Sacred Growth

Sacred Growth
Lent 42

In a recent study entitled “Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend with Children or Adolescents Matter?” researchers determined that the quality of time spent was less important than previously thought. Children spending time with a female parent who was worried, stressed, or dissatisfied was not overly productive. Quality time spent seemed to be more important – that time in which good things were experienced with all parties happy and well-rested.

The results of the study were not what the researchers involved expected to find, they claim, and they reject that the take-away should be that mothers are not important. In fact, adolescents had very different results. Any time adolescents spent with their parents, especially the female parent, was seen as beneficial. At a time in the growth cycle where the body is changing, peer pressure increases tenfold, and gender roles become paramount to personal identity, the presence of the mother was crucial in not only personal development but also academic.

Not everyone has great parents. Some people resent the need to be responsible for another being, whether it is a pet or a child. Narcissistic people have no time in their lives to devote to someone else nor do they see the need. Unfortunately, good mental health is not a prerequisite for bearing children. We may think it odd that someone would suppose spending time with a harried, stressed-out person was good but then, mothers have always had to bear the major role in child-raising. The common thought was that if they could give birth then they must have special powers to finish the job giving birth started.

No one person operates at their optimal performance when stressed, overworked, tired, or distraught. Last time I checked, no baby is born with a set of instructions tucked in the folds of their neck. Clothes come with care tags in the collar or along a seam but babies are simply born – no care tags, no instructions, no guarantees. They require care; they require nurturing.

We tend to forget that for as long as we are alive, we are in a state of growth. We also need caring and nurturing. There is always something new we can learn and science has proof that continued learning helps the brain function. Stagnation is the greatest threat we have to our personal, physical, and emotional well-being. Movement, whether physical or mental, is what propels us forward and not just in a metaphorical sense. When we do things, we feel a sense of accomplishment; we feel alive.

When it comes to spiritual things or matters of religions, we wait for them to come to us. We expect our growth to streak across our lives much like a comet that we neither control nor create. The comet simply appears and then vanishes. Its beginnings are still under discussion and scientists differ in their opinions. Religion is a great deal like that comet. We often think it will just appear and that it needs nothing on our part. The spiritual believe theirs is a happier path but still, they “feel it” and believe the acknowledgement of such is key, feeling rather than planting.

In half of the world, this is the time when gardens are planted. The leaves left-over from autumn still blow around in some yards and mulch is raked to reveal new soil, the result of the sleeping winter. Plots are prepared, much like a new spring wardrobe. The soil is nourished and tilled, seeds procured, and some plants are begun indoors to protect their delicate roots from the spring storms and chills that will remind us that life is not all sunshine and warmth. The gardens will be tended, nurtured, and valued for their vegetables and their flowers. The working of the soil will provide not only physical nourishment but aesthetic value for our beings.

When we do tend the gardens of our souls? When will we plant new seeds or thought and discovery or nurture from their sleep the perennial beliefs of our faith? As humans we are constantly evolving, growing with each new day’s experiences. The chef who constantly prepared the same menu can still learn a new recipe. The carpenter who builds can create a new design. The artist can accidentally mix together colors for a new hue. Life is not stagnant. The world constantly revolves on its axis and as it does, so does life.

The stages of human development are varied and debated among even the finest minds. The concept of personal development is even debated in its definition. Personal development can either be divided into three basic categories or it can encompass almost everything in life. Spiritual, personal, and academic may seem like over-simplification of the process of living and indeed it really is. Including a list of hundreds of skills and opportunities, though, is overwhelming.

It has been said in several different contexts by people well-known in history. Whether you like the way Gandhi phrased it, believe it to come from the mouth of a man named Jesus of Nazareth, or feel it to be just common sense, treating others as we would wish to be dealt with is really excellent advice for growing, for living, for world peace. There are those who are mentally unwell and might like period of pain but most of us want respect, dignity, and the freedom to live the best we possibly can.

