Inter-Faith Labyrinth Walk for Peace and Service , Memphis, TN
In keeping with Sri Sri Sri Viswayogi Viswamjee Maharaj’s mission to unite people of all faiths, an Inter-Faith Labyrinth Walk for Peace and Service was hosted on November 9th by the Memphis chapter of the Viswayogi Foundation and the Unity Church of Practical Christianity in Memphis, TN. Rev Lawrence Palmer, Pastor of the church and Sri Viswayogi Viswamjee Maharaj (Swamjji) of Guntur, India, hosted the event.
The event was attended by 10 spiritual leaders/representatives along with nearly 100 participants from all faiths walking together for achieving religious harmony, universal human integration and peace. Joining Swamiji were spiritual leaders/representatives from the Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Judaism, Muslim, Memphis Interfaith, and Sikh faiths.
Mark Muesse, Ph.D., from the Department of Religious Studies, Rhodes College introduced the theme of the peace walk, "Let There be Peace on Earth and let it begin with me!" He further explained by stating “What sets this afternoon’s occasion apart is our desire to create peace. By the very act of walking together as a community, we not only express our longing for peace in the world, but we literally generate peace in the world by bringing peace into ourselves”.
The program included a brief description of labyrinth walking as an ancient practice used by many faiths for spiritual centering, contemplation and prayer. Upon entering the labyrinth, the walker walks slowly, quieting the mind and focusing on the spiritual question or prayer. With a labyrinth, the way in is the way out. It is a metaphor for journeying to the center of our deepest self and coming back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who we are and the divine powers within us to make a powerful positive difference in our world.
After an opening prayer by Rev Palmer, Swamiji, as He is affectionately called, passionately and with firm conviction proclaimed that "harmony and unity among different races, languages, cultures, religions and regions can be achieved through fostering Truth, Character, Purity, and Unity". Under His leadership everyone recited His pledge to "Awake, Arise and Unite for Peace". Swamiji spoke about the threat that was facing Mother Earth and the three dangers facing the world today from terrorism, diseases and natural calamities. He urged people to unite to bring peace and to save earth from destruction.
Swamiji honored each leader with a shawl and his blessings. Each spiritual leader/representative then carried a flag of their faith. Swamiji led the participants into the labyrinth and every one slowly walked in silence to the center of the labyrinth where all the flags representing the various faiths were planted in the center. This represented our coming together as ONE for peace. Deb Ford played the heart drum to signify the beating of each heart for love and peace as the participants silently walked the path of peace.
Everyone then joined in repeating a prayer for peace offered by Swamiji and in silence started the journey back. (See photos below).
Flags were planted by leaders/ representatives as follows:
Viswayogi Foundation.........Swamiji/Raj Dave', MD
Buddhist .......Gwang Rinpoche, Pema Karpo Meditation Center
Christian…… Rev. Lawrence Palmer, Unity Church of Practical Christianity
Hindu….. Shankar Iyer, Ph.D.
Jain …. Sunita Jain, MD
Judaism...... Edward T. Ordman, Ph.D., Memphis Inter-Faith Group
Muslim ....Alim Khandekar, MD
Memphis Interfaith..... Arshad Ameen
Sikh............... Kanwalijeet "Sunny" Anand, MD
Introduction to Meditation walk & Centering Thought....... Mark W. Muesse, Ph.D., Rhodes College.
After the conclusion of the walk, everyone gathered in the sanctuary of the church for a discourse by Swamiji followed by His interview by Jim Powell of Core Concepts TV show. The members of the Viswayogi Foundation in Memphis also pledged to Swamiji to take up an Interfaith Service project in the Memphis community and to work with other faiths as ONE.
After the conclusion of the Peace walk, Swamiji gave the following message:
“Divine Embodiments of Love,
I am very happy about the successful Interfaith Labyrinth Walk for Peace that took place at Unity Church of Practical Christianity on 9th November 2014 in which leaders and people of different faiths and nations took part voluntarily and very eagerly. This event is the declaration to the whole world that all the people on this earth are ready to work towards world peace leaving aside their differences.
