Instructions for Anger

Instructions for Anger

05-18-2019

Easter 2019

 

It has been an interesting eleven days.  Two students carried weapons into their school and created chaos.  One wondered what drove these two with no prior histories of trouble to such an act.  One student died saving his fellow classmates and others were injured.  All at the school, their parents, their community and the world experienced concern, pain, and anger at this act.

 

This week, in what should be a good thing in supposedly trying to reduce the infant mortality rate in their state, two governors signed legislation regarding abortion.  On both sides voices were raised in anger.  IN each case, the governors acknowledged that the laws they had just signed were unenforceable, causing even more anger.

 

Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Agnostic, Atheist, or somewhere in-between any of the above, we all experience anger.  I think anger can sometimes be a positive emotion.  The patient who is angry that a disease like cancer seems to think it can beat them will get angry and often, fight harder to survive.  But what about that deep anger that destroys us from the inside out?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh describes happiness as “not suffering”.  This Buddhist teacher and spiritualist reminds us that true happiness comes from within ourselves and not from material things or social standing.  Regardless of how it may seem, reality shows like “the Kardashians” are not about people who have it all but rather about people who struggle with an impossible race to reach happiness through impossible means.  The one emotion that drives such programs and thinking is anger.

 

Nhat Hanh explains:  “In our consciousness there are blocks of pain, anger and frustration called internal formations. They are also called knots because they tie us up and obstruct our freedom.  When someone insults us or does something unkind to us, an internal formation is created in our consciousness. If you don’t know how to undo the internal knot and transform it, the knot will stay there for a long time. And the next time someone says something or does something to you of the same nature, that internal formation will grow stronger. As knots or blocks of pain in us, our internal formations have the power to push us, to dictate our behavior.

 

“After a while, it becomes very difficult for us to transform, to undo the knots, and we cannot ease the constriction of this crystallized formation. The Sanskrit word for internal formation is “samyojana”. It means “to crystallize.” Every one of us has internal formations that we need to take care of. With the practice of meditation we can undo these knots and experience transformation and healing.”

 

It has become popular to “vent” one’s anger.  Sometimes people hit pillows but does this really release the anger?  As a parent I taught my kids to do jumping jacks, that exercise where you spread your arms wide over your hard and spread your feet accordingly while you jump back to a standing position.  For small children, this gives them a sense of being in control as they dictate what their body is doing and are no longer captive to their feelings of anger.

 

For adults, Nhat Hanh offers this advice.  “Whenever you feel yourself becoming angry, start practicing mindfulness.  Think of that one thing that makes you happy.  Visualize yourself in your most favorite spot doing something you enjoy doing.  Recall the feelings of happiness that that activity and that location bring to you and let yourself experience happiness.  To be happy, to me, is to suffer less. If we were not capable of transforming the pain within ourselves, happiness would not be possible.  Many people look for happiness outside themselves, but true happiness must come from inside of us.

 

“Mindfulness does not fight anger or despair. Mindfulness is there in order to recognize. To be mindful of something is to recognize that something is there in the present moment. Mindfulness is the capacity of being aware of what is going on in the present moment. “Breathing in, I know that anger has manifested in me; breathing out, I smile towards my anger.” This is not an act of suppression or of fighting. It is an act of recognizing. Once we recognize our anger, we embrace it with a lot of awareness, a lot of tenderness.”

 

We are going to feel anger.  It is an inevitable part of life.  It is up to us to decide whether to use it, embrace it, or to let it eat us up and destroy us.  Nhat Hanh suggests this analogy:  “When it is cold in your room, you turn on the heater, and the heater begins to send out waves of hot air. The cold air doesn’t have to leave the room for the room to become warm. The cold air is embraced by the hot air and becomes warm—there’s no fighting at all between them.

 

“Practitioners of meditation do not discriminate against or reject their internal formations. We do not transform ourselves into a battle field, good fighting evil. We treat our afflictions, our anger, our jealousy with a lot of tenderness. When anger comes up in us, we should begin to practice mindful breathing right away: “Breathing in, I know that anger is in me. Breathing out, I am taking good care of my anger.” We behave exactly like a mother: “Breathing in, I know that my child is crying. Breathing out, I will take good care of my child”, ourselves.