What we do know about good parenting is that it allows a child to live freely – without condemnation and with the chance to explore. That does not mean there are no rules nor is the child free to do whatever he or she wants to do. It means that encouragement is the path, not negativity. Explaining one’s love for the child might not mean a universal “yes” helps the child to understand that the love remains in spite of the actions. If this sounds like what all spirituality and religion supposedly has at its core, it is. The spirits or deities or universe serves as the universal parent to all – the Father, the Yahweh, the Allah, the life flow.

The secret to internal growth and happiness is not the location but the gardening. You can sit beside an acre of dirt all day long but until you put some effort into cultivating that dirt into a place where something can grow, you will not reap any harvest from it. We cannot simply say we believe unless we put those beliefs into action. We must put the effort into our spiritual and religious living. Irishman John O’Donohue once said: “When your soul awakens, your destiny becomes urgent with creativity.” When we nurture and grow our soul, then the possibilities for growth are endless. They will not suddenly appear like a comet. We must put the effort and work into them but when we do, the rewards will be a plentiful, fruitful harvest from which the entire world will benefit.

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Openings of Faith

Openings of Faith
Lent 41

If you have ever been inside a teepee, then you know that at the top of the conical structure is a small opening. If a fire was built inside, then the opening was enlarged to allow the smoke to escape. If you have ever made a cone out of paper, you know that by rolling the paper tightly, it can be used as a cup. These are two examples of how tightly closed can seemingly defy the laws of physics. After all, water is absorbed by paper and yet, paper can contain water. The teepee’s design which keeps in warmth and protects from rain can also allow the smoke to escape. These things protect and yet are permeable.

Yesterday stain-glass windows were discussed and how they use the idea of a window opening to tell a story. Scenes made from colored glass or painted on the colored glass, the making of which employs natural items and minerals to create beauty, prevent light from entering, one of the purposes of a window, yet use that same light to illustrate the design. The beauty comes from the contradictions in the making of the glass into something opaque instead of clear and in preventing the light from entering yet being necessary to see the vision created.

The Great Mosque of Djénné occupies a site which has housed a mud-brick mosque since the year 1240 ACE. The current structure is relatively new, dating back to 1907 and is also made in a blend of African and Islamic traditions. Constructed with dried earth, rick husks, wood and straw, the mosque sits on a high elevation requiring six stairways from the market center located below it. About this time every year, the outer coat of plaster gets a fresh coat of mud to protect it against the coming springtime monsoons. Located in Mali, this mosque was once described as a cross between a hedgehog and a church organ, the mosque’s towers being one of the most recognizable landmarks on the African continent. The prayer wall faces Mecca and the Prayer Hall has nine irregular windows to allow light inside the area.

The Golden Plough Tavern located in York, PA, USA is about as far away from the Great Mosque as possible. Constructed during colonial times in the 1700’s by a German family, the tavern served as host to the Second Continental Congress since it was located across the street from the courthouse where meetings were held. In a room behind the tavern’s main room and bar was a bed, a single cot and nothing else. Above the foot of the bed was a small window called a spirit hole. The small room was used to place bodies and the window was to allow the soul to leave.

Many aboriginal cultures had similar reasons for windows, whether it was to let in the light, air, or to allow the soul of the departed a chance to escape. As times progressed and homes become something more than tree frames covered with bark and mats made from foliage, the average home still have few windows. The ones they did have were feats of engineering and valuable for the uses mentioned above. They also, however, provided a break in security. The Episcopal Church of St Peter in Salisbury, Maryland, USA has windows along each side of its main worship area. The window begin at twelve feet from the floor and extend another four feet. They were designed for safety. Any arrows or cannon balls being fired would either hit the brick walls or arch and then fall with scoring direct hits.

The Christian faith is entering into the last week of Lent. Yesterday was Palm Sunday and in seven days the Christian world will celebrate Easter followed by Pentecost. It was on Pentecost that a great spirit entered a room where believers talked. It is said that this spirit entered through a small hole and descended like fire, empowering the believers. The term “spirit hole” has been used in part because of this story.

