Posted in General Interest, Religion/Spirituality, Social Justice/Activism

An Editorial by UU Minister, Ben Meyers: SHOTS HEARD, HEARTS BROKEN, VIGILS HELD

Rev. Ben Meyers of San Mateo, California
Rev. Ben Meyers of San Mateo, California

There’s something happening here,
What it is aint exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there,
Tellin’ me I’ve got to beware …
I think it’s time we stop, Children, What’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s goin’ down …
Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills & Nash)

UU San Mateo
Unitarian Universalists (UU) of San Mateo, CA

On June 12, 49 people were murdered at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida and 53 were injured and hospitalized, four critically. People of good conscience gathered and mourned with victims and families at vigils held across the country and around the world. We grieved for lives lost. We grieved another mass shooting, the largest in U.S. history.

Congregational Church
Congregational Church, San Mateo, CA

Here in San Mateo, we joined in a interfaith vigil held at the Congregational Church. We joined in sadness, shock and solidarity, both for Orlando, and for those in our own community, our country, our world who are of a minority sexual orientation: gay men, lesbians, bisexual persons, transgender persons, persons uncertain of their gender identity or sexual orientation, victims of senseless hate in some quarters.

The community we must hold vigil for in our hearts is even larger. It includes all our Muslim brothers and sisters here and around the world who have and will suffer from the kind of religious bigotry that cannot separate the actions of one radically disturbed individual from the peace- loving behaviors of millions of religious people.

 

Torah Center, Peninsula Temple Sholom, Burlingame, CA
Torah Center, Peninsula Temple Sholom, Burlingame, CA

Recently, Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo (UUSM) joined over 200 people and broke the month long period of daily fasting for Muslims known as Ramadan. The event, which I had never participated in before, was made even more remarkable to me because of its location. It was not held in a Mosque or even a Muslim Cultural Center, rather, it was hosted, and well attended, by the Jewish congregation of Peninsula Temple Shalom, in Burlingame. Muslims and Jews, Christians, UUs and others came together to learn more about this most holy ritual of Islam, and to stand against the violence of Islamaphobia and hate, which currently, the majority of U.S. citizens embrace and promote.

We hold vigil for people, especially black and brown people, who continue to be the targets of racial profiling and the oppression and violence that comes with it. Acts of systemic hatred and violence which we can not even imagine but which they face every day just because of the color of their skin.

Here, in this religious community, we are striving to embody and live out a life-long vigilance to building the beloved community that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of when he encouraged all people of good conscience, especially white people of privilege and power, to look at and dismantle the pervasiveness of white supremacy, lessons learned at a tender age and never truly unlearned without a committed effort and willingness to change and be changed—from the inside-out.

IMG_4365Our Black Lives Matter banner hangs outside our sanctuary, a reminder to be conscious of our complicity in the legacy of violence and hatred that is not yet overcome. We must hold in our hearts and move in our hands ALL of us here in our country who might at any time be the victims of violence of the highest order, violence inflicted by high-powered weapons that kill indiscriminately in every corner of this country: in our churches, mosques, temples and shrines…in our schools and workplaces, in our coffee houses and dance houses and our very homes.

Since the Orlando shooting on June 12th there have been 31 other mass shootings in the U.S. involving 4 or more victims, including the death of 5 in Las Vegas and 5 police officers in Dallas, Texas. More shootings. More vigils. So, what exactly do we mean by vigil?

A vigil is a SACRED kind of watchfulness, a call to be attentive and aware with devotion for the emotions that are sure to surge up within us— emotions of anger, even rage; emotions surrounding loss and shock; emotions steeped in frustration and fear. These emotions can convince us, if we are not careful, that rage justifies the kind of outrage that lashes out, repaying violence with violence, seeking a life for a life, an eye for an eye, the kind of rage that would turn the whole world into an unending whirl of violence and vengeance.

Inevitably,we must come to the question: “What WILL we do?” Because, now awakened, now alert, now vigilant…We know we are called to respond, to act, to engage in change that makes a difference.

Our first question is, “What do we need to make sure we do not do?” How do we honor the memory of those who were victimized by hate? How do we stand with those who are still victimized by hate? How do we keep from falling into the pattern of hate ourselves? Given the size and complexity of the problem, how do we remain vigilant and not acquiesce back into silence, numbness, complacency? How do we do more than pray?

