The Sheikh & The Preacher

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day…

In 2016, I visited the largest mosque in New England, The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC), in Roxbury Crossing, MA, to hear Sheikh Yasir Fahmy speak on The Toxicity of Othering. As usual, I did not receive what I expected. No, I received so much more!

About a third of the way through, I started to recognize similar teachings to that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I noticed that if I were to remove the Arabic phrases the Sheikh occasionally included and changed “Allah” to “God,” that, indeed, the core message would seem to be the same. Curious, once home, I listened to the video again off the ISBCC website and printed out a transcript. From there, my journey began and below are my findings which led to the creation of The Sheikh & The Preacher. The essay, expanded from this blog, was chosen for inclusion in the anthology One Nation, Indivisible: Seeking Liberty and Justice from the Pulpit to the Streets, edited by my former professor Celene Ibrahim and just released by Wipf and Stock Publishing.

The four key categories below came to me as I heard the similarities unfold. The sub-headings I also included as a way to highlight the specific teachings within each category. Sheikh Yasir Fahmy’s quotes have been occasionally edited by punctuation only to facilitate ease of reading. The numbers noted at the end of each quote indicate where in the video the wording appeared. The quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are taken directly from the sources indicated at the end of each quote.

Enjoy…

Origins of Unhealthy Otherness

Exalting the Self and the Self’s Group as Superior

The Sheikh:

“We want upliftment. We want recognition. We want stability. We want to be known and recognized. We want to be justified. Because of our distance from Allah, we think that the only way I am to make myself big is by belittling others.” (25:05 – 25:34) 

The Preacher:

 “We all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade…And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct. It is a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it.” (Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, February 2, 1968)

Outcomes of Unhealthy Otherness

Removing the Inferior Others

The Sheikh:

 “[At the extreme, this need for recognition] becomes toxic, demonic, destructive. The self becomes self-aggrandizing and self-absorbed. (2:57 – 3:11) You are a danger to my existence, to my power. You threaten me so I want to destroy you. (5:35 -5:43) [These are] diseases of the heart that exist at the root of this toxic other. (18:44-18:50)People have trouble distinguishing between religious or cultural expressions and human value.” (9:48 – 9:54)

The Preacher:

“We’ve been in the mountain of war. We’ve been in the mountain of violence. We’ve been in the mountain of hatred long enough. It is necessary to move on now, but only by moving out of this mountain can we move to the promised land of justice and brotherhood and the Kingdom of God.” (Sermon at Temple Israel, February 26, 1965)

How to Combat Unhealthy Otherness

Humbly Examine the Self

The Sheikh:

“So, brothers and sisters as we think critically about this disease that exists in our society we have to begin with ourselves. We begin by looking in the mirror and thinking, ’Am I a person who otherizes?’ Am I someone who puts others into other ugly categories and belittles them because of who they are?” (21:49 – 22:13)

“We must take a step back and before really thinking about what people are doing to me, I have to ask myself, ‘To what extent do some of these diseases exist within me?’ For to them as you do it, it will be done to you. Before we sit there and look at others, we have to ask, ‘Am I truly embodying the best of prophetic ideals in this particular regard?’” (7:10 – 8:02)

The Preacher:

 “Now first let us deal with this question, which is a practical one:  How do we go about loving our enemies? I think the first thing is this: In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self. And I’m sure that seems strange to you, that I start out telling you this morning that you love your enemies by beginning with a look at self.” [later] “There might be something within you that arouses the tragic hate response in the other individual. And this is one of the tragedies of human nature. So, we begin to love our enemies and love those persons that hate us, whether in collective life or individual life, by looking at ourselves.” (Loving Your Enemies, Nov. 17, 1957)

How to Cultivate Healthy Otherness

The Sheikh:

The purpose of all creation is ‘so you may know one another,’ to have an intimate engagement with people. [Allah said] I made you into these different tribes that you might know one another. So, it is through humility—that is the way we begin to heal the pains of our society.” (29:36 – 29:56)

The Preacher:

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” (Advice for Living, May, 1958)

Recognize the Common Unity and Destiny of the Human Soul

The Sheikh:

“When Muhammad stood up before a Jewish funeral procession and was asked why, he replied, ‘Is he not a soul that deserves honor, dignity and respect? He is a human soul and, therefore, has inherent value and has inherent sacredness and sanctity and the human soul should be honored and respected regardless of the realities of that person. That’s the prophetic ideal that must thrive in societies.’”  (8:15 – 8:59)

The Preacher:

“They [our white brothers] have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. [later] We will be able to speed up that day when all God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” (I Have a Dream Speech, August 28, 1963)

See the Sanctity Within Each Person

The Sheikh:

“Am I someone who has genuine honor for others, genuine love? Can I see the sanctity in human beings no matter who they are? Rather than looking out into the world, rather than seeing all the ugly, I see all the beautiful. I see the beauty of human beings who are struggling to just be there.” (22:17 – 22:34)

The Preacher:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (I Have a Dream Speech,August 28, 1963)

Seek to Love and Forgive Your Enemies

The Sheikh:

“Only Allah can measure the God consciousness of others. It’s not your responsibility to identify others as being this or that. (27:40 – 28:03) We hold dear to our beliefs. We have a distinct desire to see that human life is treated as sacred regardless of the differences that may exits—even in the quote-unquote enemy. No matter your worst enemy, whoever they may be, they deserve dignity as prescribed by Allah.” (16:22 – 16:58)

The Preacher:

“And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers.” (Eulogy after bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, September 18, 1963)

Care for One Another

The Sheikh:

“That’s what it means to be a mercy to mankind. To dignify others is to make sure that everyone comes before me. I want people to be lifted high and if it requires that I bow down and that my neck is broken for others, I will do it. That is the prophetic spirit. That is what it means to honor others, to care for others, regardless of religion or ethnicity or race or even in financiers in the economic realm.” (20:16 – 20:50)

The Preacher:

“The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. (From his 1963 book, Strength to Love.) Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace; a soul generated by love.” (The Major Drum Instinct, sermon adapted from the 1952 homily ”Drum-Major Instincts” by J. Wallace Hamilton, 1952) 

Cultivate a Consciousness of Love

The Sheikh:

“The most dignified and the most honorable amongst creation is the one who has the most God consciousness.“ (26:50 – 26:57)

The Preacher:

“Inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.” (Loving Your Enemies, Nov. 17, 1957)

Seek to be Vehicles of Goodness and Unconditional Love

The Sheikh:

“May he make us vehicles for good on this earth. May he make us prophetic vehicles of change toward goodness on this earth. May we be sources of mercy for others on this earth.” (26:57 -29:28)

The Preacher:

“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. [later] I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”(Noble Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, December 10, 1964)

Closing Quote: The Sheikh

“May Allah rectify the conditions of our humanity on this earth. May he allow it to begin with us. May he guide us, guide through us. May Allah rectify our hearts of the diseases that have caused the problems that we see today so that we can see a society that is prospering.” (30:17 – 30-22)

Closing Quote: The Preacher

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” (I Have a Dream Speech,August 28, 1963)

Lovingly offered by the Sheikh and the Preacher

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Jesus' Message in a Nickel

In my Christmas service this past Sunday, I shared a story about a young girl who had helped an elderly man to bag groceries as she and her mom went through the line at their local store. The bagger, seeing what a kind act it was, gave the girl a nickel and thanked her for being such a good helper. The young girl, grasping the nickel close, found a special box for it and would keep it there for many years to come. As an adult she would say how meaningful and long-lasting that simple act of kindness had been for her.

I love the holidays as they remind me of the many opportunities, each day all around us, to offer some unexpected, unforeseen act of kindness to one another. And, most wondrously, these actions become the most powerful acts of love when done anonymously. Each Christmas, I wonder, “What will it be this year?” Honestly, it’s better than waiting for Santa Clause! Last year it happened in the 10-items-or-less line at the grocery store (what is it about grocery stores😊?) The year before it happened as a result of an unexpected visit to my doctor’s office. This year, it happened in a sandwich shop. Can it get any more fun, joyful and wondrous than this? I think not! And the sweetest thing is that these opportunities find us, in unexpected ways, as we simply go through our day. No special effort required on our part! It is just our joy to be servants-in-waiting to answer some unforeseen call for kindness.  

Of course, the ideal would be to live this message of Jesus, carried in a simple, ordinary, nickel, all year round. So, my hope for each of us this holy season is to hold fast to our very own nickel, held close in safe keeping by the remembrance of one of the great teachings of Jesus: You are the light of the world. (Matt 5:14). May each of us, more often, wake up each day in pure delight wondering, “What will it be today that will help me to give away my nickel…again? How may I shine a light of hope for my brother or sister struggling with some hardship unknown to me? Just how may I, dear Jesus, spread your message, humbly and anonymously, one nickel at a time?”

Wishing you the wondrous joy of many acts of love given…just waiting there, silently, at this moment, in your very own, ordinary, nickel…

Merry Christmas!

