Exploring The Places You Already Are

IMG_2266By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

I spent the morning on the top of a high rise apartment building in the middle of Shanghai. We had to sneak up there, and a lock might have been picked, but there we were at sunrise. It was after a night of Japanese food, sake, and roughly two hours of sleep. One of my companions was in the same clothes as the night before, the other wearing batman pajamas.

You really can’t make this up.

Shanghai is comprised of people. 28 million, in fact. A Shanghai sunrise is mostly haze and enough swirls of pink and purple to remind you what a sunrise is supposed to look like. We had a 360 view of- well, apartments. Tall apartments, short apartments, windows galore. We could see laundry drying and teddy bears left on the window sill. There were curtains and no curtains, plants and no plants, bikes and toys and kitchen sinks and washing machines. There were at least a million people a stone’s throw away in any direction, with more apartments stretching as far as the eye could see.

And there was quiet.

Up above it all, with blurry eyes and an over sized t shirt, I saw my city. This crazy, attitude-filled city I have chosen to live in, going on three years. I saw the bits and pieces of lives being lived as strangers right next to each other, piled on top of each other, in this place that I have always perceived as a little bit lonely. I could see the haze lifting ever so slightly and the buildings turning gold under the filtered sunlight. It was magic.

Batman pajama lady and I started to sing, like the sleep deprived giddy people we are.

“Blue skies smilin’ at me
Nothin’ but blue skies do I see
Bluebirds singin’ a song
Nothin’ but bluebirds all the day long”

And as we were singing like fools on the top of the world, I felt all my fears of being back in Shanghai melting away. Yes, it can be a lonely city. But that makes it just that much easier for a little joy to go a long way. Returning to a place does not have to make you feel tired and worn when there are still so many adventures to be had.

So I hugged Shanghai with my heart and waved goodbye to the skyline before creeping my way back down the stairs. I fell asleep smiling, knowing there is still so much left to explore.

Exploring History, Exploring Ourselves

 Today’s guest post comes from Abd Al-Rahman, who formerly contributed to Sophia’s Pockets with the post, Silence is Golden. He explores the idea of finding oneself through the exploration of others and their history.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George Santayana

Ever since I was a young kid, I always felt this inclination towards history. I always believed that’s where experience truly lies. I guess that’s why I always liked museums and historical places. I couldn’t miss a chance to explore how the folks before us lived. It drove me to long lonely, but yet entertaining, trips. I couldn’t stop at any boundaries, the word trespassing didn’t really matter at the time, and I can’t really tell how many times I got caught by guards for entering restricted areas.

 

But why would I put myself into such trouble? Not because it’s always pleasant and happy, but because that’s where the meat of life is, “the juice that we can suck out of our hours and days.” As Ben Saunders says. And also it’s not to explore just the bricks and stones, but to explore people, people like us who had their moments of joy and sorrow, their moments of weakness and moments of greatness. To learn how did they overcome their problems, how they managed to endure when nobody could, to learn not to repeat their mistakes, and how do we live up to their expectations.

 

Well, and I can say that I’m gifted with the gift of feeling the scent of the place. Whenever I visit any place, I always visualize seeing the people who built it wandering here and there, and like to imagine what situations would occur. But finally I came to the conclusion that what I’m really doing is exploring myself.

 

Everywhere I go, I feel a piece of myself react with the place. Right here a soldier stood in defense of this citadel, how did he feel? Would I feel the same?. There, a mighty pharaoh sat and ruled Egypt. This busy square once witnessed a great battle that defined and shaped the world as we know it.

 

Every new place I visit, every book I read and every map I look at they change the way I see the world. I can feel the wisdom pass through the walls of the places, and through the pages of books directly to my heart. Stories of struggles and epics of wars, romance of statues and drama of assassinations, they all affect me deeply to a point I can no more describe.

