I say that religion isn’t about believing things. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.
— Karen Amstrong as quoted in Profile at TED (2009)
Religions don’t agree on which day is holy, but by and large they do agree that once a week you must check in with your beliefs, your community, and yourself. For Jews, this ritual starts Friday at sundown and lasts until sundown on Saturday. For Muslims, it usually starts with Friday afternoon prayers. For the wide range of denominations of practicing Christians, it’s on Sunday, with the exception of Seventh-day Adventists, who are defined by their observance on Saturday. For Quakers, a sect of Protestants who downplay annual holidays because they see every day as an equal celebration of Christ, silent worship at their weekly meetings is the heartbeat of belief. In Buddhism, the holy day of the week changes with the phases of the moon.
For my great-grandparents the holy day was called Shabbos (the Yiddish word for the Sabbath; Shabbat is Hebrew). Each week, for an entire rotation of the Earth, they did not work or handle money or use electricity: no lamps, no phones, and no riding in cars. Just prayer, synagogue, and family time. It was about rest, reflection, and taking stock of the week, a kind of early TGIF.
There are, as with all things, loopholes even for the orthodox. For example, there are large buildings in places densely populated by observant Jews where the elevators are preprogrammed to stop at every floor during Shabbat. If you’re not pressing any buttons, you’re not breaking the rules, right? This is the subject of much debate. Other exceptions also get made. If you’re extremely ill, it might be okay to ride to synagogue as long as a Gentile drives you. But even when my great-grandfather Benjamin was dying of stomach cancer, he was so devout he still walked to services every week. Continue reading “Advent Day 03: Ritual …”
Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord. — Zech 2:13
Where shall the Word be found,
where will the word resound?
There is not enough silence.
— T. S. Elliott from Collected Poems (Ash Wednesday)
To enter the unspeakable requires a quiet courage that points to what is often out of reach, though it is never far from us. Not unspeakable because it is awful, but because it lives beneath words. Not touching that silence and what lives there isolates us from the web of Spirit that connects everything. Then we lapse into what feels like a broken world of nothing. But entering that silence, the unspeakable shows itself as the thread of light that holds the web of life together. Feeling these threads, I am reanimated in a world where each small part contains everything. Continue reading “Desert Day 21: At Home In The Silence …”
In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.
— Brennan Manning from Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging
Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to find other people or to even know they’re alone with an illness. I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of.
— Rachel Naomi Remen
My opinion is not that we minister best out of our needs and wounds, but that we minister best when we have recognised our own needs and have attended to our own wounds. Our needs and wounds can only be a source of our ministry when they have been acknowledged and given appropriate attention. When we would minister to others out of our own needs and wounds, we would do harm to them. It is very important for us that we recognise how our needs and wounds can be a great source of our suffering and call us to an even fuller surrender to God’s first love, the love that can fulfil all our needs and heal all our wounds. As long as our needs are raw needs and our wounds are open wounds, we will inflict wounds on others and create needs in others without realising it.
— Henri Nouwen from Love, Henri
Continue reading “We Are All Wounded People …”
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory. Continue reading “Faith Is A Way Of Life: Hopeful In Bad Times …”
Times are difficult globally; awakening is no longer a luxury or an ideal. It’s becoming critical. We don’t need to add more depression, more discouragement, or more anger to what’s already here. It’s becoming essential that we learn how to relate sanely with difficult times. The earth seems to be beseeching us to connect with joy and discover our innermost essence. This is the best way that we can benefit others. Continue reading “Awakening Is Essential …”
At first this silence had seemed a deprivation, a symbol of an unwanted isolation. I had resented the solitude of my life and fought it. But gradually the enveloping quiet became a positive element, almost a presence, which settled comfortably and caressingly around Continue reading “Silence: Understanding the Divine …”