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Guest Blog by Lisa Koziell-Betz

I have invited Rev. Lisa Koziell-Betz, Class of 2012, and long-time member of the Tree of Life community, to share her reflection, from our Pray Without Ceasing class, in response to a question on Grace. While every week participants share the most profoundly beautiful thoughts, Lisa’s sharing particularly struck me knowing her personal journey with her daughter Morgan. Morgan died at age 7 from cancer, a rare combination of Neuroblastoma and Pheochromocytoma. Lisa has often said just how many moments of Grace appeared on their journey together but it wasn’t until this reflection that I, and all of us blessed to hear, understood what she had always meant by “Grace.” Thank you, Lisa, for allowing me to share your reflection. I just know it will bless, and serve, many.

#10.  Describe how Grace protects. 

This answer, for me, is really abstract. A lot of “misfortune” is perception. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines misfortune as “an event or conjunction of events that causes an unfortunate or distressing result: bad luck.” There are many definitions of Grace, many of them divinely related, but the one I am referring to is reprieve, which is to give relief for a time.

As many of you have heard me say before – there were many moments of Grace in my journey with Morgan and her cancer. How can this be Grace? How can this cancer not be misfortune? Sure, losing your daughter before she is even 8 years of age is traumatic – watching her go through almost 3 years of treatment is horrific. I would not wish it on anyone. So, one can perseverate on death, cancer, chemo treatment, etc., etc., and that is not a good place to be – on all levels. Trying to control what is uncontrollable leads to failure. So, you are putting out of control feelings upon an already bad situation which leads down a very dangerous road emotionally and spiritually.

Grace is what got us though – therefore Grace protected us. I don’t even know how to describe the internal energy levels that focusing on the moments of Grace versus the angst of misfortune creates in me. It is dramatic. I get all twisted up inside if I focus on the negativity of it all. I cannot see the forest through the trees. I am constantly in a place of reaction…almost like you are constantly hot-wired to react. It is tiring and draining. Grace gives you the opportunity to step back. Look at life differently. It lets you see the good and/or beauty amongst the ugly. The energy it elicits is calming – it is the Grace of reprieve. Doesn’t change the ugly but changes the internal receptors to this concept we call life.

Soooo, I think misfortune happens to everyone but not everyone defines it as misfortune. Depending upon perspective if one chooses to look for those moments of Grace – looking for the good, the calming, the positive spirit filling energies – then, ultimately this really is not misfortune as defined in the Dictionary. This, to me, is how Grace protects.

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In Memory of Elijah Cummings

Elijah E. Cummings, one of the great activists and statesmen of our time, recognized the signs of demagoguery and autocracy as a very real and existential threat to our democracy and, in particular, to the freedoms of the marginalized everywhere – particularly people of color. He recognized because he was old enough to remember – remember what it looked and felt like not to be free. This blog is a revised and updated version of “For Mini” originally posted in June of 2013. Then, I could have not imagined it being even more relevant today.

You could sit on my great-grandparent’s porch, deep in the southern woods, and count to ninety before the first faint sound of a car could be heard coming our way. The sound was something like the hum the wind makes as it is first gathering steam. As Don Williams once sung, I can still hear soft Southern winds in the live oak trees. This was where Joe grew up, my great uncle, the one they said was never right, to whom I would dedicated my first book, An Ordinary Life Transformed: Lessons for Everyone from the Bhagavad Gita. It’s also where Mini would come to cook and clean for us.

We were not the old money antebellum south. We were the other south, poor, yet fiercely proud. And, like such families, with many children to feed and crops to plow, extra hands were needed in the house and in the fields. And, those hands were black. Of course, by the time I was growing up and spending long, hot, pick-flowers-in-the-field days there, an image of the those extra black hands could only be held alive in the vapors of memory. But, Mini was no vapor. She was right there making the biscuits and, then, making my bed.

And so, she labored for our family for most of her long life. No doubt she would have said she loved us dearly, as we certainly felt so, and we always said we loved her like family. And, I believe, both were, unequivocally, true. Me, living in a different part of the country for the school year, did not have the long history with Mini. I was also part of a new generation hearing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the television. So, though I was always happy to see her come through the back door (yes, only the back), mostly, I just tried to turn away and not think about it too much. But, sometimes I couldn’t and that sour feeling would come back curdling in my stomach again.

