Goodbye is hard: the holy work of letting go.

Author:Munnik, Katie

THE SPOUSE HAD PROMISED really good curry, but told me to eat a sandwich first.


"The speeches will be long," he said. "We probably won't see dinner until after 9 p.m."

As a lecturer with broad interests, the Spouse is invited to all sorts of events. This time, it was an interfaith dinner at city hall and partners were included. The theme of the evening was "Faith in the Future" and the speakers were Sarah Joseph and Karen Armstrong.

Sarah Joseph is a British writer and broadcaster who converted to Islam as a teenager and focuses her work on Islam, women's rights and interfaith questions. Karen Armstrong refers to herself as "a runaway nun." She has written over 20 books exploring the Abrahamic religions, theologies and histories as well as memoir and biography. From both speakers, I think I expected to hear about something historical, perhaps concerning the underpinnings of our contemporary situation. Instead, the evening was a call to action.

Karen Armstrong spoke about compassion--not soft-bellied, sentimental love, but active engagement with the world. I was struck by Armstrong's strong assertion that all faith traditions share the golden rule. Compassion is the common thread--and it is more important today than ever before.

"I am convinced that unless now we learn to implement the golden rule globally and ensure that in whatever walk of life we find ourselves that all peoples--whoever they are and whether we like them or not--are treated as we would wish to be treated ourselves, the world is not going to be a viable place."

The world can be a weary place and Armstrong assured us that we are at our best when we let it disturb us. She spoke of "dethroning yourself from the centre of your world." We should respond to our own pain by helping others. We should deal with uncertainty by reaching out.

Sarah Joseph's focus was religious literacy. She gently argued that in our multicultural and mingling society, there is no excuse for a lack of curiosity about those around us. But this isn't just about keeping our eyes open; we also need to be willing to open our mouths. We need to find the willingness and courage to speak about the important things. Sacred things. Things like compassion and forgiveness. Love. Fear. Death. Courage. These are holy things. We use the word holy to indicate things that are special and have been set apart--but Joseph encouraged us to remember that set apart should never mean locked away. We need to talk about...

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