The Lord is asking us all to offer two flowers, the flower of our heart and the flower of our mind. We need to perfume these two flowers, the heart with LOVE and the mind with PEACE and then offer to the divine lotus feet of the Lord. Whatever the religion may be, whatever the nation may be, whatever the language may be, humanity must be the basis for all the people living on this earth.
Though there are forces trying to create obstacles in the path of achieving peace, with UNITY all the people living on this Mother Earth will achieve peace and this is bound to happen.
My appeal and divine call to all the leaders of the world is to protect Mother Earth which is the basis for all nations, religions and humanity. There is a great danger to Mother Earth due to three main challenges namely terrorism, natural calamities and dreadful diseases like Ebola. Together all have to find solutions to these issues and work on the root causes behind them.
We have witnessed a lot of Americans and people of different nationalities and faiths and even physical conditions and ages taking part in the peace walk which shows the eagerness of all the people to achieve peace as it is the heart throbbing of every individual human being. With pure love we can conquer the hearts of all the people and make this Earth an Abode of Peace.
I convey my heart-full divine blessings to one and all for world peace and especially to Mona, Anjana, Lakshmi Dasari, Rajagopal, Raj Dave, Rekha, Deepika, Nalini and their families as well to all the religious leaders and participants who made this event a success”.
Other participants later shared their experience as follows:
- “For me, Mona Winfrey, co-coordinator, it was a powerful transformative experience to join with other like-minded people to walk for peace in the non-violent tradition of M. Gandhi and Dr. M. L. King”
- "Communal walking has long been a part of our collective human history, especially the history of our spiritual longings. We think of the ancient Israelites wandering in the wilderness seeking the land flowing with milk and honey. We think of Muslims circumambulating the Kaa’ba in Makkah and Christians on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to walk the Stations of the Cross. In the modern world, we’ve become accustomed to walking for political and social causes. We remember Mohandas Gandhi and the Salt March that inaugurated a massive civil disobedience movement leading to the independence of India. We think of the March on Washington, whose 50th anniversary we have just celebrated, which spurred the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. We look around and see the many walks that are conducted each year to raise funds and awareness for particular medical concerns such as the Race for the Cure, the March of Dimes, the St. Jude Marathon.
- At today’s Interfaith Peace Walk, we gather here in this place to join this long history of human beings who have moved their bodies through space and time for a purpose. Like these other walks, today’s Peace Walk is not a matter of getting from Point A to Point B, as most of our walking in life is. Rather, we are here to bring attention to a cause: our yearning and deep longing for peace on earth.
But unlike many other walks for a cause, we are not here simply to raise awareness; we are not here just to persuade politicians to act on our behalf; we are not here to raise money for the cause of peace or to fulfill an obligation to our religion.
What sets this afternoon’s occasion apart is our desire to create peace. By the very act of walking together as a community, we not only express our longing for peace in the world, but we literally generate peace in the world by bringing peace into ourselves. Walking to create peace is reflected in the theme chosen for today occasion: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”
The actual goal of our time together is not consciousness-raising or fund-raising or protesting. We are here to make peace. That is because there is no way to peace; peace is the way”. Mark W. Muesse Ph.D., W. J. Millard Professor of Religious Studies, Department of Religious Studies, Rhodes College.
- "What a personal and spiritual delight the Peace Walk was. I was so pleased to have the marvelous energy of love and peace brought together on our property and particularly within the labyrinth. To have so many folks from so many different faiths walking together was remarkable and blessed. Such is a model for the world. I recognize that the event did not just happen. There was an inspired vision and there was a great deal of hard work to make the gathering actually take place. Thank you to all those who contributed and participated”.
