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April 5, 2023: Interfaith Chaplain Reflection

Feature by: Adam Kirtley, Interfaith Chaplain

Three religious symbols: a cross (Christianity), the Star of David (Judaism), and the Crescent and Star (Islam).

Sunday marks the confluence of Ramadan, Passover and Easter. These holiest of days invite people of faith to remember some of the most extraordinary stories that are woven into the tapestry of their spiritual practice.

Most of the world’s religious traditions involve narratives of miracles and supernatural events. Ramadan marks the month in which the angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad and revealed to him the first verses of the Quran. On Sunday Christians will celebrate Easter which commemorates the story of Jesus returning to life three days after he was crucified. And, tonight after sunset, Jewish people will observe the first night of Passover—a time to remember how the Israelites escaped from bondage in Egypt. This story involves numerous miracles, including the famous account of Moses parting the Red Sea so that his people could escape their advancing enemy.

As a child I loved these kinds of stories. Before intellectual scrutiny got in the way, I was delighted to imagine those fantastical narratives. But at some point I had to engage the question: “Wait a minute. Do I really believe that happened?” 

I suspect most people of faith, as they mature, engage that question. How they answer it, though, will vary widely which is precisely why I’ve opted to write this piece as a first person reflection. How I answer that question will likely be different from how many would answer it, and I happen to think that’s okay!

Do I really believe it happened? My answer: It really doesn’t matter to me if it did or didn't. In other words, fiction or nonfiction, it is the interpretation and contemporary application of those stories that most informs my spiritual journey. Or, to borrow a phrase, I look to these stories for TRUTH, and am less concerned with the FACTS. The stories of Easter and Passover recall miraculous events and each can be framed in a context that centers justice and compassion. Here are some examples.

For a few years, just before COVID-19, I was honored to work with members of the Jewish community and the Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coalition to consider Passover through the lens of Immigrant Rights. We organized a Passover Seder (the symbolic meal that recounts the Exodus story) which amplified the obvious connection between the Isralites who were escaping persecution and looking for a secure homeland, and contemporary immigrants who are seeking to start a life for themselves in our country, despite inhumane policies established by our government. Situating the contemporary immigration crisis within the context of an ancient biblical narrative was a deeply powerful experience.

And within my own tradition, Christianity, I have come now to re-read each year not only the story of Christ’s death and the miracle of his resurrection, but also the words of theologian Peter Rollin who seems to answer my questions about what it is I believe about this story. He says, “I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and the oppressed. Every time I do not serve my neighbor, every time I walk away from the poor. I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system. However,” he goes on, “there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm the resurrection when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, I affirm the resurrection when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, I affirm the resurrection, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.”

In this important week for Muslims, Christians and Jews, large swaths of religious folk all over the world will gather with their communities to share in the traditions of their faith. Yet, each person is on their own spiritual journey—each is grappling with those stories and considering how they will inform their lives and their understanding of the world in which they live. As Whitman’s Interfaith Chaplain, it is my privilege to support people of all faiths on our campus in the midst of their communal and individual spiritual journeys.

Salaam, Shalom, Peace,



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