 

In the end, I always believed that exploring our history not only gives us a chance to explore ourselves, but also marks where we stand from our past, and therefore, sheds a beam of light on the future, so we can predict, plan and welcome it with open hands, and most importantly, with open hearts.

 

#BlackLivesMatter and Crucifixion

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief Christ, Interfaith, Christian, BlackLivesMatterI am supposed to be packing my bag for my next big adventure. In a little more than 24 hours I will be moving across an ocean. But I am not packing, my thoughts and prayers are interested in what is happening in the place I am stopping at on my journey. I am speaking of St. Louis, of Ferguson, of U.S. America, and the struggle for justice that is happening there today, and every day.

There are a lot of issues that need exploring on this topic, but I want to take a moment and explore the link between the crucifixion of Jesus and what is happening at this moment in my home country.

With the recent arrests of Johnetta “Netta” Elzie, many of the Millennial Activists United folks, and Cornel West, among other, my mind drifts to my recent trip to the Vatican in Rome.

While I was at the Vatican, I was told that after a terrible fire, early Christians were blamed for this fire and were tortured, burned alive, arrested and crucified by the Roman state. This is of course after Jesus was arrested and killed by the government of the lands in which he was born.

When I see my friends, brave activists, and those who I hold in the deepest gratitude of the spirit, and I see what they endure, the tear gas, the bruises, the beatings and the deaths, I cannot help but recall Matthew 27:30-31:

 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As an ally, a comrade, a co-conspirator with those fighting for the literal lives of people of color in U.S.America, I cannot ignore the violence that is being perpetrated on those seeking justice, those calling for an end of domination, of racism, of injustice. In the same way I am called to give up earthly comforts to follow Jesus, I am called to give up the illusion that I too have not been steeped in racism, called to not merely observe but to stand with my comrades of color.

Marcus Borg explores the link between the crucifixion of Jesus and the movement to end oppression and domination far better than I ever could.

Jesus was killed. This is one of those facts that everybody knows, but whose significance is often overlooked. He didn’t simply die; he was executed. We as Christians participate in the only major religious tradition whose founder was executed by established authority. And if we ask the historical question, “Why was he killed?” the historical answer is because he was a social prophet and movement initiator, a passionate advocate of God’s justice, and radical critic of the domination system who had attracted a following. If Jesus had been only a mystic, healer, and wisdom teacher, he almost certainly would not have been executed. Rather, he was killed because of his politics – because of his passion for God’s justice.

Jesus fought against the state, the corrupt status quo, and he suffered for it, he was killed for it. As a Christian, I am firstly and most importantly a citizen of the way of Jesus. And as a citizen of such a state I salute everyone working for justice with #BlackLivesMatter. I believe Jesus is with you, I believe you are doing the work of God, and this post is for you.

Exploring The Road Less Traveled

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief Deco, Interfaith, Two Roads
                               Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
                                I took the one less traveled by,
                                And that has made all the difference.
                                –Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

I can’t tell you the first time I heard this poem, but I can tell you that I have heard it so often that it may be the only piece of writing that I have passively memorized. This poem is quoted on cards, and oft cited to those of us who don’t follow te traditional roads.

Mostly this poem is read as an exultation of the road less traveled, a song of praise to those who walk against the grain of society. I was lucky enough to have a teacher who once taught me another reading of this poem that has informed my life choices ever since.

In class one day, Mr, Hoelscher read this poem, and then told our astonished class that it wasn’t a poem that praised the road less traveled. Indeed, Mr. Hoelscher pointed out that the speaker of the poem never says that the road less traveled was better. In fact, Mr Hoelscher drew our attention to the last stanza which starts,

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
He pointed our that it is entirely possible that the sigh indicates regret at taking this path, that perhaps the road less traveled was hard, exhausting work.
I can tell you that after 30 years of exploring what life has to offer, after years of obstinately choosing the road less traveled, I have to agree with this reading of the poem. Taking the road less traveled has also made me sigh–sigh with frustration, with exhaustion, and even with regret.
I have found that those of us who take the road less traveled don’t like to admit to the hard parts of our journeys. In fact, often even from the outside the difficulties are hidden, and sometimes I am not likely to remind the world that my life is not all glamorous french cafes and visits to the Louvre. The road less traveled remains less traveled because it is difficult, because the path is not clear.
Yet despite its difficulty, my exploration of this road has been beautiful, profound and rewarding. It may have made me sigh, but taking the road less traveled has indeed made all the difference in my life.