 

When we use our anger mindfully, we are showing compassion, not only to another but also to ourselves.  We must learn to do this because without it, we will not truly show compassion to others.  Nhat Hanh offers this very important piece of advice regarding life, its messiness and its inevitable feels of anger.  “To grow the tree of enlightenment, we must make good use of our afflictions, our suffering. It is like growing lotus flowers; we cannot grow a lotus on marble. We cannot grow a lotus without mud.” 

 

Anger will be a part of our lives.  We can either choose to let it be the medium through which we grow or something that drags us down like quick sand, destroying all within its reach..   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Half, Whole, or Just Disjointed?

Half, Whole, or Just Disjointed?

04.29-30.2019

Easter 2019

 

Is the state of gaining knowledge a synonym for being live?  A comment I hear from time to time is “You talk quite a bit about “living” and “everyday living”.  Isn’t philosophy or the study of philosophy just … living?”  Another comment asks how I can discuss religion as if one size fits all.  Both are great questions.

 

Aristotle considered philosophy not a study of the parts of reality but a study of reality itself.  For example, the parts of reality might be the study of math or music, politics or history.  Reality is the existence and properties of things, their changes, causalities, and possibilities; reality is about the time and space of the here and now.  He called this “first philosophy” metaphysics as previously discussed based upon the Greek words “meta” meaning beyond and “physica” meaning physical.

 

The question implies that we gain knowledge just by being alive, by … being.  Those struggling to find food and shelter in the aftermath of earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, etc. often find themselves in a struggling state of being.  We learn a great deal from such survivors and marvel at their tenacity and resiliency.  Certainly they are giving life their every bit of effort.  By doing so, are they also gaining knowledge?  Those participating in riots or who create mass shootings are also putting energy and effort into their behavior but do we really think they are “learning” just by their doing?  Perhaps a better question is what are we learning in the aftermath of such events?  We must gain knowledge if we are to prevent them from becoming as commonplace as they currently are.

 

Aristotle maintained that there are five “predictables”, five common ways that we discuss a subject or object.  We can define the object very specifically [Aristotle referred to this as the species]  or we can discuss it in general terms [the genus].  We can notate what distinguishes it from other objects [the differentia], what makes it unique or special [propia], or we can discuss it by discussing things that are not like it [accidentals].  Philosophy instructor Dr. Maxwell Taylor illustrates Aristotle’s Predictables with one of my most favorite musical instruments and shapes – the lowly triangle.   For instance, a triangle is specifically a three-sided figure or in general terms, a shape.  It is different from other shapes by its number of sides and its properties are varied in that the sides can be of differing lengths.  Perhaps the easiest way to describe a triangle is by comparing it to shapes it is not like, starting with the fact that it is not a rectangle, square, diamond, or rhombus.

 

The definition of something is that which makes it what it is.  Aristotle called this “horos” which means definition.  Porphyry called it “eidos” which means forms and Boethius called it “species” to imply an object’s specific essence.  Both the survivors in Nepal and the protestors in Baltimore are living but their manner of form of living is very different.  Still, both groups are living and that fact would be classified under the “genus”, that part of the two groups that, although very different, they share in common. 

 

The genus is the general things found in common with other things that are otherwise different.  Perhaps an easier illustration or analogy is that flowers would be the genus and roses, daffodils, tulips, and lilies would be the species.  Not all species are the same, however.  Some roses are climbing vines while others are bushes.  Some flowers have specific number of petals while others have fewer or greater number of petals.  This would be the differentia.   

 

Things can become a bit involved, however, when we start discussing the “propia” or properties of an object.  The general population in Nepal is not accustomed to great wealth or lavish luxuries but the current conditions in which they are living are very different from those of some of the protestors in Baltimore, residents of the area who also live in abject poverty and sometimes deplorable conditions.  The destruction of businesses in Baltimore will leave some of the area’s residents homeless, although not homeless like the survivors in Nepal.

