Taking Stock of Our Appetites

My head hurts, and my patience is wearing thin. I’m about to put my son to bed and the euphoria that descends in these last few hours of fasting is starting to set in. My body feels weak and I only have energy for sweetness. I don’t have the physical energy to be uptight, upset or any sort of way but super chill.

Mona Haydar further summarizes her experience, “So here I am, an hour left in the first day of my fast this month, and boy am I tired.” Yet, she claims, “This weakness is my secret super power right now — a portal to a gentle, calm, serene stillness. This conservation of energy for that which (and especially those who) truly deserves it.”

Fasting is a universally prized spiritual practice in every world religion. My Catholic tradition especially honors this salutary practice during the forty days of Lent. Sometimes I regret that obligatory meatless-Fridays of my youth were made “optional”. Though still encouraged and highly praised, laziness has set in and best intentions never quite get expressed in actual practice.

Ramadan began for our Muslim neighbors on June 6. This must be an especially brutal time for fasting from sun-up to sun-down. Because this “Holy Month” is set according to a more ancient calendar, it can occur at any time of the year. This year it happens to coincide with June 21 — the “longest day of the year” here in Minnesota. For the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, this is a year when living in the southern hemisphere would be a distinct advantage.

Mona Haydar has some wise counsel to share with all of us who come from a spiritual heritage that honors fasting. What she observes from her Muslim practice offers wise counsel to Christians, Buddhist, Jews, Hindus and each of the great religions:

On the most superficial level, Ramadan is about abstaining from food and drink. Beyond that, however, Ramadan is about remedying my heart and habits and all the parts of myself that need a little cleaning up or loving. It includes abstaining from speech that doesn’t elevate all those involved. It is about reeling in my physical appetites so that I may spend a mere four weeks looking at the appetites of my heart, soul and mind as well.

Though we may not be fasting during this Holy Month of Ramadan, we are still invited to share in its wisdom and grow in understanding, respect, admiration and appreciation for those who do.
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You may read Mona Haydar’s reflection from which her quotes have been taken at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mona-haydar/ramadan-reflections_b_10328784.html?platform=hootsuite

What’s God Up To, Now?

How many Christian churches do you know that are next door to a Muslim mosque? Each time I round the corner of 18th & Lyndale Avenues on Minneapolis’ Northside, past the mosque’s muted gold and vibrant blue minaret, a wave of warmth and satisfaction washes over me. Despite headlines suggesting the opposite, this is the “real” America, who we are at our best and as it should be!

The relationship between our two communities is amicable and respectful. Given that Christians celebrate Sundays and Muslims gather on Fridays, our spontaneous interactions remain limited. But our hearts are open and we envision greater dialogue and seek out ways to join forces in service of our neighborhood and city.

Yesterday was even more exceptional. We were celebrating First Communion Sunday and Easter flourishes still adorn the church. Pews were full with extended families exuberant to mark this significant moment in the lives of excited children. Outside flowering trees, tulips, daffodils and fresh yellow-green foliage offset the crystal blue sky.

An off-handed comment by my husband shattered my revelry, “First Communion is a really big deal for Catholics!” His innocence — naïveté more than anything — caught me completely off guard. He was viewing this moment with a different pair of eyes. He wasn’t raised Catholic! He doesn’t have the Catholic symbols and sensibilities imprinted in his psyche. Wow… How easy it is to presume so much even about someone I know so well!

As the liturgy continued, his observation and my embedded assumptions filtered my experience of the celebration. Serving on the council for his Episcopal church, he is not ignorant nor uncaring about the Christian faith! We shouldn’t dismiss my husband’s religious perceptions and sensibilities too quickly.

What about our Muslim neighbors down the street.? What sense would our language about eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood make to them? What about Father, Son and Holy Spirit? What would they hear? How would they see what we so readily take for granted and presume about the God of all creation?

Still, I walked toward our parked car in the direction of the mosque at the end of the liturgy with deep gratitude and confident excitement — God isn’t done with us yet! In fact, God still has a lot of work to do if this good creation is to be brought to fulfillment. That realization itself carries a pretty fair rendering of the Good News and is reason for hope.

I made my First Communion fifty-eight years ago! Nevertheless, the remembering we do at every Eucharist holds the same potential — in fact, has the very purpose — to “disrupt all self-enclosed worldviews, every arrogance, idolatry, patriarchy, or religious fundamentalism that would justify the erasure or diminishment of persons, any person, in the name of God.”

