Thoughts from our delegate, Lisa Garfield:
Imagine: a smallish room full of spiritual seekers from around the world gathered to discuss the “Spiritual Empowerment of Women and Girls”. In front of the room, five women constitute the speaker’s panel — one from Korea, one from India, a third from California, another from Rwanda, and one from New York.
The Korean is the Venerable Chung Ohun Lee, Supreme Council of Won Buddhism. She speaks with quiet passion about the benefits of a meditation practice, especially for women and girls, because it “takes us to the center of ourselves, so that we can know who we are.”
“Amma” in Telugu means “mother” and Amma Sri Karunamayi from India is revered as an “embodiment of divine motherly love”. Her gentle face is painted gold and her third eye stares from the middle of her forehead with wisdom and light. Her voice is soft and we sit forward in our seats to hear her impressive report on the various charitable projects she and her organization are working on in India. She seconds Chung’s testimony of the power of meditation and shows us slides of female Indian students in her schools lined up in lotus position, their eyes closed, finding themselves. I think she might be the new Mother Theresa. She tells us she loves us all “from the bottom of her heart” and we believe her.
Sande Hart is the Vice Compassion Officer of the Compassion Games International, among several other philanthropic titles. She gives us a fascinating account of the origins of the Compassion Game, which is an annual 11-day contest between cities and communities to see who is the kindest. Points are accumulated and tracked for various acts of service and the award of Most Compassionate is highly coveted. Sande calls it a game of “co-opetition” because it calls upon our human drives to both cooperate and compete.
Then Consolee Nishimwe, a Tutsi from Rwanda, speaks. She tells the horrific story of her experience as a 14-year-old during the 1994 genocide against Tutsis in her country. She tells of the murder of her father, then of her three younger brothers. She tells us about how her family kept trying to find safe places to hide, and how her mother kept telling her to “keep a prayer in your heart”. She tells of being captured by a “killer” who did not kill her but did rape her. The whole room is weeping. Consolee pulls from all of us our deepest compassion and love. When she finishes her story by reporting that of her entire family, only she, her mother and her sister survived, we all feel an urge to rush forward just to hug her. The moderator says, “I know you all want to do this” and gives Consolee a long, warm embrace. I say to the African woman on my right, “I DO want to hug her, so I will hug you instead.” And I do.
Finally, Reverend Deborah Moldow of the World Peace Prayer Society speaks. By now the room is thick with spirit and solidarity. We feel Consolee’s pain and faith, Amma’s love, Sande’s compassion, and Chung’s peace binding us as one. Deborah passes out laminated flags of all the countries in the world. I am holding the flags of Panama and Papua New Guinea. She instructs us to hold up any flags of countries that are in current need of our combined prayers. One by one we name the areas of the world that are experiencing particular hardship: Syria. Afghanistan. Egypt. Sudan. Israel. Japan. Nicaragua. Ukraine. Iraq. Papua New Guinea. The power of our collective prayer is palpable. We are a room full of various faiths, united in love and support for our brothers and sisters worldwide.
Deborah instructs us to hold up all our flags. I look around the room at all the colorful flags of all the countries in the world and I am moved to tears. I am not alone. The moderator says, “I can’t help it” and begins singing, We’ve got the whole world in our hands. We all join her, We’ve got the whole world in our hands, we’ve got the whole world in our hands, We’ve got the whole wide world in our hands. Then, We’ve got the little girls in our hands . . . We hold our flags high, swaying and singing. It is easy, here and now, to feel how spiritual empowerment can change the world.
My African neighbor and I turn at the same time to embrace each other. I love you, I whisper in her ear. I love you, too. And we mean it from the bottom of our hearts.