 

It is easier to use our analogy of the triangle; the properties are easier to explain.  We’ve already mentioned that a triangle’s form or definition is a three-sided object.  The genus would be that it is a shape.  The differentia or differences between triangles is determined by the angles within the three-sided shape.  Where the three lines of a triangle meet, angles are formed.  Those angles differentiate one triangle from another.  The specific angles are the properties of the triangle and there are six different types of triangles but do not make the object any more or less a triangle.

 

As I have noted before, triangles are one of my most favorite shapes and also musical instruments.  The tone of the instrument can be affected by the type of metal used which affects the number of vibrations, the number of overtones and the sound that reaches your ears.  The type of beater or mallet used also affects the tone as does the manner in which the triangle is hung or held.  Most musical triangles are equilateral triangles, having three equal sides, although they come in varying shapes.  Almost all musical triangles have the same basic pitch and skill in playing is determined by physical dexterity in handled in the beater as well as knowledge of acoustics.  None of those things change the type of triangle being played or its general properties or its basic definition.

 

In addition to the equilateral triangle with three equal sides, there are five other types of triangles.  An acute triangle is one with an angle less than ninety degrees.  A right triangle, fittingly enough, contains a right angle or an angle of exactly ninety degrees while an obtuse triangle has an angle greater than ninety degrees but less than one hundred and eighty degrees.  An isosceles triangle has two sides which are equal while a scalene triangle has no sides of equal length.  These are all properties of a triangle but there is still yet another way we might describe or refer to a triangle.

 

Imagine if you will a page of triangles.  The can be of varying types and sizes, some alike while others are different colors.  I might ask you how many are isosceles triangles or how many are acute triangles.  Either one of those questions would be answered by using something specific to the triangle or its classifications.  What if I asked how many were black triangles or red or yellow?  That response has nothing whatsoever to do with any specific aspect of the triangle but rather its color.  Other things have those same colors – a box of crayons, a row of pants or sweaters, or even the flag of the state of Maryland, a flag proudly displayed on the law enforcement vehicles burned and overturned by the protestors in Baltimore.  The fact that same of the triangles were red, black, or yellow has nothing to do with the definition of a triangle; it is simply another or accidental part of their description.

 

How can we apply these “Predictables” in our own philosophy of being, in our own living?  Certainly all of mankind shares some things in commons.  First of all, we are all mammals… but so are cows and dogs and cats.  Man is known as “homo sapiens” or “wise being”.  We have two genders present at birth, although that is being challenged in both life and the court systems around the world.  We also have different ethnicities and races, often noted with adjectives denoting one’s skin color.  Some use these latter descriptive types to denote value or worth or even potential.  In some countries, cows are more revered than women; people are discriminated against or profiles based upon their skin color or even eye shape.

 

The study of philosophy gives us an argument for being.  With it, hopefully, we can learn that existence is living and living means potential.  A triangle is no less a triangle simply because it has three equal sides or no equal sides.  A green triangle is just as much a triangle as a red triangle.  Lives matter – black, brown, red, or white.  You may consider someone damaged or different but it does not change the fact that they are alive, they have value, they matter.  Each and every human being, as with all life, deserves respect.  What may seem out of place to you fits perfectly for someone else.

 

The value of living is reason enough for us to give it our very best efforts, to give all of mankind our very best efforts.   Aristotle noted: “The value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” 

 

Accept

Accept

2018.12.30

12 Days of Kindness

 

 “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 quoted at the beginning of this – What goes around comes around – 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.  There was an overly-active young lad who was not prone to sitting still in the class.  On this day he kept jumping up and playing with non-playful objects in the room, things like the light switch or window blinds cord.  He suddenly stopped his actions, though, and looked directly at me when I asked if anyone 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. These circular spots of grass contained grasses that grew a deeper green and were often thicker than the other areas of grass. 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, perhaps used when illustrated by mushrooms growing as dinner tables with the fairies eating off the mushrooms, or as 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, mushrooms 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 novelties of nature. 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, just as plentifully, they 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 mentions underground dragons whose breath created 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 behavior or choices. The fact is that we can learn and heal from everything.  Life is a series of lessons, a process of acceptance.   Not all of life’s lessons 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.