First Communion Sunday at the Church of the Ascension on the Northside of Minneapolis will not generate headlines. But if we perceive how we are constituted at such moments, who we become at Christ’s initiative, we recognize a privileged point of convergence — an encounter with God, the one God of all peoples, no exceptions!
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After returning home from this liturgy I picked up a book I have been savoring, Sophia; The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton by Christopher Pramuk (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2009). I stumbled upon the “disrupt all self-enclosed worldviews” quote on page 210.

Back Room on Display

Sometimes there are no words. This is such a time. We are left aghast at humanity’s capacity to inflict new forms of evil, cruelty and hate.

The horror we are witnessing in Paris is, tragically, not a new or infrequent phenomenon. Each incident leaves us outraged, exasperated. Every recurrence holds the frightening potential to deaden our emotions, erect new walls around our self-enclosed enclaves, and pretend the violence is worlds away. This cycle must stop — both the death-dealing acts of terrorism as well as the head-in-the-sand retreat into denial and isolation.

Sometimes there should be no words! This is such a time. Rather, we must dig deeper and firmly resolve to discover a new capacity to inquire, comprehend and respond with the best in our human nature. This is a time for radical, un”reasonable” love.

Ironically, Hinduism — the most ancient of all the great world religions — is celebrating the feast of Diwali, the annual celebration of light, life and community. Perhaps this is sheer coincidence as the world convulses amid this latest act of death-dealing terror. Perhaps this year, especially this year, ours is a time to recall the teaching and nonviolence practiced by that most famous of Hindus, Mahatma Ghandi.

This is a time to be especially circumspect with our words and judgments. Coincidentally, I was reading about Christian d’Cherge and his fellow Trappist monks when I learned of the Paris massacres. You may recall that d’Cherge and fellow monks lived in solidarity with their Muslim neighbors in Algeria. Their’s was life of radical, un”reasonable” love in the image of Jesus Christ.

Christian d’Cherge grew up in Paris, served as a priest for six years at Sacre-Coeur atop Montmartre before joining the Trappist order. Early on the morning of March 27, 1996, he and six monks were kidnapped from their Algerian monastery, held for ransom and ultimately killed by terrorists in May of that year.

This is not a time for complex reprisal or threatening invectives. This is a time for honest inquiry, sincere efforts to comprehend and responses that spring from the best of our human nature.

Upon his January 1971 arrival amid Muslim neighbors whom he would befriend as an expression of his Christian faith, d’Cherge wrote in his journal these few but poignant words: “They are believers and respectful of all religious people, provided that what is in the back room corresponds with what is in the display windows.”

May all people of faith live with such correspondence, integrity and respect. Now, more than ever, may what we place on “display” through our words and actions manifest that which is best in the “back room” of whatever faith we allegedly profess.
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The quote of Christian d’Cherge is in translation from his native French: The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love and Terror in Algeria by John W. Kizer. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002. p. 39.

Seeing Each Other’s Naked Hearts

Not much time! In a rush! Participating in a great two-day symposium and need to be back for a 9 a.m. conference. No time to write. So here are a few thought, themes or quotes so far…

Christianity has always drawn on sources outside itself to better express/understand itself. Examples: St. Augustine with Plato and St. Thomas Aquinas with Aristotle. You could say that with contemporary liberation theology and Karl Marx but that is too laden with political baggage to be helpful for a popular audience right now.

The apostle Thomas arrived in present-day India in 52 BC. That’s before Christianity arrived in Rome. Think about that and consider implications if you dare!

Relationship is constitutive of God (e.g., God as Trinity). Religious dialogue is a journey of friendship rather than a convergence of ideas.

Even the tent of Abraham is too small to contain (constrain?) God.

Diversity and difference are NOT a deficiency or an unfortunate reality. Diversity and difference are in fact a blessing intended by God. Differences endure because they speak wisdom.

When it comes to knowing God, we are all seekers and servants.

If you care to pursue education, you commit yourself to being a global citizen, not an accidental tourist!

