LEWISTON — Limor Finkel has rediscovered her own faith by learning about others.
Growing up in a strict Jewish family, Finkel learned Hebrew. She learned her prayers and she learned her temple’s songs, she said, “because I like to sing.”
Yet, so much washed over her in a blur of familiarity, habit and the sound of her own thoughts.
And so much has changed.
The Bates College senior, an Israeli who still describes herself as “not religious,” has found something new in her parents’ faith and their synagogue.
“More frequently than not, I am quiet and listening and reading,” she said. “And I’m paying more attention to the congregation as a whole instead of being in my own head. I’m looking at people while they’re praying and seeing how faith moves them. I’m realizing what the words are saying and why people react certain ways to specific prayers.”
It’s a change that shocks no one in the little room above Wood Street where Bates College students of many faiths — members of the school’s Multifaith Council — meet to talk about their religion and their neighbors.
“We assume a position of holy naivete,” Bill Blaine-Wallace, the school’s multifaith chaplain, said. “There are so many cultural assumptions and stereotypes about religion that the temptation would be to see people through their particular political lens. What we’re fascinated by and continually inspired from is the meaning religion has for a particular person.”
Rather than look for the things that are the same in every religion, they look for the differences and celebrate them.
And there’s plenty to draw from. The college recruits students from around the world. A recent gathering drew a Jew (Finkel), a Christian, a Muslim, an agnostic and a Hindu.
In part, their ability to co-exist can be cause for celebration.
“You’re not necessarily looking for similarities to be a friend with someone,” Mustafa Basij-Rasikh, a Muslim student from Afghanistan, said. “But I accept that you’re different. I guess that’s what makes Multifaith Council special.”
It’s one of the busier groups on campus.
Members run an annual banquet that draws students to celebrate a variety of religious traditions. But there are other events. On Saturday, Basij-Rasikh and Finkel hoped to explore ways of communication between Muslims and Jews by using art as a means of discussion.
Blaine-Wallace, an Episcopal priest who has worked at Bates since 2006, hosts regular dinners at his home. Council members meet and share.
And on Wednesday nights they hold a service, called Pause, at Bates’ chapel.
“It’s a service of silence, music and poetry,” Emily Wright-Timko, an associate chaplain, said. Each week features a theme with music and poetry reading.
Recent services have featured Finkel playing piano and dance by Indian student Shachi Phene, a Hindu. As few as six or as many as three dozen have attended.
“It’s a little more for the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd,” Wright-Timko said.
And though many Bates students describe themselves as Christians, relatively few are active in the council, Blaine-Wallace said.
Maybe they’re served off campus, he said. Maybe they feel they have the answers they need.
Either way, he said the work has helped him see his own faith through new eyes, though it’s something he rarely shares. It’s too close to preaching.
“This community has created a thirst for my own faith roots,” Blaine-Wallace said. “I’ve become more curious about being an Episcopalian by being in this multicultural conversation than I ever was being the rector of an Episcopal church.”
But as he has met more people of more faiths, he has lost some of his enthusiasm for the certainty of Western religion. Other faiths seem less preoccupied with the idea of one, single truth.
Blaine-Wallace hears the strictness in his own celebration of Mass and his speaking of the words, “Jesus, the one perfect embodiment of God.”
“I rush through it or cross my fingers or something,” he joked.