photo by Elizabeth Sanchez
by Daniel August
To be honest, I am not exceedingly versed in the habits or beliefs of the Sikh community. And even then the assumptions of knowledge that I do hold about Sikhism is second hand, and is in no way greater than what could be overheard at the average garden party (if such even still occur). To say it concisely, before my recent trip, I was ignorant of the Sikh faith. Such being true, I was ecstatic when given the chance to broaden my figurative horizons through the most recent Campus 4 Community sponsored by the Interfaith Center.
Being a person who generally feels peculiarly comfortable when floating in ignorance, there was only one feasible plan of action: hold no expectations. And so this is was my mantra, of sorts, throughout the experience.
Upon arriving at the gurudwara, the first habit that made contact with my own scheme was the husking of shoes and the donning of head covering apparatuses. The former habit has been one observed by me for the entirety of my life and so meshed comfortably with my own traditions, but the latter was new and interesting. I generally stray from the wearing of hats as my head is of gargantuan proportions, but the complementary head covering fit and helped adjust me into the sort of service which was awaiting me inside. Sikhs cover their heads in the gurudwara as a sign of respect toward the sovereignty of the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy text).
It was not long into the service that a general grasping of the religion began to form in my mind. The majority of the service consisted of sacramental singing of holy song in a language I found most beautiful. Displayed, on screens at either side of the alter, were the songs being sung in both their mother tongue and the English translation. And though my natural inclination was to close my eyes and simply listen to the singing, I spent a good amount of the time reading the English translations trying to piece together the religious tradition into the middle of which I had been thrown. And it was through this process of knitting together the atmosphere of the service and the lyrics of the songs that within me there grew a great understanding and love for the Sikh community. A good amount of what they were singing about resonated with me personally. Of course, the tradition differs from my own personal cosmology in significant ways (I’m sure) there is always this tremendously moving emotion associated with finding common ground with other religious traditions. This sort of intrapersonal satisfaction was only magnified by the delicious meal the temple provided us with post service. And such is honestly the symbiotic relationship between differing faiths. The hosting party’s urge to do service unto another whilst expressing their own faith is met while the receiving party is made the gift of broadened horizons.