Exploring Immortality And Time

Today’s post comes from Matheus Yuhlung, a Christian blogger who is pursuing an M.A. in Philosophy and currently lives in New Delhi, India. Matheus’ post today reflects the same philosophical spirit as his post on inspiration, but this time Matheus explores the concepts of immortality and time. This is a post that will make you think, and urges us all to explore these concepts on our own journeys.
Time, Philosophy, India, Prague, Travel, InterfaithIn the morning I was reading George H Morrison’s sermon entitled The Springs of Endurance where he quoted St. Augustine as saying: God is patient, because He is eternal; and it set me off thinking, can that be the same for us human beings as well? So I went off exploring the idea.
Things standing shall fall, but the moving ever shall stay.–Basavanna
 
This quote from an ancient Indian poet,  offers a contemplation on the temple of God as a state of being rather than a thing built with bricks and stones. These lines are the concluding verses of a poem where he is singing of how his soul is going to live forever (housing his God in the depth of his heart) while the temples that are standing now shall fail in the test of time.
 
Though originally written to a fictitious and formless god call Siva, those two sentences from the poem quoted above reminded me of what Apostle Paul wrote: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?
  
Once, we had a pastor visit us from the Bible Society of India; and though he was young, he looked old as he was extremely thin and had an impoverished figure. He spoke in a low tone, in broken English with a heavy rural accent, yet, it was such a blessing to hear him speak.
 
The breath that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils, he said as he waved his shaky, skinny hands back and forth from the pulpit as if he was trying to contain his uncontainable ardour for Christ, that breath, he said again, still runs through, and inside, you and me and that is what that makes us cry with an upward longingness.
 
I believe anxiety and impatience gets us only when we limit ourselves under the matrix of time and space. The fact that God is always on time (though it may not seem like it to us) is because God is eternal, and is outside of time. The old Indian philosophers were very much aware that their souls were eternal, so much so that Sankara ended up saying: Brahm satyam jagat mithya – which can be loosely translated as: “Only Brahm is real and everything else is an illusion.”
 
For them ‘Brahm’ was an eternal-world soul, while ‘jagat’ meant the world. They believed the latter to be a complete illusion, a consequence of human ignorance. Hence, they ignored its existence in complete totality. Interesting, isn’t it?
 
Truly speaking though, time is real. This world is real and so is eternity. I sometimes like to think our bodies became mortal (and so did time and space) only when Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit. If that is true, we’re living simultaneously both in eternity and in time, only separated by a thin delay of mortality.
 
Anyhow, if we’re immortal beings, eternal,  shouldn’t we be patient with our lives as well, in the same way God is patient with us? Should we seek to believe and live out our faith and let God take care of the rest?
 
This whole exploration, these deep concepts are complicated, but I love it how Hermann Hesse puts it in his book Siddhartha, writing:
 
But the world itself, being in and around us, is never one-sided. Never is a man … wholly Sansara or wholly Nirvana; … This only seems so because we suffer the illusion that time is something real. Time is not real, Govinda. I have realized this repeatedly. And if time is not real, then the dividing line that seems to lie between this world and eternity … is also an illusion.

Seeking Submissions: Exploration

Explore, Interfaith PatternThis month at Searching Sophia’s Pockets, we are focusing on the theme of EXPLORATION. On many spiritual journeys there is a time a exploration. Exploration is often at the heart of our various journeys. So look deeply and tell us what you are exploring on your spiritual journey right now and how has exploration defined your spiritual experiences.