Much like the stain-glass windows, each oculi or round window connects us to our past and our future. The question we need to ask is “Where are our own spirit holes?” Are they windows that let truth in or do we keep ourselves shuttered and only view the world without letting any of ourselves out? Once discovered, do we continue to maintain our windows or do we take them for granted?

Finding the sacred in the everyday does not only refer to what is going on around us in the world. It also refers to what is happening internally to us and how we respond. The spirit holes of medieval times opened the church to allow light and air inside. We do not know everything and we need to keep an open mind in order to grow spiritually and to keep our faith vibrant.

The term hole refers to an opening. For some it might be emptiness but I am simply referring to a hole as an opening. For many a hole is a tear, something which is the result of a torn or fragmented event. To be sure, some holes are the result of such but again, such can be the beginning of a new phase, an opening to new possibilities.

The Wampanoag American Indians were part of the Algonquin Indian Nation. They built Quonset-type structures using tree bark for frames and woven foliage mats to cover the frame. At the top was a hole to allow air and light in and smoke out. The hole had a covering which was moved, dependent upon on the seasons. This kept snow and rain out.

Our spirit holes need wisdom as their covering. We cannot simply follow the latest trends; we must move according to our needs, no peer pressure. We need to view the outside world much like we view the stain-glass designs but then remember to allow light in and our spirit’s light to go outside. Faith that one keeps hidden is not faith of service.

Ocular windows became the design most often used in large mosques and cathedrals, I believe, because their circular shape mimics life. We live on a round planet, completing cycles of living each and every day. Openings of faith are all around us if we would but open our spirit windows and look. The sacred is our hearts needs an outlet. Our actions need to reflect the sacred in our beliefs so that they become windows for our faith, letting the rays of goodness shine on all. To quote Bishop Desmond Tutu: “Hope is being able to see that there is light in spite of all the darkness.”

Beauty of Belief

Beauty of Belief
Lent 40

As a young child I sat every time we attended our family’s house of worship and admired the gate to the afterlife, the doorway of heaven. I wasn’t certain that everyone saw what I saw but surely they saw the large window which faced us as we sat listening, praying, responding, and worshipping. To many in today’s word, the term “blue rose” refers to the computer game which tells the adventures of a female warrior knight as she travels across a mountain path. In my childhood, though, “blue rose” was the rose window which took up a great deal of the east wall, resplendent in various shades of blue. Blue was my favorite color as well as my birthstone color so I thought maybe I saw it as blue to make it personal for me. A fellow student described it as shades of green but since her birthstone was an emerald I thought maybe she saw green. Whatever the color, the rose window represented a portal to me, the pathway to a better place.

The architectural rose window is a circular window. The Romans were famous for having oculi, small openings which allowed light and air to enter a structure. We will go into greater detail on the oculus tomorrow. One of the earliest and most famous of Roman rose windows is that at the top of the dome of the Pantheon. The Romans are not considered to be the originators of these lovely round stain-glass windows. Art historian Otto von Simson believes the first rose window was in an external wall of the Umayyad palace known as Khirbat al-Mafjar. Built mid-eighth century ACE, the window in Jordan contained six rosettes and an octagon. The German historian Simson believes it was returning crusaders who brought the window design back to Europe. Soon churches and cathedrals all boasted a rose window, similar to that I had viewed as a child.

The stain-glass window is actually a misnomer of sorts. Windows are glass-covered holes to allow light and air inside while offering a view from the outside inward. Stain-glass windows allow the view from the inside with help of light from the outside. Bits of colored glass are held together in a lattice-type of framework. Regardless of when and where this art form originated, it was being written about in the first part of the twelfth century. A German monk using the moniker Theophilus wrote about the making of these windows. Seldom created in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries due to changing beliefs about the adornment of religious buildings, stain-glass once again gained popularity in the nineteenth century. Enthusiasts Charles Winston and AWN Pugin helped reestablish the windows beauty in construction and use. Medieval glazier techniques were also refined although the actual production remains similar to this day.

