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.

Embrace and Tolerate

Embrace and Tolerate

Epiphany 23

 

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”  He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”  “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”  Looking for a loophole, the scholar asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

 

The above paragraph was in a post I received on Facebook from a young man of strength and character.  This paragraph has become the topic of the world news because of recent events occurring in the United States.  The man elected in part with the support of conservative religious groups seems to have forgotten this part of faith – all faiths.

 

In times where terrorism seems to occur several times a day in some part of the world and several times a year in others, fear is an understandable reaction.  Fear responses are our body’s defense system.  It serves as a reminder to act – not to hate.  We take cover during a storm because our body fears the consequences.  We use medicines productively to combat illness because our body is telling us something needs attention.  When used appropriately, fear can serve great purpose.

 

To hate one’s neighbor, though, is not productive and none of the world’s top religions encourage it although they all speak of it.  “Looking for a loophole, the scholar asked, “And just how would you define your ‘neighbor’?”  In other words, who do we embrace, loving them as ourselves?

 

We all have had neighbors with whom we were not friendly.  It is inevitable that at some point in time our neighbors will not share our interests or respect for boundaries, play loud music, push their leaves onto our yard, etc.  In some settlements, the neighbors have guns aimed at the houses.  How on earth are we supposed to embrace these people?  Surely they are not our true neighbors.  Or are they?

 

“Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side…”.   This quote is from the Quran, 4:36.  Islam speaks highly of the one who not only sees their neighbor and embraces them but also tolerates them and treats them with respect.

 

“The Scale of Wisdom” is a collection of sayings of the Prophet Mohammed and the Twelve Imams compiled by M. Muhammadi Rayshahri.  “It is to help him if he asks your help, to lend him if he asks to borrow from you, to satisfy his needs if he becomes poor, to console him if he is visited by an affliction, to congratulate him if is met with good fortune, to visit him if he becomes ill, to attend his funeral if he dies, not to make your house higher than his without his consent lest you deny him the breeze, to offer him fruit when you buy some or to take it to your home secretly if you do not do that, nor to send out your children with it so as not to upset his children, nor to bother him by the tempting smell of your food unless you send him some.”

 

What does the Torah say about loving one’s neighbor?  “Do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.”   This passage from Leviticus 19:18 is important as is the Jewish definition of love.  Judaism defines love as “the emotional pleasure of identifying virtues in another person.”   It is not seen as an act of fate nor a physical pleasure but a deliberate embracing of another and a purposeful identification of their existence.

 

The third of the world’s largest religion is Christianity, the third of the Abrahamic faiths.  Scripture for this topic is found in many places in the Christian Bible but it appears first in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew, in the twenty-second chapter.  To the question at the end of our first paragraph, the man known as Jesus of Nazareth gave this answer earlier in this book.  Matthew 5:43 states: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. 

 

 Later in that same book, Matthew 22:36 we find this:  “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.   And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  We are to embrace all and tolerate them.  In Islam this is illustrated by not having your house higher than your neighbors so as to prevent him from the breeze.  In Judaism, it is to recognize that we are all different but those differences have value.  In Christianity it is to allow that your enemy is still your brother and sister as children of the Creator and should be treated as you would wish to be treated.

 

Who is the neighbor you are to embrace and tolerate?  The person who is standing beside you, the person standing halfway around the world, the person who looks nothing like you or whose speech is unfamiliar because they exist and are, therefore, your neighbor.  We should embrace and tolerate.  To do anything else is to live a lie and hasten the end.  This is not political or even religious.  It is simply good common sense.

 

 

 

 

Dissimilarly Similar – Pentecost #151-153

Dissimilarly Similar: Pentecost 151-153

Pentecost #151 – One and Many

It is time again to answer some questions and comments.  Thank for you all of them!  First, this Pentecost has been a time to explore the mythologies of the world, the various spirits mankind has believed in since the beginning.  I elected to do this journey into these stories because Pentecost, in the Christian religious tradition, is a season dedicated to the Holy Spirit.  Just as we deliberated the religions of the world last Advent, this exploration is not about converting but about educating and acquainting.  Secondly, to those who have enjoyed reading about these stories, I give a most heartfelt “thank you”.  Thirdly, someone mentioned that one would have to be crazy to believe in these deities, in any deity.  That is certainly your right to consider and hold that attitude.  I remember once, as a teenager in school, we had a marching band practice at the end of the day.  Suddenly the skies opened up and we were instantly drenched.  We had been going over the formations of a new program so no one had their instruments.  Since we were out there without the need to scurry to take the musical instruments to safety, we simply began to frolic in the rain.  A passer-by saw fifty or sixty kids in a field by the school running around and called the local law enforcement, describing our play as “crazy”.  Sometimes what some consider being full of joy appears as insanity to others.  It is all about context and perspective.

Along those same lines is the African Nilotic word “Jok”.  For the ancient cultures of Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan, Jok embraced their concept of the divine spirit.  Like anything that has been around since antiquity, Jok has other variations such as Jwok, Juok, Joagh, Joghi, and Joogi.  Jok has also been defined in different ways, again depending on the time period, perspective, and context of the one developing the dictionary or translation.

