Sitting in the silence together

This New Year’s Eve was a first for me, for eight local friends and for 30 more around the country who participated in spirit. We of many faith traditions, and of no faith tradition, sat together in silence in the space that opened as 2015 gave way to 2016, praying-meditating-being the love and peace we long for in the new year. Inner love, world love, inner peace, world peace.

I’ve been meditating regularly for more than 25 years. Sitting in silence in the Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and shamanic traditions, alone and in the company of others, in the U.S. and around the world.

I’ve participated in Catholic Masses, Protestant worship, Hindu pujas, Jewish Passovers, Muslim iftars, Native American sweat lodges and Q’ero fire ceremonies.

But it’s always been practicing one tradition at a time.

Interfaith Initiative Centre County has monthly coffee hours and periodic Abrahamic Table panels where we learn about different traditions’ faith and practice, as well as our own. We discuss and converse, build friendships and learn, but do not usually practice or apply disciplines from other faiths.

This New Year’s Eve that changed for me.

We came together at my home shortly after 11 p.m. for cookies and company. At 11:40, we went to sit in the meditation room, surrounded by sacred objects and teachings from many of the world’s faith traditions. Some people sat in chairs, some on cushions, others on the floor. One of us offered a beautiful prayer. Then the bell rang and we sat together, in stillness and in silence.

There was nothing to discuss. Nothing to agree on, nothing to disagree with. No differences in venue — no church, no mosque, no temple, no synagogue, no sweat lodge, no zendo, no fire pit. No differences in ritual. No differences in culture or race or gender or sexual orientation. No differences in language — English, Latin, Arabic, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Tibetan, Pali, Quechua all sound the same in silence.

And so together, we sat.

The bell rang again about 12:15 and we departed with hugs and whispers, still enveloped in silence.

It was powerful. Love was palpable. Peace infused us. One friend told me that it was the best New Year’s Eve celebration she’d ever had.

When we sit together in silence, our differences melt away.

And we are left in — and as — the silence, the presence, the love that we all share.

We will sit together in silence again on the evening of Feb. 26. If you would like to join us and/or learn more about other IICC events and activities, email InterfaithInitiative CC@hotmail.com and ask to be put on the mailing list.

Shih-In Ma is a member of Interfaith Initiative Centre County, who has practiced extensively in the Christian, Buddhist and Hindu traditions, and has studied Sufism, shamanic healing, transpersonal psychology and engineering. She spent two years in Africa in the Peace Corps and four years in India with Amma, the Hugging Saint. She has found the same love, the same presence, at the heart of every people and every faith tradition she has come to know.