Leaders gathered together in Birmingham for an interfaith conversation about eternity, and how a knowledge of eternity can help us to live well now.
The Centre for the Art of Dying Well and the Institute for Theology and Liberal Arts at St Mary’s University, together with the Archdiocese of Birmingham hosted an interfaith conversation at Birmingham’s Nishkam Centre about eternity, and how a knowledge of eternity can help us to make the most of the life that we have now.
Taking part were the Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham; Rabbi Yossi Jacobs, The Chief Minister of the Birmingham Hebrew Congregation, Singers Hill Synagogue; Simon Romer, Teacher of Buddhism; Anjana Shelat, Midland region coordinator of Hindu Mandir Network UK, Trustee at Shree Laxmi Narayan Temple; Dr. Gopinder Sagoo, from the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewa Jatha community in Birmingham, and Mohammad Asad MBE, lead Imam at Birmingham Central Mosque.
The opening speaker, Rabbi Yossi Jacobs shared how “in Judaism – although the body passes away and returns back to the earth, the soul/the spirit continues to live on forever.”
He spoke of endings leading to new beginnings: “When the person comes to the end of their life, it’s an end of the physical life, but it’s the beginning of the next stage of life: the spirit, the soul continues to live on in the other world.”
And the fact that every moment counts: “Every day we realise, in this limited amount of time that we have in this world, every moment counts. We have the opportunity to actually accomplish things.” And that: “if life went on forever, we wouldn’t appreciate the life that we have.”
In the world to come, he said that: “we have to give an account for everything that we did in this world.”
“One of the reasons why as Orthodox Jews, we are very particular to have a funeral straightaway because we believe that there is a certain spiritual pain which is on the soul until that body is buried. The court case which happens is above does not begin until after the funeral.”
Anjana Shelat offered the Hindu perspective on eternity:
“According to Hinduism, a soul reincarnates again and again on earth until it becomes perfect and reunites with its source. She said that “Your karma creates your state of reincarnation,” and it is prudent to “try not to build bad karmas.” In Hinduism, the “soul is eternal, imperishable beyond time.”
Imam Mohammed Asad from the Birmingham Central Mosque spoke of how:
“there is only one life which continues….. we believe there is the real life in the hereafter. And that “we are only here for a short period of time compared to the hereafter.”
Simon Romer, teacher of Buddhism made us aware of how in Buddhism: “Between being born and dying, we can develop an appreciation of the preciousness of our life and its great potential. “Recognising that this opportunity won’t last long, we can reduce our involvement with trivia, and begin to develop a greater perspective.”
He said that he recited one verse everyday for 36 years:
‘The universe and everything that lives in it is impermanent, especially the lives of beings which are as fragile as bubbles in water.
“The time of death is our suit. When I die this body will become a corpse. But my wisdom can help me at the time, so I will accomplish it enthusiastically now.”
From a Christian perspective, Archbishop Bernard Longley said that: “the starting point for understanding eternity is in our relationship with the person of Jesus Christ – God’s eternal son.
“We believe through his life, his death and the resurrection – his rising form the dead that grace by grace, God has shared with humanity the fruits of eternal life.”
In the Roman Catholic tradition, at the moment of death, the Archbishop said that: “prayers are offered which not only bring comfort and consolation to the departing soul, but also give reassurances of life – that life which is to come at the end of this earthly life.”
And finally, Dr. Gopinder Sagoo from the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewa Jatha community in Birmingham, said: “Time for Sikhs is a gift: the gift of human life.
“When I think of this phrase growing up: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We have a similar verse: as the sun and the sun rays touch; as rivers merge with oceans, so does the inner light connect and merge with the divine light and there find its completeness.”
The event attracted over 140 attendees, in person and online. Many came from the worlds of health and social care.
The speakers belong to the Birmingham’s Faith Leaders Group – a network established in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York.
Please find photos from the event here.
Listen to episode 34 of our Art of Dying Well podcast to interviews with Archbishop Longley, Imam Asad, and Simon Romer.
And for a pre-event interview in Vatican News with Archbishop Longley, please click here.