The glass is made by melting sand, potash, and lime together. Metallic oxides were added to color the glass. Gold created a reddish glass; copper made green; cobalt resulted in blue hues, for example. This pot-metal glass was then “flashed” since it was too dark to allow light to pass. The flashed glass was made by dipping white glass on the blowpipe into a clay pot of red glass and then blowing. The glass was later polished and refined with grinding. Windows were often designed on a tabletop painted white since paper was a precious commodity and expensive. Panes of the colored glass were then sometimes cut to shape with a device called a “grozing iron”. Details such as facial features would be traced with an iron oxide pigment on the surface of the glass and then painted. The glass pieces would then be fired in a kiln to adhere the paint to the colored glass. The glass would then be reassembled in the proper format and pieces of lead would solder the pieces together. Oily cement was then applied to make the joints waterproof. The glass panels were then placed into grids of iron bars which had been built into the sides of the structure.

The fourteenth century saw the advent of silver stain, a silver compound which was painted on the back of the glass and provided a range of colors such as pale lemon yellow to deep orange. Colored enamels were introduced in the sixteenth century and windows became more like works of art than puzzle pieces. We have discussed the preliminary artwork known as cartoons before and stain-glass windows begin in much the same way although now they are drawn on paper rather than tabletops. Colored glass is readily available but still must be individually cut for each piece. Certain modern inventions have made the process somewhat easier but it still requires a skillful hand and the ability to see with a different perspective than most of us possess.

The stain-glass artist sees not only the whole picture but each individual piece that comprises the picture. The Toledo Cathedral dates to the fourteenth century. Its seven hundred and fifty stain-glass windows reflect its past and present, a living history for the people of Toledo, Spain and all who visit. The Abbell Synagogue in Jerusalem has twelve stain-glass windows that were dedicated in 1962 as a sign of love and friendship not only to the Jewish people but to all people. The Seven Ages of Man is a stain-glass treasure located at the Folger Shakespeare Library, a part of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Then there is the small Episcopal Parish of St Paul, Worcester Parish in Berlin, Maryland. Built in the mid 1700’s, this small religious building houses a series of stain-glass windows that tell the history of its faith, the doctrine of the denomination, and the bibliography of those who have worshipped there.

While the window I viewed as a small child was not really a portal to another world in the science fiction definition of portal, it did serve as an object of faith, an example of the beauty of believing. I soon outgrew my fanciful childhood belief that another, better place lay behind the rose window glass but I confess that I still imagine heaven or the afterlife to have such a beautiful entrance. Our beliefs are not reasons to maim, kill, or embark on suicidal missions. Our beliefs serve to remind us of the beauty of believing. Life is not easy. Like the making of a stain-glass window, the making of a life of faith takes hard work, intricate effort, and grit. Grab a handful of sand and you can feel the roughness. Apply the energy or heat of living, though, and that sand can become a beautiful piece of glass, a reflection of what we are and what we believe. Psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross describes it this way: “People are like stained – glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

Objects of Meaning

Objects of Meaning
Lent 39

I recently came across an internet articles written by Mark Manson. I apologize to Mr. Manson that I don’t recognize his name not have I ever been to his website, markmanson.net before. I ended up there via a search engine and, while I thoroughly enjoyed the read, am not certain why I was directed to this particular story. I saved it though because I found it interesting. It had meaning for me.

The article/story concerns finding one’s purpose in life and discusses how to determine what path one should take. Mr. Manson has seven questions the reader is told to answer to help determine what journey to take to achieve this. I am not quoting the questions directly but think I have managed to retain their core meaning. The first question asks what type of bad “sandwich” are you able to stomach. Mr. Manson phrases his question more humorously and his wording is designed to capture your attention and it does. I am not repeating it verbatim because of censorship restrictions in some of the countries in which this blog is read (The same reason we no longer have videos accompanying each article.). It is a novel approach but a valid one, I think. After all, everything has its downside so asking what are you willing to put up with in your life’s profession is one way to consider a selected path. Does the job or purpose override the negative aspects of it?

