Mostly I Believe Sometimes

PRAYER FOR A WOUNDED SPIRIT

Divine Beloved, I believe in prayer. It’s breath to me. I need it more than vegetables or exercise or toothpaste… more than I need air.

There are those who scoff at prayer and sneer at those who pray. They say you are not Santa Claus. Don’t they just want to be with you, just hanging out, with no agenda? If they mean to keep on living, don’t they know that you’re not optional? As for those who want to prove you don’t exist… I don’t believe, dear God, in atheists.

Selyalandfoss Falls, Iceland
MOSTBEAUTIFUL-Selyalandfoss Falls Iceland

CONFESSION

On the radio, I heard somebody say we’re always given everything that we require for peace, love, mercy, joy, and sustenance. I know you bless me endlessly, and still I need a net; I strive, I fret about uncertainty and how I am perceived by (pick one: the Uber driver, Starbucks person, distant relative, short guy beside me on the bus, straw-hatted woman at the table by the window drinking lattés as if they didn’t cost more than my shoes); I rush to be on time at the expense of my serenity and otherwise neglect my own well-being while achieving nothing for the betterment of those Less Fortunate; and I know better. Still I strive, still try to harness peace of mind instead of resting in the certainty of your deliverance—now, tomorrow, Saturday, next year, and through eternity.

I confess that at this hour I’ve yet to find that calm, sweet, silent place within. My faith has been waylaid. I got distracted, lured by flash, enticed by overripe low-hanging fruit; and having planted old, dry seeds, I reap self-pity, self-reproach, a heap of jealousy, bushels of bitterness—the harvest of the dreams I’ve stopped believing in, the expectations I’ve stopped trusting but haven’t yet replaced.

FATHER-MOTHER GOD, vouchsafe to me a map that guides me to divinity, a light for navigating in the dark, a chorus of your angels singing “This way!”— something I can follow when the candle sputters and the flame goes out.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL Coyote Buttes AZCoyote Buttes, Arizona

Divine Creator, if it’s true that thinking manifests into reality, there’s a problem here. My thoughts do not obey me. Disciplining them is like directing fish to navigate the ocean currents differently. When I try to fix my mind on Heaven, it resists. Ideas steer themselves amiss and enter hostile territory, taken and held captive in a cave somewhere, with bats and prehistoric dragons who don’t know what century we’re in and wouldn’t care regardless. The world in its contrariness seems alien, perverse, and perilous (The dragons are hungry, and I’m dessert)…

…but you, O Great Divine, have overcome the world.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL-TuscanyLucca, Tuscany

FATHER-MOTHER, you will never leave me lost and far from home. It is my dread misguiding me, my fear that weighs me down. I pray that you will banish these, my ancient enemies, my legacy of Canaan in my personal geography, where long ago they staked their claim. They should have lost their strength by now, if not their animosity.

Create in me, O God, a clean and spacious heart. Make room within me for compassion; give me energy to act on it and wisdom to choose capably; renew my spirit; and restore my soul’s capacity for joy and happiness.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL Marble Cave- Chile Chico- Chile

Marble Cave, Chile Chico, Chile

PETITION

Eternal God, Source of Love and Light, if it’s true that all Creation—every cell and star and galaxy, every mosquito, Twinkie, Oldsmobile, and Post-It Note—is love and nothing else exists, why is it, then, that when I’m knocking on the universe’s door nobody opens it? I wonder if there’s no one home, but all the lights are on and someone’s whispering. I take it personally: They see me but they’d rather not. Why don’t they want to let me in? Because I’m bothersome or insignificant or worse—because I don’t exist? Some part of me believes this, but some other part resists.

Wisteria Tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Gardens, Japan

MOST BEAUTIFUL Wisteria Tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Gardens Japan

LOVING GOD, what is this emptiness? Am I in Sheol, where dead spirits go, sleepers in the dust… the place farthest from Heaven, of which Jacob spoke when he said, “I shall go down to my son [Joseph] a mourner unto Sheol”? [Gen. 36:36] Whatever name this pit is known by, lift me out of it. I’m lonely, and my only company is spiders and the stark anxiety that creeps along the porous edges of awareness. Return me to the surface of the planet, I beg of you, O God, where the sun shines, where there are music and activity and reasons not to seek oblivion.

