Public Discourse in Action: A Bahá’í Speaks at “Spiritual Oneness” Forum

Sherna Deamer, a faculty member of the Wilmette Institute’s course on Social Action and Public Discourse and a frequent student in other courses, is a professional writer specializing in religion, environmental issues, and social and economic development. She worked as public relations officer for the Bahá’ís of Los Angeles from 1978 to 1983, then served at the Bahá’í World Center in Haifa from 1983 to 2002. She currently works for the Superior Court of California as creator/manager of a website that has over 1,200 pages of expert legal information in both English and Spanish.

Wilmette Institute faculty member Sherna Deamer represented the Bahá’í Faith on a panel of five speakers at a Memorial Day event attended by some 1,000 people.  The theme of the gathering, held at the Vedanta Society Retreat in Olema, California (near San Francisco), was “Spiritual Oneness.”

The other speakers included the Rev. Charles P. Gibbs, co-founder of the United Religions Initiative; Dr. Nahid Angha, co-founder of the International Association of Sufism; the Rev. Heng Sure, managing director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery; and Swami Atmajnanananda, resident minister of the Vedanta Center of Greater Washington, D.C.

The “Spiritual Oneness” event marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Swami Vivekananda, who first introduced Vedanta teachings to America at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893. The Swami then spent several years in the United States, and on more than one occasion was a guest of Sarah Farmer at the Green Acre retreat in Eliot, Maine.

At the beginning of her talk, Deamer pointed out that in April 2013 the Bahá’ís celebrated the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh, that the Bahá’í Faith was also first introduced to the West in 1893 at the same Parliament of World Religions, that Sarah Farmer had become a Bahá’í, and that Green Acre is still a Bahá’í school and spiritual retreat.

Before her formal presentation, Deamer presented the Vedanta Society with a recently published third edition of a history of Green Acre, Green Acre on the Piscataqua, which contains a number of photographs of Swami Vivekananda with Sarah Farmer.

Each of the five speakers had been asked to describe how they think about “Spiritual Oneness” in their own tradition and then to discuss actions they take to bring about spiritual oneness. “For a Bahá’í, this was easy,” Deamer said.

She started her presentation with the “three onenesses”—God is One, using the metaphor of God as the Divine Physician; religion is one, using the metaphor of God as the Sun and the Manifestations of God as the Perfect Mirrors; and humanity is one, using the metaphor of our species evolving from infancy to maturity much in the way that we develop as individuals.

For the actions taken by Bahá’ís to bring about “Spiritual Oneness,” Deamer discussed the obligation of every Bahá’í to grow and develop as a spiritual being through daily prayer, meditation, study of the Bahá’í writings, and annual Fasting and then to take the beautiful Bahá’í teachings out into the world through participation in public discourse and social action.

In the area of social action, Deamer mentioned each of the core activities of the Institute process, ending with a description of the Junior Youth Empowerment Program.

The speakers were on stage from10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with a break for lunch.  The afternoon session provided time for questions from the audience. Deamer reported that the Bahá’í answers to questions were well received.  At the end of the day she was surrounded by people who wanted to learn more about the Bahá’í Faith.  It was, indeed, a memorable day.