And, here’s one of my favorites… a quote written for a different context and applicable to so many aspects of life. Hearing it in the context of inter-religious, multi-faith dialogue is a good reminder that what we are ultimately talking about is living richly, fully, in community. It’s a quote from Tennessee Williams:

Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see …each other in life. Vanity, fear, desire, competition– all such distortions within our own egos– condition our vision of those in relation to us. Add to those distortions to our own egos the corresponding distortions in the egos of others, and you see how cloudy the glass must become through which we look at each other. That’s how it is in all living relationships except when there is that rare case of two people who love intensely enough to burn through all those layers of opacity and see each other’s naked hearts.

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The symposium is titled: Christian Faith in a Multi-Faith World and is sponsored by the Jay Phillips Center for Inter-Faith Learning, a collaborative endeavor of the University of St. Thomas and Saint John’s University which shares a common curriculum with the College of Saint Benedict. The center sponsors programs at these three institutions and elsewhere throughout Minnesota, carrying out its mission to promote dialogue, friendship and service among people of various religions.

Gift Beyond Gift, Beyond Reason

Is there any day of the week more nondescript than Thursday? Today is pretty innocuous even for a summer day in Minnesota — forecast is for clouds to hang around all day. It’s tempting to get lulled into monotony.

But stop! Every day is as Denise Levertov protests in her marvelous poem, The Yellow Tulip.  

But it’s so: a caravan arrives constantly
out of desert dust, laden
with gift beyond gift, beyond reason.

Though tulips have faded in Minneapolis — and we are probably the last people to enjoy this Springtime ritual — take a moment today to savor Levertov’s praise for this humble flower. [link].

But today, this partly-cloudy Thursday in June, is hardly ordinary. In fact, it’s quite remarkable. For one thing, today is the beginning of Ramadan, the month-long season of fasting and heightened attention to prayer and spiritual practices.

In this world of religious fanaticism and fundamentalism of all stripes, we do well to respectfully remember and honor this holy season. Too often we hear only headlines caused by extremists. Today we would do well to listen to what rank-and-file Muslim neighbors have on their minds. A simple, short summary of Ramadan is available [here].

And today, Thursday, June 18, 2015 is a momentous day that will be recalled a hundred years from now! Today the much anticipated — you know something is really significant when vested-interests and nay-sayers attack something well before it is even published!!! — release of Pope Francis’ letter on creation.

It is not a political or economic treatise! It is not about climate change, though that is central to his moral exhortation! Neither is it primarily about the environment, if by that we mean adoption of “green” policies in response to our current ecological crisis. It’s about creation, God’s bountious and boundless gift in which we humans are to serve as humble stewards.

Read that last sentence again… human, humble. These words are cognates of humus — rich, fertile soil from which all life springs. Human, humble, humus all come from the same root. Take time this Thursday to make the connection. We are by definition and nature earth-creatures. Give that some thought. Find your particular place in this God-given creation — it’s a humble place of honor!

If you’d care to review a simple, five-point summary of the pope’s pastoral exhortation, you can do no better than to take five minutes to read this [link].

Laudato Si… Yes, Praise be… even on an ordinary Thursday in 2015. Every day — each day — is anything but nondescript, innocuous or monotonous!

Or, as Francis of Assisi expressed it…

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!

All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

Facing Facts… All of Them!

Delusions are really dangerous. Denying reality abdicates responsibility only at our own peril. It is not that pretty bad and awful “things” are happening — people, human beings, are doing those pretty nasty, horrible things to one another. We can turn a blind eye, deluding ourselves with denial — the consequences are lethal.

All the more reason to open our eyes, face reality — all of it!  There are some hopeful and positive things happening amid the mass exodus of Christians from Iraq and the carnage of war in Gaza. We imperil ourselves if we shut-down, look away, aren’t paying attention.

Case in point… what percentage of people in Minneapolis-St Paul do you think are even aware that the Muslim community is nearing the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan? Media reports would reenforce the dangerous delusion that Christian, Jewish and Muslim relations are accurately symbolized by perennial strife in the Middle East.  Not true — or at least it need not be so!

There is a wonderful story out of London that gets buried in the on-slot of bad news. Just like Ramadan (ends at sundown, July 28), I bet virtually none of us are aware of the courageous and inspiring actions of Rabbi Natan Levy. He has stunned members of the Jewish community across England by observing the Islamic month of fasting. [link]

Like millions of Muslims across the globe, for 30 days, he will not eat or drink from sunrise and sundown and refrain from sexual intercourse. The 40-year-old religious leader said he was encouraged to take part after witnessing first-hand the lack of engagement between Judaism and Islam.