I do, I do believe you made me for a purpose. You had something grand and glorious in mind for me. You gave me passions, interests, and abilities. I used them well… until I stopped believing I had anything to share. Does one invite one’s friends to visit at such a time? “Please come and sit with me while I gnaw my inner lip”? I was asleep too long, dear God. Reignite my reason to keep living.

MOST BEAUTIFUL Bagan Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

GRATITUDE AND PRAISE

A man of monumental wisdom once said, “Follow your bliss.” But sometimes I have no idea where it is or even if I’d recognize it after all this time. It disappeared when I was scrambling as I tend to do from this amusement to that glittering distraction. I’m ill acquainted with the feeling, having been too long at sea, gone far from home on what I thought would be an odyssey that proved to be productive only for its distance, not for its achievements.

Arriving where I started, only poorer—not having brought home even one cheap souvenir—I’m ashamed. I feel unworthy of Creation’s gifts. Yet you believe in me, and through your eyes I see my poverty of spirit fed, my brokenness repaired, my purpose blessed abundantly, and my soul’s treasury enriched.

I don’t need to search; grace finds me where I rest and dream.

MOST BEAUTIFUL Rice terraces of yuanyang

Rice terraces, Yuanyang, China

THANK YOU, GOD, for what the harvest yields today, for life emerging through the winter’s crust, for buds whose promise comes in measured time, unrushed in orchards, gardens, fields; for nature’s generosity to be revealed: great, arching trees in flower, lilacs bursting white and purple, robins gathering selected bits of vegetation suitable for nests in larch and chestnut trees.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL-Meteora Monastery Thessaly Greece

Meteora (monastery), Thessaly, Greece

BENEDICTION

An hour before dawn I am impatient for the unrestraint of morning over the horizon, sunbeams dappling the streams and warming fields and woodlands. Breathe, you say. Be mindful of the cardinals’ concert in the darkness, notice pink and pale-blue streaks spreading like an easy smile across the east horizon. Believe in ordinary signs and wonders.

GOD OF ALL CREATION, seen and unseen, I come to offer praise and thanks, seek mercy, receive healing, and accept your gift of grace.

Amen.

by Mary Campbell
September 2015

Photographs
http://homeandecoration.com/the-most-beautiful-secret-places-on-earth/10/
http://www.dzinewatch.com/2012/03/33-most-beautiful-places-on-earth/
http://blog.iso50.com/34647/spectacular-rice-terraces-of-yuanyang/

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The Purest Race

The mountain village Juta in the Greater Caucasus
The mountain village Juta in the Greater Caucasus (Source: Kaukasus Reisen; see below or click on image for URL)

Who Do We Think We Are?

from Fanny’s journal of her time among the Ancients

There are more than 50 ethnic groups living in the [Caucasus region]… a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia. It is home to the Caucasus Mountains, including Europe’s highest mountain (Mount Elbrus).  

The Caucasus Region, 1994

The Caucasus Region, 1994

North Caucasus  comprises… Russia (Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Adyghea, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai).    

 

A meadow in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park

A meadow in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park (Source: Kaukasus Reisen; see below or click on image for URL)

South Caucasus comprises… Armenia, Azerbaijan (including disputed Nagorno-Karabakh), Georgia (including disputed Abkhazia and South Ossetia)    

The village of Tindi, in Daghestan, in the late 1890s.

Tindi, Daghestan, late 1890s. "This region of the southern Caucasus is home to a mixed population, the majority of whom are Muslims (mosques and their adjoining minarets can be seen to both the left and right of the village). The photograph was taken by M. de Déchy, who returned from the area with large collections of plants, fossils, and photographs." Wikipedia, "Peoples of the Caucasus"

There is so much to write about:

How we traveled here (dirigible), Henry, Sister Alma Rose, Henry, Mr. Truman La Follette’s mama, how the Ancients’ communities remain hidden (not sure if I can even put this on paper, except to say that technology is both a help and a hindrance), Henry, how you can Pray Without Ceasing and still walk around and not bump into things, Henry….   

But I am going to begin with what is foremost in my mind (other than Henry), which I am trying to understand without passing judgment, which I am just beginning to study in preparation for being a Peacemaker of the Ancients, which was triggered by the YouTube dialogue at the very end of this little essay, which concerns…   

Ethnic Pride and Conflict among the Peoples of the Caucasus

 

I did not know that I was living a sheltered life. I believed that representatives of all manner of humanity came and went via Sister Alma Rose’s grass-green wraparound porch. I believed that “ethnic pride” was the kind of warm but not profound satisfaction I get out of my Scots heritage or the healthy awakening of pleasure in one’s own racial or ethnic background.   