 

My readers for this blog come from forty-three countries world-wide.  Those of you who have taken the time to comment have taught me and I accept those lessons with gratitude and joy.  Life is not for the faint-hearted.  Life takes courage and is seldom “easy”.  Your acceptance of these posts has been a blessing and I thank each of you.  My efforts in writing this blog have been rewarded by your reading it.  Some might say that is a type of karma.

 

Eventually, goodness will go around the world and encompass it and us.  The best karma will be found in the acceptance we give one another.  Today’s world is often a world of one of name-calling and inciting terror.  Sharing kindness by allowing people to be, accepting them for their differences rather than in spite of them, opens a door for a better tomorrow and a brighter, safer future for everyone.  May be t greatest lesson is that the sacred part of karma is in learning from the painful and spreading joyful kindness to all.  I do know that if we encompass the world with a ring of goodness, we will all have better karma.  Then, what goes around will be goodness, mercy, kindness, and a better tomorrow to come.

The Longest Night

The Longest Night

2018.12.21

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

*Song lyrics in { }  written by by the English poet Christina Rossetti.  Rossetti wrote the poem in 1872 (or earlier) as a response to the magazine Scribner’s Monthlys request for a Christmas poem.  When Gustav Holst composed a melody to the poem in 1906 a new Christmas carol was born.

 

{In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, long ago.}  Today at 4:33 CST, the winter solstice will occur.  The date of this solstice, as with the other solstices, varies from year to year.  This is because the tropical year, the time it takes the sun to return to the same spot relative to planet Earth, is different than our calendar year.  The 21st or 22nd of December are the most common dates for the winter solstice, though.  The next solstice occurring on December 20th will not happen until 2080 and the next December 23rd winter solstice will not occur until the year 2303.  It is doubtful anyone reading this will be alive then.

 

The specific time of the winter solstice is determined by the exact instant the North Pole is aimed furthest away from the sun on a 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth’s axis.  Also at this exact time, the sun will shine directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.  While the solstice will occur within minutes of this post being published, it occurs at the exact same time worldwide and even for the astronauts on the International Space Station.

 

Since the solstice brings about the longest night of the year, it stands to reason that it is also the shortest day of the year.  After all, each day is only 24 hours, regardless where it falls on the calendar.  For example, New York City averages nine hours and fifteen minutes of daytime or sunlight, depending on the weather, on the winter solstice.  On the summer solstice it experiences fifteen hours and five minutes of daylight.  That compares to Helsinki Finland receiving five hours and 49 minutes of light and Barrow Alaska n9ot even having a sunrise.  In fact, Barrow’s next sunrise will not be until the third week of January.  The North Pole, which has a prominent role in determining the solstice, has not experienced a sunrise since October while the South Pole will not have a sunset until March.

 

Early cultures created a great many myths about the winter solstice.  Celebrations were held to beckon the return of the sun and to celebrate rebirth.  Many believe the traditional Yule logs originated in Scandinavian and/or Germanic cultures to encourage light to return to the earth.  Great feasts were prepared and cattle slaughtered so that people could dine heavily since there would be no fresh meat or vegetables for several months.

 

{Angels and archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; But his mother only, in her maiden bliss, Worshiped the beloved with a kiss.}  December 21st has had a prominent role in history for other reasons, though.  The Pilgrims arrived in the New World at Plymouth, MA and went on to settle and found a society encouraging free worship.  In 1898 on this day, Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium which opened the door for the Atomic Age.  On December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 was launched, becoming the first manned moon mission.  The Mayan calendar supposedly ended on December 21, 2012 and many feared it would be the end of the world.  Others believe it was the rebirth of a new era for earth.

 

Some ancient cultures believed dark spirits walked the earth at this time while others felt it to be a time of renewal.  For most people, the winter solstice is a time of continued hurrying around while they prepared for the holidays.  {What can I give him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.}  How we should celebrate this longest night is by gathering energy to make tomorrow the best day ever.  It truly is a wise man/woman who does their part in helping others, sharing goodness, showing kindness to all.  On this the longest night which has followed the shortest day, I invite you to share your heart with others. 

 

https://youtu.be/U0aL9rKJPr4

Be the Light

Be the Light

2018.12.06-07

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

“We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a Thousand Points of Light…We all have something to give.”  President George Herbert Walker Bush recited those words in his 1989 Inaugural Address after having been sworn in as the 41st President of the United States of America. 

