As part of my own celebration of the Passover-Easter season, I asked my fellow members of The Write Room Blog to contribute short pieces about celebration of faith. (Ken Weene)
NO GREATER LOVE
by Slavatore Buttaci
When God the Father sent His only Son
To be born of flesh and die on the cross,
He could have refused. It was not a done
Deal, but Jesus agreed to pay the cost
Of expiating man’s sins. He would die
A most ignoble death so we could live
Eternally. No human could have tried
To sacrifice what only God could give
To atone for sin –– Himself! A God born
Of a woman so that our sin against
God in Eden would let us all be saved.
He gave Himself to ridicule and scorn,
But it does not end at the Lord’s grave.
On Easter Sunday He rolled back the stone.
No greater love the world has ever known!
Salvatore Buttaci has seen his work in print since 1957. A retired teacher and professor, he writes daily both poetry and flash fiction. He lives with Sharon in West Virginia. www.salbuttaci.blogspot.com
Easter and Africa
by Rev. Jon Magee
It was 1966. I crouched down beside the grave in one small corner of Africa and studied the writing on the tombstone. “Robert Baden-Powell, Chief Scout of the World” Then, below the dates of his birth and death I noticed the tracking sign well known to many Scouts, a circle with a dot in the middle. It’s a sign instantaneously recognized as a message declaring, “gone home”. Its possible that the message was intended to relate to the place where he was laid in Nyeri, Kenya, where he loved to be and where he had a residence. It was a place he felt a sense of peace; it was his home. In that sense he was at home in the environment where he loved to be during his life. However, as I reflected my thoughts began to wonder, realizing that often people have spoken of “going home” as they referred to their death. As a young teenager, I grappled with this whole sense of being at peace when there is no life
I was at the beginning of a 3-week working holiday in Kenya with a party of men from our church at the Royal Air Force station at Khormaksar, Aden. As we made our way north from Nyeri towards Meru on the foothills of Mount Kenya I was conscious that there would be many new experiences I was to come across. There was my first experience of standing next to a sign declaring the border between the northern and southern hemisphere, the equator. There were my first sightings of some of the wild life of Africa, the lion, one of natures most fearsome creatures, the swift running gazelle and the tall giraffe, to name just a few. There was the excitement of not only visiting the site of where they filmed “Born Free”, but also the home of the Lioness, Elsa which the film was the story of. Experiences that few of my western peers could have hoped to have known. Yet, on reflection, the greatest experience for me was to meet with the local people and get to understand them in their life and culture.
Initially, we were the ones being observed. Each morning we began another stage of the building work we came to carry out. It became a ritual that the young Africans made there way to visit us, to stand as a group and to wonder at who we were, and why had we come to work in their community. There would soon develop quite a sizable crowd, including the young children each wielding their panga, a larger cleaver like knife. Soon, a bond began to grow until the invitation was given by one family to visit their home. They lived in a cluster of round mud huts, and we sat in a circle in one of them as our hosts showed their hospitality. The first item they brought through, they described as being like porridge. It was a liquid, made out of maze, cooked over a charcoal fire, and tasted like charcoal. No self respecting Scotsman would have called it porridge, but we took it appreciating that they had given what they had, simple as it was, given from the heart.
As a teenager, this made a deep impression on me. From a Western perspective I had everything that’s needed to have a meaningful life. I had a home with a roof over my head, the guarantee of being well fed each day. Our hosts had such a simple life in comparison. Though they had none of the essentials as we see it, there was certainly a peace in their life which I did not know. It struck me that the one difference is that they had discovered that the best to be gained is not necessarily within the material, but from their perspective a simple trust in the one they knew as their Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ.
We are in the season when many are speaking of Easter, though not always for the spiritual reasons, of course. At the heart of the Easter message is the hope that can be known even when everything seems hopeless. Jesus died on the cross, but on the third day rose to life again. The disciples gathered around the cross felt they had lost everything, but were soon to find that the things they feared most had been conquered. Jesus was to reveal there can be victory over death and sin, and the promise of abundant life can become a reality. There is an eternal dimension within all of that, of course, but when it begins with a simple trust in the Saviour, even when not everything can be understood, then an abundance of life can be known in the here and now too. For a Christian, we can rightly speak of a heavenly home, but the message of Easter also declares we can be “at home” where we are now when we are at peace with Him and where he has placed us. Gone home? Yes, with such a peace we can surely be at home this Easter.
