O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. - Prayer for the Diversity of Races and Cultures, Book of Common Prayer
This Sunday is widely known and celebrated as World Religion Day
. An observance that began in 1950, this day seeks to lift up what various religious traditions have in common, an exercise that is increasingly important in the midst of cultural and political division.
When I wondered what image might shed light on the significance of World Religion Day, a stained glass window came to mind. The one pictured above holds particular meaning for me, as it comes from Ascension Episcopal Church in West Houston, a sister community of the parish and school I served prior to Berkeley Prep. While the church suffered much damage in the floods of Hurricane Harvey, this stained glass window and many others were able to be salvaged.
In church history and architecture, stained glass windows have been utilized to tell seminal stories from the sacred tradition. The one above recalls the journey of the prodigal son in Luke’s Gospel, a classic tale of a son who left home only to squander his wealth through a series of mistakes. He shamefully makes his way back home, surprised to be embraced by his father’s open arms and grace-filled heart. They go on to celebrate the son’s return with a grand feast. This transformative story is beautifully captured in the sanctuary of Ascension.
But a stained glass window is not constructed with one large pane. Instead, many shards of stained glass come together to form a powerful image, like the father-son embrace depicted above. If only one shard is seen, though, the richness and fullness of any given story cannot be comprehended.
I believe this idea holds true for the many religious traditions of the world. Each expression of faith displays a glimpse of truth about God. But when these shards are pieced together, the glory and nature of God is able to be perceived with much more clarity.
Likewise, any given person in a community offers a glimpse of the beauty of God’s creation. But only when these people truly come together in unity, will this beauty be seen in full.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who will be honored and celebrated on Monday, understood this notion more than most. He spent his life in witness to the whole stained glass window of God and God’s creation, proclaiming a dream that all shards would one day be melded in unity.
As this long weekend approaches, and we acknowledge both World Religion Day and the prophetic Dr. King, Jr., may we prayerfully consider the richness of diversity in our midst.
Because in doing so, the power and glory of God truly begin to take shape in the world.