If you are lacking inspiration for your submission, here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. What/Where do you wish you had time to explore on your journey?
  2. What spiritual, faith, or religious journeys of others are you interested in exploring?
  3. How might exploration change your faith?
  4. What small things are you exploring in your daily life? What deep concepts are you exploring?
  5. How has exploration lead you to struggle? How has it helped you through a difficult decision?

With Wisdom, Love …and Lint,

The Searching Sophia’s Pockets Team

A Prayer For Healing, A Blessing In Disguise

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

Prayer for Healing, Blessings, Interfaith, weepingI have a friend who is in the midst of battling cancer, but this friend is just one of many who needs healing. Lately, I find myself praying for healing often, a little too often for my liking. My private prayer journal is filling up with friends asking for good thoughts as they heal from surgery, for strength as they heal from broken hearts, for spiritual healing for this broken world or simply prayers that they will feel the healing power of love as they struggle with death and dying. This is the prayer I say when I get these requests:

Dear God,

Give_____ what they need in abundance.

Let them feel the wholeness that comes from being loved,

because they are indeed loved.

Let them find a way to heal their wounds seen and unseen.

Let me find a way to help them the best I can.

Amen

This is a prayer of healing, but this prayer isn’t just about healing for others. By saying it so often, I have found a blessing there too, in disguise. In praying that others are healed, I am freeing myself from the awful feeling of uselessness that comes with loving those who are suffering, and for me feeling that I am doing something is a huge blessing.

i was not raised, neither by my church nor my family, to be useless, I was taught to serve, to help, to work, and to persevere. But in these recent times of so much hurt and suffering to those so near and so dear to me, I have often felt useless.

I struggle with questions like: What can I do to heal this world? How can I help when I am so far away? What use are my skills with words in times like these? But I have found that in praying for the healing of others, I too am healed. In praying for healing, I am blessedly useful. Thus, the prayers of healing I offer are, in some small way, my biggest blessings.

The Blessings of Memories

We’re pleased to share another guest post from Aya Nejim, who previously wrote on The Courage to Start Over. Aya is a young English teacher, living between Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Cairo, Egypt. Today, Aya shares with us the blessing of the memories we hold dear to our hearts; the pictures we flip through when we’re nostalgic, the letters and cards we never get tired of reading, all the gifts and little trinkets, which are a reminder that nothing is ever lost forever, and that also nothing ever remains the same.

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No matter how much suffering you went through, you never wanted to let go of those memories. – Haruki Murakami

We often forget the beauty of memories, their value. Memories have become – for most of us – a source of pain, grief and loneliness, reminding us only of what we lack, what we have lost. I believe that memories are a gift, a blessing that we need to thank God for daily. Their beauty lies in the mere fact that in a way we get to see several versions of ourselves; the person we once were and the person we have become. It is like tiny little founding pieces of how we are today.

I think of memories as spirits that transform into energy which our bodies encompass; the good ones give us joy and hope, while the bad ones transform us from pained, sad and lonely people to people filled with knowledge and wisdom. Even the people we lose, we keep their memories in our hearts and by doing so we carry a part of them within our soul. I like to believe that the pain goes away and that all that is left is simply a piece of ourselves in a different world with different people.

At times of despair, I often wished to lose everything; who I am, who I was, but then I realized that if I did, I would have never become the person I am now. Looking back at my memories, I saw how much I have come through and how different I had become. All the different versions of myself; the strong, the caring, the broken, the intellect, it reminded me that the journey still continues and nothing ever remains the same, not the sorrow, not the pain and not even me.

I am grateful for my memories because they give me hope and faith and fill me with warmth, knowing that even in my darkest days, another version of me has survived before and shaped the person I am now.

Being a Blessing

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

When you wish someone joy, you wish them peace, love, prosperity, happiness… all the good things.

