In the early months of this year, the Center for Interfaith Relations was in full steam ahead planning mode for our marquee event, the 25th annual Festival of Faiths. Our theme of Sacred Stories was shaping up to be a commemoration of the past bridges we have built, and the fruitful labor we know lays ahead of us. Of course, as with much of the world, our plans were altered in mid-March by the spread of COVID-19. As our Festival of Faiths draws thought and faith leaders from around the world to our home in Louisville, we knew our standard model for a multi-day, in-person event was not feasible.
Still, there is sacred work to be done. As the staff of the Center learned to connect with each other remotely in a new webcam world, we realized a key element of why we do this work was missing: the human interaction with our audience. Since we also host the Thomas Merton Prize in Poetry of the Sacred, a swift adjustment was to offer the first incarnation of our Sacred Essay series. We are dedicated to the power of words, and quickly recalibrated to accept as many words as possible from our network of writers.
With almost a hundred entries from six countries received by May 15, our call for essays was certainly heard. We look make connections between faiths, living a contemplative life, and finding common action that elevates all persons is what guides us in our own efforts. This first edition of the Sacred Essays contest sought to fill the void imposed upon us by our new reality. Connection is difficult in a time of face masks and Zoom meetings. Contemplation can be difficult when the reality of paying rent and buying groceries is an everyday concern. Common actions seem so insignificant in the face of an unseen, microscopic threat.
As rewarding as it surely must be for these nine authors to find their works published here, the true blessing of this exercise seems a bit selfish. The editors who have read all of these works – final judging was completed by a former editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, a Thomas Merton scholar and theologian, and an inter-faith publisher – have been amazed at the quality of writing received in a relatively short period of time. The desire to connect through writing was palpable, and reading these essays served as much-needed therapy.
Looking ahead, we are excited for the Poetry of the Sacred contest this year, and where our essay project will take us. The Center for Interfaith Relations finds our most valuable assets are the relationships we are able to make. Though we are a nation and world of many faiths, we find that our truths reside in one heart. In this time of separation, it is through common action that we will remain in communion with each other.