Throughout time, the many words used as synonyms for God (Who remembers which discussed all of these?) have been widespread and varied.  For some Jok implied the one deity of the Abrahamic faiths, the one we call God or Allah.  For others, Jok means spirits, gods, or even devils.  Mankind has a plethora of contradictory ideas regarding spiritual beings.

For the people whose language was Nilotic, Jok was the word that means the unified spirit of God and the lesser gods.  Jok was personal and interpersonal, local and omnipresent.  Interestingly enough, the same might be said of mankind.  After all, there are people right next door to me and people on the other side of the world, all over the world in fact.  There are people I know intimately and people I do not know.  What is important is to remember that, in spite of our differences, we really are one people, many races but all the family of mankind.

Pentecost #152 – Equal and Different

The Kikuyu tribe has their own word for God – Ngai.  A Kikuyu is a fig tree which is a fertility symbol in both Africa and Asia.  The Kikuyu tribe lives on the slopes of Mount Kenya, a culture that goes back several centuries at least.

The Kikuyu believe that everyone has a spirit which is called ngoma.  The ngoma is said to become a ghost after death, a spirit that can become quite persistent in avenging any wrongs suffered during life.  Burial rituals differ for village elders and lesser members of the clan.  Their myths tells of certain trees which are said to be favored by these spirits and food offerings are often placed at the based of the trunks to appease.

The Kikuyu believe that Ngai will punish those who fail to keep the faith.  Similar to the Roman god Jupiter, they believe Ngai strikes down the unfaithful with lightning.  Many Kikuyu also believe in predestination, which is to say that a person’s live is preordained before their birth.

The god Ngai has a name from the Bantu language which translates as “the Apportioner”.  Their myths tell them that part of creation was the dispersal or apportioning of Ngai’s gifts to all the different nations on earth.  The Kikuyu people received the skill and implements needed for successful agriculture and they are a farming community.  There are today approximately six million Kikuyu in Kenya which makes them the largest ethnic group in the country.  They call themselves Agikuyu, a variation of the native pronunciation “Gikuyu”.  Gikuyu translates as sycamore tree and “agikuyu” means children of the huge sycamore.

The Kikuyu have adapted throughout time.  In the 1800’s their music became influenced by European composers.  More recently cinema and food production have gained prominence in this culture.  The Kikuyu believed that Ngai equally distributed gifts of life to all people.  These gifts were equal yet different.  Many might see a tribe living on a mountainside and think “What could they know?”  To me, this culture has had things and life figured out lone before most of us did or do.  They continue to believe in their myths while moving forward to the future.  Whether you are on a mountain slope or living in the middle of a bustling city, it is not a bad way to life.

#153 – True Riches

While early missionaries to the African continent seemed to catalogue hundreds of “heathen gods”, the cultures of Africa have been mostly monotheistic.  What they also have, though, is a deep reverence for and belief in ancestral spirits.   African mythology is reflected not only in the masks of various cultures but in other artwork and their music.  The masks often reflected supposed faces of various spirits.  Even the fabrics were dyed to reflect mythologies and beliefs.

What is especially nice is that many of these myths have survived and are given life today.  They are reflected in the smiles of Africa’s children and tribal hospitality.   All too often we overlook the joy in religion and spirituality.  The true riches of the world’s mythologies are in the joyous living they encourage.

It may seem that as a native of Louisiana, adopted as an infant, who grew up to become an internationally acclaimed make-up artist Kevyn Aucoin would have nothing in common with African mythology.  However, Aucoin’s philosophy of life really illustrates a recurring theme found in African mythology.  “Today I choose life.  Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain…To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”

Each sunrise brings each of us a new day, a new chance to embrace life and live.  Whether a farmer on the slope of a mountain in Kenya or a worker on a tomb in the Sahara, African myths not only tell the story of the cradle of civilization, they tell of the riches of life.

A Man Named “N”

A Man Named N

Pentecost 139

There was a drought – a dry period that seemed to go on and on.  Lushly landscaped lawns became shriveled and lost their beauty.  The days of letting a sprinkler run without conscious effort to control the water were gone.  Restaurants only served water when it was requested and if you ordered water, you were expected to drink it… all of it.  Collecting water from washing machines to water around the foundation of houses became the norm.  Cars no longer glistened after being washed every few days.  Neighbors were asked to report on each other if water restrictions were not followed.   So when the rain came, people were gloriously happy, right?

The man named N lived in a time when there were no cars.  One’s neighbor might have been a friend but more often than not, usually became an enemy.  There were no restaurants.  Travelers might find a local who would share food with them but generally, it was a time of everyone for themselves.  Water came from wells or nearby streams.  Liquid nourishment often was in the form of fermented juice or what today would be considered alcohol.  Living off the land was the normal and it was not easy.  Man needed water just as plants and animals did so when it fell from the skies, it was a good thing, right?

We all get deluged by life sometimes.  Earlier this week the state of California saw almost one hundred miles flooded with mud along a busy highway – Interstate 5.  Known as the I-5, this stretch of heavily traveled roadway became a sliding nightmare for travelers as rains triggered mudslides.  More of the same is predicted today for Arizona, Colorado, and parts of New Mexico and Utah.

