The lovely little rural church in Rebersburg, and the beautiful June day, seemed unlikely surroundings for a speaker about a demanding and transformative interfaith journey from searing hatred to gentle compassion.
The intense young man in his 30s, Andrew Bowen, an ex-Marine from Lumberton, N.C., was incredibly open and honest about his dramatic story. The journey was anything but superficial as it totally immersed him in the beliefs and disciplines of 12 religions in 12 months. He told of the terrors, doubts and testing he endured throughout the year, the effects on his young family, and the deeply personal insights he came to.
The religions that Bowen chose were: Hinduism (Shaivite sect), Baha’i, Zarathushti (Zoroastrian), Judaism (Conservative/Reform), Buddhism (Theravada), agnostic/atheist, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Islam (primarily Sunni), Sikh (Sikhism), Wicca (mostly eclectic solitary), Jainism (as a Svetambara monk) and Roman Catholicism.
Carefully planning his yearlong effort with 12 mentors or guides at 12 religious centers who would help him in the necessary study and discipline, Bowen came out the other side a changed man: He had traveled from an all-consuming hatred for religion, precipitated by the death of an unborn child — that threatened to destroy his family and himself — into a rebirth of his own humanity, a profound compassion, understanding and appreciation for all faiths, and dedication to interfaith understanding and reconciliation, for peace between religions — and between the religious and nonreligious.
Bowen found most of what he knew about each of these faiths was a misunderstanding, and found himself standing, bowing and praying, shoulder to shoulder, with tears in his eyes and a broken heart, with members of faiths he had especially despised or feared.
Bowen will share more of his story when he speaks in our area on Sept. 22. His book, “Project Conversion: One Man, Twelve Faiths, One Year” will also be available for purchase.
This speaking event is part of local observance of the United Nations International Day of Peace, and also of the International Day of Prayer for Peace on Sept. 21-22. The weekend will be an interfaith observance, with both student and community groups called to engage in a prayer vigil for peace on Sept. 21, and people of all faiths invited to hear the speaker, Andrew Bowen, on Sept. 22.
“Who will you make peace with?” That is the question asked by the International Day of Prayer for Peace, in coordination with the International Day of Peace. Since 1981, the U.N. has called for one day in which there is no war being fought anywhere on Earth — a cease-fire in all conflicts around the globe — and the observance of an International Day of Peace on Sept. 21.
Likewise the World Council of Churches, in coordination with other global faith communities, asks people and congregations everywhere to pray for an end to conflict and war everywhere — of whatever type and in whatever area is most relevant to them — in their families, neighborhoods, nations, the world. A possible local focus this year is safety, nurture and protection for all our young people, regardless of ethnicity, religion, color, nationality, immigrant status, gender or sexual orientation, and an end to discrimination, profiling, harassment and violence.
More information on the weekend’s events will be available soon from from Interfaith Initiative Centre County.
Sarah Q. Malone, a member of University Baptist & Brethren Church, has served as convener of Interfaith Initiative Centre County ( InterfaithInitiativeCC@hotmail.com) since 2010.