Advent Day 19: Bearing Witness …

Bearing witness is one of the primary ways that human beings hold each other up and help each other grow. Bearing witness is also one of the primary functions of art. No matter what we long for in our imagination, we are just as obliged to affirm the truth of how we mistreat each other and how we lift each other up.

Social media is becoming a modern form of bearing witness that is adding to our communal sense of art. In 2010, it was the viral use of Facebook that helped ignite the Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of democratic demonstrations and protests leading to civil wars in oppressive societies in North Africa and the Middle East. The ability of citizens to film events in real time has led to an irrefutable bearing witness of excessive force by police throughout America. Continue reading “Advent Day 19: Bearing Witness …”

Advent Day 18: Harnessing The Power Of Love …

I have a memory, too, as a twelve-year-old of crying silently but bitterly face-down into a pillow on the living room floor. That day, my bird, my only life companion, had disappeared up an open flue in our apartment wall. There were visiting relatives in the house, in my bedroom, whom I knew were not to be disturbed. The needs of the guest came first, I had been taught. But when the house was safely dark, I let the pain pour out, not simply the loss of my dearest possession but also in sorrow for my own carelessness in his regard. Then, suddenly, I felt the covers around me tighten. My mother had gotten in on one side of the mattress, my father on the other, and together they held me all the long and empty night. I learned then that being human meant to enter into someone else’s pain.

Continue reading “Advent Day 18: Harnessing The Power Of Love …”

Advent Day 03: Ritual …

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 …”

Advent Day 01: A Sacred Season …

Christmas is a swiftly moving season with few clear boundaries. The day after we’ve packed up our Halloween costumes, Hallmark Channel begins nearly two months of twenty-four-seven presentations of Christmas movies. Shortly thereafter, we are inundated with ads inviting us to shop early to get the best bargains. The holiday rush is in full swing by Thanksgiving with Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales abounding, and People jostling one another to be 1st to purchase the latest must have Christmas presents. Radio stations begin playing Christmas songs on Thanksgiving Day.

In the fifty-five days from All Saints’ day to Christmas Day, we prepare for Christ coming through online shopping, bargain hunting, photos with Santa coma songs and carols, baking, drinking, and revelling. Despite wars and rumors of war, poverty, addiction, and homelessness, Christmas magic is in the air! That often in the magic we miss the sacredness of the season, the holy time and space of pregnancy, birth, and revelation. Continue reading “Advent Day 01: A Sacred Season …”

The Wisdom Of Beauty …

I did not
have to ask my heart what it wanted,
because of all the desires I have ever known just one did I cling to
for it was the essence of
all desire:
to hold beauty in
my soul’s
arms.
— St. John of the Cross from Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West

What’s Important in Life?

Once upon a time, there was an elder who was respected for his piety and virtue. Whenever anyone asked him how he had become so holy, he always answered, “I know what is in the Qur’an.”

So when the old man died, they raced one another to his hut to find out for themselves what was in his Qur’an. “Well, what is it?” they shouted.

The disciple holding the book looked up from it amazed and said with wonder in his voice, “What is in this Qur’an are notes on every page, two pressed flowers and a letter from a friend.”

There are some things in life, whatever its burdens, however it is spent, which if we cultivate them will never die, will be the source of our joy forever, will sustain us through everything.

Continue reading “The Wisdom Of Beauty …”

A Companion That Walks Beside Us …

Empathy is connection … Empathy is connecting with the emotion that someone is experiencing, not the event or the circumstance. …

… Empathy is a strange and powerful thing. There is no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’

— Brené Brown from Daring Greatly

 

There’s no way to be spared sorrow. I wouldn’t even wish that upon someone. But we shouldn’t get stuck in our grief; it’s not a permanent address but a companion that walks beside us. Everything I love, I will lose. That’s the harsh truth. You either have to shut down your heart — and miss the love that is around you — or wrestle with that truth and come out the other end. There is indeed such a thing as joyful sorrow. Continue reading “A Companion That Walks Beside Us …”

Autumn Sunset …

Autumn in my part of the world is a season of bounty and beauty. It’s also a season of steady decline—and, for some of us, a slow slide into melancholy. The days become shorter and colder, the trees shed their glory, and summer’s abundance starts to decay toward winter’s death.

I’m a professional melancholic, and for years my delight in the autumn color show quickly morphed into sadness as I watched the beauty die. Focused on the browning of summer’s green growth, I allowed the prospect of death to eclipse all that’s life-giving about fall and its sensuous delights.

Then I began to understand a simple fact: All the “falling” that’s going on out there is full of promise. Seeds are being planted and leaves are being composted as Earth prepares for yet another uprising of green. Continue reading “Autumn Sunset …”