Ethnic Map of the Caucasus

Ethnic Map of the Caucasus (User:PMX)

I also believed that YouTube was a website where people shared videos (ranging from very polished to I-just-bought-this-camera-47-minutes-ago) and laughed or gagged and then moved on. Which it is, and I am a big YouTube fan, and I am certain that since I reported the comments you will soon read if you just hang with me here a minute they will be expeditiously removed from YouTube, we can all continue to be big YouTube fans. (You will get a hernia if you try to diagram that sentence.)

Crossroads of cultures and continents

Maps and photographs of the Caucasus sometimes make it appear to be not an area that you would just stumble upon or where you would be stumbled upon, given the altitude and the rough terrain. If I wanted to hide, I might say to myself, “I think I’ll just pop into this little village here, elevation about forty-five-hundred feet and inaccessible by road during the winter and tucked nicely into this deep gorge where it’s practically invisible, and no one will ever find me.” 

Shatili in Khevsureti, Georgia, Sept. 2007. Source: Shatili_Arrival2. Author: SethTri

Shatili in Khevsureti, Georgia, Sept. 2007. Source: Shatili_Arrival2. Author: SethTri

But I would probably be wrong, because I would not have taken into account (a) the invention of the helicopter, and (b) the region’s unique geography: its position at the virtual dividing line of Europe and Asia and also, historically to some extent, between Christian and Muslim cultures, though in parts of the Caucasus adherents of Christianity and Islam have peacefully coexisted for a long time; the region’s proximity to the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Volga River, all important for shipping by virtue of being filled with water; its wealth of natural resources, including oil and other minerals; and its inexplicable popularity among tourists who evidently collect musculoskeletal injuries instead of postcards on their vacations.  

During the many decades that the Caucasus was part of the Soviet Union, hardly anybody with a normal job like “weed control inspector” or “dentist” had ever heard of Nagorno-Karabakh or Abkhazia, unless one of those places happened to have a crabgrass or tooth-decay emergency that the Soviet professionals couldn’t handle, although that would have been unlikely in the extreme since, as I understand it, the Soviets basically marched the folk down out of the mountains, shouting instructions in whatever language had won the coin toss, and settled them in posh hotels to wait out the dictatorship.  

Tellingly, when the Soviet Union collapsed in, um, 1991? “a dozen or so families” decided to go back to what is literally a medieval fortress and village called Shatili, whose appearance is picturesque (see photo above) but bodes ill for coziness on those long, cold, high-altitude winters, though I could be mistaken, but I doubt it and under no circumstances will I go there without Sasha the Ski Patrol Samoyed. It’s just that, in the winter, once you’re there, you’re there, and that’s kind of the way it is until that bright summer day that signals the approach of autumn, and it seems that if you try to leave then you could be trampled by herds of trekkers taking advantage of the fine weather to photograph each other at their destination (Shatili) and then galloping back down the mountain with their overheated Samoyeds panting along behind.   

Grozny, Chechnya

Grozny, Chechnya. Source: trunghocduytan.com

I did uncover— after much searching, avoiding anything written using an alphabet in which all the letters look like cursive W’s as well as “ergative-agglutinative languages [such as Chechen,… Ingush and Bats, which are members…] of the Nakh branch of the Northeast Caucasian language family” [Chechen (depending on the dialect) can have up to 60 consonants and 44 vowels, not to mention geminate fortis stops, ejectives, ligatures, aspirations, frigates, and so forth (Wikipedia)] — a concise and (as far as I can tell) factual article using the familiar Latin alphabet with no diacritics, thank God, there are times when a diacritic could just throw a person right over the brink — with paragraphs excerpted below that account in part for perennial conflict in the Caucasus (as if it weren’t enough that there is less than a 10-percent chance that you will ever be in the same room with five other people who speak the same language and dialect as yours, even in your own home).

10th-century BCE rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan

10th-century BCE rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan

Since the region is among the oldest settled regions on earth and populated by peoples speaking languages related to no others in the world, it has a great deal of history which extends far back into ancient times.  During the Soviet period history was either suppressed or forced into a rigid, dogmatic framework which left most Caucasian peoples feeling cheated of their past, but deeply concerned about their identity and their roots.  With the collapse of communism, they are free to repossess their history and explore their roots….   

