Religious Coexistence Promoted in Children's Book

July 30, 2008

Author: Sharon J. Doyle

Source: Middle East Online

Was there ever a "once upon a time" when we were more tolerant and open towards those we perceive as different?

There was a golden age in Spain 1,000 years ago when Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in mutual harmony. Now, however, there are indications of an increasing global intolerance within and between nations. We are stumbling into a 21st century wilderness of both secular and religious fundamentalism born of fear.

Where do we find the strength we need, after the 6 o'clock news, to stave off fear, to keep dreaming, to ask questions? What is the point of religion? Is it really loving acceptance or is it dogma?

Historically, people have interpreted religion as suggesting that "we" have the answers and "they" must come over to our side, or else. The underlying implication is that we have the inside scoop on who God is and what God wants. If God is on our side, we can justify shunning others, or even violence in the name of "our" truth. It is a long road from self-righteousness to respecting the rights of others.

"In a town by the ocean, in a house on a hill..." begins a journey that helps illuminate the way forward. Written in English, Hebrew and Arabic, Paul Harbridge's children's book, Helena's Voyage, promotes religious tolerance with simplicity ¯ appealing to children who ask questions and to adults whose concern it is to foster children's natural openness.

Harbridge wrote eloquently about what spurred him to write Helena's Voyage. "My daughter Helena died in her sleep in 2006. As I grieved, I thought of how her mother was from Spain and how Helena very likely had ancestors of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. At the same time I saw TV images from the Middle East of mothers carrying their dead children from the wreckage of bombed buildings, and for the first time, I knew that grief. Out of these impassioned thoughts, Helena's Voyage was born."

Helena is a sick girl who yearns for more life and vitality. She is visited by a muse, or messenger, who travels with her to three cities ¯ Jewish, Christian and Muslim. In each city, Helena is invited to stay, but the angel accompanying her on the journey calls her onward. By being open to other ports of call and by asking, "How can I know which of these beliefs is true?" Helena discovers commonalities among the faiths. She learns that all religions promote the same values, though clothed in different traditions.

Helena's Voyage is rooted in the holy teachings, from all faiths, that affirm humanity's inter-connectedness.