By Qalvy Grainzvolt
The sound of an anvil strike is not normally heard during any interfaith services that I have ever attended thus far in my 20 years of service as a Shinnyo-en Buddhist priest in the United States. However, on February 6, 2022, I heard its sound loud and clear. It was inspiring. On that date, I was able to once more participate as the Shinnyo-en Buddhist representative for the 18th Annual Interreligious Prayer Service for Peace and Justice Celebrating World Interfaith Harmony Week – held as part of the United Nations’ period of observance.
This annual gathering is normally assembled in person at a local house of worship in Westchester County, about a 40-minute drive from the U.N. However, this is the second time we have convened this special interreligious prayer service over video conferencing technology due to the on-going Coronavirus pandemic. The facilitator, Dr. Charles Chesnavage, intones a prayer bell in between each religious/spiritual tradition representative to clearly demarcate the start and end of each prayer. We had close to 15 faith and spiritual traditions represented this year.
The sound of the bell had an abrupt, staccato-esque sound probably due to the echo cancellation features of the video conferencing software. For this reason, it sounded less like a bell and more like a hammer striking an anvil. No matter what we did to take a time-out and troubleshoot the sound of the bell sounding like an anvil, it did not respond to our best technical interventions. I see this as perhaps the way it was “supposed” to be. For me, this was a beautiful sound despite its unintentionality. Why? Because for 18 years we have been co-constructing and forging an interfaith space each year that we assemble, share, and exchange our spiritual practices, sacred mantras, prayers and texts.
An image of anvil
The “anvil” became a reminder that World Interfaith Harmony Week is not only a collaborative dynamic but a constructive one as well. It felt like we were building a more pluralistic and harmonious future in our immediate circles. This was not accomplished with steel, wood, and concrete. Rather, it was built with a concrete-like commitment to coming together time and again with intentionality, warmth, and a willingness to hold space for another.
In the words of our gathering’s representative of Judaism, Rabbi Roger Ross, quoting his mentor during rabbinical school: “There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who are my friends and those who are not yet my friends.” Sometimes it is hard to believe this is possible. But every year, building our interreligious prayer service during World Interfaith Harmony Week with collaborative presence, these words ring a little more possible, and perhaps true. Much like the sound of a prayer bell… or maybe an anvil.
Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt, Shinnyo-en New York Temple, chanting