Each ethnic group has its own version of its origin and its past and these, more often than not, conflict with neighbors’ versions.  There is, thus, a great deal of argumentation about history.  More often than not, current problems are debated in terms of ancient texts, archaeology, and even legends and myths.  Intriguing and entertaining as such argumentation may be, it tends to exacerbate and obfuscate conflicts rather than facilitate settlement of them. —Paul B. Henze, “Conflict In The Caucasus: Background, Problems, and Prospects for Mitigation,” CircassianWorld.com, accessed May 18, 2010   

Bakuriani, in the Borjomi district of Georgia

Bakuriani, in the Borjomi district of Georgia. Photo: Tripwolf. Text: VisitGeorgia.ge. "The major part of the territory of Georgia is mountainous, therefore some of its regions like Khevsureti, Svaneti, Tusheti, Pshavi, Mtiuleti, Khevi ans Racha are hidden is high mountains. Each of them has its own history and traditions but they all have something in common: Americans cannot pronounce their names without extensive mouth surgery. NOT! Just seeing if you are paying attention. "Travelling in the mountains is an experience for live! Little has changed there since the Middle Ages. The fields are still worked with the scythe, and the ox and cart still remain the usual mode of transport. The people in the mountains live in a world of their own. They are proud and haughty as they have never had a master ruling over them. Even the continual aggressions of the enemy could not break their bellicose character. Although Christians, their religious practice still includes some pagan elements. Of course, ancient customs and traditions are very closely followed. In some parts the blood feud was observed even in the 20th century."

My research revealed little in the way of ethnic antipathy directed at Jews in particular, though there was some discussion about what constitutes genocide and there were isolated comments by Armenian sympathizers making light of the Holocaust or dismissing it as fiction.  

Comments on the video (I am ‘M’)

I have learned just enough about the Caucasus to understand how dismally ignorant I am. Just before I left Hilltop, however, Father Dooley and I spent hours discussing the history of the century preceding World War I, in which conflict, eastern European nationalism — in particular, Yugoslav nationalism, which no longer exists because the Yugoslavs, as a nationality, were a fiction, being actually composed of Serbs, Croats, Herzegovinians, and other peoples who couldn’t get along, and today, a century or so  later, there are so many splinter nationalist and ethnic groups* that some individuals have to be members of two groups at the same time — and so I was especially disheartened by the irrational and possibly inflammatory comments you are about to read, and in semi-real life, too, stirring what I suppose are similar chauvinistic passions.

* Some of the groups are just holdovers from antiquity, we postulate. 

Do I think that I, at not-quite-13, have more wisdom than “K” or “G”? Not necessarily, because I have never lived in the way described above under the photo of Bakuriani, that is, in a world of my own with no master, nor am I “bellicose” by nature. We puny weaklings learn early on that there are better ways to solve disputes. We also develop a sense of humor, which, perhaps, “being bellicose” and “having no master” do not facilitate. 

What I do know is that I am not fundamentally my nationality, my gender, my role in the family, my race, or any of the other qualities that Eckhart Tolle characterizes as “content” (emphasis on first syllable: CON-tent). Someone else has said that nothing you can know about yourself is your Self. Makes sense to me. 

Note that (1) The video referred to was a song about alchemy to which a fairly spectacular Caucasian video had been attached. The song itself is immaterial to the “debate.” (2) I have rearranged most of the comments into chronological order. (3) When you see the word Caucasian below, it will always refer to “Peoples of the Caucasus.”

dot

 3 months ago (?) — I`m very proud to be 100% caucasian! Caucasus will be free from russian Occupants. Our people will never give up to fight for freedom. Long live Caucasus!   

Pretty redhead

MOI, Fanny the Bilingual

3 months ago (?) — Georgians and all Caucasians always had to fight for the freedom. I think, that also this time it will not be peacefull, but the TRUTH is on our side. That gives me hope, that we`ll win.   

M – 1 week ago — [My comment addressed to creator of video, who did not participate in this conversation] I don’t know what is wrong with the 23 people who did not like this video. It is stunning. I just don’t know how you did it! You have L_____’s amazing song…, with YOUR beautiful video… which appears to relate to weddings, one long ago and one contemporary? And you make it work so well! I love the men’s dancing — They are the peacocks, the women are in the background. Thanks for this!    

G – 1 week ago — CAUCASIAN RACE THE PUREST EVER   

M – 3 days ago — Please. No one can control where they’re born or who their ancestors are. Your people and mine have been massacred because a bunch of people REALLY, REALLY did not like what we represented. And what do Jesus and all the wise prophets admonish us to do? Forgive. Emanate peace, not war. Who needs more wars?   

