The Sathya Sai Organisation, Victoria East Region in collaboration with City of Whitehorse and the City of Glen Eira presented an All-Faith Musical Festival at the Kel Watson Theatre at Forest Hill College, Forest Hills. Shepparton Interfaith Network was present and participated.
Participants in the All-Faith Music Festival were from the Jewish faith, the Baha'i, Buddhist representatives, a Worship Choir, Sufi instrumentals, singers from Sai Devotional Group of Mornington, young people from In2Worship, Sufi Whirling Dervishes, and Sufi Chants, and Sufi devotional music with Sitar. Councillor Roz Blade gave the Jewish prayer, and Councillor Oscar Lobo spoke about the importance of music and song from the different faith groups contributing to the rich diversity of multicultural Australia. Rev. Chris Parnell of the Shepparton Interfaith Network gave an address and a vote of thanks. What follows is the address by Rev. Parnell of Shepparton.
Music and Spiritual Identity
Many people write, sing and speak of the Sound of Silence; there is no sound and vibration in silence but there is awareness, and perhaps, in seeking the sound of silence, those people come to their own awareness of emotion, thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, they come to a higher awareness of spirit. Searching for the echoes of the sounds of silence within those people may well be a hankering for being and awareness, and mayhap, the bliss that come with these.
I was recently listening to ABC Conversations on Radio National where a biologist, Tim Low, was interviewed about his latest book, Where Song Began. In this interview, Tim Low spoke about the scientific agreement that songbirds all over the world emerged from Australia and adapted to their new environment. Birds of song first began in Australia with the Lyrebird, the Kookaburra, the Bell-Birds, the Bower birds and the marvellous collection of parrots that Australia is home to. Nature, Tim Low noted, is not silent, and greets each new day with the sounds of nature, as birds and animals of all kinds greet the dawn with their distinctive songs.
Australia was never a silent place. The indigenous peoples of Australia had their clap sticks and their boomerang clap-sticks (which can be shaken together to produce a rattling sound). The indigenous peoples had their songlines, the journey of the sacred ancestors, and "sing the country", to sing and tell the stories of the creator ancestors, stories of the Seven Sisters, stories of Rainbow Serpent creating the landscapes, of great snakes making rivers, of the great mother Goolagaia, of Bunjil and Biame the creators, and of Alcheringa, the protective spirit. These were tribal songs which proclaimed their identity, their relationship to their totems, to their ancestors. Our indigenous peoples had their sacred music and sacred songs which declared their relationship with the Divine and their personal identity.
Humanity excels in music for we have traversed from the tribal creation stories of our Aboriginals to songs celebrating the glory of divinity in all its froms by St Francis of Assisi, to the splendour of Handel's Messiah. It seems that whenever we encounter another religion, our encounter begins with music and song. We may visit a Buddhist monastery where the bell clarifies our consciousness and listen to the chanting of Om Mane Padme Hum; we may visit the Benedictine Monastery and listen to the monks begin their day with the psalms in plainsong chant:
Come, ring out our joy to the Lord
Hail the God who saves us
Let us come before him giving thanks
With song, let us hail the Lord.
We may visit an ashram and hear the recitation of Chamakam, the prayer to Lord Shiva; we may visit the Gurdwara, and listen to the Gurbani intoning the slokas of the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred book of the Sikhs, and listen to Wadhe Guru being sung. Wherever we go in faith, we encounter song. And it is in these songs that we remind ourselves what God has done for us, and how we are the people who chant and sing his holy Name. Our sacred songs proclaim our sacred identity.
Events like this All Faith Music Festival we attend today are sanctifying, for they give access to devotional activity in other religions heretofore not encountered. When I experience the Sufi Whirling Dervishes and the accompanying chant, I reflect on discipline and devotion and how that whirling raises consciousness to a new awareness of the Divine, an awareness I do not have. I take time to reflect on this new aspect of seeking and experiencing the Divine, for we humans can never know the Divine completely, except when we search and encounter, and take the time to reflect on the sacred disciplines involved.
Exploring another - perhaps totally new or different - sacred discipline calls for contemplation and experience. It does not call for judgement, comparison, or any other kind of evaluation. This calls for humility and self awareness, as I allow myself to experience more of the divine, like a mirror shining and reflecting light in a myriad of different forms.
We watched In2Worship, the young people with their song and dance and elements of hip-hop and rap music. I thought about youth culture with its hip-hop and rap and reflected that as we, humans, approach the Divine in music, song and body expression, we are never asked to not be ourselves; we are not asked to pull ourselves out of our environment into something else – we are simply asked to be ourselves and give expression to that divine worship that arises within us. And we listened to their songs, they have the same message: give love, tell the person next to you about Love, there is love in our world.
Just as the whirling of the dervishes we witnessed today hinted at raising of awareness and consciousness, so also, the playing of the sitar by Khalil Gubaz allowed a resting, a peaceful presence, and consciousness may drift along with the melody from the sapta swaras (the seven great sounds) and a letting go, a lightening of the mind, a receeding awareness as the sacred tunes hint of higher awareness, higher realities. I felt a stirring of a response within, energy rising up toward the crown, hinting at how sacred devotional music may also lift us to a new awareness, a new experience of the divine, as a new sacred identity emerges within.
I return to Shepparton, my home town, where, many years ago, I was attending an Anzac Day service along with many others - perhaps 1000 people who spilled over the roads - in their keeping of the flame of sacrifice our Anzac warriors and servicemen and women. On that day, we listened to the Naval Captain, to the Ode, and observed the silence. We sang the National Anthem; we listened to more talks. Somewhere near the end of this, a very popular song promoted by one telecommuncations corporation was sung, with the refrain, "I am, You Are, We Are" ... and the people present sang and proclaimed their common identity as Australian with gusto, verve and vigour.
On that day, as happened this day, my reflection was about how music integrates mind, body and spirit. When we sing together, we sing with one voice; we raise the song of creation, we are the choir of the Universe. Just as the indigenous Australians are with their clapsticks, chanting and dancing the song of the Creator. Song gives them a sense of place, a sense of sacred connectedness and identity, so also, our All-Faiths Music Festivals reveal dimensions of the unknown that adds more to who you and I am. It addresses both ourselves and the Divine: "I am, You Are, We Are", a people with a song of the Divine in our lives.