We know that a culture that marginalizes and stigmatizes persons for any reason creates an environment that says violence towards those persons is acceptable because they are the “other,” that are not like us. But we who believe in a better way know that an eye for an eye only leaves us all blind.

We also know that a culture of violence such as ours also creates an environment of numbness and distance and silent complicity, which can be and has been part of what perpetuates the continuance of the dominant culture. We have now heard enough shots to know that silence is inadequate to the task of countering the culture violence. We must employ the power of love and peaceful engagement for we know that moments of silence and prayer are no longer enough. That they have never been enough…

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, our District 14 representative who, out of frustration to the impotence of her Congressional colleagues and out of vigilance and commitment to bringing real change to the culture of gun violence in our country, no longer participates in the moments of silence that have become the only response of our congress to these ceaseless mass shootings that are a plague upon our nation.

Jackie Speier
Jackie Speier

This is what our moments of silence have bought us. A silent nightclub, the only sound the frantic ringing of phones that would never be answered. Silent bodies, where there should be life and love and pride. And here, a silent Congress. Mere words cannot describe the depth of my grief and rage. Forty-nine lives lost, in the middle of Pride Month when they should have been safe and celebrated. Forty-nine families devastated by the loss of their loved ones. Forty-nine phones ringing, and ringing, and ringing. There were also frantic texts, like Eddie Justice’s final messages to his mother: “Mommy, I love you. He’s coming. I’m going to die.

“If you can hear these words without your heart breaking, if you can think of those little children gunned down in Newtown without grieving, if you can think of empty pews in Charleston without mourning, then truly you have lost your humanity.

“Hateful people like to compare LGBTQ equality to the sin-filled Biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. But we in Congress are the real Sodom and Gomorrah. Are there 218 righteous members here to stand against this bloody tide? Increasingly, I doubt it.

“So I ask you today, how many lives must be destroyed before Congress acts?

Nine lives? Charleston showed us nine is not enough.

Thirteen lives? Columbine showed us that 13 is not enough.

Certainly 27 small children killed in their classrooms at Newtown? No.

The 32 lives lost at Virginia Tech? Again, not enough lives.

The more than 33,000 Americans killed each year by guns? Still not enough.

“And now 49 people have been murdered in Orlando.

“Yet even this historic tragedy hasn’t been deemed big enough, horrific enough, or insidious enough to break Congress’ silence.

“Congress is happy to debate for hours about bathrooms, but bring up the gun violence killing thousands? Absolutely not.

“Radical Islam, or home-grown American homophobia, or a toxic stew of both may have inspired the Orlando shooter. No doubt we will learn more about his disgusting motivations in the coming weeks.

“But there are simple actions we can take now, actions that would have reduced the deaths in Orlando as well as Aurora, Newtown, San Bernardino, and at Umpqua Community College…

“I urge you – I beg you – to make America better than this. We must be better than this. “ –Congresswoman Jackie Speier, California’s 14th District.

There exists among us a variety of responses to the NRA, more interested in the rights of those who sell guns than in the lives of innocent victims of gun violence.  The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ-rights organization in the country suggests that we work to limit access to all assault weapons: That we move to expand background checks: that we limit access to firearms for suspected terrorists and for people with a history of domestic abuse. Common sense. Yes! In every other “civilized” country in the world, these are understood as common-sense regulations. But, here in our country, while the NRA owns the people’s Congress, these are seen as unreasonable restrictions. This has to stop. We must rise and turn the tide towards peace and justice when it comes to public safety. The best way to honor those who were senselessly slaughtered in Orlando and everywhere else is to act, NOW. We may BEGIN with prayers and with songs and with vigils…but let’s not stop there.

We can do better. We are better than this.

Amen.

May it be so.

– Rev. Ben Meyers

Essay posted under CC NoDerivatives (nd) license. You may copy, distribute, display only original copies of this work with attribution; © portrait, Ben Meyers; Jackie Spear’s portrait is her official one; UUSM photograph is in the public domain; Temple Sholom courtesy of PTseducation under CC SA-BY 3.0, other photographs, Jamie Dedes

Posted in General Interest, Religion/Spirituality, Spirit, Writing/Blogging

NOTIONS OF THE SACRED: poetry as spiritual practice …

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“Without art, we should have no notion of the sacred; without science, we should always worship false gods.” W.H. Auden

When we move on in the arc of our lives – to center – we cross the threshold into that place from which all things emanate – the sacred space of poetry and indeed all art and creativity. We leave behind the cacophony of assumptions and received wisdom to rest in Rumi’s field – a place he says is “beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing.” We cross the threshold into a w-h-o-l-l-y, place – a place Rumi tells us the “world is too full to talk about.” The ideal of this field reminds me very much of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, where all the hallelujah’s – broken or whole – are equal. And so it is with us and with our poetry, which as a spiritual practice brings balance and sacredness into our lives.