I myself have been overcome with life events.  In four weeks, a family member was in a very serious traffic accident and remains in a coma.  I attended a conference and returned home to succumb to  pneumonia.  My significant other and life partner, also known as my husband, also became ill but he recovered sooner than I.  At the same time I became a grandparent again and was ignored by the person who is supposed to be my minister of faith.  Joy and sorrow; sunshine and rain; presence and absence – and my life has not been that different than the lives of most people.  It is easy to get bogged down in the daily floods of our lives and forget to believe that the rain will stop, the floods will recede, the sun will once again shine.

The Hebrew flood mythology has served as the basis of both Jewish and Christian principles for thousands of years.  It states that the monotheistic deity known as G-D or God, became greatly disturbed with man’s behavior, behavior that increasingly became more self-centered and wicked.  A man named Noah seemed to be the only human who was worth saving.  God instructed Noah to build an ark and to take eight members of his immediate family and a pair of all types of animals on this ark.  Legend states that it rained for one hundred and fifty days, almost half a year.  Then the rains stopped and the ark came to rest at a place called Ararat.  After forty more days, Noah sent out a raven.  Next he sent out a dove which returned, apparently unable to find a dry place.  A week later Noah sent out the dove again and this time the bird returned with an olive leaf in its beak.  At the end of the next week, Noah again sent out the dove which failed to return.  The story tells of Noah and his family leaving the ark one year and ten days from the start of the flood.  As a sign to never again flood the world and destroy almost all, a rainbow is sent by this one great deity.

The Islamic version of the great flood myth states that Allah sent Noah to warn the people to serve only Allah.IN this mythical tale, one of Noah’s sons drowns due to his disbelief.  The Islamic Noah and his ship come to rest on Al-Judi.  Noah was distraught and angry with Allah at the death of his son but then repents and asks for forgiveness.  Noah is told that great nations will arise from those who were on the ship with him.

There are, of course, many variations of these two tales.  Some believe that before the Hebrew flood, mankind lived very nicely with a single harvest producing enough for forty years.  It is even told that pregnancies lasted only a few days instead of nine months.  Some legends have Noah attempting to convince people to live better lives, a mission of preaching that in some stories lasted one hundred and twenty years before the flooding of the world.   Some myths claim the male waters of the sky met the female waters of the earth, the waters falling onto the earth from two holes in the night sky which came from the constellation Pleiades.  These two holes were later closed by God using stars from the constellation known as the bear.  This is why, in the nighttime sky, it appears as though the constellation Ursa Major or bear is always chasing the Pleiades.

Another version of this myth has three hundred and sixty-five species of reptiles being aboard the ark and another thirty-two species of birds.  Another version claims that Falsehood and Misfortune took refuge on the ark.  Still another story has a lion maiming Noah during a feeding time and this is the reason Noah could not serve as a priest.  One story has Adam, the first man, instructing his body was to be taken aboard the ark along with gold, myrrh, and incense and, after the flood waters receded, was to be placed in the middle of the earth.  In the Book of Revelations, there is a story of a good woman saved from a flood which erupts from the mouth of a demon.

“N” is the fourteenth letter of the alphabet used for English and other Romance languages.  It is one more than half, significant for some people, just as the numbers of days of the flood seem to have meaning for many.  For me, “N” is both no one and everyone.  Thousands are injured every day in traffic accidents and on one fateful day, that “N” was a member of my family.  While there are many questions that will need to be answered and some that will most likely never be fully answered, the fact remains that on that day, I knew the injured person.

I have friends in the affected areas of California but fortunately, none were stranded or impacted by the mudslides and accompanying floods of the past few days.  But someone was – several thousand someones were.  Today the weather moves a little bit east and again, I have friends in the path of these storms.  I don’t think they are being targeted due to their behavior but certainly how we treat nature does have an impact on developing weather systems.  Greenhouse gasses, global warming are not just phrases coined by the media; they are scientific facts and they affect our lives and weather.

What we sometimes forget, in the face of all these flood myths and when encountering devastation ourselves, is the message of the myth.  The point of the telling is not to scare or create a suspenseful moment.  The point of the stories, all of them, is the recovery and yes, there is recovery.  My family member remains in a pervasive vegetative state which is a very dour prognosis and yet…Over fifty percent of all adults who go through such do come out of it.  My pneumonia took longer to recover from than my husband’s sinus infection but…hey, they are different types of infections.

Life is not a competition about who can amass the most toys, the flashiest cars, the biggest houses or even the lushest of all landscaping.  Life is about living and living together for the good of all.  When we are faced with such problems as flooding, we come together.  Family vacations are delightful but sometimes the car ride to such can be…a bit trying.  Can you imagine being on an ark for half a year?  Life sometimes floods us with unpleasant stuff and yet, it is in the midst of such that we really live.  It is when we are at our lowest that we remember to seek the highest and live the best that is within us.

Mystery or Miracle?

Mystery or Miracle?

Pentecost 120

It was in medieval Europe that mythologies began to appear as tableaux, living pictures or drama of the stories of mankind.  Originally these tableaux, or living pictures, were a group of actors posed so as to illustrate the story.  There was no dialogue; there were no songs.  The “tableau vivant” was, in modern terms, a 3-D representation of how an artist might have drawn a scene about the story.  Much like the window displays in large stores, the living actors posed as mannequins and presented one aspect of a well-known legend or myth.

