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.”

 

The Long Wait

The Long Wait

March 31, 2018

 

We “sprang ahead” three weeks ago and yet many are still waiting for spring-like temperatures.   For those celebrating the Easter weekend, today is Easter Even or Eve, known liturgically as the Great Easter Vigil, a time of waiting for the words of a man crucified to become true, waiting to see if he really could defeat death at its own game.  For those celebrating Passover, this is a period of eight days celebrating deliverance and freedom, something many in the Jewish faith are still waiting to become their reality.

 

It is always tricky to combine Easter and Passover.  Both are major holidays in two religions of the Abrahamic faith and yet, both represent times of trial and racial and religious discrimination.  We tend to gloss over the fact that the man known as Jesus of Nazareth was killed for being Jewish.  Many today try to combine the Passover Seder meal with the Christian Holy Week without acknowledging the guilt of the Roman Empire in carrying out the execution of someone simply for preaching the Jewish teachings.  Others simply sigh and continue their own great vigil in waiting for world peace.

 

David Maister, in his paper “The Psychology of Waiting Lines” believes that the actual length of time one waits has very little to do with how long the wait seems to be.  Maister lists eight factors that make our wait much longer than it really is. 

1. Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time.  When you have something to distract yourself, time passes more quickly. This is why some hotels put mirrors by the elevators.  Many people like to look at themselves and this distracts them so they don’t realize how long they are waiting for the elevator.

2. People want to get started.  Restaurants give you a menu while you wait, and often doctors’ assistants will put you in the examination room twenty-five minutes before any exam actually begins.

3. Anxiety makes waits seem longer.  Perception determines our thinking.  If you think you’ve chosen the slowest line at the drugstore, or you’re worried about getting a seat on the plane, the wait will seem longer.

4. Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits.  People wait more calmly when they’re told, “The doctor will see you in thirty minutes” than when they’re told, “The doctor will see you soon.” Maister gives the illustration of a phenomenon that is very typical.  When we arrive someplace thirty minutes early, we wait with perfect patience because we know we got there early.  However, three minutes after the scheduled appointment time we begin to feel annoyed and wonder “Just how long am I going to have to wait?”

5. Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits.  Customers tend wait more patiently for the pizza guy when there’s a thunderstorm than when the sky is clear.

6. Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits.  People want their waits to be fair.  Crowded subway platforms are one example where there’s no clear, fair way to determine who gets on the next car. The “FIFO” rule (first in, first out) is a great rule, when it works. Often though certain people need attention more urgently, or certain people are more valuable customers. Then how long our wait is and how equitable who waits becomes uncertain and can be seen as being unfair.  

7. The more valuable the service, the longer the customer will wait.  As a general rule we will wait longer to talk to a doctor than to talk to a sales clerk. People will willingly stand in line longer to buy an iPad than to buy a toothbrush.

8. Solo waits feel longer than group waits.  The more people engage with each other, the less they notice the wait time. In fact, in some situations like buying a ticket or going through a security checkpoint, waiting in line is part of the experience.  The adage misery loves company certainly is true when we are waiting.

 

So can waiting ever be beneficial?  The spiritualist will answer a resounding yes and those in religion should as well.  Whether one’s deity is one of many or the single omnipotent deity of the Abrahamic faiths, the common factor is all is the essence of waiting and the lessons we gain.  Waiting is not something fate has put into the world to annoy us.  It can be the best thing we will ever experience.

 

Using the eight factor Maister lists, we can see valuable insights and lessons to be learned.  I am going to begin with number eight and work backwards.  Often taking an annoyance and turning it around is the key to gaining insight and growth.

 

8. Solo waits feel longer than group waits.  We all live on this planet together.  When we connect one with another, we are taking great strides towards world peace and a better living for everyone.  Kindness is the art of reaching out to others and when we connect we are showing benevolence and humanity to each other and to ourselves.

7. The more valuable the service, the longer the customer will wait.  Sometimes we find ourselves doing something simply because it is trendy or fashionable.  When we have to wait to do it, we have the opportunity to examine our motives and desires.  Waiting gives us the chance to question our faithfulness in being authentic to our goals and desires.

6. Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits.  Patience is often defines as being able to endure.  What really comes into play is our ego.  Are we too good to wait while another is being served?  Most of us would say no but do our actions really illustrate that if we become impatient?

5. Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits.  Self-control is discipline and sometimes it is harder to discipline ourselves than our children.  No one knows everything and we have no real knowledge of all the factors that might be affecting our wait.  Mastering ourselves is often the first step to not only peace in our own lives and community but success in our living.

4. Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits.  Trust – the one word that makes living so difficult.  It is hope and confidence, dependence and reliance, conviction and faith.  Waiting is often who we are put into action.

3. Anxiety makes waits seem longer.  Peace within will reflect peace in our actions.  How we overcome anxiety really speaks to who we are as a person, as a nation, as all of humankind. 

2. People want to get started.  Patience is required when one is waiting.  We often fail to realize that the wait might be our first step to the realization of our intentions. 

1. Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time.  Joy can be found in each second.  Too often we are busy rushing from one place to another, one project to the next.  When we wait, we are given time to enjoy our world and our day.  Instead of counting the second, we need to count the smiles around us, the flowers in the window, and the sounds of life around us.

 

Those of the Jewish faith are still waiting to live completely in freedom without derision as are those of other faiths.  Many Christians have forgotten that the grace they seek is simply theirs for the praying.  As a world we have overlooked that the key to world peace is in our waiting upon each other with dignity and generosity, kindness and forbearance, honesty and respect.  The biggest vigil of all is waiting for each of us to explore the humanity within our souls and then live it.

Calling All Others

Calling All “Others”

March 26-30, 2018

Maundy Thursday / Good Friday

 

Atheists and Non-Believers:  This post is for you.  I confess that when I began this blog over four years ago, I did not expect to write a post specifically for non-believers.  It is, after all, a lifestyle blog about incorporating faith and daily living, connecting our spirituality with our relationships.  During this time commonly known as Holy Week and especially on Maundy Thursday and the weirdly named “good” Friday, though, the story is really more about atheists and non-believers than about the faithful.

 

The last week of Lent is designated as “holy” because it depicts the final days of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth.  One cannot ignore the story.  It has changed the face of history, brought about world wars, been used as the basis for genocides throughout the centuries and still is the impetus for many works of art and musical presentations, the latest being NBC’s concert version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Sunday, April 1st.

 

As a child, I always connected the term atheist with the character in the story known as Caiaphas.   Caiaphas is one of the lesser characters who seemed to be pulling the strings and controlling the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, the one who gave the order for Jesus’ crucifixion.  There was very little separation of church and state in the Roman Empire since Roman law titled the Roman Emperor as the savior of all within the Roman Empire.  Succinctly put, no one – man or god- was higher than the Roman Emperor.

 

The faith of the Jewish people was insignificant to those in power within the Roman Empire.  Someone violating Jewish law meant nothing to the powers that controlled the land.  Caiaphas and his five brothers-in-law saw Jesus as a threat but knew Rome would not care that he cured the sick on the Sabbath or went about preaching without being an actual Rabbi or living what we might call a “kosher” lifestyle.  When John the Baptist, however, called his cousin Jesus the new Messiah…well, Caiaphas could take that to Rome and claimed treason.

 

The Jewish historian Josephus, a fist century historian and writer, lists Caiaphas tenure as a high priest as beginning in 18 ACE.  Caiaphas married the daughter of the previous high priest Ananus, the son of Seth, Caiaphas was known as Joseph.  We know very little about his life or other duties as a high priest.  In 1990 an ossuary was found that many claim contained his remains.  Another was found in 2011 and was declared to be authentic.  Because of this later find, Caiaphas has now been assigned to the priestly course of Ma’aziah which was instituted by King David.  It is thought Caiaphas (Joseph) served eighteen years as high priest so he apparently got along quite well with the Roman authorities.