The second question involves what about you as an adult do you not really like. Mr. Manson asks “What is it about you today that would make your eight-year-old self cry?” In other words, what did you love to do as that young child that, for some unknown reason, you stopped doing as an adult? Maybe you should consider that as a life’s work, Manson advises. Most of us discover early on an activity that gives us great joy. Often that activity gets lost in the dust of maturity. Sometimes it can and possibly should segue into a career path. The third question involves asking what is it that you enjoy doing so much that you forget to eat. Any activity that holds more meaning than basic bodily functions is probably an activity you will be true and learn to accomplish with a high degree of success. The musician who loves playing will most likely stay the course through countless hours of endless practicing basic techniques, for an example.

Manson continues his series of questions discussing what has meaning to the reader and not their family or friends. All too often we shy away from our own desires due to peer pressure. Manson also asks how the reader can best contribute to society asking “How are you going to save the world?” Most of us cannot cure cancer, AIDS, or Ebola. We can, however, make our own corner of the world better and brighter. If science is your thing, then maybe you CAN cure those diseases. If you are a great persuasive public speaker, then maybe you can motivate people into forming advocacy groups. If you are a world-class salesman, then perhaps you could sign people up to donate to organizations. Ten dollars can save five families from Mosquito-bred illnesses by providing mosquito netting. You might not cure those illnesses but preventing them is even better.

Manson mentions what is most likely the most basic enemy we all have in giving our lives meaning – laziness. He imagines the situation of someone putting a gun to your head and insisting you leave your house. Manson asks the reader “Where would you go?” If you’d go shopping, then maybe a career in retail is for you. If you’d go to the library, then maybe you should become a librarian or a literary editor, etc. Perhaps you should be a writer. Manson’s final question involves legacy. How do you want to be remembered after you die? It is not a comfortable question but perhaps the most valid question of all.

Yesterday we discussed location and how where we walk often portrays what we believe in and feel. What we do says more about who we are than any amount of wealth we might leave in our wills after our death. Death is not a topic most people like to discuss. It is the one thing we have in common with each and every other human being after birth. We do all, at some point, stop living in our current body, in this current form. Regardless of one’s spirituality or religion, that is a basic fact. What happens next is a personal decision, just as how we live is a personal choice. We find meaning in our lives when we make our living meaningful. Joseph Campbell once said: “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” We are the most important object of meaning in our lives and we are what makes it meaningful.

Location and Conviction

Location and Conviction
Lent 38

I was recently asked how I came up with the topics I write about and if there was a guide somewhere I used. The truth is that I get inspiration from everyday things and well, just plain every day. Sometimes I hear something and then google it. Yesterday I overheard someone talking about how mundane they thought religion had become and I goggled “sacred mundane”, thinking I would find nothing. I was wrong. There were many hits for what I thought was going to be nothing. It posed an interesting question: Why is there any “mundane” in our “sacred”?

Sacred is defined as that which is precious or has great meaning. Mundane is that which is dull, meaningless, bland. Why do we allow anything to be mundane in that which is supposed to be precious? Why do we not consider the two terms to be contradictory? What are we doing wrong that results in our spiritual and/or religious beliefs to become mundane?

French sociologist Emile Durkheim wondered how society would carry on given the changing world he knew. Born at the end of the second decade of the nineteenth century, Durkheim knew the social rules that mankind had lived by previously were changing. He himself sought a secular path although he was born into a family of French Jews who were very diligent in practicing their faith. The world had lived according to the rules of each individual culture and the beliefs attached to each. By the beginning of the 1800’s, mankind was moving around the globe; goods were both imported and exported. Ideas were being exchanged and cultures merging.

Durkheim saw problems with these changes. “For if society lacks the unity that derives from the fact that the relationships between its parts are exactly regulated, that unity resulting from the harmonious articulation of its various functions assured by effective discipline and if, in addition, society lacks the unity based upon the commitment of men’s wills to a common objective, then it is no more than a pile of sand that the least jolt or the slightest puff will suffice to scatter”.