This business of taking up our pens involves more than learning the technical rudiments, the history of our craft and its key players. It requires of us a trust in ourselves and learning to let go of the expectation of understanding everything. We learn to embrace mystery and ambiguity. We learn to sit with process and to sit with the poems we are drawn to or the poetry we write. We allow the visions, the word-play, the cadence to work on us. Whether we share our poems with others or not, whether we are amateur or professional, is irrelevant. What matters is that we go on the hero’s journey and we come back with a gift.

When we write, we are like Rilke’s “Swan” …

“when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.”

Sacred space always reveals the unexpected. We are always changed, though the change may be subtle. What might come up are the daily concerns – how to make it through the day – or the current pain: the loss of a loved one, abandonment, ills of body and mind, concerns for children … Joy! and Gratitude! As we grow “more like a king, further and further on,”  our sacred space may reveal something about the greater mysteries…

does it matter after all, the curiosities

when fish and water are one
when light and dark are indistinguishable
when we are neither content nor discontent
when questions cease and ideologies melt
when there is no helping and no taking

. . . there is this” [Jamie Dedes]

enso

And “this” is well represented by the Buddhist ensō illustrated above. It is meant to express that moment when the mind is still, allowing for creation. It symbolizes enlightenment. I’m sure all faiths have similar concepts. From a Christian perspective – perhaps the discussion would be about the “gaze of faith” and claritas (Thomas Aquinas) –  “intellectual light,” illumination. In Buddhism, traditionally this ensō is done as a part of spiritual practice and it is a kind of meditation in the way that all creative efforts are meditation.

“Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us. The writing itself reveals to us what is alive in us. The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know. Thus, writing requires a real act of trust. We have to say to ourselves: ‘I do not yet know what I carry in my heart, but I trust that it will emerge as I write.’ Writing is like giving away the few loaves and fishes one has, trusting that they will multiply in the giving. Once we dare to ‘give away’ on paper the few thoughts that come to us, we start discovering how much is hidden underneath these thoughts and gradually come in touch with our own riches.” ‪‎Henri Nouwen‬ REFLECTIONS ON THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION (unpublished) http://www.henrinouwen.org

So trust that through your poetry you will enter that field where there is no right doing or wrong doing and …

“The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life. “ [Love After Love, © Derrick Walcott, Collected Poems, 1948–1984 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1987)

© 2016, essay and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Ensō (c. 2000) by Kanjuro Shibata XX under CC BY-SA 3.0

Posted in Flowers, Trees & Gardens, General Interest, Religion/Spirituality, Spirit

sleeping with the moon, a poem

isnessgarden speaks through its flowers ..
a dharma talk on cosmic truth, its syntax
is the rush of joy in different hues
written on the harmony of loam,
on sturdy leaves and gray rock ~
an elemental symphony

a webbed raiment as transient as foam, a
feral scent flirting with a lilting breeze,
a few sleepy stepping-stones along the path
and then the budding, the blooming, the
falling into decay, undisturbed by worldly
cares, a green nirvana of prickly branches

and cherry trees, the wildish thorned
rose and the innocent daisy, palm fronds
and color spectrums, no burdens, just an
isness of small beings embracing the earth,
dancing in the sun, sleeping with the moon

© 2014, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Posted in General Interest, Religion/Spirituality

LATE BREAKING NEWS: The Occult Arts and The Sacred Feminine hosted by Canadian Musician Zena Hegarty and Friends

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Apr 24 at 9 PM to Apr 25 at 11 AM in EDT

Created for Nocturnal Frequency Radio

This week we have the incomparable Tamara Wyndham. She has naturally lived her life as a sacred journey, which expresses the adage ‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.’ – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

We get the opportunity this week to discuss topics from the sacred feminine to the profound place where inspiration comes from to ceremonial magic.