Jon Magee is the author of 2 books, Paradise Island, Heavenly Journey and From Barren Rocks to Living Stones, as well as pieces for magazines and local newspapers. Much of his writings reflect his broad experience living throughout the world. Currently he is based in Fife, Scotland, as a minister with the Baptist Church. http://www.amazon.com/Jon-Magee/e/B003VN33WA/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1386409674&sr=1-2-ent
Honoring Our Ancestors
by James Secor
Obon (お盆) is the annual Buddhist holiday honoring the ancestors’ spirits which, it is believed, return to this world in order to visit their relatives at this time each year. Lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the ancestors’ spirits home, graves are visited and, in some cases, cleaned off, food offerings are made at house altars and at temples, and dances (bon odori) are performed to entertain them at the Festival (bon matsuri). At the end of the three days of Obon, in order to guide the spirits back into their world, lanterns are floated on rivers and lakes or the sea. Perhaps in olden times these boats were shallow bowls and as the name “bon” means “bowl” (or “tray” in some dictionaries).
This Buddhist-Confucian custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday and has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years. Confucian because of the focus on veneration of the ancestors and the heavy influence of Neo-Confucianism on Japanese culture.
Obon is a shortened form of the Sanskrit Ullambana (盂蘭盆會, urabon’e), “deliverance from suffering,” symbolized in Japan as “hanging upside down.” Obon arose from the story of Mokuren, a disciple of the Buddha, who wanted to look in upon his deceased mother. To his horror, he discovered she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts where she was being tortured by starvation and being hanged upside down. Mokuren embarked on a grueling journey to the underworld to bring food to ease her hunger. But when he offered the food to her it erupted into flames before she could swallow. Mokuren ran to the Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from such horror. The Buddha instructed him to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat. Mokuren did so and his mother found release. Happy at his mother’s release, Mokuren danced with joy.
Japanese and Chinese Buddhist tradition believes Ullambana Sutra was translated from the Sanskrit by Dharmaraksa in the 3rd or 4th century.
Obon occurs in the heat of the summer–mid-August–or as late as fall. The most famous obon celebrations are those of Tokushima on the small island of Shikoku. There, the bon odori is known by its ancient territorial name, Awa-odori, sometimes also known as the fool’s dance as the dancers dance and shout as if they’ve lost their minds. Perhaps not to be wondered at as the bon odori is said to have started in the later years of the 16th century as a public entertainment, possibly sarugaku noh (monkey noh), a precursor to Noh. In the modern day, the religious coloring of the dance has been all but lost.
The Mexican counterpart is Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead. The three days of the Christian celebration are All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), All Saints Day and All Souls Day. People in the West tend to celebrate Halloween only.
Jim Secor is a Buddhist with many years’ experience in Japan and China. Every year in Japan, he returned to Tokushima for the Obon festivities, some of his friends dancing odori. The temple was at the top of the mountain, the house at the bottom. The river flowed in between. Jim can be found at http://labelleotero.wordpress.com or on Linkedin as James L. Secor and is e-mail literate at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of Det. Lupée: The Impossible Cases, which won bronze from P&E.
Confessions of a Love-Aholic
by Yves N. Johnson
How many females can you handle in your life? I have a lot. I think it’s because I’m so charming. All seven of my ladies want my time and attention. Well, if you “have it,” you “have it.” One day I’ll share with you how to love multiple females but for now, I’ll simply share a little bit about them.
I’ve been with one of my loves for a long time. She was with me at a special event where I was speaking on career transition. I saw the love in her eyes. It seemed to drip out of her eyes and roll down her cheeks. I felt the pride she was feeling and it made me feel good.
Another one of my ladies seems to always want to hold my hand and spend time with me. I must admit I think of her constantly. She’s special to me. I’m a much better man since she came into my life. I feel like I’ve known her forever. Have you ever met anyone like that?
I have three young pretty ladies also. Years ago we had watershed moment that transformed our lives. I had received two very prestigious awards. I was dressed razor sharp. I think I was walking above ground on that day. I decided to share my joy and achievement with them. I was stunned to find they didn’t care nor did they share in my excitement. The funny thing is they just wanted to spend time with me. Our relationship is more complicated than the other two ladies. Theses females were roommates and at times volleyed to spend time with me. They were upfront and unbashful in letting me know they wanted “their time with me.” Honestly, I feel 10 feet tall when I’m with each and every one of them.