Durkheim proposed what he called the “sacred-profane dichotomy”, an idea he felt to be at the core of religion. “Religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden.” Durkheim believed that “sacred” symbolized those symbols or totems which represented the tenets of one’s religion. The “profane” involved mundane things, the everyday things that occupy humans’ minds and cause us to do the things we do, valuing material items. His sacred/profane dichotomy was not simply good versus evil, though. To Durkheim both the sacred and the profane could be either good or evil. It was how they were used and lived that determined twhat was good and waht was evil.

William James was a late nineteenth century educator and philosopher. The son of a theologian, William James was a prolific writer who wrote in his “The Varieties of Religious Experience”: “Religion… shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude; so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” James believed that “true beliefs” were those beliefs that proved useful to the believer.

“The most ancient parts of truth . . . also once were plastic. They also were called true for human reasons. They also mediated between still earlier truths and what in those days were novel observations. Purely objective truth, truth in whose establishment the function of giving human satisfaction in marrying previous parts of experience with newer parts played no role whatsoever, is nowhere to be found. The reasons why we call things true is the reason why they are true, for ‘to be true’ means only to perform this marriage-function,” James wrote.

One of William James more well-known discussions concerned a man encountering a bear. Believing that man possessed more instincts than most animals, James pondered about human emotion. He believed emotion was a sequence of events that began with a stimulus and ended with a feeling. Of particular interest were the steps between the stimulus and the feeling. James asked the question: “Do we run from a bear because we are afraid or are we afraid because we run?” James proposed that the act of running created our fear. Our response to our actions defined our emotions.

If we believe William James theory that our actions determine our emotions, then perhaps it makes sense that the sacred can become mundane. When we cease to live according to our beliefs, then we lose our stimulus which then creates our feelings. Lax attendance in our religious or spiritual beliefs results in a lack of purpose or feeling for those beliefs.

Where we place ourselves in life determines our convictions and our actions. The person who doesn’t steal because of a belief that honesty is the best policy is living their conviction. The person who does not follow the crowd into following wild trends seldom loses sight of their beliefs. Where we place ourselves says a great deal about what we believe. It will not make you the most popular kid on the block but living with conviction will reap great rewards.

Do we believe because we worship or do we worship because we believe? The fact is that we live as we believe and we believe as we live. We must find and identify the sacred in order to give our lives meaning. Otherwise, our existence is simply a mundane process and we have little purpose. As Mahatma Gandhi once said: “A ‘No” uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

Karma in the Healing

Karma in the Healing
Lent 37

“What goes around comes around”. Like most people, I receive posts on FaceBook that are often pictures of animals. Being an animal lover, I revel in each one. One of my favorites, though, is an oldie but goodie. It is a picture of two dogs, German Shepherds, sitting side by side. Both dogs have a sign around their necks, respectively. The first sign states “Don’t let karma bite you in the rear.” The dog sitting beside that dog has a sign that reads “I am Karma”.

The old idiom I quotes at the beginning of this has a great deal of truth in it, both in nature as well as our treatment of each other. I first heard it as a definition of karma when doing a religious presentation to a group of first graders. An overly-active young lad who was not prone to sitting still and kept jumping up and playing with non-playful objects in the room like the light switch or window blinds cord suddenly stopped his actions and looked directly at me when I asked if any knew the meaning of the word “karma”. His response was quick and to the point: “What goes around comes around.”

Celtic culture described the areas of grass affected by a common fungus as fairy rings. This circular spots of grass contained grasses that grew a deeper green and often thicker. It was believed that the fairies made them and that they were a sign of good luck. Depending on the mythology and the culture, fairy rings were thought to be made by fairies dancing, used when illustrated by mushrooms growing as dinner tables with the fairies eating off the mushrooms, or places for spirits to gather and sometimes be free to release their powers within the circle.

Mushrooms are associated with fairy rings and not just because eating certain ones can produce hallucinations that might make one believe he/she really had seen fairies dancing. A common sign of a fairy ring is a necrotic zone, an area in which the grass and other plant life has died. Fungi associated with mushrooms, they themselves being a fungus, deplete the soil of nutrients and the plants growing within the circle often die. Similarly the area adjacent to such fungus can grow thicker and deeper in color.