In the fifth century ACE these tableaux began to find their way into religious services, often accompanied with a chant or antiphonal hymn.  These later were embellished with dialogue and action.  Referred to as mystery plays, taking their name from the Latin word “misterium” which translates as “occupation”, these plays grew in popularity.  Another form known as “miracle plays” focused on the redemption of the lead character and his transforming his/her life based upon their beliefs.  Many commonly held facets of religion had their beginning in these miracle and/or mystery plays rather than actual scriptural texts.

A similar issue was apparent in Chines mythology.  Separating fact from fiction, history from mythology, mortals and immortals is a task many have engaged in for centuries.  The Chinese myths considered their deities who possessed supernatural powers to still be human.  Thus, Pangu whom we discussed yesterday is known as the First Man.  The most important gods still followed and worshipped today are considered to be the first Chinese emperors, Three August Ones and the Han dynasty warrior Huangdi, also known as the God of War, being just two examples.  Some Daoists believe their founder Lao Tse or Laozi to be a god and the “Dao” refers to the knowledge given to man.

Demons were also present in Chinese mythology.  Known as the “gui”, they are the “second soul” which is separated from the higher soul or “hun” at death.  Hindu mythology is like a finely woven tapestry in which all the threads are interconnected.  China also had its own Aryan invasion and Hindu mythology developed throughout this time.  As is the case with all mythology, it also seeks to explain in narrative form religious and philosophical comprehension of the universe in which we live.

The symbolism of medieval cathedrals begins at the front door and often, even that has symbolism with its design and placement.  The same is true of Hindu temples.  What is we applied that same thought to our actions in life?  What if we did only those things that would lead to our being better?

Remember, mystery originally meant occupation and a miracle was the highest accomplishment possible in life.  If you look up the etymology of the word “mystery”, much will be learned about its usage in medieval times.  In the fourteenth century the word gained popularity in theological circles as a religious truth which was derived from divine revelations.  Its usage during that period came from the French word, “mistere” which meant secret or hidden meaning.  The French word came from the Greek word “mysterion” which translated as a secret rite or doctrine.  The Greek word originally was “mystes”, one who is initiated, and the earlier “myein” which meant to close or shut.  The English word “mute” comes from this word.

However, that is not the entire story of the word mystery.  The Greek words came from an even older Latin word, “ministerium” or the older “misterium”.  “Ministerium” was an updated form of “misterium” which meant occupation.  “Ministerium meant one’s service in an occupation or a ministry one performed and both date back to an older word, “maistrie”, or mastery.  So our mystery of life has a direct connection, much like the threads of Hindu mythology to one’s mastery of life, also known as a miracle.

For some today is the first day of the new week.  For others it is a holy day.  For many it is a day for relaxing, and for some, a day full of college football.  Regardless of whether today is a special day for you or just an ordinary day, it is a day that has mystery.  We are living this hour without an absolute knowledge of what three hours from now will bring.  We will go through our daily chores, our normal occupation of living.  The question we might ask ourselves is this:  How will what we do make us masters of our own life?  What can we do today to create a miracle for ourselves and others?    Will today be just another ordinary day or will we today write a new story, a new mythology of our being?  Mystery, miracle, or mundane – the choice is yours.

On a Friday Evening …

On a Friday Evening

Pentecost 106

Friday evening is often that time in which many people begin their weekend, a time of relaxation.  It is a time in which we celebrate the seven-day week, especially the weekend part of it.  For many the weekend will begin with a visit to a pub, tavern, bar, or nightclub.  Beer will be ordered and new friends made with the inevitable opening line “What’s your [zodiac] sign?”

As you might have guessed, I am reading comments and while that might not sound like as much fun as going out, it does please me.  I find it interesting that the two most repeated comments tie into our next topic of conversation.  “Why Mesopotamia?  How could anything from such an ancient place relate to me?”

We tend to call the area known as the Middle East in its own land mass.  In reality, it is on the Asian continent since Turkey marks the divide between Europe and Asia.  I promised in September we would discuss the mythologies of Asia, the Far East and the Near East but to do so, we must first get there and that involves Mesopotamia.  AS mentioned before, the hundreds of creation myths told cannot belie the archaeological proof of mankind’s origins in the regions surrounding Mesopotamia.  Perhaps that is why the history of this area goes back so far into antiquity.

Those living in Mesopotamia in 9000 BCE domesticated dogs and sheep in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains.  They cultivated wheat and barley and by 5500 BCE has developed the first irrigation system.  One thousand years later this technology to aid in farming would reach the Indus Valley in India.  In 7000 BCE mankind began living in rudimentary mud huts and not only had livestock consisting of goats, sheep, and pigs but also grew wheat from seed.

Also in 5500 BCE trading commenced from the Persian Gulf to Mediterranean port cities.  Mankind was no longer living in isolation, meeting others on the battlefield.  Culture was being sold and bought and spread along the trade routes.  In 3100 BCE cuneiform script developed and was used to record sales and contracts.  Cuneiform is not just one alphabet but a group of scripts all employing the use of wedge-shaped symbols.  In 2700 BCE Gilgamesh reigned over the city of Uruk, the fifth king to do so and many believe it was his reign that inspired the mythological poem about him we discussed yesterday.