I suppose I could have made it through without any unnecessary upheaval for those few short weeks each summer. After all, this was where my roots were, my home. This was my family, the only place I felt I belonged, and always a welcome respite from the long difficult school year where I struggled so. My family was good, salt of the earth, and I loved them. And, of course, still do.

could have had it not been for that outhouse at the outer edge of our back yard. Mini wasn’t allowed to use the indoor bathroom. The outhouse was for her. One day, when I was maybe ten or twelve, I watched her make her way out to that outhouse and I could feel that curdling again. But, this time the inevitable tide, like nausea, having festered for what felt like many summers in my young life, was not to be curtailed. I waited for her to return to the kitchen and, finding us alone, blurted out, Mini, why don’t you use the indoor bathroom?

And, exactly in that moment, would have given my whole life to take it back. Her stunned, piercing glance felt volcanic, like hot embers, long dormant, suddenly now in real danger of erupting without regard to fallout. And I, in the wake, stopped breathing, paralyzed. Oh, but my young, naive, heart was screaming, But, Mini, it’s not right! 

Gratefully, her lifetime of well-adapted this is how you behave ‘round whites instinct kicked in and she quickly recovered but not before giving me a good tongue lashing. Youse knows better’in dat Miss Stetnee. Things is how they is. You best leave it ‘lone now! And, turning from me, she threw the dry cloth over her shoulder and flashed me one last clear look of warning, We be done w’ this Miss Stetnee. We be done w’ this. And, so we were.

Things is how they is. You best leave it ‘lone now! My family would have echoed the exact same sentiment. Still, since, I have winced every time I remember. Just what was she to do with that? In truth, none of us, least of all me, were equipped to do anything with, simply, yet regrettably, what was. It was more than what we did. It seemed to be who we were.

We never talked about it again. I returned to school and, in later summers, would come to see Mini less and less as her age and health issues took hold. Still, over the years, I’ve often prayed that she knew what was in my young heart that day in the kitchen. I have imagined being able to sit with her and say…

Please forgive me. I just couldn’t watch you walk out to that outhouse anymore. I just couldn’t. Still, I’m sorry I was so unkind to you. I just so wanted you to know, dear Mini, that I ‘saw’ you…and so ‘felt’ for you. This was what was in my heart to say. I just didn’t know how.

Oh, dear Mini, thank you for your hands, sturdy and skilled, given in the long, faithful service to my family. Thank you for still making our biscuits and our beds but, mostly, for loving us, even when we did not know how to best love you.

Yes, I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees and, today, when I close my eyes, I can see in the vapors dear Mini standing there in the kitchen…but this time…

Smiling softly back at me…unburdened and free.

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An Unexpected Gift of Grace

I have broken my wrist. Left one, thank God. It happened when I fell hard on the wooden floor in my lyrical dance class last night. Late night in the ER. Tomorrow an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon to get the full scoop. Gift of Grace you ask? Indeed.

Many of you have heard me quote Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” And, we also know that sometimes it’s so easy to say, “Really?! Even this?! Excuse me?!” But, yes, even this, it’s true.

The back story will reveal why. When I first walked over to Allegro Dance Academy, just across the parking lot, I was showing up to take the summer Lyrical Dance class for adults. I was excited beyond belief. My husband had been gentle teasing me (with his sweet smile) about spending a week trying to decide what to wear! It was like I was in high school or something. “Will I fit in? Will I be able to keep up? Will I be the only one over 40?” One day I came out with my new dance pants and shirt on and, with arms raised like a cheerleader, asked, “How do I look?” to which he replied with that sweet smile, “40ish.” I mean, really, how cool is that!

But: Class cancelled. Low enrollment. I would have to wait for fall. But what did happen that day was that I had a long, wonderful, conversation with the owner of Allegro Dance, Jen, whom, it felt very clear to me, was someone who, though she had a very different background full of dance, totally resonated with what I was about. Heaven. I just knew I was in the right place.

Finally, the day of the first class arrived. Ready an hour early – there’s my husband’s sweet smile again – and then, out the door I went with my full body pulsing some combination of, “What the heck am I doing?” and, “Oh my God, I can’t wait!” Well, yes, it did look like I was the only one over 40 but most of the other women were middle aged and of varying shapes and sizes. But what I discovered in that first class was that lyrical dance was a combination of ballet, modern and jazz. The ballet I knew but not the modern and jazz. I also discovered that, because all the women in the class had been doing lyrical dance for a while, things went very fast – at least for me. So, after the first class, I asked my teacher, Christine (wonderful teacher!), briefly about private lessons and, the next day, decided to send an email to both her and Jen explaining what it was I was looking for and why. In part, the email read:

“I am looking to learn modern and jazz techniques, to integrate with my knowledge of ballet to, eventually, create my own a kind of liturgical dance language that can be used for both personal as well as spiritual exploration. Eventually, I would like to create a sacred dance ensemble.”