K – 3 days ago – 23 jews   

M — 3 days ago — Blaming the Jews is SO 20th-century. Isn’t it time we picked another scapegoat? How about the Congregationalists?   

K – 3 days ago — Not at all. The jews aren’t “scapegoats”, they are the aggressors.   

M – 3 days ago — ALL of them? My dentist? The kids I went to school with? Sweet Rabbi V_____ who brought me matzos and pineapple preserves when my family had nothing to eat? I truly, genuinely, with all my heart wish you and your people well, and I can understand (trust me) your feeling for this land that has been continuously occupied by your people perhaps longer than anywhere on earth. But the soul is more important than the tribe. No two souls are alike.   

K — 3 days ago — “ALL of them” ? Yes, of course, all of them, to the extent that they are jews. If Sweet Rabbi V_____ was so sweet with you I bet all my 20 $ that I own in cash that you are a jew. A rabbi is someone who knows the unholy jewish literature. He can prove to you that you must be cattle if you are not a parasite and that you are required to give up your property to them b/c all the wealth of the earth must be turned over to ugly tribal beelzebub. Thanks anyway for the reply.   

M — 45 minutes ago — I’ll take the $20 in quarters; I need them for the laundromat   

“K” gets around

Different issue, one in which I did not take part   

H – 3 days ago — You deserve to be killed
but I think you know that already
   

O – 2 days ago — Zionazi – I received your private love letter, in which you wrote: “I want to slit your throat open can you tell me where you live so I can slit your throat” I have a vehicle so why don’t you tell me where you live?  There are no bus stops for you near my house.   

K – 2 days ago — The United States look like they are on their way out and those wars for the jews help a lot. They tell the soldiers that the Afghans aren´t human and that´s why they are able to massacre them at a whim. It is the attitude of the kosher parasite who lives by his unholy and insane religion. If you aren´t a parasite then you must be his cattle.   

 

These comments were still in place this morning (Tuesday), though it had been only about 12 hours since I flagged them. And may I say something schoolmarmish and utterly irrelevant here? *** The last two syllables of antisemitic rhyme with critic. *** Please do not refer to a man as a chauvinist unless you really do mean that he is “fanatically patriotic.” *** Thank  you.   

   

Photo sources
Kaukasus Reisen— Flora in the Caucasus, a Botanical Journey to Kazbegi, Bakuriani and to the Black Sea Region, June/July 2009
Tripwolf, Bakuriani   

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A Pox on Doctrine

Islamic architecture

While Arab-Nomadic culture lacked a grand imperial art, their aesthetic tastes contributed essential elements to Islamic art. Nomads treasured the minor arts of textiles and weapons, and lavished them with geometrical decoration. Life under the stars, in the infinitude of the desert, endowed them with a love of surfaces filled with radiant, boundless patterns, and lush visions of paradise and vines. Along with architecture, decoration is a core element in Islamic art. —dartmouth.edu

Find sample blogs on a gazillion topics at Alpha Inventions

For this they kill each other?

I am listening to Father Dooley and Sister Alma Rose discussing the possible reconciliation, in the distant future, of the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. The two bodies are having “ongoing discussions,” but there are of course some pesky differences, such as their dissimilar views on married priests and birth control.

What the Anglican Communion is, it’s basically the Church of England (with its marvelous ancient Canterbury Cathedral, “the Mother Church”) in association with Anglican churches throughout the world— and who knew there were so many and so far-flung? And, however, one of them is the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA), not being far-flung, at least not from our perspective here in Hilltop.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral, photo by Hans Musil. I'm not clear on exactly how old this structure is. St. Augustine built a cathedral on the site early in the 7th century, but the Saxons rebuilt it four centuries later or so. Augustine's church is still there, under the nave. Wow.

A royal whim

Father Dooley is saying that the Anglicans like to pretend that their church’s origin is not owed to King Henry VIII’s desire to marry Anne Boleyn, with whom he was besotted, and who, everyone hoped, would bear sons to inherit the crown. Well, the establishment of the Church of England was indeed a direct result of Henry’s infatuation and his desire for a male heir, says Father Dooley. The wiley Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, plotted with Henry for years and in the end came up with the strategy that gave Henry “royal supremacy” and made him “the only supreme head on earth of the church in England.”