“Why Mesopotamia?”  someone asked.  The answer is quite simple and hearkens back to the early beginnings of mankind.  Mesopotamia and its mythologies are important because they cannot be ignored.  In 1797-1750 BCE, during what is known as the Old Babylonian Period, Babylon became the capital of Mesopotamia.  Hammurabi composed one of the first legal codes in the history of mankind, a code which said to have been the basis for the Ten Commandments of the Jewish and Christian faiths, and a code upon which many legal systems have been based.

In 1295-1200 BCE, exact dates are unknown, the Jewish people participated in a great exodus from Egypt and the epic poem about Gilgamesh was composed.  It is not only the oldest surviving epic poem, it is considered the first known written legend.  In 1005-967 King David reigned in Israel and Jerusalem was established at the capital.  And yes, this is the same King David we discussed last year during Pentecost when we studied the psalms and hopefully, you wrote your own along with me.

So, in a few short paragraphs, we have connected Mesopotamia to the Greeks and Romans, the Abrahamic faiths, and, if you were paying close attention, even the typical Friday night club scene.  You see, the Mesopotamians not only developed that receipt the waitress gives you as a bill of sale and the alphabet it employs but also the beer served, the astrological calendar with its zodiac signs and the seven-day week that gave you the weekend.

For many, the weekend is the time they celebrate their beliefs.  For others, it is the end of one week and the beginning of another.  “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”  Mother Teresa was not referring to the love one seeks to find on the weekend but the love of mankind, one being for another being, we all seek to experience in our daily lives and which our belief systems encourage.  Today is the first sentence of the next chapter of your own story, the mythology you are writing with your living.  I hope it is your best one yet!

Life to Death

Life to Death

Pentecost 105

Yesterday we began discussing Inanna, the Mesopotamian spirit considered to be queen of the world, the spiritual world, that is.  We also discussed her husband, known by the names Dumuzi as well as Tammuz.  The mythology relating the courtship and marriage of Inanna, also known as Ishtar, to Dumuzi, a shepherd-god, is one of the most well-known and considered powerful myths to this culture.

Inanna was wooed by two – Dumuzi and Enkimdu, a farmer-god.  Sumerian mythology proclaimed the selection of Dumuzi over Enkimdu to have been quite the competition.  Inanna apparently preferred the smooth flax grown in the fields by Enkimdu to the rough, course wool of Dumuzi’s sheep.  The two themselves argued over who would be the better husband.  Dumuzi gave the world gifts of wool, milk, and cheese while Enkimdu offered grain which provided flour, beer, and bread.  When Dumuzi compared himself to Inanna’s brother, he won her heart.

At her marriage Inanna adorned herself with oil and wore a great many jewels.  The consummated their love, and each year on the anniversary of their marriage, celebrations were held.  The ancient myth proclaimed that their marriage and its consummation guaranteed the world fertility and the annual remembrances continued that.  Inanna bestows upon her new husband the kingship of Uruk, though so Dumuzi leaves her to assume that and Inanna is left with only memories of her wedding and honeymoon.

Legends about Inanna strongly spoke of the role of women in the cycle of life.  Inanna felt compelled to descend to the underworld and once there, she was stripped of all her powers.  She was allowed to return to the living only when given life back by her father Enki, and that was only if another took her place.  Her descent is described in great detail in these myths.  There are seven doors at and each she was stripped of something: first came her clothes, then her jewels, the Tablets of Destiny which she always carried were also stripped from her.  Eventually she would arrive at the feet of her sister Ereshkigal, and then face the seven judges of hell.

The legend states the Dumuzi took his wife’s place in the underworld as did his sister.  Dumuzi would remain for six months each year and then his sister would take his place.  He was chosen to be his wife’s replacement at her beckoning after Inanna refused to let the other deities take her two sons or other family members.

While this may sound like a story from someone’s extremely vivid imagination, similar rituals of life, death, and resurrection as well as the name Tammuz, are mentioned in some of the writings of the Abrahamic faiths.  This passage is from the book of Ezekiel, chapter 8: “Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north, and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.”  You might also remember our discussion about the North Star and its mythology.  They are, in my humble opinion, more evidence of how connected mankind was and remains.

There are as many mythologies and beliefs about life and death, our birth and our demise, as there are about the varieties of Creation myths.  I have no answers as to which is definitively right or wrong.  Of greater interest to me is how we daily live and die – not literally but figuratively. Something as simple as thinking “I can’t” is a death to what might have been.  Today we have the technology to do many things that only gods and goddesses seemed to have the power to do.  We as humans can travel around the world in a matter of hours via airplanes.  One can teleconference via the Internet with someone on the other side of the world.  We can heal that which once only killed and we can give new life to those critically injured.

Perhaps it is not the essence of life that proves most difficult for us but the actual living.  History is replete with accounts of well-meaning people forcing their beliefs on others.  Of course, many were not really that well-meaning but, for the sake of this discussion, let’s just focus on those that were.  Does one person’s strongly held belief in a particular set of mythologies give them the right to impose those beliefs on another?  One could say the entire work of the man we call Buddha speaks to this.

The struggles faced by this question are not new and were most prevalent on the continent of Asia.  We tend to think of the land we today call Iraq as being Muslim, as having always been a center of Islam but that is not exactly true.  The oldest surviving epic poem on the planet dates back to the third millennium BCE and was found in Mesopotamia or, as we know it, Iraq.  The “Epic of Gilgamesh” is not the story of the historical king Gilgamesh but rather that of the part-god/part-man mythological character who ruled Uruk.  With his friend Enkidu, the two had many great adventures, encountered the goddess Inanna, and searched for immortality.  “He was wide, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the Flood…”  Yes, even this most ancient poem talks about a great flood, another common mythology among the culture of mankind.  In fact, it is in the tale of Gilgamesh that a snake prevents his attaining immortality, another similarity with the Judaic and Christian mythologies.