Rev. Lawrence Palmer, Unity Church of Practical Christianity
- "I felt humbled to be a part of this inspiring gathering of many cultures and religious traditions, in such a beautiful, sacred natural setting. As I walked the labyrinth with these lovely, loving people, I felt very hopeful. I was mindful that we could all gather, greet and worship together, because we live in a democratic republic that ensures the freedom of religion as one of its founding principles. I truly hope this circle will widen to include all the faith organizations in Shelby County, who, while learning to appreciate each other’s differences, can also work together to help create a peaceful society where every person is safe, fed, healthy, educated, and economically, as well as spiritually thriving”. Madge Bares, Baha'i Representative
- "The Peace walk created a profound and lasting impression on my mind. I experienced a deep sense of Spiritual enlightenment while participating in the Peace Walk in the company of “Swamiji" , several leaders of different religions along with men and women of all ages. The march crossed National and international barriers as well. The "walk" was a great unifying effort.as it crossed religious barriers and was a great step toward Universal Global Peace. I would hope that we continue this tradition for many more years to come. Thank you for providing me an opportunity to participate in this Noble endeavor”. Shankar Iyer, Ph.D., Retired Principal Scientist of Pennakem, Hindu Representative
- "On November 9 there was a rather remarkable interfaith "Peace" Service organized at the Unity Church of Practical Christianity, 9228 Walnut Grove Road, Cordova, also sponsored by the Sri Viswayogi Foundation. While it is not that unusual for Jews and mainstream Christians to have interfaith events (there will be a nice Thanksgiving Service in a couple of weeks) and Muslims often join in, the variety of faiths represented November 9th this year may even have exceeded that at the Sri Viswayogi event a year ago. As we were leaving, taking Eunice's wheelchair up the somewhat hilly dirt trail, someone said to me "Isn't it remarkable to find a Mormon, a Jew, and Two Muslims all pushing a Christian lady in a wheelchair ?” Edward T Ordman, Ph.D., Retired UM Professor, Judaism Representative
- “I was on a wheelchair and couldn't move around easily. People came and spoke with me instead of leaving me alone. One Black lady came and sat with me and held my hand, and I felt a real feeling of closeness with her”. Eunice Ordman, wife of Edward, and honored as our most senior participant at 90 years of age!
- "Being part of the peace walk was the most uplifting & amazing experience. I felt fortunate to be able to witness leaders from the different religions all come together & walk as a group for this noble cause. It was breathtaking to see people from all walks of life & all ages (we had 90+ year olds to teens) come together to take part in this unity peace walk”. Himani Dave
- "The Interfaith Labyrinth walk for Peace and Service held on November 9th at the Unity Church of Practical Christianity has helped our religious communities to come together for a common cause to achieve Peace and Harmony in the society. We have started this on a small scale and with Divine Blessings hope to make it a much bigger event in the future with the idea that “We are All One Human Family striving to make this earth of ours an abode of Peace and Prosperity”. Raj Dave, MD
- "Thank you so much for inviting us to this event. It was a great experience getting together with people from all walks of life." Thank you so much for organizing the event. My part in the event was very miniscule. I didn't deserve to be called up as a leader but I appreciate it and I am humbled by the experience. It was a great and humbling experience to gather together with people from different cultures, ethnicities and religious backgrounds and spend a couple of hours contemplating on our purpose in life and trying to come together to seek peace within ourselves and the world at large”. Arshad Ameen, Muslim & Memphis Interfaith
- "It was profoundly moving to participate in and witness the various faiths and ethnic and racial cultures unite in a prayerful walk for world peace”. Participant.
- “I participated in the Interfaith program at Unity church last Sunday and represented Jainism. Under the guidance of Swamiji, with leaders and practitioners from many faiths, we walked the labyrinth. Performing walking meditation in unity brought a sense of peace and calmness both internally and externally and created an energy force that was palpable and inspiring. If a small group of people united for the cause of humanity can produce such an outcome, I have optimism and faith in good things to come as the Interfaith community grows and increases activities
- I came away with a sense of calmness, accomplishment and purpose to continue with such activities”. Sunita Jain, MD-Jain faith
- “The whole event was inspired by Swamiji and the joy and peace that our group experienced in organizing this event was in itself a great blessing from Him. We are so profoundly grateful to be His instruments and we humbly request Swamiji to continue to give us opportunities to serve. We express deep gratitude to the leaders of all the faiths that participated in the event for opening up their hearts and thank all participants and volunteers for their help”. Anjana Challa, Coordinator-Memphis Chapter of Viswayogi Foundation
May we all choose to live in unity, love and peace.
Mona Winfrey & Anjana Challa