Cleansing Waters

Cleansing Waters

May 28, 2018

Pentecost 2018

 

We often think of water as a cleansing agent.  Children are taught to wash their hands before eating.  Clothes are washed in water to clean them.  Tables and counters are often wiped down between usages.  And yet, water accounts for some of the world’s most deadly diseases.  To be sure, it is not only the water that causes these illnesses but the bacteria carried in the water, bacteria often from humans, that causes these water-borne illnesses.  The importance of clean water is of concern to every culture on the planet, including the industrialized nations who often have aging or out-of-date water filtration and distribution channels.

 

The Ancient Babylonia culture believed that once every twelve hundred years the gods became angry due to human overpopulation.  In an effort to control the number of people the planet could sustain, the gods were thought to send plagues and famine.  The deity known as Enlil offered advice to mankind to bribe the gods.  According to the Babylonian flood myth, Enlil finally, the third time, choses the human Atrahasis to live.  He instructed Atrahasis to build an ark to house his family, some cattle and wild birds.  The ark was tossed back and forth on the flood waters by the storm god Adad but, after seven days, the other gods relented.  Atrahasis made an offering to the gods and Enlil created barren women and stillborn babies to solve the overpopulation problem.

Enlil was also a deity in the Assyrian culture.  In the Assyrian myth, it is the man Utnapishtim who is warned of the impending flood by the deity Ea.  The boat built by Utnapishtim is described in great detail as being one acre in area with seven decks.  The boat was filled with the “seed of all living creatures’ as well as the family of Utnapishtim and the craftsmen who helped build his boat.  Legend has it the storm was so fierce that the gods themselves cried at the death and destruction it caused.  After six gays, the boat landed on the top of Nisur, a mountain.  Seven days later, Utnapishtim released first a dove and then a sparrow, both of which returned after finding no dry land upon which to land.  Finally, he released a raven which did not return.  Another sacrifice was made to the gods and Utnapishtim and his wife were given immortality.

 

It should be noted that the Chaldeans believed in another Babylonian flood myth, one that involved giants, two floods, and a mortal named Noa.   If that name sounds familiar, it should.  The Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity have a similar flood myth as to those we have already discussed and there is a central figure known as Noah.

 

Why are there so many flood myths and why are they all so similar?  Is it a true testament to the belief that something often repeated must bear some degree of truth or is it simply that man and woman, regardless of the culture and age, are all remarkably similar?  Perhaps it is simply that water is what it is and there are very few ways to escape a raging flood. 

 

Most of these myths include one summit that remains dry.  One could claim that water eventually recedes so conceivably, the summit could have been flooded but then became dry land.  One could allow, as many of the myths do, for the changing of the minds of the deities who supposedly caused the flood waters.  A pure scientist might even launch into a discussion about the tides, gravity, etc. – all things which affect the water’s level, ebb, and flow.

 

In 2015 the following press release was made public:  “ARASOTA, Fla., Oct. 15, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — At any given time, almost half the population of the developing world suffers from waterborne diseases. About four billion cases of diarrhea disease occur each year, resulting in about one million deaths. An assessment by the United Nations reports that four out of 10 people in Africa and Asia do not have access to clean water. As a matter of fact, a report published in the medical journal The Lancet concluded that unsafe drinking water takes on a greater human toll than terrorism and war combined. Hepatitis A, typhoid and cholera are all caused by bacteria and are the most common diarrheal diseases. Other illnesses like dysentery are caused by parasites that live in water contaminated by animal or people feces.”

 

The press release speaks about a water bottle that contains a filtration system and floats.  It is the brainchild of a USA-based company that has been involved in water filtration systems for quite some time.  If people living in areas where their only water source is contaminated had access to such bottles, then many water-borne diseases like cholera could be reduced or greatly eliminated.  OF course, one would need access to the filters that fit inside the bottle and I saw nothing in the press release about the company sending them to undeveloped nations.