Okay, I confess it made me chuckle a bit thinking how this might be received. After all, this a dance academy, not a church or related spiritual organization. As it turned out, my teacher, Christine, was not available during the day. And, I could imagine most of the other teachers, from their bios, scattering for cover exclaiming, “What?? Not me!” And it did appear that no match was going to surface until one of the teachers did email me to set something up. “Probably, the one with the least seniority,” I mused. I had secretly hoped Jen would offer as I had read from her bio that she had, years ago, co-founded and was the choreographer for the Holy Cross Dance Ensemble. But I just knew she had her hands full with running the place.

And so, last night came and somewhere between the chaines and a jazz move down I went before I even knew what had happened. Seeing my deformed wrist, even in shock, I knew it had taken the fall (no pun intended). So, lying in emergency with my arm suspended, fingers in suction cups, wrist numbed (thank God), and watching the doctor massaging it back into its normal form, I began to let the full gravity of what had just happened seep in. And, it made my heart stop – not for what had happened – but for what hadn’t. A 69-year-old, with a hip replacement falls hard on the floor…if I had come down on my hip replacement side, I would have been put completely out of commission for many months – no teaching, nothing. And I could have injured my other hip, my back, my head. No doubt, it could have been devastating. So, to walk away (literally) with only a broken wrist, on my left side, began to feel, to me, like nothing short of a gift of Grace.

But there was more Grace to come. The next morning I had a long talk with Jen. I told her I wanted to continue my contract with Allegro but that, on my return, wanted to concentrate on private lessons, reiterating some of what I had put in my email, before returning to a class. And, without skipping a beat, she offered a day and time she would be willing to work with me. Suddenly, my heart just leaped! As many of you have often heard me say…We are all given to one another in the most perfect way and time. How joyous it is to imagine all the ways in which we will gift one another.

The whys and wherefores of Grace are way beyond my understanding. I just know that, today, instead of feeling discouraged that all that joy I had felt from just imagining returning to dance was evaporating in the wind like some old woman’s dusty dream, I am feeling like a dancer, who’s future is full of imagining and possibility.

In the meantime, I am saying my prayers with my prayer rope waking and sleeping and sending all my love into my wrist with unbound gratitude. I am saying to it, “Just imagine all the beautiful movements we will do together in honor of our human journey and in praise of our God. And you, my beautiful wrist, will have so much to share as we, together, peel away the deeper lessons of this journey over time. I love you. And as we heal, let’s remember that sweet joy that sent us skipping across the parking lot, for we, not in spite of, but because of, this fall, will soon move into the ever deepening caverns of the heart to reveal the treasures there yet unknown…for we, you and I together…my most beautiful wrist…

are dancers.”

 

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The Spirit of Things

We’ve known for a while that that day would come. Ever since our beloved site became protected by the Maine land trust (yes, I know it’s a good thing) and the road out to the site was cleared, just last year, actually making it passable by car (what were they thinking?) Well, we’ve known. Still, I was not prepared.

On our first day, after settling into our other home-away-from-home, The Pines Lodge and Camps on Sysladobsis Lake, we excitedly made our way out to our site. Walking in on the tree-covered moss-laden path, I found myself, as I have only in recent years, holding my breath a bit hoping no one else will be there. Whooooooo!! Lucked out again!

“Hello magnificent pines! I see more little ones are catching up! Oh, how I’ve missed you beloved pond – your sacred, deep, waters. I am here again to play and frolic and be cleansed in your holy depths. Mr. Turtle? Are you still here guarding the Spirit of these waters?”

Oh my…shhhhhhhh, don’t tell heaven…heaven is already here!

Then, we read in the small log book at the site, a short entry by a father who’d just been there with his son. “Here with my five-year-old son. Great spot for fishing. Beautiful. One of my favorite spots on the planet.” My heart paused with some unfamiliar, just-awakening-yet-unformed-knowing of things. It was a tender, kind, omen.

Next day we hiked and visited another spot we’d found last year and then the following day headed back to our site. But, when we reached the end of the road, we saw a trailer. “Okay,” I thought. “They’re probably just fishing at the stream.” But as we walked down the path, and our site came into view, we saw a tarp and a cooler. My heart sunk, really sunk, deep into some unknown cavern where all I could hear bouncing off the walls was “Noooooooo!” and soon after, “And, what if they’re here the whole week and we don’t get to go back?”