 

In 1987 community advocates found New York Cares.  In 1989 President George H. W. Bush’s inaugural address invoked the vision of a “thousand points of light,” and invited the nation to take action through service to their fellow citizens.  President Bush established the Daily Point of Light Award for individuals making a difference in 1990.   During his administration, President Bush formally recognized more than 1,000 volunteers as “points of light.” He advocated that “points of light” demonstrated how “a neighbor can help a neighbor.” This award is now administered by the Points of Light non-profit organization.  This organization, in response to President Bush’s call to action, was created as an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization to encourage and empower the spirit of service. This nonprofit has extended President Bush’s vision and his understanding that “what government alone can do is limited, but the potential of the American people knows no limits.”

 

In 1993 President Bill Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act, which initiated the founding of AmeriCorps, a national service program that engaged Americans in voluntary action to address the country’s most critical issues.  In 1997 former and sitting Presidents united to challenge the nation to think anew at The Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future.  Presidents Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford and first lady Nancy Reagan convened to discuss the nation’s pressing social issues and discuss about their role in meeting the needs of the country and world through voluntary action.

 

In 2001 the United Nations proclaimed the Year of the Volunteer.  The Points of Light Foundation joined nearly 1,000 national and international partners participating in the year of service and engaged its large network of individuals, groups and corporate partners in service to others.  President George W. Bush creates USA Freedom Corps in his 2002 State of the Union address to build on the countless acts of service, sacrifice and generosity that followed Sept. 11, 2001. 

 

ServiceNation, an unprecedented coalition of service and volunteer leadership to inspire a new era of voluntary citizen service in America, was launched in 2008.  Points of Light joined organizing committee members including Be the Change Inc., City Year and Civic Enterprises.  The next year in 2009 President Barack Obama signed the historic Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act heralding in the next phase of the nation’s renewed call to service.  That same year President Obama announced the United We Serve campaign to engage more Americans in service. Members of President Obama’s administration participated in service projects and advocate service as a solution to our nation’s most pressing issues.

 

Also in 2009 the Points of Light organization hosted the Presidential Forum on Service, uniting President Obama and President George H. W. Bush. The forum recognized the 20th anniversary of President Bush’s invocation of a thousand points of light and celebrated the volunteer sector’s tremendous gains during the past two decades under Points of Light’s leadership.

 

As we say our final goodbye to President George H W Bush as he is interred at his Presidential Library in Texas, we must work to make sure that his vision continues.  “I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, rewarding. We will work on this in the White House, in the Cabinet agencies. I will go to the people and the programs that are the brighter points of light, and I will ask every member of my government to become involved. The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.”  This is how everyday miracles are created and followed through each day.  One person can make a difference by being a point of light.

A Light in the Darkness

A Light in the Darkness

2018.12.2-3

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

It is the darkest time of the year for most of us.  The days are much shorter and at least once every three days someone during the past two weeks has opened the curtains or door in my house after 5:00 PM and said “My goodness!  It is dark already!”  I have to wonder what mankind thought centuries ago, long before scientists had given the seasons names and we understood the rotation of the planets around the sun and what the twinkling lights in the night sky really are.

 

It is said that in trying to explain their natural world, people created the myths of religion.  Some of the greatest mysteries of nature that are explained in mythology are the origins of mankind, the four seasons, and how flowers got their colors and names.  Basically, these myths were told because with the intention to bring people together. Stories were told to help people understand difficult ideas and help people in a community to think in the same way.

 

Advent is that time of year which seems a bit bipolar.  If you are religious, most scripture readings discuss the end of the world, the end times as they are known.  The end time (also called end times, end of time, end of days, last days, final days, or eschaton) is a future time-period described variously in the eschatologies of several world religions (both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic), which believe that world events will reach a final climax.  Eschatology is a part of theology concerned with the final events of the history of the world and/or mankind.  Succinctly put, it is the doctrine of last times or things.

 

Advent is, however, the season that ushers in the highest order of a miracle possible – the human birth of a deity or deity-related offspring.  A miracle is something which is statistically and scientifically impossible, as we understand such things and their realistic possibilities.  A miracle is not easily explained by natural causes alone and quite often has the result of changing lives.