I might as well continue to spill out my heart. I met a much younger female. We instantly connected and fell in love. One day we went walking along the river. For some unknown reason she wanted to jump on rocks! I tell you, younger ladies. She held my hand tight at first. I think she was a little scared. Then she started to jump on her own. She stumbled but didn’t panic. For some reason, she knew I’d be there to catch her. That was a defining moment for me. She loved and trusted me without question.
Hold on, there’s more. While on vacation with my wife I met my latest love. She was as pretty if not prettier than the previous six female. When she looked at me she would flash a smile that melted my heart. She had a problem going to sleep and decided to lay her head on my chest. My wife was in the next room! She squirmed around and finally settled down…her heart beating at the same cadence as mine.
I confess. I’m a very blessed man. I have the love of a wonderful mother, a great wife, three beautiful girls and two “wrapping me around their fingers” granddaughters. Who were you thinking I was talking about? I’m not certain if my “ladies” have me wrapped or if I have them wrapped. I’m just happy to be wrapped by them.
Yves N. Johnson is the Founder of Christ Is My Savior Ministries LLC. As a speaker his subjects range from personal development to spiritual warfare. Yves recently published his second book, Outside The Wire: Every Man’s Guide For Spiritual Warfare. His well-received debut book was, There Is No Gray In Moral Failure: A Practical Guide In Preventing Financial and Sexual Abuse.
Learn more at http://www.amazon.com/Yves-N-Johnson/e/B008GZ2UC2
by Clayton Bye
When I was a young teenager attending the local First Baptist church, I had the misfortune to fall in the crosshairs of an overly zealous pastor. He basically pushed me into being baptized, something that felt so wrong afterword that it was the beginning of a long walk away from the church.
I didn’t lose faith. In fact, I’ve always had a strong connection to that Supreme Being we Christians refer to as God. No, what happened was I came to see the church as a very flawed human construction, something I didn’t need to reach out to God as I know him.
At the height of this battle I was involved in, I attended every denomination’s church or bible group I could find. Nothing shook the feeling that I didn’t belong under these roofs. My visits always seemed to end in anger: from my observations that each church was only as good as the people running the thing, that many just spouted things they didn’t understand or, at times, that they didn’t believe.
Understand when I say I understand the very human longing to belong to something larger than yourself and how the church provides that for many. It just isn’t for me.
But there’s an unusual and happy end to this quest of mine. It came in the form of the largest fraternity in the world, that body known as Freemasonry. This is an institution that teaches a moral code based on the belief in some sort of Supreme Being. One that has revealed his will to man and that will punish vice and reward good behaviour. The bible is always open during our meetings, plus whatever book any individual might believe in. This is to remind us to give up some portion of each day to study these books.
Freemasonry takes in good men and tries to make them better, but it never tries to do so without instructing you to turn to your own religion for guidance. It is completely nondenominational in structure, and while it is not a religion, it is does have religious aspects, especially in the appendant bodies that one may pursue.
One of these bodies emulates the code of Christian Knights and has done more to bring me closer to the church than anything else in my life. I still don’t attend on a regular basis, but I celebrate such things as Maundy Thursday and Easter, and I can now visit a church and read the Bible without the anger of my youth.
It is strange where one can find God.
Clayton Bye is a writer, editor and publisher. The author of 9 books and a varied collection of short stories, poems, articles and hundreds of reviews, he has also published (under the imprint Chase Enterprises publishing) 3 award winning anthologies: general fiction, horror, and short detective stories.
Mr. Bye also offers a wide range of writing related services, including small business management for writers.
Domingo de Pascua (Easter Sunday) at an Orphanage by T.R. Heinan
The women arriving at Queen of Angels House orphanage are fewer in number than usual this morning. Easter is a family day in Mexico and the teachers, tutors, our psychologist and some of the caretakers are allowed to be at home with their own families. Those who have agreed to work today are all carrying flower bouquets to place near the altar in the orphanage chapel. It will be the first day since the beginning of Lent that the chapel will have flowers.
The night crew files through the metal security door and out the gate, having already assisted the Easter Bunny in hiding plastic eggs and candy around the playground. The bunny is a very un-Mexican visitor, not much of a feature in the national culture, but our orphanage is located just three blocks from the United States in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. The community shares a border with Douglas, Arizona. Here the Easter bunny and Happy Meals are as much a part of the local flavor as picante and piñatas. What is missing is Mom and apple pie. Apples are expensive in this desert locale and Mom died from cartel violence fueled by the American appetite for drugs, or for survival, she abandoned her child to feed the American appetite for cheap labor. In some cases, Mom is in prison, or tried to sell her child into prostitution. Maybe Dad was abusive. There is no Mama at an orphanage. The priest, who will arrive this afternoon is addressed as Padre (Father) and, for some reason I have been given the title “Papa Tim”. All other male visitors are called Tio (uncle).
