Framing the Bigger Picture
The scene was a Pentecost service at New York’s St. John the Divine Church. Represented in the processional were major religions – a rabbi, imam, Native American elder, many more.
And Wilfredo Benitez, who was attending, started weeping.
His own spiritual sojourn had been tempestuous. He was raised Roman Catholic in the Bronx, became a Protestant fundamentalist in Puerto Rico, then fled rigid literalism, took up yoga and meditation for years, then came back to Christianity.
Immersed in the remarkable Pentecost-related multi-religious worship service, he felt like he had finally come home: It was OK to accept the pluralism of faiths under the Creator.
Benitez is now an Episcopal priest at a multiethnic congregation in Queens, NY. – also a noted photographer of contemplative and social-justice themes. His work is featured in this Reflections issue.
“After many years, I came back to church realizing I didn’t need to be a biblical literalist,” he says. “I found a mystical connection to a higher power, a force beyond anything we can name, and I could do that through Christianity after all. We get so stuck in our heads, stuck on semantics, and we miss the bigger picture. All faiths are pointing toward the same truth.”
Benitez is rector of historic St. George’s Episcopal Church in Flushing. The church holds services in English, Spanish, and Chinese. Periodic worship gatherings combine all three groups, about 300 people total.
“Trust is a major factor – it takes time,” he says. “I make myself available to everyone. We validate each other’s cultural events. The glue is love.”
He is blunt about the human tendency to twist faith into something dark and abusive. Religion is “garbage,” he says, when it turns destructive. His vocation is dedicated to Christian faith and practice that honors love, beauty, and liberation. See religionisgarbage.com
His far-flung photography captures some of that prophetic passion and art. On page 14, two dancers (one Palestinian, one Israeli) perform a dance of peace in Israel. On page 26, a discarded image of Jesus peeks out from a Havana street.
“Every culture develops its own faith system,” he says. “But in the end they all have something in common: love of neighbor.”