 

The myths told to explain the natural existence of the world and mankind were no less miraculous than those of various religions and their messiah or savior.  This year the miracle of light in the Jewish tradition, Hanukah, began on Gregorian calendar date as the First Sunday in Advent.  Both are symbolically celebrated with the lighting of a candle. 

 

At this time of year when darkness is most prevalent in the natural world in the Northern Hemisphere, the symbolism of light is important.  Ninety percent of the world’s population lives in the Northern Hemisphere and so most people are in the darkest time of the year now.  Light also plays a prominent role in the discussion of the end times.

 

The Abrahamic faiths maintain a linear cosmology, with end-time scenarios containing themes of transformation and redemption. In Judaism, the term “end of days” makes reference to the Messianic Age and includes an in-gathering of the exiled Jewish diaspora, the coming of the Messiah, the resurrection of the righteous, and the world to come.  Hanukah is the celebration to commemorate the lasting of one night’s oil for a lamp to give light miraculously lasting eight days.

 

Some sects of Christianity depict the end time as a period of tribulation that precedes the second coming of Christ, who will face the Antichrist along with his power structure and usher in the Kingdom of God.  A popular theme in Christianity is that each person is “the light of the world”.  Christians are encouraged not to hide their faith or the good works it should encourage.

 

In Islam, the Day of Judgement is preceded by the appearance of the al-Masih al-Dajjal, and followed by the descending of Isa (Jesus). Isa will triumph over the false messiah, or the Antichrist, which will lead to a sequence of events that will end with the sun rising from the west and the beginning of the Qiyamah (Judgment day).  Since the sun normally rises in the east, the change would be miraculous in proclaiming the end of the world as we currently know it.

 

Non-Abrahamic faiths tend to have more cyclical world-views, with end-time eschatologies characterized by decay, redemption, and rebirth. In Hinduism, the end time occurs when Kalki, the final incarnation of Vishnu, descends atop a white horse and brings an end to the current Kali Yuga. In Buddhism, the Buddha predicted that his teachings would be forgotten after 5,000 years, approximately the year 2300 ACE on the Gregorian calendar.   After this great turmoil is to follow, according to the Buddha.   A bodhisattva named Maitreya is expected to appear and rediscover the teaching of dharma. The ultimate destruction of the world will then come through seven suns.  Again, the proclaiming of seven suns will bring great light to the darkness of the end times.

 

Advent is considered a time of preparation.  Then what, you might ask, are we to prepare?  Should we become doomsday preppers?  For four seasons the National Geographic Channel had a program entitled “Doomsday Preppers”.  The program explored those preparing for a great apocalypse, the end of the world, and their efforts to survive such.  As one who has walked through a category five hurricane and been caught in a tornado, I can appreciate their wanting to be prepared.  The truth is, though, we all face catastrophes each week.

 

Advent for me is a time to prepare for living, not the end of it all.  I think it is to our advantage to see beyond the turmoil and notice the everyday miracles that exist within life’s daily grind, the routine of living that has both joy and disorder.  During this series we will discuss those everyday miracles and hopefully begin to see more of them in our own living.

 

Some people claim such everyday miracles are simply matters of coincidence.  A coincidence is a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances that have no apparent causal connection with one another.  Not much different than the definition of a miracle, huh?  Sometimes our coincidences are very mundane.  I took the dog out at 2:58 AM and noticed how brightly the constellation Orion appeared in the night sky.  I came inside to see a movie about this constellation start on television.  It was not really life-changing but it was a neat little coincidence that as the characters told two different myths about the same three stars (known as Orion’s belt), I could look out my window and see them in the night sky.  For a moment, the fictional characters and I were connected.