Montage of English royalty and distinguished citizens in the time of Henry VIIIBut they did that only as a last resort, after the pope refused to annul Henry’s marriage to poor Catherine of Aragon… and Henry didn’t particularly want to change the church, he just wanted to control it so that he could have his way. Plus he wanted the wealth and the property that the Catholic Church had amassed, so he turned the monks out of their monasteries, which he then handed out like party favors (the monasteries, I mean, not the monks) to his friends and supporters, who converted them to grand houses. And many monks were executed for defying the Act of Succession.

And do you know that in the end, after they were married, after hundreds died so they could be married, Henry and Anne didn’t like each other very much, and she didn’t give Henry the sons he wanted, only the one little girl who would become Queen Elizabeth I, and I know this because I have read just about every book about Anne Boleyn that was ever written, even though there is no suspense about the ending.

So, under Henry’s reign, people were executed for not signing a document agreeing that Henry was the Supreme Head of the Church, and blah blah blah, and one of the people who was executed was the scholar and statesman, and onetime close friend of Henry, Sir Thomas More (now, Saint Thomas More).

This is not to say that the Protestant Reformation was unknown in England. There were Protestants in England, but most of them kept rather quiet about it, not as in Germany, where Martin Luther had already converted much of the country to Protestantism.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

When Henry died, his nine-year-old son (by his third wife, Jane Seymour) became king — he was called Edward VI — and he was a zealous Protestant. But he ruled for only six years, and then he died, and there was some scrabbling, much of which involved the Protestant claimant to the throne, Lady Jane Grey, who actually was queen for a few days.

Edward’s half-sister Mary overthrew Jane with ease — there were still many Catholics in England, and Mary’s mother, Catherine, had been beloved. When Mary became queen, she restored Catholicism as the state religion, ordered her cousin Lady Jane Grey beheaded, and had nearly three hundred dissenters burned right there on the street corners of London.

King Philip II of Spain

King Philip II of Spain

For this and a bunch of other reasons, including her wayward husband, Philip II of Spain, who wore hats that looked like upside-down flowerpots, Mary was not a success as queen, and she died unloved and unhappy five years after her coronation. Finally, destiny had its way, as Mary’s brilliant and charismatic half-sister Elizabeth was crowned. Defying those who called her a bastard with no right to the throne, and those who said that she must marry because a woman could not rule, Elizabeth I reigned forty-four years and brought a measure of stability and religious tolerance to England.

And what does any of this have to do with God? I ask Father Dooley. If I believe in God and you believe in God and we both pray to God but the nitty-gritty details of our religious practice are different, don’t we begin with what we have in common? Don’t we start by honoring the one God, who gave us life and who holds our lives in his hands?

Servants of God

The name "Muhammad" in traditional Thuluth calligraphy by the hand of Hattat Aziz Efendi

Sunnis and Shi’a, major Islamic denominations, are mortal enemies. In 2005, al-Qaida‘s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi called for a jihad on Shi’a. The situation in Iraq was degenerating into a civil war between the two sects. And what is it that each finds so intolerable about the other?

Sunnis believe that the first four caliphs were the rightful successors to Muhammad; since God did not specify any particular leaders to succeed him, those leaders had to be elected….

The Shi’a, who constitute the second-largest branch of Islam, believe in the political and religious leadership of Imams from the progeny of Ali ibn Abi Talib, who according to most Shi’a are in a state of ismah, meaning infallibility. They believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, as the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, was his rightful successor, and they call him the first Imam (leader), rejecting the legitimacy of the previous Muslim caliphs.Wikipedia

Omigosh! You have got to be kidding. This is why you murder someone (but first you have to ask his name, because you can’t tell by looking or even talking with him whether he is a Sunni or a Shi’a, but you can probably tell by his name)?

I try to understand. It seems important for me to understand such a big thing about the world. So I make a little speech.

“I don’t mean to sound pious,” I say, “or naive, or… ingenuous?” (not sure I’m using the word correctly; it’s a new one I picked up the other day).

Father Dooley nods, and I go on.

Muhammad And Companions Advancing On Mecca

An anonymous artist's 16th-century illustration of Muhammad and his companions advancing on Mecca. The angels Gabriel, Michael, Israfil, and Azrail are also shown

“I just don’t understand why everybody wouldn’t rather sit under a tree on a lovely day and read a good book. That sounds to me like a much better way to spend an afternoon than strapping on a bunch of explosives and then trying to blend at a wedding party, where, chances are, nobody else is wearing explosives, and where a large number of ‘the bad guys’ are gathered, and then detonating my explosives, thereby making paste of myself and several dozen wedding attendees, and some of them just little kids. In what way does that serve God? How can it be twisted into seeming to serve God?”