There is also evidence that rabbits are an important part in the life cycle of some fairy rings. Rabbits eat grass, cropping it very short while their waste products contain nitrogen-rich droppings. Mushrooms need more soil nitrogen than grass does and a fairy ring can be started from a single fungus spore. Subsequent generations of the original spore will grow outward seeking more nutrients since the parent fungus would have used up all in the immediate area. Rabbits eat only the grass and not the mushrooms so the mushrooms soon grow taller than the grass which the rabbits keep low. This can create rings inside of rings.

It is said to be bad luck to enter a fairy ring and even worse luck to destroy or disturb one. Superstitions abound in almost every culture based upon such. From the thirteenth century writer Raoul de Houdenc to the modern-day romance writer Nora Roberts, fairy rings have played a prominent role in the literature of the world. They are also found as subjects of art and were a favorite of Victorian art.

The roundness of fairy rings is repeated in the Native American Indian culture in the form of medicine wheels. These stone man-made circles were thought to harness the healing power of nature and used to benefit man/woman. Also known as “sacred hoops”, medicine wheels were found in areas of different tribes and are one of the common aspects found throughout the tribes of all such peoples within North America. Alberta, Canada hosts at least seventy medicine wheels that survive today. Archaeologist John Brumley notes that a medicine wheel consists of at least two of the following three traits: (1) a central stone cairn, (2) one or more concentric stone circles, and/or (3) two or more stone lines radiating outward from a central point. The lines of stones radiating outward from the center appear as spokes in the directions of east, west, north, and south.

The medicine wheel was not a set pattern, though. The number of spokes differed from wheel to wheel and some spokes were not evenly spaced out in the design. One of the oldest remaining wheels dates back over forty-five hundred years. Some are aligned astronomically with the horizon and others reflect the position of the sun on the four seasonal equinoxes. How their power was utilized is a subject of much debate but it is clear that they held power and served purpose of healing and living.

While many fairy rings are found throughout Europe and the medicine wheels of the North American aboriginal people known as American Indians seem to be found only on the two American continents, there are other such rings. The landscape of Africa also hosts fairy rings. The explanations for them in Europe, particularly in Great Britain and Ireland seem to lose validity when comparing that topography to the land of Africa.

Often described as a “thousand blinking eyes in the desert”, the fairy rings of Namibia are considered one of the world’s great natural mysteries. In a place called “The Land God Made in Anger’, the Namibian circle number in the millions although such circles are also found where the grassland transition to desert, from Angola to the Cape province of South Africa. The Namib desert is a remote and harsh environment. Reasons for the circle abound but then, just as plentifully, are found without backing. Biologist Walter Tschinkel was certain the circle were the work of termites. “They are really neat places, these little clean patches. They are like little satellite dishes. I looked at them and thought ‘this has to be termites,” Tschinkel remarked. “It is the sort of things termites do.” However, his theory proved false and while others still believe in the sand termite as the cause, that theory also fails to justify all aspects of the circles.

More recently a scientist took a holistic approach. Many theories have focused on the underground gasses believed to be affecting the soil and grass formation. Folklore of the region mentioning underground dragons whose breath create the circles. Stephan Getzin, an ecologist from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, in Leipzig, Germany decided to consider all theories but from a different perspective – a bird’s eye view. He took to the air to examine the Namibian circles and discovered something very interesting. The circles not only appeared as eyes in the desert, dancing across the landscape, they were evenly spaced and had an organization to them. His findings have revealed only that there is still we do not know and that all previous theories might have some validity although none would be the entire story. “I’m sure this is not the end of the story,” summarized Getzin.

These circles, these evidences of unknown karma upon the environment, whether natural or man-made, are excellent examples of the sacred in our own lives. Sometimes it is what we do to ourselves and sometimes we are simply the victims of another’s behaviour or choices. The fact is that we can learn and heal from everything. Life is a series of lessons and not all are pleasant or invited. Healing occurs when we learn. What we choose to eat and drink affects our living and how we live has just as important an affect. Selecting to live graciously with respect to all gives us a greater chance of being treated the same. Even when we are not, we can find the lesson and move on to greater things. The sacred part of karma is in learning from the painful and spreading the joyful. Eventually, the good will go around the world and encompass it and us.