Maya Angelou

Elizabeth Gilbert discusses finding a guru in her rather famous book, Eat, Pray, Love. I had the pleasure of reading her story while on a stretch of beach in the Gilly Islands, sisters to Bali (cliche, I know, stop sighing at me). Finding a guru? I thought. Skip that- I want to be one!

Disclaimer: It has already been discussed in a previous entry that modesty is not my strong point. I said I would work on it, and it is a work in progress.

A guru is a spiritual leader, someone to help you along your spiritual path. So yes, me being one would be a perfect example of the blind leading the blind, but what can I say? I love wisdom. I love journeys. It might take me a while to get there, but at least I have goals!

During this month of focusing on blessings, my guru-seeking mind jumped to the idea of being a blessing to other people.

This idea is all candy and rainbows. Me in priestly robes magnificently throwing holy water on the masses, or in a Pentecostal Sunday suit vigorously shaking hands with members of the congregation, or cross legged outside of a temple handing flowers to children. “I bless you!” I will say, all magnanimous-like. It’ll be great, like throwing thunderbolts of sunshine into people’s lives.

Until certain people come to mind. Certain people I do not want to bless. Not with holy water or handshakes or even a daisy chain.

It hurts just thinking about it.

Maya tells me to wish them joy, peace, love, prosperity, happiness… All the good things.

I realize that’s what a blessing is. Wishing with your whole heart for all the good things to come into existence for that person. Manifesting it yourself because you want it so bad for them. Becoming “all the good things”- whatever that means in the moment. Money? Hugs? Clean dishes? I also know blessings don’t grow on trees. They come from a seed of forgiveness first, and then love. I suppose you can only bless someone if you love them.

But maybe not. Maybe by blessing someone, by pumping that heart muscle into determination to be “all the good things”, love might come out of it. And that is, after all, what we are called to do. Love.

I hope you join me on my guru-training journey and try to bless someone around you, just so I’m not so lonely in this quest. Preferably someone who really, really, really needs it. Forgive them. Love them. Bless them. Be all the good things, and I promise you’ll get some good, too.

The Blessing of Living

We’re pleased to share another guest post from Esraa Mohamed, who previously wrote posts on rituals and desires. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim and physical therapy student with strong passion for the universe and its mysteries.Today, she shares with us her own reflections about blessings; a blessing we all take for granted: simply being alive and healthy, breathing in and out.

Generally, I consider myself way too blessed, but sometimes life makes me too busy and I give a blind eye to all the blessings I have. Sometimes it takes loosing my breath to make me aware again.Cloud, Breath, Interfaith

Seven months ago, I had an allergy that took my lungs to the edge of a cliff. I felt death vividly inhabiting my ribs. And I swear I could sense my pleura gluing together. As I was faintly slipping to unconsciousness, I wanted to pick up my phone and tell somebody that I was dying. I wanted for once to tell somebody “Hey I am not okay, I need your help”.

I also wanted to hold my pen and scribble like a note of gratitude for the blessings I have taken for granted; my family, my friends, my health, even for the blessings I didn’t have.

My life flashed in front of my eyes, teasing me with the uncountable things I have taken for granted. And all what I wanted back then was one last chance to say thanks for all what I had. But my lungs brutally attacked for one last time, leaping the tottering guts out of my soul and I became too fragile to fight any longer.

My life dwindled amidst the agony of this night, so I sucked my nose into the cushion and cried God for mercy, for death, but even death was the tranquility that my situation couldn’t afford. I lost consciousness without any idea how did my lungs make it through the night.

I woke up to the morning breeze grateful to nothing more than being alive. I knew that I have left my lungs at the battlefield with all faith that they would make it for another battle yet to come. And I was really grateful for every little sip of sluggish breath.

Breath by breath, I realized that one of the biggest blessings that many of us, including myself, fail to cherish is simply the blessing of being alive. To live, to breath, even when it is hard, is truly a blessing.