Check out:

© 2016, photograph, Zena Hagerty, All rights reserved

Posted in General Interest, Photography, Poem/Poetry, Religion/Spirituality, spirt

let us now praise the peace

IMG_0695

after Pablo Neruda

let us sit
without movement, without words

harmless
not trampling the ant
or butchering the steer

neither selling nor buying
no birthing, no dying

fisherfolk transfixed above the wave
carpenters silent by the bench

. . . . . poet

lay down your pen
let every hand be still ~
slow the racing heart,
the speed-demon mind

let us now praise the peace

” . . . we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.”  Pablo Neruda, “Keeping Quiet

© 2015, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Posted in General Interest, Religion/Spirituality, Spirit

And thus we begin . . .

If you are viewing this post from Facebook or email, it’s likely you will have to click through to watch the video. 

May this be the year we let go of certainty and embrace mystery.

May this be the year we know love as respect and peace as decision.

HAPPY 2016!

Love,
Jamie

Posted in Religion/Spirituality

One for each night! They shed a sweet light …

If you are viewing this post from email, it’s likely you will have to click through to the site to see the video.

HAPPY HANUKKAH!

A Hanukah Project, a collection from the Jewish Museum of New York
A Hanukkah Project, a collection from the Jewish Museum of New York under CC SA 3.0 license
Posted in Bardo News, Bardo/Beguine Again, General Interest, Religion/Spirituality, Social Justice/Activism, The Bardo Group, The BeZine

a story of faith, hope and love

IMG_1955I feel almost inclined to start this story with “once upon a time” since it feels that we began our adventure so long ago.  I started The Bardo Group (though it wasn’t titled that way to begin with) in 2011 as a way to encourage a sort of world without borders by having people from different cultures and religions come together to show what’s in their hearts and in doing so to demonstrate that with all our differences we have much in common: our dreams and hopes, our plans for children and grandchildren, our love of family, friends and the spiritual traditions we’ve chosen or into which we were born  . . . not to mention our love of sacred space as it is expressed in the arts and our concerns for peace, social justice and sustainability.

At one point I decided that it would be nice to have a sort of virtual Sunday service and invited Terri Stewart, a Methodist Minister, to be our “Sunday Chaplain.”  In 2008 she founded Beguine Again, an interfaith platform for clerics and spiritual teachers to offer daily solace and inspiration. I felt comfortable inviting Terri in because she didn’t want to convert anyone and seemed to appreciate the beauty and wisdom of traditions other than her own. She even incorporated the wisdom of other traditions in her rituals and writings. Terri supported our mission. She didn’t appear threatened by different opinions or beliefs.

A little over a year ago, I suggested we might throw our two efforts together, Beguine Again and The Bardo Group. I hoped that would ensure the continuation of the The Bardo Group and the wise, beautiful and valued work and ideals of our core team and guests, a group of earnest and talented poets, writers, story-tellers, essayists, artists, photographers and musicians.  Each is a strong advocate for a better – fair, peaceful and sustainable – world. Together they are a powerhouse.

Okay, yes!  I’m a bit biased.  I’ve only met one of our group in person and only talked by phone with Terri,  but I’ve read everyone’s work – their emails, messages, books, blogs and FB posts for years now.  We’ve been through deaths in families, births and birthdays, graduations, illness and recovery, major relocations, wars and gunfire, triumphs and failures. Two of our original contributors have died. I feel that our core team and our guests might be my next-door neighbors instead of residing in  Romania, England, Algeria, the Philippines, Israel, India, Greece, Bulgaria, the United States and other countries I’ve probably forgotten. We’ve featured work by people ranging in age – as near as I can guess – from 19 to nearly 90. They’ve been Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and agnostics. The growth of our readership is slow but steady, loyal and just as diverse as our core team and guests.

So what did we do to facilitate this merger: At Beguine Again daily posts continued. That team joined The Bardo Group. We stopped posting daily on The Bardo Group site and started The BeZine, a monthly online publication with a fresh theme for each issue. Terri got a grant to establish a community website from the Pacific Northwest United Methodist Church. The website has been over a year in the works. Today, we unveil it.

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The site is designed to be a spiritual networking community.  Though it is an extended ministry of the Lake Washington United Methodist Church, this effort remains both interfaith and a labor of love.

