Amidst escalating world religious conflict, the presence of a place where individuals of all religions and of no religion can congregate in mutual meditation and harmony becomes increasingly important. The Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, in conjunction with the Association of Religious Counselors, has recently provided such a place for students in the form of a “reflection room” – located in room 347 in the Michigan League – last month in response to many students’ requests for a place for quiet reflection or prayer.
The furnishings of the room are simple. Cushions propped against the wall, a bench and chairs are used for seating. The decor consists of potted plants, a patterned rug, and a small fountain. No religious symbols or imagery of any kind are present. This lack of religious exclusivity will create a comfortable place for every student on campus, religious or not. Traditional places of worship in Ann Arbor, open though they may be to the public, often cannot meet the specific spiritual needs of students with no religious ties.
The reflection room, on the other hand, welcomes members from the complete spectrum of world religions as well as those with less common views who have no other comfortable sanctuary on campus. It also provides the perfect atmosphere of relaxation for those with no religious beliefs at all who are merely looking for a place to meditate in between classes during the day. A student can simply come to find a little peace in his or her life by listening to the water softly trickling over the pebbles of the fountain.
When individuals of all spiritual perspectives are allowed to congregate together in a common space, a sense of unity is built between members of traditionally conflicting religions. It is true that sharing a mutual place of reflection does not necessarily entail active cooperation. However, the act of pondering the higher meaning of life side-by-side with fellow students is enough to foster the beginnings of a connection and understanding. It reminds people that they are all inhabitants of the same world and members of the same human race, sharing hopes and fears. This is the first step in the long process of unifying all people toward the common goal of achieving unity and understanding in the world.
At a time when many of the world’s conflicts are traceable to religious differences, there should be more sanctuaries that function as common reflection rooms – places for meditation that hold no religious symbols where Christians worship alongside Jews, Muslims meditate with Hindus, Catholics relax with atheists and all reflect upon the meaning of life together.