One of our goals at Queen of Angles House has been to minimize the effects of institutionalization. It is easy to overlook the small but critical skills children acquire from parents…how to sew a button, how to manage an allowance, how to launder your own towels. Every effort is made to simulate a caring family environment. Having a consistent, reliable staff is important. That requires careful health, educational, and psychological screening as part of the hiring process. Tactile and visual stimulation is especially important for the babies in our nursery. Sensory stimulation during the first two years can actually help build neurons in the brain. It affects intelligence. Student volunteers are recruited to help the “tias” hold and touch the infants.
The children range from newborns to age 17, so we must develop skills that can help break the cycle of poverty. English as a second language and computer skills are added to basic tutoring as part of our curriculum.
Our tias start the day with a cup of Café Justo, coffee roasted locally by a local better-than-fair-trade coffee cooperative, before they head off to change diapers and getting the older children showered and dressed. Adorning the girls’ hair with ribbons is always a part of the morning routine, but it seems even more important on Easter morning. Dress today will be casual. The kids love a day without uniforms. The menu for the hot breakfast was designed by a certified nutritionist. An Easter egg hunt, videos in the TV room (deliberately built to be the smallest room in the orphanage), and family-style games will fill most of the day.
Queen of Angels House orphanage is a project of the Blessed Nuno Society, Inc., an integrated affiliate of the Catholic Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota. Correspondence can be sent to The Blessed Nuno Society, P.O. Box 3484, Duluth, MN 55803. Both the Society and Queen of Angels house were co-founded by T.R. Heinan. His book, “L’immortalité: Madame Lalaurie and the Voodoo Queen” is an Easter themed story focusing on a fire that took place during Easter week in New Orleans in 1833. Proceeds from sales help support the orphanage. http://www.l-immortalite-madame-lalaurie-and-the-voodoo-queen.com/
THE MUSLIM EID
The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) is reported to have said, ‘there is a festival for every nation, and this (Eid) is our festival.’
There are two Eids in the Muslim lunar year, essentially about thanksgiving, sharing and strengthening communal ties. The first of these (Eid ul Fitr) is celebrated at the close of Ramadan (the fasting month), as an expression of thanksgiving for all that Allah has blessed us with, particularly the Divine Guidance in the Quran the revelation of which began in the month of Ramadan. It is also a thanksgiving for having received the blessed month and acquired spiritual reward through spending it in intense worship and self-restraint.
The second Eid (Eid ul Azha) celebrates the end of the pilgrimage season and the Abrahamic legacy of sacrifice that Islam revives. Both emphasize on giving and including others in joy and festivity by making charity on the occasion a compulsory religious obligation.
On both Eids, the day begins with special prayers performed in congregation in which God is glorified and the prayer leader (imam) engages in ritual invocation to God before the congregation. This invocation calls upon God to ease the suffering of Muslims in specific and mankind in general, to keep one guided and accept one’s effort in His way. At the end of the service people meet and greet each other and give charity to the poor, many of whom congregate to mosques to receive their share to be able to partake of the festivities. Hence a day of celebration commences.
Celebrations on each Eid have unique cultural aspects all over the Muslim world. While the essence is the same, the expression varies across cultures. In my culture, some of the interesting and spectacular Eid day practices include the Pakistani ‘three step hug’ and eating sweet vermicelli cooked in milk for breakfast. For the ladies it means dressing up in glittery traditional clothing- the ‘shalwar kameez’ and ‘dupatta’, which consist of loose pantaloons and flowy long shirts draped with a long traditional scarf. Ladies also wear coloured bangles and paint their hands in intricate patterns with henna. For children Eid means getting pocket money from all uncles and aunts called ‘Eidee.’
One beautiful experience exclusive to Eid ul Azha is the distribution of sacrificial meat. I remember family elders gathering to do the annual ritual efficiently and zealously. According to Islamc tradition, the meat is to be divided into three parts: the first for oneself and one’s family, the other for relatives and neighbours and the third for the poor and needy in one’s community.
