Australians love to celebrate Easter. And it's not just the chocolate eggs, feasting and four-day weekend many of us enjoy. There's a national feeling of entitlement about this holiday. Taking quality time to enjoy our "promised land" is as much a part of our collective psyche as is our propensity to forthrightness and our "she'll be right" attitude.
Quaint as this may sound, the sense of being part of this wonderful country, which has historically upheld democracy, law and order, freedom of speech and religion, and equal access to opportunity, is integral to who we are. Although we're currently experiencing challenging repercussions from the overturning of some outdated attitudes about ourselves and our environment, these guiding principles continue to be born out in our acceptance and mutual respect for people of every race, culture and religion.
To illustrate how this is evolving, a few weeks ago I sat at a table between an old friend, who is a Buddhist nun, and a Muslim Imam, who became a new friend. Around the table were also Christians of several denominations, and men and women from the Jewish, Hindu and Baha'i faith communities. We had come together at Parliament House, Sydney, under the auspices of APRO (the Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations), which comprises national representatives from the various faith communities in Australia, to discuss the benefits of religion and its key values to secular society.
We'd been set the task to identify shared values or ideals embraced by our own faith traditions, which, if employed more widely by individuals, groups and governments to tackle issues, could have a real bearing on the progress of society in measurable ways and help heal its divisions.
We discussed how these spiritual values profoundly influence and enter the minutiae of the lives of people of faith.
For instance, participants told of how they feel compelled to practise honesty and equity over seeking unfair business or personal profits as they obey the Golden Rule, doing unto others as they would want others to do to them. They shared how religious values teach non-partisanship rather than taking sides; how their beliefs give them strength to more often choose spirituality over sensuality, brotherly love over self-interest, and humility over self-promotion. We found we each had experienced more peace in our lives as an open-minded approach that trusts in a higher power was adopted, rather than letting fear or outrage manipulate our actions. And we collectively acknowledged that when we cherish the value of forgiveness, we promote healing.
While these values can't be co-opted by any one group, religious or not, there is tremendous consequence in championing their utilisation by society in general.
Consider how these kinds of spiritual values could practically assist construction of the budget, social services policy or our asylum-seeker program.
The forum identified the need for increased interfaith dialogue and willingness to engage with secular society and institutions. Many of us went away with a deep desire to examine our own faith traditions and practices, and to root out evidence of intolerance, discrimination or prejudice. The full report of outcomes from the forum can be found here.
My Christian faith reveals that the overarching need for individuals and for societies is "the fruit of the Spirit" found in "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance," as St Paul discovered. When we seek these first, ideas that meet the current need will be revealed, as my recent experience illustrates.
After weeks of searching, I'd settled on the perfect new home; it ticked all the boxes. The thing was, it would cost every dollar we had and much more, so my husband was not keen to proceed. Tension was escalating between us, as circumstances dictated that a decision be made over the upcoming weekend. Taking a moment to acknowledge a higher power as governing, it struck me that a solution that benefitted us both equally could only appear as I ditched the general belief in conflicting minds and personal agendas.
In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Christian reformer, Mary Baker Eddy, explains the science of this changed perspective: "When we realize that there is one Mind, the divine law of loving our neighbor as ourselves is unfolded; whereas a belief in many ruling minds hinders man's normal drift towards the one Mind, one God, and leads human thought into opposite channels where selfishness reigns."
Previous experiences I'd had where solutions resulted from a similar spiritual approach meant that I was not really surprised when a new home came on the market that day in the right area and at the right price. The agent met us there within the hour. My husband and I were both moved – as if we had one Mind – to decide there and then to purchase it. I was in awe of the power of humility and patience.
As a Christian, Easter speaks to me of Jesus, our great example; of a life that expresses God and enfolds everyone in honesty, love, humility, patience, healing.