learn anything new.  Whilst it is important to recharge and be affirmed in the company of those with whom we share beliefs, values and perceptions, it is equally important to meet, honour and experience the challenge of those who are completely different.

The word choir originates from the Greek word for chorus - which in its earliest forms before text and words were sung or spoken, meant a circular dance in an enclosed space.  What I find beautiful to witness at Interfaith events such as the SOAS Interfaith Music festival and June Boyce-Tillman’s
Space for Peace at Winchester Cathedral - is the dance of diverse spiritual practices within a creative space. The space of peace enables us to discover the points of connection and difference, unity and diversity in the dance. That these pockets of peace exist increasingly across the world inspires hope and calls us to widen the circle to include more dancers.

Wishing you the glorious sounding of the chorus of voices within and without

Katie Rose

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