 

It is written that Caiaphas and others felt Jesus posed a threat to their faith, its holy places, and would give Rome cause to destroy them all.  In both the gospel of John and the book of Genesis, references are made that it would be better for one man [Jesus] to die rather than the Jewish nation be destroyed.

 

The villain of the final days of Jesus to many is the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.  He in fact says he has no reason to charge Jesus with any crime and urges the priests to take their own action.  They tell him they have none and only Pontius Pilate can do so.  Pilate then gives the assembled crown a choice of which prisoner to set free.  Jesus is not their choice.  Caiaphas would go on to reign as a high priest longer than any other under Roman rule.

 

Maundy Thursday is the day many remember the last supper Jesus had with his disciples, the event which ended in his capture by the Roman soldiers.  The character Jesus knows what is coming and tells the disciple who points him out to the soldiers to hurry up and do what he must.  He then tells the others to be as servants to each other and purportedly washed their feet, placing himself in a servant role to them.  They eat and then sleep in spite of his asking them to stay awake with him.  They are awakened by the soldiers and watch helplessly as their leader is taken away.  Within the next twenty-four hours, the disciple peter would pretend not to know Jesus.  Good Friday ends with his torture and crucifixion.

 

We all live on this big blue marble called Earth one with another.  Whether we are believers or atheists, we must interact with each other.  To intentionally do harm to another does not benefit any of us.  The last advice Jesus gives to his disciples about helping each other are not just words for those who believed in him.  They are the key to successful living for us all. 

 

Whether your messiah is a man called Jesus, a political figure, or someone who has yet to come, the wisdom still works.  To help one another, to serve humankind …. This means successful living for us all.  Not everyone loves themselves so I am not going to say love others as you love yourself.  What I will say is this:  Please treat (love) others as you would want to be treated.  We truly are here to help each other.

 

https://youtu.be/kdmgpMfnjdU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stewardship of Prayer

Stewardship of Prayer

March 14-15, 2018

 

Stewardship is often defined stewardship as raising money, getting pledges of tithing from membership which creates a stream of income for the coming year.  Recently a friend was facing an upcoming surgery and mentioned needing to make certain church attendance was on the agenda, needing to have God on their side for the operation.   Many view their attendance at their house of worship as a stewardship of prayer, a type of “praying it forward” to earn brownie points for those times they mess up or do not live their faith.

 

Let me explain the term “brownie points” in case you are reading this and are unfamiliar with this popular slang term.  Like most slang terminology, there are several opinions about its origin.  In the 1960’s a system of brownie points was created in the Girl Guides/Scouts program.  In order to earn a badge, Brownie Guides or Scouts had to complete a certain number of tasks concerning the particular badge in question, usually six tasks.  As each undertaking was completed, they were said to have earned a “brownie point”.  [I was a proud Brownie Scout and yes, I earned all the badges.]

 

After World War II the practice of issuing stamps based upon the amount of purchase became prevalent in many retail businesses.  The stamps would be accumulated and then exchanged for household items that were often a luxury for the average household.  The first such stamps were brown in color so the consumer was said to earn Brownie points while supporting the local economy.  In New Zealand a utility company still uses what it calls Brownie points in their marketing. 

 

Although the earliest reference of brownie points in print is found in a 1960’s article in California as a man spoke about his wife earning brownie points, a sexist attitude I have to dislike, it is much more likely that the real credit for the term belongs to an American railroad superintendent, George R. Brown.   In 1886, Brown developed an innovative system of merits and demerits for railroad employees who worked for the Fall Brook Railway in New York State.   His system of rewarding and punishing employees was written about in business publications and it garnered great fame as other railroads began using it.  Railroad employees referred to the merits and demerits as “brownie points” and the slang term worked its way into our common vocabulary.