In his search for immortality, Gilgamesh becomes his own worst enemy, his curiosity preventing him reaching his ultimate goal.  How often do we become our own worst enemies, either by our destructive patterns or by our failure to truly trust ourselves and our beliefs?  When we use our beliefs to prevent others the right to their own choices, our valid are those beliefs?  Most belief systems speak of doing good, not domination.   It was the death of his friend Enkidu at the hands of Inanna that led Gilgamesh on his search for immortality, life everlasting.

Mark Twin once said “The fear of death follows from the fear of life.  Any man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”  I am not certain any of us is really prepared to die at any moment but I do understand the intent of the statement.  When we live fully and do our best, then we have nothing to feel is left undone.  I will always have a closet that needs cleaning or arts and crafts projects yet to complete.  I do think, though, that to know you have left another hurting or lacking because of your own ego or fear, must be a far greater punishment than simple chores left undone.  We need to worry less about what others believe and focus on living what we believe.  Immortality will be ours when we leave behind days and lives that reflect the practicing the goodness of the world’s mythologies.

What Was and Is

What Was and Is

Pentecost 103

Myths and the mythologies of mankind are the stories of our heritage.  They are our ancestry as well as our future.  There, quite simply, what was and what will be.  Michael Ayrton explained in “the Midas Consequence”:  “we live by myth and in habit it and it inhabits us.  What is strange is how we remake it.”

Connecting the past to the future by what we do in the present is very much the basis of many mythologies of the Far East as it is in the Abrahamic faiths we have just discussed in August.  And, again, in the mythologies of India, we see some parallels.  On our last day of August we conferred about the Holy Trinity of Christianity and three Hebrew names for the one deity who is the central figure of the mythologies of the three Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Indian mythology also contains a Holy Trinity.  Many believe that a great volume of these mythologies have has their backdrop an Indian Holy Trinity which is also all powerful.    This Trinity is made up of Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, and Lord Brahma.  Lord Vishnu is considered to be the spirit that preserves the universe and controls its daily living.  Lord Shiva is the destroyer and Lord Brahma is the creator of the world and all worldly beings.

As we have seen in our discussions about Norse mythology, Celtic mythology, Greek mythology and Roman mythology, there will always be parallels.  It is, as we have also deliberated and debated, one of the hallmarks of belief and, interestingly enough, evidence.  When a common idea is found to have originated in different people in different locations in different times and when that same common idea or belief has similar proofs, one must accept its inevitability of being.  (If that sounded confusing, don’t worry.  We’ll come back to it later in the week.)

One of the differences in Indian mythology and the other mythologies of the Far and Near East was the introduction of shamans or spiritual healer.  Unlike spiritual leaders in other mythologies, shamans did not intercede to the gods or goddesses, however; shamans empowered the believer to do their own interceding.  Sandra Ingerman explains this viewpoint in her book “Shamanic Journeying”, a title that also explains the emphasis on process: “When we begin to learn that we have the ability to problem solve for ourselves, it raises our self-esteem in a grounded way.  True power is being able to use our energy to create transformation for ourselves, others, and the planet.”

Quantum physics is the study of fields of energy that connect life – all of life.  Shamans refer to life as a web that is connected; everything within our universe and quite possibly outside of it is connected.  In its simplest terms, quantum physics is the study of the behavior of all matter at each and every level.   “Shaman” is a Siberian word that translates as spiritual healer.  The shaman enables one to correct that which is wrong and they have played a role in mythology of the Eastern spiritualities.

Every human culture or society has developed a story or myth about how it came to be.  These myths include the forces that created the society as well as the forces that tried to prevent its success.  Whether these forces were of the natural world, the spiritual world, mankind against mankind or human against human, everything had value because everything had impact.

We might all be smart to pay particular attention to these mythologies.  I don’t mean that you suddenly have to find a church or temple to worship a monkey king.  However, we all go through our daily living being the recipient of forces within and beyond our control.  Somethings we simply have the ability to correct or avoid but many we do not.  We are like grains of sand on the shore, unable to avoid the tides of life as they wash over us.

While we may not be able to avoid certain things, we can control our reactions.  We also should not avoid the effect life has on us.  Pretending to be brave in the face of adversity is great as long as don’t completely ignore the impact of said adversity.  It is okay to cry and to admit pain hurts.

I hope our discussion of these myths will serve to connect us because truly, we are all connected.  This is truer today than ever before.  Modern technology has increased the speed of communication into a matter of seconds instead of days.  Hopefully, it will also allow us to see our similarities and celebrate our differences.

What we should not do is assume there is only one way to live.  There are different climates, terrains, and needs and each comes with a specific set of circumstances for living within them.  I may not elect to follow one mythology but I should not discount it completely just because it does not apply to me.