Reflections of Faith

Reflections of Faith
Lent 36

What color is water? Yesterday we discussed how it often appears blue. Due to the absorption of the red, orange, and yellow color molecules, water will appear blue or green. Clear water is considered safe for drinking although, it is really the water than can move that is truly safe. Wild cats will stir water before they drink it. After all, stagnant water is…well, stagnant. Water unable to move freely is not clean, at least in the wild cat’s opinion.

Color is often confused with race. A person is said to be Caucasian or white in the USA if their heritage is from a European country. This is determined by the sovereignty of the country. For people in the Bahamas, however, this is misleading. Great Britain was the ruler of the Bahamas until rather recently so people from the Bahamas could correctly claim to be of European descent meaning they would be considered “white”, even though most of the population is descended from slaves and therefore of African descent with very dark skin tones. Russians are seldom considered of Asian descent even though Russia is on the continent of Asia. Race and national origin seldom can be definitive markers for the color of one’s skin and yet, for much of the world, the color of one’s skin is a marked characteristic that has in the past and still continues to lead to discrimination and hatred.

Actress and activist Josephine Baker lived much of her life in France and was awarded several honors for helping that country during World War II. An African-American by birth, she was hired as a domestic helper at the age of eight and by the age of thirteen years was homeless, dancing on street corners for her food. Her talents were overshadowed by the color of her skin and she became a French citizen in part because of that. She never gave up on the hope that mankind would one day gain new vision in viewing people. “Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.”

We live in a very colorful world. Nature is a living rainbow of color and diversity. Our vision is often clouded by traditions, scared thinking, and ignorance. Just as certain color molecules are absorbed in water, we have allowed our fears to absorb our ability to be exclusive and have become a world of inclusive cultures and neighborhoods.

Recently a group of school children were offered a free box of crayons. They were offered a choice between a box of all red, a box of all green, a box of all yellow, a box of all blue, a box of all orange, a box of all brown, a box of all purple, and a box of all black. They also had the choice of selecting a regular box of crayons with one each of the eight colors mentioned. Not surprisingly, they all chose the box of all eight colors. Yet, when asked to select a picture of someone they would like to be their neighbor, they all selected someone with the same skin color that they had. We disdain naturally a bland world of all one color so why did the children not want a neighbor with a different skin color?

We will never have a neighbor exactly like ourselves unless we all become twins or triplets, identical in nature, and live next day to that sibling. We could never marry or have children or possibly even pets. After all, everything would have to be identical to our own lives. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? We would never be able to eat something new, buy a different pair of shoes, change the style of our apparel – the list goes on and on. Let’s be honest. That does not sound inviting to anyone! Diversity is what makes our life interesting. The colors of the world give it resonance and interest.

What color is our faith? All spiritualities and religions involve society – our response to it and how we should treat it. “The human family is very diverse, with many different beliefs and cultures and ways of life. Many conflicts in our world are caused when people are intolerant of the ways that others see the world. Learning tolerance is an important cornerstone to creating a better world,” explains Robert Alan Silverstein.

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan echoes that sentiment: “We need to promote greater tolerance and understanding among the peoples of the world. Nothing can be more dangerous to our efforts to build peace and development than a world divided along religious, ethnic or cultural lines. In each nation, and among all nations, we must work to promote unity based on our shared humanity.”

The palette of the world is a varied one and we see the sacred in its colors when we live with tolerance for all colors. Color cannot cause us fear; teaching that a particular color or nationality is wrong does that. Peace can be achieved when we recognize the sacred in our everyday living. Peace is an attainable goal when we simply live in harmony instead of looking for the clash in life’s colors. Peace is the reflection of faith, of a calm spirit. Love is a multi-hued rainbow that reflects the sacred in our being.