“Honey, I hope y’all never have to understand,” Sister Alma Rose says, suffocating me in a Sister Alma Rose hug because I am about to cry. “I hope y’all will never be so poor and desperate, and angry, because maybe the other side has killed someone dear to y’all, that y’all have to blame and punish someone. But no, y’all are right. It does not glorify God.”

Then I think of the Muslims born in the U.S. or the U.K. to middle-class families, the affluent young men who want to go to the Middle East and fight in the holy war, and I know that not all the killers are poor and desperate, maybe some are just bored, and Sister Alma Rose knows that too, and we will talk about it one of these winter afternoons as we warm our feet at Sister Alma Rose’s fireplace.

The Alhambra

At the Alhambra, the magnificent palace and fortress built by Muslim rulers during the 14th century in southern Spain

Father Dooley and Sister Alma Rose and I go into Sister Alma Rose’s lovely white chapel and sit side by side, me in the middle, and we pray silently, except for Sister Alma Rose, who is whispering. And then Father Dooley prays out loud, fervently, for all who suffer enmity “in the name of God,” for those who die needlessly, and for an anxious, restless, seething world.  We sit quietly, and I feel the holy presence of peace, like the early rays of dawn, in Sister Alma Rose’s chapel.

And then Father Dooley takes Sister Alma Rose and me to the Dairy Cream, and Father Dooley drinks two large strawberry-cheesecake malts and belches a world-class belch, on purpose.

“Better to urp a burp and bear the shame than squelch a belch and die in pain,” he says, grinning like a kid; and what can I do but agree?

A Different Universe

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Henry VIII died at the Palce of Whitehall, 1547

Henry VIII died at the Palce of Whitehall, 1547

Listen to Your Broccoli

Fear is negative energy projected into the future —Charlene Bell, Taking Charge: How to Coach Yourself to Quality Living

ANNE BOLEYN; original portrait is on display a...

Anne Boleyn, 2nd of 6 wives of Henry VIII

There are no rights, only gifts Margaret George, The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers

The sun warmed your shoulders, and you felt glad. Or the wind whipped off the Channel, and you pulled a woollen shirt over your head and rejoiced in every fibre of that wool —Margaret George, The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers

From Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Grace means you’re in a different universe from where you had been stuck, when you had no way to get there on your own. (54)

Anne Lamott - April 24th in Oak Park

Anne Lamott — Image by karla kaulfuss via Flickr

“God” could be considered an acronym [for] gifts of desperation. The main gift is a willingness to give up the conviction that you are right, and that God thinks so, too, and hates the people who are driving you crazy. (2)

[Quoting Mel Brooks, The 2000 Year Old Man] “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.” (21)

The spirit within… [is] the secret place that, as Robert Frost wrote, “sits in the middle and knows.”

Robert Frost's Farm

Robert Frost's farm; image by StarrGazr via Flickr

Be kind, and breathe, and take a walk. (24)

You feel unprotected and small and buffeted by the wind, and this defenselessness is a crack through which fresh air and water can enter. (24)

Tomb of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi; Mevlâna ma...

Rumi's tomb in Kanya, Turkey; image via Wikipedia

All wise people say the same thing: that you are deserving of love,[1] and that it’s all here now, everything you need. There’s the memoir by a Hindu writer, It’s Here Now (Are You?), and one of my priest friends says the exact same thing, so I think it must be true—that when you pray, you are not starting the conversation from scratch, just remembering to plug back into a conversation that’s always in progress. (25)

When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She always starts with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility. (33)

Anne Lamott at Books by the Bay

Anne Lamott at Books by the Bay — image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

“Help” is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray—with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing…. As Rumi wrote, “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” (37)

Jesus said, “The point is to not hate and kill each other today, and if  you can, to help the forgotten and powerless. Can you write that down, and leave it by the phone?” (55)

One secret of life is that the reason life works at all is that not everyone in your tribe is nuts on the same day. Another secret is that laughter is carbonated holiness. (65)


[1] I don’t think she really means this. Not “deserving of.” Having read the rest of the book, I think she believes that the act of creation is the motion of love.



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