“I hope this gets us thinking and talking as a community about two things; the hungry poor in our midst, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Ramadan is a time for charity and hungry people care about hungry people,” he told the Jewish News in London.

Some of us will remember that Pope John Paul gathered leaders of the world’s religions at Assisi to pray for peace shortly after 9/11. How many Americans are aware that in the very same overture he encouraged Catholics around the world to fast on the last day of Ramadan 2001 (December 17) as prayer for peace and gesture of mutual understanding? The dominant political rhetoric of the moment buried that part of the pope’s appeal and it went virtually unreported.

Yet prophetic actions like those of John Paul and Rabbi Levy are happening still and closer to home. Each year the Muslim community of Minneapolis-St Paul shares a Dialogue Iftar Dinner to which non-Muslims are invited. “Iftar” is the name for the meal at sunset that breaks the day’s fast.  This year the dinner will be held in North Star Ballroom at University of Minnesota at 7:30 PM on Saturday, July 26th. I feel honored to have been invited.

None of us can put an end to the animosity that grips the Israelis and Palestinians. We cannot protect the Christians fleeing the perversion of religion in Iraq. But’s let’s not succumb to negativity and despair, deluding our ourselves that we can do nothing. Yes, we face some pretty painful facts. But open our eyes we must! We can change the reality in which we choose to live.

Here is a simple suggestion… what if we each called our churches and asked that a prayer in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters concluding the Holy Month of Ramadan be included in our services this Sunday? Our prayers for world peace can become so rote and anemic as to be meaningless. Why not make our prayer explicit in a way that might actually transform our attitudes and actions?

Who was it that said, “There is no one so blind as the one who will not see.”? Let’s celebrate and create real evidence that humans — yes, even those we hate and kill as well as those we love and embrace — are created in the image of God. No exceptions!

Believe It or Not!

Some things just need to be believed in order to be seen!

I chuckled in disbelief. Are we so blind? Are our cultural filters so thick and our beliefs so constricted that we cannot see what just happened?

Yet, it went virtually unreported in the American media. No one I heard or read – with only one obscure exception – even alluded to the significance of what just happened.

Is this the sort of incredulity Mary Magdalene felt as she ran from the tomb to tell the frightened disciples whom she had just encountered? Is this the uncontainable impulse that transformed those gathered in the Upper Room into bold messengers?

What did you see or hear about the Prayer for Peace at the Vatican 48 hours ago on Pentecost Sunday? CNN World reported it as “Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres pray with Pope Francis for Mideast peace” [link]. American media did a typically adequate job covering the historic gathering. But it was predictable in content and routine in style, almost tired edging toward trite.

Watch the video for yourself! What do you see? Here is the [link] again. CNN World is as good and representative as any. Even the Catholic News Service was equally narrow in its perspective — perhaps that can be presumed, though not excused, given its “Roman” self interests.

Do you notice Patriarch Bartholomew? He appears three times in the video coverage but remains unmentioned, seemingly as incidental as the musical interlude. Wait a minute! Does anyone recognize how monumentally significant his presence is?

It was within my own lifetime (1964) that the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople lifted their 900 year-long excommunication of each other. Today they are partners in ministry and referring to each other as “brothers”. What we saw on Sunday at the Vatican was virtually inconceivable on the day most of us reading this blog were born.

Media seems oblivious to the shift in tectonic plates we just saw. Yet, that shift portends great hope for the future of Christian unity and how Christians understand ourselves as “church”. Partisan obstinacies and political intransigence are not the sole preserve of nation-states! On a practical level, think of the potential this “united front” holds for the protection of the struggling Christian minority in the Middle East.

Watch the video again. Listen and look even more carefully this time [link]. It took an obscure secondary reference on Twitter for me to learn something totally missed by American media — For the first time in history, Islamic prayers were offered and readings from the Quran were proclaimed at the Vatican! It took a staff writer from Al Arabyia News – Middle East to bring that to my awareness [link].  That in itself is a huge step forward toward world peace.  This in itself transforms all future Inter-Faith dialogue.  Imagine its potential for improving relations between peoples of differing faiths.

Yes, some things need to be believed to be seen. But they are true! The world is changing – too often the pace is excruciatingly slow and the evidence imperceptible. But God is persistent, patient and insistent.

We have reason to believe!