Recently a government official in Kentucky has made national and perhaps international news for defying a court order to issue marriage licenses to both heterosexual and homosexual couples.  The official, a paid state employee, has halted issuing any marriage license for the county in which said official is employed, effectively holding the institution of marriage hostage because of her interpretation of her own religious mythologies.  While I respect her right to her interpretation, I do not believe she has the right to hold the institution of marriage hostage.  I will also add that other popular interpretations of those same religious beliefs include stoning to death said official for multiple marriages, a practice still being conducted in all three Abrahamic religions of which this official’s religious denomination is one.

We cannot and should not decide to play God or Lord Brahma.  We are simply a part of that which exists, one element of the matter of the universe.  The mythologies of the Far East especially focus not on others but on self and using the stories passed down from centuries pass to improve one’s personal living.  The complex treasure trove of the beliefs that comprise what we call Hinduism has an underlying pattern of unity which is echoes in the words of Swami Sivananda:  “Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts.  This is the secret of success.”

A Rose…Is Not Always a Rose

A Rose is …Not Always a Rose

Pentecost 102

It is, on many calendars, the month of September.  September is named from the Latin “septum” which means seven and is the first month with a numbered name that is found in incorrect order on the calendar, the result of July and August being added and named after Roman Emperors.  This the month named “seen” is actually the ninth month.  September begins the meteorological autumn although the autumnal equinox does not actually fall until the third week of the month.  So while September is the month named seven, it is actually the month numbering nine on the calendar.

September is the sixth month on the astrological calendar and, while it falls in the middle of the Christian Pentecost, it is the beginning of the ecclesiastical calendar of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  September is also the beginning of new things, such as the start of the academic year for many school children lucky enough to attend organized educational classes.  Thus, while today marks the beginning of somethings, for others it is simply another day.  Like every day, it affords us all another chance to be better people.

As we learned last year during Advent when we discussed the various religions of the world based upon their Creation mythologies, there are many theories about how we became what we see in the mirror today.  Mankind, regardless of which creation myth you adopt, is believed to have had its origins in the areas known as Mesopotamia, the Fertile Crescent, and northern Africa.  From there, the species of primates known as man/woman spread and mankind emigrated.  Where mankind went, stories originated, stories that became myths and, in some cases, religions.

During this season of Pentecost, we have studied the ancient mythologies of our ancestors.  For some these are just the makings of a Holly wood movie but for others, they form the basis of life-long rules for living and worship.  For many of us, however, the ancient myths bear little resemblance to the realities of our modern beliefs.  The exception to this is found in the cultures of India and China.  The myths of their ancestors are not merely bedtime stories.  They form the basis of their society and their lives.

Of all the mythologies we have discussed, there might be the most valuable for future living.  Though one might expect industrialized nations will always hold the prominence in the world they currently have, the mere size of these Eastern countries indicate they will soon gain an important place and role in future living.  With China boasting a population of almost 1.5 billion people and India with over 1 billion, a number expected to grow, these two countries will soon take their place as major players on the world stage. Their ideologies cannot be dismissed as simply “foreign”.  The mythologies of these nations reflect their collective soul.

The country of India has created many things we currently take for granted.  The first irrigation for farming was used in the Indus Valley region of northwestern India in 4500 BCE.  Woven cotton cloth appeared in Mohenjo-Daro around 2500 BCE.  Around 1200 BCE, nomads from Europe invaded the Indus Vallet,  These nomads gave themselves the name “Aryan” which translated as superior.  Unlike the twentieth century connotations of this word, used by Adolf Hitler to define a race of non-Jewish Caucasians, these Aryan nomads were dark, olive-skinned Eurasian tribes.

The word Aryan is a myth itself.  It is derived from the Sanskrit word “arya” or “ariya”.  As mentioned before, it translates as superior, noble, or a person of higher consciousness.  The Name “Iran” is a modern version of this word.  Anyone who can trace their ancestry to Europe is known as a Caucasian, a name taken from the Caucasus Mountains in a region that for many centuries was controlled by Russia and has been, based upon the historical period, a part of both Europe and Asia.  People from this region did not live in dessert climes and so were not as tanned as their counterparts from the warmer regions.  Hence, we have the difference in skin colorations of the two groups.  The racial group who can trace its ethnicity to those living in the Caucasus Mountains are known as American Indians. The racial designations have no importance when regarding intelligence or potential.  They are just names and classifications and, as we have seen, can be misleading.

Shakespeare wrote the now-famous quote: “A rose by any other name…”  With all due respect to the Bard, that statement might very well be the other definition of myth – not a story but a falsehood.  As we have seen with the nomadic Aryans, a name can have great power but also great hurt.  The word Aryan and its usage by Hitler is generally traced to a mistranslation of the Rig-Veda, an Indian collection of religious writings and mythologies, into the German language.  Aryan became associated with the German word “ehre” and … well, the rest is a very tragic history.

The Rig-Veda is just one of the lovely spiritual stories we will discover this month.  I hope you join the conversation as we discuss some of the most ancient mythologies still actively a part of daily living that have their birth in the Far and near East.  I hope you continue our journey of mankind’s mythologies as we converse about blue-tinged deities, elephant-headed deities, a monkey king, and even avatars.  Yes, the oldest religion in the world connects with twenty-first century techonology!  Who knew?