The site is supported by donations, membership (paid membership is optional) and a generous grant from Pacific Northwest United Methodist Church, which funded the design and development of the site. The grant from the church ends on December 31, 2015. Donations and membership fees will support the cost of technical assistance, web hosting and so forth. Should there be any excess funds they will go to the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition, a Seattle nonprofit (also interfaith) founded by Terri under the aegis of the church. Coalition members provide assistance to incarcerated youth. No income is earned by anyone associated with Beguine Again, The Bardo Group, The BeZine or the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition.  All are labors of love.

The BeZine can still be conveniently and easily accessed either directly HERE or through BeguineAgain if you choose to become a member of the community.

Please check out the site. Any questions? Let us know … and do let us know what you think. Please be patient too.  The tech gremlins are still working behind the scenes.

A note on the name: Beguine Again.  The original Beguine community was a Christian lay order in Europe that was active between the 13th and 16th century.  Terri chose the name “Because they worked outside the religious structure and were a safe place for vulnerable people.”

© 2015, article and photograph, Jamie Dedes; Beguine Again logo, copyright Beguine Again

Posted in General Interest, Peace & Justice, Religion/Spirituality

Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda . . . a poem for the days when you long for peace

51Hn8cu3d6L._SX305_BO1,204,203,200_Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

– Pablo Neruda

—from Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid, pp. 27-29, 1974)

Posted in Poem/Poetry, Religion/Spirituality, Spirit

there is this . . .

am i dreamer
or is dream dreaming me

does it matter after all, if i am or i am not

does sun feel the heat of day
does light see its image in the dark
during rain, do fish absorb more water
and would brown bear rather be horse

does it matter after all, the curiosities

when fish and water are one
when light and dark are indistinguishable
when brown bear is neither content nor discontent
when questions cease and ideologies melt
when there is no helping and no taking
. . . there is this

Enso

The artwork here is an ensō, which in Zen Buddhism is a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited strokes. It is meant to express that moment when the mind is still, allowing for creation. It symbolizes enlightenment. I find it visually and spiritually elegant. I appreciate its spare message and the void it represents, called mu. Those of us from the Abrahamic traditions frequently misunderstand this concept and think it is nihilistic and depressing. It’s not.

The ensō is done as a part of spiritual practice and it is a kind of meditation in the way that all creative efforts are meditation. It is a wonderful example of the Japanese aesthetic, wabi-sabi. In that spirit, I kept the poem simple and included white space in the layout. With all that is going on in the world, this seems a good time to publish “there is this …” again.

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes (The Poet by Day), All rights reserved; illustration ~ Ensõ , calligraphy by Kanjuro Shibata XX via Jordan Langeller under CC SA 3.0 unported

Posted in General Interest, Peace & Justice, Religion/Spirituality, Social Justice/Activism

What have we done that people can pick up weapons and kill?

Dan and I as kids and probably the last time he was shorter than I. He stands 6'5' and I stand 5'2".
Dan and me as kids and probably the last time he was shorter than I am. He stands 6’5″ and I am 5’2″.

With all its faults – and there are many – Facebook can be a blessing. I haven’t seen my cousin Dan in almost forty years. I lost track of him, but was much delighted to find him again on Facebook last March. 

Dan and I were raised in the United States, but our family was from Lebanon. Our mothers were sisters. Our religious roots are Melchite (our grandfather’s side) and Maronite (our grandmother’s side).

My mother, Zabaida, used to tell me that in Lebanon first cousins were like brothers and sisters. Among other things this was one way she tried to understand what people meant when they talked or wrote about Jesus having brothers. I understood it as my relationship to my cousins, especially cousins Daniel and Christopher, who were brothers (Christopher died prematurely) and my most beloved relatives.  Though we haven’t seen one another in forever and we’ve walked different paths in life,  I suspect our basic values remain the same: peace, love (respect) for others and for life, and appreciation of life’s gifts. Dan has worked in many places around the world, including Algeria and Dubai. Currently he teaches Theology in the Philippines. This essay is Dan’s.

*****

What Have We Done That People Can Pick Up Weapons and Kill?

by

Fr. Daniel S. Sormani, C.S. Sp.

DANIEL S. SORMANI C.S. Sp.
DANIEL S. SORMANI C.S. Sp.

