Friday, December 4, 2009

Musings on the language of Interfaith dialogue

Each morning of the Parliament begins with offerings of religious observances by many different traditions. Friday morning I attended the Yoruba Religious Observance offered by Baba Wande Abimbola of Ifa School in Nigeria.

I find myself thinking about his words and I wanted to share my musings. He said several times things like "You don't understand what we mean by sacrifice", "Sacrifice is very important in Ifa", "Sacrifice is the language through which we speak to the Orisha". He then talked about wearing yellow-orange clothes and giving yellow-orange fruit to Oshun. It made me want to look up sacrifice and see what it really means because I admit that what I am hearing I would call sacra (permanent things dedicated to the Gods such as special clothing) and offerings (ephemeral things given for the use of the Gods such a food). [Though I see the dictionary doesn't have sacra in it at all, it must be a term of art from my Umbanda practice.]

For me, sacrifice would mean giving something very precious to me to the Gods, rather than just a normal offering, which offering is indeed a "language" for speaking to the Gods. Merriam Webster says that the word Sacrifice comes from Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin sacrificium, from sacr-, sacer + facere to make. So sacrifice is literally to make something sacred, but the first definition is 1 : an act of offering to a deity something precious; especially : the killing of a victim on an altar. So the Baba has probably run into people who hear the word sacrifice and think of human or animal sacrifice. Going to the definition of Offerings 1 a : the act of one who offers b : something offered; especially : a sacrifice ceremonially offered as a part of worship c : a contribution to the support of a church. So really sacrifice/offering are quite interchangeable it seems.

In interfaith I am always torn between moderating my language to something palatable to my hearer and using the terms of art or religious phrases that I actually use. So sometimes I have said "We are all children of one Mother" instead of "We all come from the Goddess". But sometimes I have said Goddess. It really depends on my audience. I think that Don's stages of interfaith dialogue are very true. I don't remember them exactly but in early stages we look for commonalities and in later stages we honour each others differences. And we have to be very clear about the language we are using too it seems.

Rowan Fairgrove
National Interfaith Representative

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