In 1948, under the leadership of the United States and the prodding of Eleanor Roosevelt, the UN General Assembly proclaimed December 10 to be Human Rights Day, to bring to the attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. Today, 66 years later, America faces the reality of police brutality, CIA torture, and the imprisonment of a larger portion of our population than any other modern nation. What happened? –Robert Reich
In the early ’80s, Amnesty International began to celebrate Human Rights Day with the Sufi Order International’s Universal Worship Service. The Universal Worship, instituted in the early 1900s, is the “Church of All and of all Churches.” The service involves an altar set with a semi-circle of candles representing the major religions of the world, with a larger candle in the back, in the middle of the altar, and one in the front. The Cherag(a) or Priest(ess) goes from candle to candle, lighting each one from the large candle in the back:
“To the glory of the Omnipresent God, we kindle the light symbolically representing the Hindu religion… the Buddhist religion… the Zoroastrian religion… the Hebrew religion, the Christian religion… the religion of Islam…” and finally, lighting the candle in the front,
“To the glory of the Omnipresent God, we kindle the light symbolically representing all those who, whether known or unknown, have held aloft the light of truth amidst the darkness of human ignorance.”
In 1981, I was living in Nashville, Tennessee, where I’d come to start a Sufi center, and we held a Universal Worship for Universal Declaration of Human Rights Day at Peabody College, inviting religious leaders from all over the city to take part in the service, lighting the candles for their own religions, and reading scriptures from them. In the congregation was a young Vanderbilt Divinity School student who had been attracted to the service, which I happened to conduct, so he saw me first, at the altar, in the light of the candles, wearing my white robe. After the service, he came up to me and said, “I was watching you all during the service, and you look like a truly religious person.” Inwardly, I chuckled. “It’s you!” I thought, and so it was. It seemed to me that God had a good sense of humor, because here was this buttoned-up Div School student, and there I was, a flighty hippie with hair down to my waist, wearing Indian clothes. He said that as he tried to sleep that night, he heard an orchestra playing in his head, “heavy on the brass.” If you know me, you will enjoy that. He later told me he thought as he saw me in the blinding white flood lights, “My God! Who is that woman?”
The rest is history.
It took us awhile to figure out what to do with each other; six years, in fact, because he was a United Methodist minister, and I was a flaming Sufi, and I knew I couldn’t be a minister’s wife, and he knew he could never fit the likes of me into his congregation. Eventually, all those considerations fell away, and it was time for us to be together, and 33 years later, we’re still going strong.
So yes, the world is still going to Hell, and the earth plane is a terrible and dark place to live. And somehow, sometimes, we still kindle the light of love, of freedom, and most of all, the “light of truth amidst the darkness of human ignorance.”
1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.
2And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.… –Revelations 21:1-2
Let freedom ring.