It was one of those things you think but don’t want to say. In the horror of the carnage in Paris and the world’s reaction, it struck me how very little had been said about the terrorist attack in Beirut the day before…or the attack on a funeral in Baghdad…or so much of the other violence that shakes the world. And I felt like I couldn’t say it for fear of looking like I was somehow diminishing the horror or pain of Paris, afraid it could been seen as a lack of respect and understanding. But I wondered. And now so many people are indeed raising such questions, and others are also reacting to such questions, calling them an appalling lack of sympathy…and things have at times spiraled down to a repulsive debate of numbers and geography, rather than of lives and humanity.

When I was young, it was the last hurrah of Lebanon’s golden era when people still referred to it as the “Switzerland of the East” and the wealthy went there to bask on the beach in the morning and ski on its snow-capped mountains in the afternoon. It was the land of poets and artists, and welcomed refugees and visitors equally.

I remember all the Lebanese women with my mother at fundraisers for the Palestinian refugees. We were all kinds of Christians, Muslims, Druze and even a lone family of Lebanese-Jews who ran a shop in our neighborhood. We were just “us”, the Lebanese diaspora, the children of the Phoenicians. And if you were Syrian or Egyptian, that didn’t matter, then we simply enlarged our self-definition to being Middle Easterners. And if you were anything else, then we were “the melting pot” and loved to learn from you.

But so much interference in the internal workings of the country, so much pushing and shoving, dangling of carrots by different powers and religious groups, and finally civil war exploded in Lebanon. What we had known suddenly disappeared. There were a myriad of political parties I couldn’t keep up with, weekly fundraisers for dozens of necessary causes, a flood of refugees, some legal, some not. It should have brought us together, made us one in the struggle for peace and justice. But it didn’t.

I remember vividly the look of joy on the face of complete strangers if they heard my family speak a bit of Arabic. There would be warm introductions and everyone wanted to know everyone. Suddenly it was different. I would say something in Arabic, and the other person would immediately ask “Muslim?” I remember once in my old neighborhood I went into an Arabic music store and was taken by the album playing. Great music, but the dialect threw me a bit. I cheerfully greeted the young man behind the counter with a wish for a morning filled with goodness. He gave me an annoyed look and pointed to the veiled young woman. When he walked away the woman leaned over and whispered in Arabic, “Don’t mind my brother. It’s clear from the way you greeted him that you’re not Muslim.”

I remember in Algeria when I used the traditional Muslim greeting of peace in the market place and the stall-keeper rudely told me I had no right to say such a thing because he knew I wasn’t Muslim. To my delight, an elderly gentleman in traditional dress got angry and shouted at him, “And what should he do, wish you war and trouble instead?” He went on to greet me with great poetry and many warm blessings. Touched, I kissed him the way one kisses his favorite uncle and a few of the women, all wrapped in the white haiks of western Algeria, applauded and blessed God. This, I thought, is what family is, this is how we will conquer the darkness.

We have become our own worst enemy. Whenever we separate the world into “them” and “us”, whenever we accept blind generalizations and cease to see a unique individual before us, whenever we forget we are all victims of carefully orchestrated deceit and deception for wealth and power, the force of darkness wins. Bullets will never win this struggle, only the heart and mind will.I know political scientists and analysts can tear my thoughts to shreds. I do not claim an intellectual understanding…I am only sharing a broken heart that grieves.

A young Melchite priest once told me a story from his village in Lebanon during the war. There was intense shelling and sniper fire for almost three days. After it stopped, people went out to gather up the dead. An old man went to the church and asked the priest to offer two masses. The priest took his pen and book and asked the man to continue. The first mass, he said, was for his son whom they found shot to death in the orchard by their house. And the second mass was for the person who shot him. Startled, the young priest looked at the old man with amazement. The old man explained the obvious saying “What have we done that people can pick up weapons and kill strangers? What have we done that some poor fellow can kill my son without feeling it? We must pray for him, and ask God’s forgiveness.” When I remember that story, after all these years, I still cry.

© 2015, essay and family photographs, Daniel S. Sormani C.S. Sp., All rights reserved

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Posted in General Interest, Religion/Spirituality

The Victory of Light Over Darkness

From the 11th through the 15th our Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist brothers and sisters celebrate Dawali, the Festival of Lights, the victory of light over darkness.
From the 11th through the 15th our Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist brothers and sisters celebrate Dawali, the Festival of Lights, the victory of light over darkness.

WISHING US ALL VICTORY AND EVERY BLESSINGS.

LOVE,

Jamie