 

An important thing to remember is that brownie points are imaginary and are not free.  One earns them either through effort or by paying a monetary price.  Their imaginary existence is the result of action.  I am not a deity to which anyone offers prayer so I cannot speak with authority but I am fairly certain that the concept of “praying it forward” is far less effective than the generosity of spirit involved with “paying it forward”, a concept suggested by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book “In the Garden of Delight” in which a person does a good deed for a stranger instead of the original benefactor from which they received something favorable.  Paying it forward might be considered giving it back while praying it forward is more of a savings loan program.  Paying it forward involves at least two or more people and usually can become a bit contagious with others following the example.  Praying it forward is an idea predicated on the belief that one will need extra favor due to a mistake or intentional wrongdoing.

 

Many donate or tithe based upon the knowledge that they are not perfect and will need forgiveness from their supreme spirit to which they believe they are accountable.  This use or practice of giving money as a type of “fine paying” treats forgiveness and being blessed as something that can be bought.  Indeed, there are some denominations and religions that still purport this concept.  It is, in fact, the reason many suicide bombers detonate their bombs; they believe it is the ultimate payment for the ultimate resting place for their soul.

 

I will not even get into the theology or lack thereof of such concepts.  The fact is that stewardship has really very little to do with money or even earning favor.  How often have you visited a busy shopping mall or large office complex and seen someone mopping up a spill or emptying the waste cans?  While the majority of such cleaning is done by a custodial staff after hours when the general population is not present, there are those little mishaps that require constant attention.  This is the real definition of stewardship, the caretaking of the establishment.  Do we stop to thank those stewards, those custodians or do we simply walk around them, maybe acknowledging their presence with a quick nod or the briefest of smiles?

 

Almost every culture has a flood myth and during Pentecost one year we discussed several of those, the most famous of which is the story from the Abrahamic faiths of Noah and the Ark.  What we fail to realize is the stewardship required of Noah and his family in this story.  Anyone who has had a household pet or lived on a farm or ranch knows the efforts required by owning animals.  Imagine doing that on a boat in the middle of nothing but water.  The mucking out of cages and stalls, the sweeping up of shedding hair…you get the picture.  All of a sudden the mythology of this story takes on a very different meaning than simply a man saving his family and two of each species so they can repopulate the planet.  Providing sustenance, a source of staying alive, a healthy environment…these are the realities of stewardship.

 

What sustenance do we give our prayers and how do we keep our prayer life alive?  While many times there are those on-the spur-of-the-moment prayers, how do we provide for those deeper meditative prayers and do we create a healthy environment for those?  Do we make very necessary quiet pockets within our day to engage in a prayerful dialogue, one in which we can listen?  Before we start to worry about earning brownie points, we first need to really engage in prayer, real active prayer.  Regardless of our spiritual leanings or direction, we can go nowhere until we have stewardship of our praying. A vehicle without petrol or gas will go nowhere and even an electric car needs recharging after its first drive.

 

Literature is full of examples of the Devil, the ultimate evil spirit, the nemesis for most faithful people.  Before you tell me you are too busy to be a good steward of prayer, let me remind you that Milton’s Lucifer and Goethe’s Mephistopheles were considered the most interesting of all the characters in the plays they inhabited.  Delightful and witty, their evilness does not appear as repulsive but rather charming and charismatic.  Yet, they represent the most evil of all, that which separates us from God – “I am the eternal spirit of negation” Mephistopheles explains to Faust in Goethe’s play.

 

It is that “I haven’t the time”, the subconscious “NO!” playing in our heads that keeps us from actively taking control of our praying and our prayer life.  Anywhere can become a sacred space as we discovered last Advent 2014 with the series that explored all the different sacred spaces on earth.  It is up to us to create that sacred space in our own lives, that time no matter how brief and that place no matter where it is that allows us to be faithful stewards of our praying.  We have no need to pray it forward.  We simply need to pray.