One of my Eid day moments is when the door bell rings… I rush to the door and find some hungry old man with sunken eyes or a ragged woman with her malnourished children wanting to know if they could get a share of the meat. The act of giving of what has been entrusted to you by the True Giver, and which is to be spent in His way for His people is spiritually fulfilling.
Having studied at a Catholic convent, as a child I always found Christian celebrations more grandly ritualistic and colourful. I now realize that the simplicity characteristic of Islamic festivals is beautiful in its own quiet way. Islamic sources strongly condemn extravagance, pomp and luxury as ingratitude to God and a sign of selfish arrogance. The simplicity levels all to reinforce Islamic fraternity and egalitarianism. The simple joys of Eid are affordable to all.
Venturing out in the streets of my city on Eid day is a heartening experience- I see, for once, smiles and laughter- little girls all dressed up, children at the park flying kites and holding balloons waiting for the ice-candy man. I let my spirit join in, my heart light and celebrating a vicarious happiness. It comforts me with the illusion I wish to hang on to just a while longer- the world is a happy, sunlit little home, after all!
Although not a member of The Write Room Blog, we are delighted to have Maryam Sakeenah join us with this special post about Islam. A freelance writer based in Pakistan, Maryam divides her time between teaching Sociology and Islamic Studies and working for the education of the underprivileged in Pakistan. The prominent themes in her work are Islam and society, international politics, human rights, the clash of civilizations and the war on terrorism. Her work promotes the values of moderation and the idea of ‘middleness’ between extremes as enunciated by Islam. http://www.suhaibwebb.com/tag/maryam-sakeenah/
Song of faith – A Passover reflection
by Kenneth Weene
We never sang. I knew from Sunday school that we were supposed to. Passover, Pesach, the feast of the Exodus: there should be singing and joy. There wasn’t. Every year I learned the songs anew; we sang them in class and discussed their meaning; but at home — actually my uncle and aunt’s home, where we had the yearly family Seder — we didn’t sing.
My uncle did not understand the joy of the holiday. For him it was all obligation and seriousness. The bitter herbs of captivity mattered; the sweet manna with which God fed the wandering Israelites did not. He yelled and growled through the Haggadah, the order of service for a Seder. He yelled at his children, growled at his wife, and then went to sleep while we ate chiffon pies.
Very quietly we said goodnight: Always say goodnight to sleeping gorillas; it does not do to have them feeling ignored and angry. But it is far worse to wake them. So very quietly indeed, we said goodnight. We would leave, dreading that another year would pass and we would again have to listen to him monotonously say those prayers and angrily correct everyone’s Hebrew.
Being a Jew in those days was not a reason to celebrate. Many people, even some who had helped liberate the camps, thought Hitler should have gotten rid of us. And the myth that matzoth were made with the blood of Christian children persisted. Sometimes, I would try to point out that there were no Christians at the time of the Exodus, but that didn’t stop the taunts or slaps. There were gorillas everywhere.
I don’t know if it was the camps, Hitler, the war, or the pervasive anti-Semitism that made my uncle so sour. Perhaps it was just being stuck in the house with his wife and children for a holiday.
Years later, when I developed a more intellectual sense of religion, one in which God is more a metaphor than a supreme being, less a gorilla than a ground of being, my wife and I celebrated the Passover in our own home. No fancy dining room for us, we sat on the floor under a makeshift tent and leaned on pillows. Our animals (live, some stuffed, and others of wood) surrounded us. We wrote our own Haggadah and celebrated the Eucharist in remembrance of the long-ago preacher who taught that God is love. We invited friends and we sang folksongs: Songs that rejoiced in the joy of life, the love of creation, and the wonder of human freedom. Songs that challenged us to live with dignity, compassion, and truth.
I no longer think of myself as a Jew or a Christian. The God around which I build my worldview is the God of Spinoza, the unification and reason of a universe which I cannot understand but which challenges my mind every day. The Hassidic philosopher Martin Buber suggests we need an aesthetic model of the divine against which to view our lives and purpose. Such a modern God will not guide us out of Egypt, nor will that God protect us from Hitler or from other haters. Still we can draw on that sense of the divine and on the realization of order and beauty in the universe to help us appreciate the wonder of it all.
And we can sing. Oh, yes, we can sing.
Song, spontaneous and joyful, is the true fruit of faith.
Ken Weene’s novels, short stories, and poetry reflect his continual search for personal meaning and universal humanity. http://www.kennethweene.com