Later that day I went for a long walk and a swim at The Pines and tried to let it all sink in. I confess there was some small part of me feeling just a bit silly for how I was taking it all. Most assuredly, all my long study of eastern notions such as non-attachment and non-permanence had just, unceremoniously, flown right out the window. “Total nonsense!” I wailed. I knew there was no way I was going to pull myself up from the depths of my sorrow-filled caverns on the ropes of such lofty, ethereal, spiritual precepts. No! This was serious!

And then, laying on the dock, “Here with my five-year-old son. Great spot for fishing. Beautiful. One of my favorite spots on the planet.” And, something started to clear. That night we had dinner with others staying at The Pines but I was quiet inside just needing to let this we-knew-it-would-happen-one-day event settle into its rightful place in my bones.

Then…the next morning, sitting on our porch, a bald eagle flew down right in front of us and landed in a nearby tree. It must have paused there for a good minute as if to make sure his message was being delivered. It was. Eagle is one of my spirit animal helpers in the Shamanic world – one of two I’ve had with me since the beginning of my long years with this practice. The Eagle comes when I need to soar high, to broaden my view, and to see beyond the surface of things. Suddenly, I see again a father and his little boy fishing, happy, and so enjoying the pond in all its sacred beauty – in a way known only to them.

And, through my tears and the lump in my throat, my heart smiles…unburdened and free.

That day we discovered another spot at the end of a narrow dirt road just past two land trust camp sites. Not being an official site, we noticed it had that same feel our site had had when we first discovered it over twenty-five years ago – sandy, gritty, untamed, wild. I was drawn, in the moment, to create a wooden treasure there (the tall one in the pictures below) to take back to share with our gracious hosts at The Pines.

On our last day, the folks at our site had (most graciously) left and we got to spend a fully glorious day there. And, again, I was drawn to create another wooden treasure to share (the smaller one in the pictures below). And, I wrote the following to our beloved site as if to secure its memory and place in my overflowing, grateful, will-love-you-forever heart…

Hanging limbs help me down the steep slope as the sound of You, rushing free, draws me in. I pause and ask the Spirit of the Turtle for permission. Then, leaving my clothes behind, I slowly step in and I’m soon submerged by the still cool waters below. And, I am born again. Your rotting stumps and jutting limbs guide my passage for, yes, here, You are as dangerous as you are beautiful. Yet, in this place, stripped down of all trappings, I feel bold and untamed like You. I lay back on Your altar and I am baptized, once again, by the cool waters of Your grace. And, unbound by all I have been or will be, I am set free.

As I rest on Your pine-needled, soft, ground, I can feel the Spirit of You seeping up into me as I watch Your tree limbs dance against the wide blue endless sky – those trees I have long loved since first finding them fledgling upwards in green wonder all those years ago.

But now, the sun is making its way down in Your darkening sky. It is time to go. But my heart prays…prays from the very core of my being…alive and pulsing with the heart of You…

Thank you…Spirit of this Place for all the ways you have gifted me for so long…

Thank you…Spirit of the Eagle, for only on your wings could I have been lifted from the caverns of despair to soar with you…Only on Your wings could I have been made to see what You see…a father, a little boy, and two fishing poles…

And be able to say with a heart overflowing…

Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here…

 

PS: For those of you wanting to read how we first came to find the spot all those years ago, read “The Wild Sacred.” And, for those wanting to understand the shhhhhhh…don’t tell heaven…check out “Don’t Tell Heaven.”

The Wild Sacred

Don’t Tell Heaven…

The pictures below of the sunrises are from our porch at our home-away-from-home, the beloved Pines. You can check them out at thepineslodge.com. It is the most special place…

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To Hear the Mourning Doves Sing

On May 20,2019, Wipf and Stock Publishers, through their Imprint, Resource Publications, released my latest book, The Call of the Mourning Dove: How Sacred Sound Awakens Mystical Unity. It is a slightly edited version of my thesis written in fulfillment of my Doctor of Ministry degree from Andover Newton Theological School (now Andover Newton Seminary at Yale) in 2017. I am grateful to report that it was awarded the Frederick Buechner Award for Excellence in Writing at my graduation. In addition, I am honored to say that my former theology professor, the esteemed Dr. S. Mark Heim, has written the Forward, my former Dean, Dr. Sarah B. Drummond, provided an endorsement for the back cover, and my former academic advisor, Dr. Jenifer Howe Peace, was instrumental in promoting the book to Wipf and Stock Publishers, a well-respected academic publisher.