Lay Down to Build Up

Lay Down to Build Up

Advent 10

Year in Review 2017

 

A common cry throughout the history of the world has been the call to lay down arms.  In other words, stop fighting.  The quote “War is hell” has been attributed to General William Tecumseh Sherman, although he himself claimed to not remember saying it.  David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace, authors of the series “The People’s Almanac” explain: Historians generally agree that this is Sherman’s statement on war, but the Civil War general could not remember ever having said these three words. Before his death in 1891, Sherman made an extensive search through all of his private papers in a fruitless effort to convince himself that the words were actually his. There are several accounts of when the words were said. The earliest version dates back to 1863, after the fall of Vicksburg, when Sherman’s troops were crossing a pontoon bridge over the Pearl River at Jackson, Miss. According to eyewitness John Koolbeck, a soldier from Iowa, Sherman watched the crossing from the water’s edge and then said to the passing troops, “War is hell, boys.” Another account has Sherman delivering the line in a graduation address at the Michigan Military Academy on June 19, 1879. Still a third account says that Sherman made the famous statement in a speech before a group of Union veterans in Columbus, O., on Aug. 11, 1880. At other times, he did state, “War is cruel and you cannot refine it” and “War at best is barbarism.”

 

The bearing of a weapon greatly increases the likelihood that said weapon will be used.  Hateful words spoken aloud greatly increases the chance that uttered hatred will spread.  History bears witness to the truth of those two statements.  Usually, religion is given as the cause for such things like war.  Within the last two thousand years, the three Abrahamic faiths have been the culprits and there is evidence that they have contributed even though was is not a part of any religion’s doctrine.

 

Those who claim that isolation and violence are the path towards goodness are walking blindly.  It is with much sadness and anger that I must admit the events of this past weekend at US airports will be forever linked to Christianity.  People with legal documentation that gave them the right to travel to and in the USA have been held up and prevented from arrival.  Claiming to be laying down arms while beefing up security, a new regime has hijacked both the US Constitution and the Christian faith.

 

How do I make such a bold statement?  Matthew 25:31-46 from the New Testament is my proof.  “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the 3holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’  Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’  Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’  Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”

 

Borgna Brunner explains how Islam actually has two holidays that reference helping others, the building up of each other.  Eid al-Fitr (1 Shawwal)is the Celebration concluding Ramadan, the month of fasting.  Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Literally the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (Eid al-Adha is the other). At Eid al-Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.  A sense of generosity and gratitude colors these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques.

 

Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Adult Muslims are expected to make at least once in their lifetime.  Eid al-Adha (10 Dhu’l-Hijjah) is the celebration concluding the Hajj.  Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates the prophet Abraham’s willingness to obey Allah by sacrificing his son Ishmael. According to the Quran, just before Abraham sacrificed his son, Allah replaced Ishmael with a ram, thus sparing his life. One of the two most important Islamic festivals, Eid al-Adha begins on the 10 day of Dhu’l-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Lasting for three days, it occurs at the conclusion of the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims all over the world celebrate, not simply those undertaking the hajj, which for most Muslims is a once-a-lifetime occurrence.  The festival is celebrated by sacrificing a lamb or other animal and distributing the meat to relatives, friends, and the poor. The sacrifice symbolizes obedience to Allah and its distribution to others is an expression of generosity, one of the five pillars of Islam.

 

“Tzedakah” is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call “charity” in English: giving aid, assistance and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes. However, the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity. The word “charity” suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. The word “tzedakah” is derived from the Hebrew root Tzadei-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due.  Giving to the poor is an obligation in Judaism, a duty that cannot be forsaken even by those who are themselves in need. Some sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all commandments, equal to all of them combined, and that a person who does not perform tzedakah is equivalent to an idol worshipper. This is probably hyperbole, but it illustrates the importance of tzedakah in Jewish thought. Tzedakah is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins.

 

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon went one step further in explaining how such charity should be given, a hierarchy of learning how to give.  Giving begrudgingly is the first step, followed by giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully. Giving after being asked and giving before being asked follow.  Then there is giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity and giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity.  After a while, giving becomes the important thing, not being known for giving as in giving when neither party knows the other’s identity.  Finally, at the top is the true purpose for tzedakah which enables the recipient to become self-reliant.

 

When we lay down our hatred and weapons, we are then able to build each other up through the Christian, Jewish, and Islam paths of charity and generosity.  War with its many forms and variations is cruel and does little to build for the future.  Evil should be stopped.  We are an intelligent race.  Surely we can figure a way to create peace and a better tomorrow with mercy and goodness.

