- Baha’is believe in the power of prayer and you’ll find Baha’is and their friends, throughout the world, getting together to pray. This is often referred to as a ‘devotional gathering’ or ‘devotional meeting’, and they happen in diverse settings, whether in cities or villages.
I wanted to share with everyone a wonderful initiative a couple of my friends told me about. It’s called Portraits in Faith, and it’s a series of video interviews and portrait photographs aimed at taking a look into the lives of people of faith around the world.
Created by Daniel Epstein, a Marketing Director who was born and raised a Jew, Portraits in Faith was carried out as a sort of spiritual exercise where Daniel would keep his own faith alive by gaining from the experience of others – regardless of their religion or beliefs. By interviewing and documenting their spiritual experiences and the role of faith in their own personal lives and told in their own words, now, nine years, 27 countries and 400 spiritual journeys later, Portraits in Faith delivers a new Portrait each week.
I decided to get in touch with Daniel Epstein to ask him more about this wonderful initiative:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to start Portraits in Faith?
I am born and raised Jewish. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia which is how I got my first experiences that being religiously identified sets you apart. But I was lucky to participate in many inter-faith experiences even as a young child that shaped my experience and my thinking. I was taught early by my parents to honor the journey of the other person. As I got into my 30’s, I found that my connection to Judaism was more religiosity than faith. And when I needed faith in my life, when things got tough and did not make sense, I did not really have a faith to lean into. Since my understanding was that we are all on the same journey ultimately regardless of religion, I figured I would go out and ask as many others as I could about their experience of God so that it might rub off on me and give me hope and faith. The project started at a photography workshop in Rockport, Maine but then quickly spread to become a very large part of my life. I was a global marketing director for Procter & Gamble at the time so I was constantly traveling. So I combined this spiritual need of mine with an already extensive travel schedule where I would add on days to wherever I had to go for meetings. Over 10 years I travelled and collected these amazing stories on video along with the black and white portrait I would make of each person. It has been a very sacred experience that has change me and my life.
Baha’i Blog: What’s the main aim of this initiative, and why is it important for you to do this?
The main objective was to save my life by helping me understand that there was reason to believe in a Higher Power. That sounds very self-serving, but I needed out of my old way of thinking and my old way of feeling about myself and the world. Now I have a much bigger aim for the project — to help heal the world by bringing people together in humanity’s greater, common spiritual journey. The journey is all we undoubtedly share no matter how much we try to make each other out as different. I have a real love-hate relationship with religion. It really can give people the smallest view of the world when really we are beyond understanding.
Baha’i Blog: What do you hope people walk away with after watching your videos?
I would love people to walk away with the feeling “that is me, the details may differ, but I am that person and they are me.”
Baha’i Blog: How do you choose or find the people to feature?
Because I was a marketing director professionally, I have experience working with producers. So I simply hire freelance producers to identify people in each city I am traveling to, who would be interested in sharing the story of their spiritual journey and having their portrait made. I have become close with my producers all around the world. They hold a very special place in my heart and in the project. Many of them are also in the project.
Baha’i Blog: How has this project affected you personally?
I like the words to the song by Brandon Heath, “I’m not who I was.” I feel that ‘Portraits in Faith’ changed me over time. In my desperation to be anyone other than who I was, I began to understand and love who I was. And, as that happened, I changed and became more whole. I came to understand the feeling of wholeness that comes from a relationship with the Divine, however you understand the Divine to exist. Some of the most inspiring interviews in the project are with atheists so I am really not talking about formal, dogmatic understandings of God. I gave myself permission to understand God in a thousand different ways as I needed in each moment. As I like to say, “God is good, no matter what you call her!”
Baha’i Blog: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I have a deep respect for the Baha’i Faith. I knew little about Baha’i until I attended the Parliament of World Religions where I met Shadi Toloui-Wallace from Brisbane, Australia, an amazing singer/songwriter who puts Baha’i Writings to song, and her friend, Kat Eghdamian from New Zealand. They agreed to be in the project and I got immediately adopted by this endless network of Baha’is around the world — in Berlin, in London, now in Toronto where I live. The editor of ‘Portraits in Faith’ and one of our designers are Laura & Reza Mostmand of Toronto, who’ve introduced us to the community here. It is such a blessing to be surrounded by people for whom faith is an expansive, not a restrictive concept; where religion includes and doesn’t exclude.
Baha’i Blog: Thanks so much Daniel for taking the time to do this interview, and a special thank you for creating such a wonderful initiative we can all learn and gain so much from.
You can explore the many interviews of individuals featured on the Portraits in Faith website.
Below is the introductory video to ‘Portraits in faith’:
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