 

I do wonder just how clean the world was after these “cleansing floods”.  If you have ever lived in an area that was flooded, you know that clean is not how to describe the affected areas once the flood waters have receded.  As a child I loved swimming in rivers and lakes.  They also looked lovely and sparkled in the sunlight.  Wearing a white swimsuit, though, I quickly learned just how muddy the waters really were.

 

We fortunately have many warning systems and meteorological advancements to help advise us of impending floods.  What we often seemed flooded with in this modern, social media world, is a flood of opinions.  It seems that labeling something a “rant” gives one the right to be crude, rude, offensive – all those things the ancient deities hated about mankind and sought to cleanse with their floods.

 

As I write this, much of the south eastern United States is under a flood watch.  Parts of Maryland were deluged yesterday by floods.  Water can be the enemy as well as a necessity.  Tropical storm Alberto is approaching, reminding us that we must work together to survive life and nature.  

 

Maybe the thought for today is not about cleansing the world but ourselves.  In a time in which the world seems barren of compassion for those who are different than ourselves, maybe we need to make our anger stillborn.  What is a common theme amongst all these flood myths is that people worked together.  The arks in all these stories were not built by just one man but by a team.  Maybe the real key to avoiding a flood is to remember we are a team.  Life is, after all, a team effort.

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From Broken to Beauty

From Broken to Beauty

May 23, 2018

Pentecost 2018

 

Often we encounter people who think we are “broken” because we are not exactly like them.  We are different.  No two people are ever exactly alike and yet, we tend to spend a great deal of our life trying to be like each other.  Whether you believe in the happenstance of creation or you believe it to be the orderly work of a deity, one thing is quite true.  Our world, our planet, our universe is quite diverse.  The world does not have just one type of flower or tree, one vegetable, one type of protein, etc. 

 

People tend to fear that which is different and so, in an effort to protect themselves, they treat those who are different as if they were broken.  They bully; they battle; they belittle; they hurt.  Those of us who are different are left feeling broken and worse – we become ashamed of who and what we are.

 

Some of the world’s most beautiful buildings are those with stained glass windows.  The stained glass window would be nothing if it had not started out as broken.  Each window is made up of hundreds of broken pieces of glass made beautiful by an artist.  The times in our lives when we feel broken are just setting the stage for the beauty of living that is to come.

 

During Pentecost this year we will delve into ways to fill the broken places in our lives.  We need to incorporate the Japanese art of Kintsugi into our lives. Rather than disguising the breakage, Kintsugi restores the broken item incorporating the damage into the aesthetic of the restored item, making it part of the object’s history.  A piece of plain pottery suddenly glistened as lacquer and gold dust would be used to fill the broken crevices.   Pottery pieces of Kintsugi were said to have such value that some purposefully broke their pottery so as to have the repair work add value.

 

The world can be a risky place and none of us escapes without bruises and scars.  We need to value these as mementoes of our survival.  Just like the Kintsugi pottery or the stained glass window, our brokenness is the palette for our true beauty to be revealed.

Fairy Tale Come True – A Royal Wedding

Fairy Tale Come True – a Royal Wedding

Pentecost 2018

 

I took a delightful sabbatical and discovered a renewed need to connect my faith and my living.  The past thirty-odd days without a blog post have reflected nothing new in the world.  Children are still going to school hoping to learn and instead have to run, literally, for their lives.  It is with a heightened sense of hope that I await tomorrow and the Feast of Pentecost.  I pray it brings us an improved sense of living the faith we purport to hold dear.

 

Today a fairy tale came true, fitting that it occurred on the eve of Pentecost.  One commentator this morning stated that no one would have ever written the script of the wedding of Harry and Meaghan Sussex – the new Duke and Duchess formerly known as Prince Harry and Meaghan Markel.  Yet, this is the time when the spirits make dreams happen.