 

Advent is a time of preparation and many feel charitable at this time of the year.  It is important to remember that a gift is not a bribe nor is it payment.  It is simply a way for us to cherish each other and honor the life of the recipient.  It is at this time of the year that the light of goodness needs to shine its brightest.  When we cherish our world and those in it, we also cherish our being.  That is a great gift indeed. 

 

 

Women, Life and Beliefs

Life and Beliefs

Lent 28

 

Religious freedom is not just something discussed and guaranteed in the United States Constitution, although said document was one of the first to include it in a government’s laws and stated human rights.  It has been the goal of mankind since beliefs became diverse and openly discussed.  Clearly the first deliverance of the Jewish people from the bondage in Egypt was not a cure-all.  In the mid twentieth century Adolf Hitler sought to not only enslave them but to eradicate them, even though he himself was of Jewish descent.   “We were redeemed from Egypt because of the righteousness of the women of that generation.”  This sentence is found in the Talmud, the Jewish holy book.   

 

Today many people are seeking freedoms, both for religious purposes but also for just basic living.  Sarah Aaronsohn was born at the end of the nineteenth century and spent her life trying to obtain freedom for Palestine from Turkish rule.  She was tortured for her efforts but remained strong and determined, faithful to her religion.  Lina Abarbanell was an opera singer of high acclaim.  She retired from singing but not from the stage and became a worldwide director of such wonderful operas as “Porgy and Bess”.  Born in Germany immediately after the end of World War I, Rosalie Silberman Abella took her experience as a refugee and used it as motivation to help others.  She became the first Jewish woman elected to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Ruth Abrams became the first woman to serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, championing both women and minorities through her legal career.  Ruth Ginsberg is a vigilant and powerful presence in the United States Supreme Court today.

 

Lithuanian Dina Abramowicz was a Holocaust survivor from World War Ii.  While many hold that librarians are quiet, dull people, usually female, Dina proved them wrong.  As the head librarian of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, she helped recreate the rich heritage of the Jewish culture and people after WWII.  Bella Abzug was a New Yorker who also proved the strength of the Jewish woman.  Throughout her three terms as a U.S. Congresswoman, she advocated for and helped pass ground-breaking legislation for equal rights and particularly the right of women to play intramural sports in schools.

 

More recently Jill Abramson was the first female executive editor of the New York Times and promoted women within the organization as well as featuring stories regarding gender equality and racial injustice.  Rachel Adler sought to achieve gender equality within her own faith and was a pioneer of the Jewish feminist movement.  Born fifty years earlier, Paula Ackerman had taken over leadership of her rabbi husband’s congregation upon his death, a move that was met with support from the members of their synagogue.   Amy Alcott is a fantastic golfer who was recognized in the World Golf Hall of Fame.  Sue Alexander is a founding member of the International Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. 

 

The Beatitudes offer us a reason to continue to believe, in spite of what life throws at us.  They also have, for many, provided a foundation for which to live.  With no mission board to support or guide her and less than ten dollars in her pocket, Gladys Aylward left her home in England to answer God’s call to take the message of the gospel to China.  Amy Carmichael is an Irish missionary who spent fifty-three years in South India without a break.  Both women believed that their Creator would provide for their needs.

 

Dr. Helen Roseveare graduated in medicine from University of Cambridge in the late 1940′s. A well-known missionary doctor and author, with several of her works still in print, she worked in the north-eastern province of the Belgian Congo with the Heart of Africa Mission in the 1950′s & 60′s.  Art critic John Ruskin enthusiastically proclaimed her potential as one of the best artists of the nineteenth century, but Lilias Trotter’s devotion to Christ compelled her to surrender her life of art, privilege, and leisure. Leaving the home of her wealthy parents for a humble dwelling in Algeria, Lilias defied stereotypes and taboos that should have deterred any European woman from ministering in a Muslim country. Yet she stayed for nearly forty years, befriending Algerian Muslims with her appreciation for literature and art and winning them to Christ through her life of love.