More importantly, this book is a testimony, grounded in research as well as mysticism, to what has long been my experience: that sacred sound is a portal into the heart of God, the silent mystery just beyond understanding, where we are touched by what we cannot name or speak, and left quiet and still, quivering with awe. And, nothing is the same.

While this book was written largely for an academic audience, I have made ever effort to write it in such a way as to both illuminate the heart as well as stimulate the mind. Whatever you come away feeling or thinking, I can assure you that you will not be left where you began.

Below is an excerpt from the Preface, added to the original work, an excerpt from the Introduction and the full Conclusion. May they give you a taste for more! If so, go to Wipf and Stock Publishers to “Look Inside” and order your copy. The link is: https://wipfandstock.com/

Enjoy…and know I always enjoy hearing from you!

Excerpt from the Preface

I always knew God was right where I couldn’t quite see. I knew because I could hear him through those slightly off-key voices singing loud and unencumbered to the old piano in my hometown church. I saw him in the eyes of that homeless man, the one with the sign, looking at me as I nervously waited for the stoplight to change. I could feel him shaking in the fingers of the elderly clerk, reaching from behind the counter, giving me change at the corner five and dime.

So, when I went in search for God, I didn’t go first to books or lectures or to hear more sermons. I didn’t want to learn about God. I didn’t want an intermediary. No. I wanted my own unmitigated experience of God. So, instead, I sought out teachers from a variety of faith traditions and asked each to teach me how to find God. With guidance and support, I took to my prayer mat and began to fervently pray, intoning the sacred practices from the ancient cannons. And, along the way, I did indeed, most graciously, find God, again and again, right where I would have never thought to look—waiting right there in the silence—just beyond my understanding. Intoning the ancient practices in their original languages, across faith traditions, brought me, again and again, to the same portal leaving me silent, humble and filled with awe—at the feet of God—the same God—showing me definitively, graciously, that indeed, many are the ways we pray to him.

The new paradigm, the Sonic Trilogy of Love, explored in this book, represents most succinctly this discovery. “How can this be?” you may ask as faith traditions surely hold varying ontological beliefs about the nature of God. True. Yet, as those who’ve long explored one particular tradition, as well as those who are exploring across traditions, enter into the Sonic Trilogy of Love to intone the ancient practices, each creates the conditions for an unmitigated experience of God. In this way, the Sonic Trilogy of Love becomes a paradigm of unification, capable of holding the healthy tension that exists between particularity defining religious difference and the ubiquitous mystical experience engendering religious unity. The Sonic Trilogy of Love invites all seekers, one and all, home.  

Excerpt from the Introduction

Bless us with a divine voice

that we may tune the harp strings of our life

to sing songs of Love to you.

Inspired by the Rig Veda

Change is in the wind. Western attitudes about religion, about God, have been steadily evolving led, in part, by a new demographic of seekers who describe their world view as “spiritual,” not “religious.”[1] No longer content to be passive recipients of the same liturgies, sermons, and homilies, no longer invested in the rituals gone rote, these “spiritual but not religious” seekers are leaving on a quest for God. Aspiring ministerial leaders and concerned lay people alike would do well to embrace this change as I believe it is an opportunity to reignite relevance, meaning and passion. As the great philosopher Rabindranath Tagore reminded us, “The winds of grace are always blowing, but it is you who must raise your sails.”[2] It is time.

Where to begin? One way is already in the very hands of religious leaders and lay people alike, so close, perhaps, they may have missed it. Right there, within the rich texture of the historical “religious” canon, lie the very practices that can serve as the portal into the “spiritual” connection these modern-day seekers are craving. Christians may find this portal when mentally engaging a sacred word or phrase in the depths of contemplative prayer practice. Jews may find it when reciting portions of the Torah or the Psalms in Hebrew. Muslims may find it when chanting the ninety-nine beautiful names of Allah in Arabic. And of course, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs, to name just a few, have long found it when chanting their sacred texts in mantra meditation. The common denominator? Sound.

As seekers across faith traditions engage the sound of God in spiritual practice, each may enter the portal into their own unmitigated experience of the divine. Whether mentally engaging a sacred word in contemplative prayer or chanting aloud according to an ancient script, the fruits of practice begin to answer a longing, a not-so-silent cry within, as the sound of God reverberates through the inner chambers, tuning and awakening seekers to that which was previously unknown. Wondrously, if only in passing moments, seekers may start to get just a glimpse of that which is beyond understanding, to suddenly see themselves as God sees them. And if so, nothing is the same.