 

The season of Pentecost celebrates the time when Christian believers received the spirit of their deity.  The mythologies of the world celebrate the spirits of one’s beliefs.  The world fate often is used as one’s destiny but in truth, the word comes from the Latin “fatum” a form of the verb “fari” which meant to speak.  Thus one’s fate was something spoken, a decision.  It became a word that ultimately meant one’s destiny since what one said reflected what one believed and how one lived.  The spirits that help influence this were known collectively as the Fates, much like the Greek Moirai, a group of spirits who determined the course and end of one’s life.

 

We tend to think of mythological creatures as being larger than life; most deities are as well.  After all, we want those spirits that can affect the history of mankind to do so with great fanfare.  We think of miracles as large “Hollywood-style” productions.  While the focuses of some spiritual beliefs are calmer, even their main characters possess great power and knowledge.

 

In 1691, a Scottish minister named Robert Kirk put pen to paper to tell of a different type of mythological creature.  His characters were not new and had been a part of Celtic folklore and myths forever.  Once depicted as being quite tall, by the time Robert Kirk wrote of them, their size had been greatly reduced.  “These Siths or Fairies they call Sleagh Maith or the Good People…are said to be of middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidous Spirits, and light changeable bodies (like those called Astral) somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight. These bodies be so pliable through the subtlety of Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure.”

 

The word” faeries” has an often disputed etymology and the faeries we see pictures in children’s books are a relatively new version.   Their origins are a melting of various elements of mythologies and folklore from different parts of the world.  Many believe they were originally minor goddesses, spirits of nature who took their revenge upon mankind when the natural world was mistreated.  Thus the term faerie has been used to indicate trolls, goblins, gnomes, or ethereal spirits.  They are sometimes called wee folk, good folk, people of peace, or the Welsh “tylwyth teg which translates as “fair folk”.

 

Celtic faeries are said to live in nature, often hiding, and are portrayed as a diminutive race driven into caves and underground by invaders.  These enchanted creatures either protected the good people or could extract revenge upon the evil.  In western parts of Europe ancient mythologies described faeries as personified aspects of nature, similar to the ancient gods and goddesses who had their origins in personified elements of life and questions about it.

 

The advent of Christianity in the first century ACE had no room for such mythological creatures as faeries.  The Irish banshee and Scottish “bean shith” were referred to as a ghost, a woman who lived underground.  There was no room in the Abrahamic faiths for such creatures.  Their angels might seem like faeries but they were divine creatures, not creatures of nature.  While medieval England portrayed faeries as both helper and hindrance, Victorian England explained mythological creatures as aspects of nature and faeries as metaphors for the night sky and stars.

 

Faeries are also found in ancient Greek mythology and are closely aligned to the Greek word “daimon” which means Spirit.  The nymphs the classical poet Homer wrote about in his works “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” could be considered faeries.  The Roman penates, lares, and genii from Roman mythology were also faery creatures.  It is easy to see how the word “daimon” came to mean evil faeries known as demons.

 

I think the real benefit of our mythological spirits and stories is found in the Victorian definitions of them.  A metaphor is a figure of speech in which something is compared to another thing, both things being very different.  One example is: “The road was a ribbon of moonlight.”  Victorian England sought to justify the telling of these stories without compromising one’s religion. They became metaphors, much like the stories found in the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths.  The difference was that religious stories were held to be true while myths were considered fables of the imagination.

 

The real test of validity lies in the spirit of the believer.  In 1891 W.B. Yeats wrote:  “Do you think the Irish peasant would be so full of poetry if he had not his fairies? Do you think the peasant girls of Donegal, when they are going to service inland, would kneel down as they do and kiss the sea with their lips if both sea and land were not made lovable to them by beautiful legends and wild sad stories? Do you think the old men would take life so cheerily and mutter their proverb, ‘The lake is not burdened by its swan, the steed by its bridle, or a man by the soul that is in him,’ if the multitude of spirits were not near them?”

 

The legends and myths of the world give us a better understanding of both the world and mankind.  Like the word fate, they speak of what we believe, how we live, and ultimately how we will die.  Whether you consider something folklore, mythology, or doctrine, the spirits in which we believe shape our lives.  “Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good.”  Those words from the classic “Beowulf” are an example of the importance fate has been given by mankind.  For many, fate is an inescapable shadow.  For others, fate is merely the road upon which we travel, neither threatening nor constrictive.