 

Khadīja Khuwaylid Even was an important figure in her own right even before her famous marriage to the Prophet Muhammad, since she was a successful merchant and one of the elite figures of Mecca. She played a central role in supporting and propagating the new faith of Islam and has the distinction of being the first Muslim. 

 

One of the most important mystics (or Sufis) in the Muslim tradition, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya spent much of her early life as a slave in southern Iraq before attaining her freedom. She is considered to be one the founders of the Sufi school of “Divine Love,” which emphasizes the loving of God for His own sake, rather than out of fear of punishment or desire for reward. She lays this out in one of her poems:

“O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”

 

March is Women’s History Month so today I have dedicated this post to women of great faith.  Throughout history women have lived and fought for their religious beliefs and freedoms, finding strength in the cause and effects echoed in the Beatitudes.  These named represent a small minority of the thousands of thousands of brave and spiritual women who have lived according to their beliefs.  The list just goes on and on as these women have found purpose and strength from their faith.  After all, why do we believe if it is not to help us live better and leave the world a better place?

 

 

 

 

 

Living Today

Living Today

Lent 4-5

 

On November 1, 2016, Pope Francis offered his own updated version of the Beatitudes.  The Beatitudes are eight instances of cause and effect, given by a poor carpenter as he spoke to a crowd gathered on a hillside thousands of years ago.   Their named comes from the Latin “beatitude” which means happiness.  Each instance references something from the Old Testament but with a twist in its interpretation.  Pope Francis offered his own take with six new beatitudes.

 

The need for us to recognize this cause and effect is as necessary today as it was almost two thousand years ago.  In our modern world we see cause and effect every day.  The most striking examples are the suicide bombings which are prevalent worldwide.  These bombings are said to be based in religious teachings yet they offer no real restitution to those they purportedly are defending and their effect contributes to further dislike and discrimination of said groups of people.  They certainly do not follow the teachings of Islam.  Instead, paraphrasing Pope Francis, Islam would be better served as would all types of religion, especially Christianity and Judaism, if we stayed true to the teachings instead of responding with hatred and fear.  “Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart.”

 

We tend to think of such writings as the Beatitudes are being out of date and yet, they are very applicable to world events.  Perhaps this is why Pope Francis mentioned “Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness.”

 

As I have mentioned so many times, life is messy and living in today’s world is not easy.  Instead of fearing each other, we need to remember just how close we really are and in spite of our differences, recognize Creation in all we see.  “Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him.”  Perhaps there are those who do not believe in a God of any sorts.  I would suggest to them to substitute the word Creation for God.  The fact is clear from a biological and genetic point of view that we are all reflections of each other.  We share a great deal.

 

Pope Francis continued with two more:  “Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.   Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.”  Again, don’t think of just your physical abode but of our home, Mother Earth.  And finally, Pope Francis concluded with “Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion.”

 

Communion is not just something that happens during a mass or Eucharist church service.  Communion is relationship and hopefully, unity.  We are all in a relationship with each other whether we recognize that or not.  Not all relationships are great.  The connections we make, the interactions we have…These make up the brunt of our living.  Shouldn’t we try to make them as effective as possible?

 

We need to stop trying to give an eye for an eye and start showing kindness.  Period.   Not just be kind to those we perceive as being kind to us but be kind to all.  We need to not see just our differences but embrace them for the wonderful diversity and excitement they bring to life.  When we see the abandoned or excluded, we need to reach out and embrace them.  We share so much in common and there is beauty in all of Creation including those who might have been pushed to the outside.  We should respect all who offer our life and homes protection as well as those who are protecting our home, Mother Earth.  We needs to give thanks for those willing to put themselves last and us first and for those who go that extra mile to engage in relationships with all of humanity. 

 

Who can say they stand on the pedestal of right all the time?  Who can say who should have to live on the left of normal?  None of us is better than the least of us.  A rose by any other name…is still a flower.   Blessed are they who truly embrace their living for they… live.