There are an estimated three hundred and thirty million deities in these mythologies.  If you thought the eighty-six names for the God of the Abrahamic faiths we just discussed in August were something, hang on.  You are certain to find one of more interesting myths of India and, later in the month from Egypt, to whet your interest.  We will connect these stories to those of the Greek and Roman mythologies we discussed earlier in the summer.  The conversation continues….!

Who Dat?

Who Dat?

Pentecost 101

Who dat up there who’s dat down there

Who dat up there who dat well down there Who’s dat up there, sayin’ who’s dat down there When I see you up there well who’s dat down there

Who dat inside who’s dat outside Who’s dat inside who dat well outside Who’s dat inside, singin’ who’s dat outside When I see up there well who’s dat out there

Button up your lip there big boy Stop answerin’ back Give you a tip there big boy Announce yourself jack

Who dat up there who’s dat down there Who dat up there who dat, well down there Who’s dat up there, singin’ who’s dat down there When I see you up there you bum Well who’s dat down there

Who dat?

The above lyrics are from a 1930’s Vaudeville number but the phrase “Who Dat?” actually dates back to a nineteenth century poem written by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  IN the mid twentieth century it became a spirit yell used at African-American schools and later by fans of the New Orleans Saints professional football team.

When it comes to our beliefs, most of us have asked ourselves a similar set of questions as found in the above lyrics.  Who’s that up there in my soul?  Who’s that down there making life happen on earth?  And we can take those questions and turn them around on ourselves.  How do we live our faith inside our hearts?  What do others see in our actions in the outside world?

This month we took some time to delve into the names for the one deity who is the subject of the mythologies of the three Abrahamic faiths.  Remember, we define mythology as simply stories of a culture passed down to future generations.  The word mythology does not mean falsehood nor does it imply simply imagined legends.  It really just means stories that have survived and certainly, the mythologies of these three religions have done that, in spite of some attempting to warp and distort them.

This one monotheistic deity seems to have roots in the Greek and Roman mythologies and many celebrations of all three faiths can be traced to some of the Greek and Roman festivals to honor their pluralistic beliefs.  There are those that claim the youngest of the three Abrahamic faiths has slanted back towards a plurality in the concept of the Holy Trinity.  What???

Many Christians do indeed believe the definition of their one deity, God, as a Triune God, illustrated by the man known as Saint Patrick to be similar to a three-leaf clover.  While many might call this hogwash, ancient names for this one deity reflect such a belief among the early believers.  “Jehovah Malakh” was the angel of the Lord, a being of great power and, to some, possessing the ability to affect creation on earth.  “Jehovah Tsemach” was the branch of the Lord, something rather akin to the son of God that Christians believe the man known as Jesus of Nazareth to be.  Then there is our final name, a name of power that sanctifies but also can destroy – “Esh Okhah”, the god of consuming fire.  Most often the Holy Spirit, the third arm of the Holy Trinity, is symbolized by fire.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit represent the one all-powerful deity that many Christians worship.

As I have said before, the purpose of this blog is not to convert but to inform and, hopefully, inspire you to think outside of the box just a bit in an effort to widen your circle of acceptance.  The only way to do that is to start a conversation and the most beneficial conversation is one that respectfully includes ideas we might not have considered.  It also includes honesty and so, first let me be honest in an error I made yesterday.  I identified J.C. Park, the author of a great book recently published entitled “king David” as being Japanese-American.  That was in error.  Rev Park is Korean-American.  Actually his nationality makes no difference.  If you have the chance to read his blog or his books, please do so.

Back to our conversation about the many faces of this one God…. Who do you see when you look in the mirror?  Some days I see a person full of vigor, ready to confront life upright and energetic; some days I see someone with a major sinus infection, not uncommon living where I do with a great deal of heat, humidity, and pollen.   The fact is that we all more than just a one-dimensional entity.  I am not surprised that mankind wanted more than a one-dimensional deity.

“Me, myself, and I” is a commonly used phrase and in psychology, has different meanings necessary in order to identify the complete self.   Tomorrow we will go even further back in the mythologies of mankind to those of the Far East.  The beginnings of mankind are found in the myths of this region and it is fascinating.  I hope you will join me in exploring the more spiritual side of the myths of mankind.

Freud used a trinity in his illustrations of the three parts he developed in explaining the human psyche.  The Ego, the Id, and the Super-Ego are not actual parts of the physical brain but terms used to explain how thoughts occur and then influence our actions.  I am not going to jump feet first into a prolonged discussion of these concepts because, quite frankly, as a female, Freud felt they all three did not apply to me.  Exactly why that is you can read for yourself.  Clearly, I think if these three symbolic entities have value, they do apply to all.

I also believe religion applies to all.  I do not think any one adored and worshipped deity singles out men for special treatment and feels women are sub-human.  I have often heard that man is the brain and woman the heart.  I hope we all both think and feel, use intelligence and caring in our daily living.  Please feel free to comment if you feel differently.

In the final analysis of all these names, they served one purpose – identification and description of that which was to be believed.  We have discussed eighty-six names, all for just one God, one Lord or, as some would prefer, one Allah, one G-d.  Some become angry when others use the name of their one deity; others feel the name too powerful to be spoken aloud.  I have discussed these names with the highest respect and interest.  I think all are applicable because life is a variety of situations requiring a variety of responses and beliefs put into action.  When it comes to your beliefs, what is your answer when someone asks who or what you believe:  “Who Dat?”