 

Everyday miracles connect us to our living and those with which we share this planet.  The light of the world is the same sun we share, the same gift of a smile we give to others.   As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize. A blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black curious eyes of a child, our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

 

Figgy Pudding

Figgy Pudding

2018.11.15

Growing Community

 

In one week those living in the USA will celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  It will also be the official start of the holiday (i.e., Christmas) season.  In reality, though, the holiday shopping season began in mid-July as stores put out decorations and crafts ideas for gifts to be made.  Many people have been griping about seeing peppermint canes and holly wreaths while shopping for swimsuits or pumpkins but I am one of those who delights in seeing the Christmas cheer on display, even when the temperatures are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

As we become fully entrenched in the holiday season, carols will be played and one of the more popular ones has a verse that implores…”So bring us some figgy pudding, so bring us some figgy pudding, so bring us some figgy pudding and put it right here.”  Savory puddings are less well known than their sweet counterparts but savory puddings like figgy pudding are actually not only older but why the community of mankind survived the ages.  The modern usage of the word pudding id used to denote primarily desserts however the word pudding is believed to come from the French “boudin”, originally from the Latin “botellus”, meaning “small sausage”, referring to encased meats.  The meats were encased in animal intestines to preserve them; such preservation meant the meats could be kept longer and thus provided sustenance during hard times or when one could not go hunting. 

 

The first record of plum or figgy pudding dates back to the fifteenth century when records indicate a plum pottage or mash was served at the beginning of the meal.  Plum was a generic term used to indicate any dried fruit and the fruits were combined with meat and root vegetables.  Commonly dried fruit of the period were raisins, currants, and prunes.  By the end of the sixteenth century, dried fruit was more plentiful and the plum or figgy pudding became more sweet than savory.  Pudding cloths became popular as the concoction would be wrapped in the cloth and no longer needed to depend on animal fat to hold together.  It is most likely that such is the early beginnings of dishes like the Scottish haggis and Pennsylvania Dutch hog maw – both savory casseroles prepared in either intestines or the lining from a pig’ stomach.

 

In 1647 the figgy pudding was so closely associated with the Christmas holidays that Prime Minister Oliver Cromwell had it banned.  The Puritanical Cromwell felt such harkened back to the Druids, paganism, and idolatry.  In 1660 when the English monarchy was restored, so were the traditions of Yule logs, nativity scenes,, Christmas carols, and the figgy pudding.  The Victorian era saw the figgy pudding achieve a position of prominence, thanks in no small part to Charles Dickens.  The first Christmas savings clubs were created to help poor housewives save for the figgy or Christmas pudding ingredients.  In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the last Sunday before the Advent season contained a prayer that began “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people” and became known as “Stir-Up Sunday”.  Family members would take turn stirring the Christmas pudding which was then wrapped and boiled and set aside to mature until Christmas Day.  By the nineteenth century the traditional figgy pudding had become more of what we today call fruitcake, a mixture of brown sugar, raisins, currants, candied fruit, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, suet, and alcohol.

 

The Victorian citizens, the Christmas pudding was an analogy for their world view.  The British Empire consisted of savory bits from distant colonies all bound together by a settled atmosphere of All that was considered to be English.  One advantage of the Christmas pudding was the time it took to season and cure as well as the lengthy time it lasted.  This meant that soldiers deployed in far-off lands could enjoy this taste of home even if it took almost a year to receive it. 

 

I don’t mind the appearance of Christmas in July simply because I think it is always time to spread Christmas cheer.  Sadly, too often today our Christmas puddings are made in molds rather than the more organic shapes of the past.  While I admire the beauty of such molds, I do wonder if they serve to divide us instead of bringing us together.  We grow a community with the sharing of Christmas cheer and yet, if we expect that community to be perfect or everyone to fit in a mold, then we are self-defeating.

 

In growing a community we need to stir-up our diversities and celebrate our common denominators in solidifying our future.  The 1848 satirical cartoon once entitled “John Bull Showing the Foreign Powers How to Make a Constitutional Plum Pudding” seems sadly appropriate for our

modern times.  The cartoon illustration revealed a person preparing to carve a bulging, holly-adorned pudding labeled “Liberty of the Press”, “Trial by Jury”, “Common Sense”, and “Order”. 

 

Stir up, good people, the wills of your faith, so that they will bring forth the fruit of good works and therefore richly reward us all.   When we grow community we help ourselves to hear the call of goodness and practice such service as will benefit us all.  Whatever the weather or season, we need some figgy pudding, that combination of different things brought together for preservation and continuance of us all.