 

The characters of the myths of man are really metaphors and if we take heed, they can assist us in our living.  We might not live on the top of Mount Olympus but we can make every abode our own palace and live our own beliefs.  Small children delight in the stories of faeries and often have a favorite.  Such differences in their likes and dislikes are seen as individual, not threatening.  Yet as adults, we often see the differences in beliefs as fearful.  Hopefully one day we can truly learn from such myths and create our own fate, a road of success for all built upon a foundation of respect and reverence for all life.

 

As William Ernest Henley wrote in his “Echoes of Life and Death”: “It matters not how strait the gate; How charged with punishments the scroll.  I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” The new Duke and Duchess of Sussex have already established themselves as believers in the future.  May we also come to share their faith and live with strength.  May our faith and our lives be wedded.  We too can make a difference.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Death – May the Force Help You

Death – May the Force Help You

May 4th, 2018

 

Today, May 4th, is known as Star Wars Day, trading on the famous quote from the movies, “May the Force be with you”, today rephrased as “May the Fourth be with you”.  It is a humorous play on words and yet, it is a great saying to share with someone.  Inviting them to recognize and acknowledge the life forces within and around us as well as celebrating each day we are alive.

 

This blog has been silent for two weeks due to death and the forces surrounding it.  It has been my habit to be silent in times of terrorism and/or tragedies but these weeks have been fraught with national, international, and personal situations of death.  Someone told me it was a shame this was all happening during the Easter season and yet…. Easter itself is all about death.

 

“Death where is thy sting?  O grave, why is thy victory?”  It might very well be that the best time for death is during Easter because Easter is a story about victory over death and helps us overcome the pain and sting of losing someone.  Grief is inevitable and we need to honor the grieving process as the homage it is for the life that was lived and now has ceased.  All too often, we try to pretend all is well instead of allowing someone to mourn. 

 

In a world where very little is certain and where sorting truth from fiction has become an endless maze, death is the one certainty we have.  We may not know exactly when or how we will die and for many of our, it will be out of our control but we can be certain that at some point in time, we will die.  It is the culmination of being alive.

 

Dr. Steve Taylor wrote the following about our own mortality for Psychology Today four years ago:  “We all have to face it at some point; an event of such enormity that it can make everything else in our lives seem insignificant: death, the end of our existence; our departure from this world….We live in a culture that denies death. We’re taught that death is something we should shy away from, and try to forget about. If we start contemplating our own mortality – so this traditional wisdom goes – we’ll become anxious and depressed.”

 

Taylor maintains that a healthy relationship and conversation about death can actually do just the opposite.  Why do we fear death?  Taylor explains that “To a large extent, it depends on the intensity of the encounter with our mortality. Anxiety usually occurs when we’re passively aware of death, thinking about it in a vague way rather than actually facing up to it. There’s certainly an important difference between being aware of death as a concept and being confronted with the reality of it, and being forced to deal with it as an imminent prospect. When we face up to death actively and directly, there’s a chance that we’ll transcend anxiety and insecurity, and experience its transformational potential.”

 

Taylor continues:  “An attitude of acceptance is important too. If we resist death, fight against its inevitability, refuse to let go of our lives, and feel bitterness about all the things that we’re going to lose and leave behind – then we’re much less likely to experience the potentially positive effects.”

 

In other words, once we accept our own mortality, we can turn that acceptance into a force that will help us live fuller lives.  “Death is always present, and its transformational power is always accessible to us, so long as we’re courageous enough to face it. Becoming aware of our own mortality can be a liberating and awakening experience, which can – paradoxically, it might seem – encourage us to live authentically and fully for the first time.”

 

So on this day, as I attend yet another funeral and say goodbye to one more soul, I will use the force of my mortality to become stronger.  The celebration of the Easter season answers the question about victory over the grave.  The real victory is in living to the best of our ability with kindness and health towards all.