In this book, I offer a new paradigm based on this sonic aspect of the divine, the Sonic Trilogy of Love, that explores just how sacred sound becomes the portal into this unmitigated experience of God. Here, identifying love as the core organizing principle, I describe the inter-relational dynamics between us, the Lovers, practitioners; the Love, sacred sound; and the Beloved, God. As the Lover, practitioner, engages the Love, sacred sound emanating from the sacred canon, conditions are set for unity with the Beloved, God. In such moments, the distinctions between the Lover, Love and Beloved dissolve in mystical unity. Finally, I show how such an experience, awakening personal transcendence within, engenders a sense of mystical unity without, embracing all creation.

The Conclusion

Lovers across faith traditions share a fierce yearning for God. While beliefs and practices differ, what ignites the human heart to quest for the unknowable, the holy, the mystery just beyond understanding, is the same. Today this quest is being most loudly articulated by those identifying as “spiritual but not religious.” Yet those “traditionally religious” have long journeyed, labored, and aspired to know God within the lineages of ancient, sacred traditions. While, on the surface, it would appear that Lovers from these two groups are moving in different directions, their quest is the same. Within the Sonic Trilogy of Love, all Lovers encounter the epic human journey inherent in the quest for God, as well as moments of mystical unity inherent in the universality of the experience of God.

In order for there to be such universality in the experience of God, there must be, ontologically, universal elements within the One, to which all traditions point, eliciting this common response. Perennial philosophy describes such universal elements, three of which we have highlighted: the assertion of one divine reality; the notion that all of life can be seen as miraculous as soon as the religious view, born of love, becomes dominant; and, the belief that observable practical consequences naturally emanate from religious experience when an individual is in touch with that germinal higher part of himself. The more recent worldview of panentheism has emerged to provide a new context for holding this universality of experience encompassing both the immanent and the transcendent qualities of God. Simply, there is nowhere God is not if the Lover has the eyes to see.

Examining the origins of the historical canons reveals this universality brought forth by the Love, the sound current, embedded within the languages themselves: Hebrew, Sanskrit, Aramaic, and Arabic. The four traditions we have engaged all claim possession of the Word as was originally revealed, yet, as we have seen, each tradition expresses, through the key sacred sound practices, common themes pointing to the One: the Shema, AUM, Awoon dwashmaya, and La illaha illa Allah. Hence, rabbis, swamis, priests or ministers, imams or shaykhs, and Lovers across traditions emerge from the kol demamah dakah, nada, nothingness and nowhere, and hu, humbled with awe and able to speak in the language only Lovers know, silence. Yet now, having experienced just a glimpse of the mystery, each starts to see the face of God everywhere, immanent in stones, flowers, eagles, and in the eyes of neighbors, as well as transcendent in the secrets of those very stones, the silent unfolding of the flower’s petals, the wind lifting the eagle from its nest, and, most of all, in the love igniting our hearts when we pause long enough to see the face of our neighbor.

As Lovers everywhere hear the call of the mourning dove, each is invited to answer and fulfill a unique part in the Beloved’s plan for creation. In doing so, Lovers discover the joy of harmonizing their notes in service to the divine symphony. Wondrously, they realize that unity with all does not dissolve particularity; rather, it requires and celebrates it. As Lovers enter into the Love, the sacred sound practices, within the Sonic Trilogy of Love, they experience a cleansing of all that stands in the way of this unique expression of particularity and, slowly, emerge to sound their own note in service to a greater good known only to the Beloved. It is in this way that Lovers, whether diving deep into the sound currents of a single tradition or engaging sacred sound practices across faith traditions, discover their unique place in God’s creation intimately woven into the web of life. Simply, each is one and all.

As love, that core organizing principle uniting Lover, Love, and Beloved in mystical unity, has its way with us, we hear the call piercing the open sky and we respond as only Lovers can, propelled by a yearning we can’t ignore. Nothing short of feeling the palpable embrace of our Beloved will suffice now. Nothing short of finding our own ecstatic cry escaping unrestrained and free will satisfy. The Love has stirred our awakening and we can hear now the sound of God chiming softly in the wind as we are gently rocked by a kind of lullaby known only to our Beloved.

And, as dusk silently descends, we hear the mourning doves sing.

 

 

[1] Murphy, “Emergence of Evolutionary Panentheism,” 191.

 

[2] Tagore, Hinduism Today, 14.

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