"We have forgotten - or have we? - that there is but one universal language and that its voice is art." - Kahlil Gibran
The Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler uses this quote from the Lebanese-American poet and artist on the opening page for the CARAVAN website, the peace-building arts nonprofit he founded while living in Cairo, Egypt, in 2009. The mission of CARAVAN is to build bridges between the creeds and cultures of the Middle East and West through various artistic programs like art exhibitions, festivals, lectures, concerts, artist exchanges and other artistic collaborations.
Since its founding, CARAVAN has promoted a robust intercultural and inter-religious dialogue through its exceptional artistic projects, like the currently touring "I AM" exhibition, which features 31 contemporary female Middle Eastern artists and focuses on the "crucial role that Middle Eastern women play in shaping a harmonious world."
"The arts can serve as one of the most effective mediums to enhance understanding, bring about respect, enable sharing, and deepen friendships between those of different cultures and faiths in the Middle East and the West," explains Chandler. "Over and over again, we have seen how effective the arts are in enabling someone to put themselves in the 'other's' shoes, changing the way one thinks about the 'other,' a critical step in building peace and harmony."
Chandler is an Episcopal priest who is also an author, in addition to his art curation and interfaith advocacy. He is on tour promoting his new book, "In Search of a Prophet: A Spiritual Journey with Kahlil Gibran."
Gibran is the Lebanese-American artist and writer most famous in the West for his literary work "The Prophet." Gibran, whose artwork is on view at Telfair's Jepson Center through the end of the year, is one of the all-time best-selling poets worldwide, and his message of unity and understanding will be explored by Chandler in his presentation Nov. 28 titled "Kahlil Gibran: An Unparalleled Guide for Our Times."
"This all started for me while I was working on a previous book focused on Christian-Muslim relations, and exploring the life and work of Mazhar Mallouhi, a popular Syrian novelist who bridges the two faiths," Chandler says on how his current book came about. "While living and working in the Middle East and North Africa, I was struck by how enthusiastically Kahlil Gibran is loved both throughout the Middle East and in much of the West. The East was proud of him and the West admired him. He was a uniting figure!
"It intrigued me to look more deeply, not just into his life and work, but also into his own inner journey of spiritual development. In order to delve more deeply into his inner spiritual formation, I immersed myself in his writings and the environments that shaped him."
Chandler calls it "a profound exploration into the very heart of Kahlil Gibran."
"I sought to understand what led him from being someone born into what was then an exclusive, sectarian and intolerant historic Christian community, in the late 1800s, to becoming someone who embraced all in our world, and as a result became one embraced by all. As I go around and lecture about Gibran, I am continually struck by the sheer number of people that were influenced by his writings at one phase or another in their lives, especially in the West, through his book 'The Prophet.'"
Savannah is a particularly significant locale with respect to Gibran because Telfair Museums holds the largest collection of his visual art in the United States. It only made sense for Savannah to make the select list of lecture stops that also include Boston, Detroit, Beirut, Paris, New York, Mexico City, Cairo and Washington, D.C.
Chandler will be speaking at the Episcopal Church of St. Paul the Apostle on Abercorn Street at 7 p.m. Nov. 28. The lecture, which will include a Q&A session, book signing and reception, is free and open to the public.
"My presentation will take the listener on a fascinating journey through the all-embracing spirituality of Kahlil Gibran," says Chandler. "I will explore how Kahlil Gibran, as a supreme East-West figure, is an unparalleled spiritual guide in the midst of today's global challenges, related to peace, harmony and building bridges between the cultures and creeds of the Middle East and West."
Chandler also points to another quote from Gibran that serves as an apt aphorism for our current times: "Your neighbor is your other self dwelling behind a wall. In understanding, all walls shall fall down."
IF YOU GO
What: "Kahlil Gibran: An Unparalleled Guide for Our Times"
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 28
Where: Episcopal Church of St. Paul the Apostle, 1802 Abercorn St.