Forgiving The World

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

Blue ruffles; light blue just like the sea, dancing up and down so smoothly and so playfully just like the waves. I could still hear her voice; a girl in a ruffled blue skirt I met on a vaporetto in Venice on my way home. She was singing at the top of her lungs, laughing, giggling; covering the noise of the engine, all to blue girl italyherself. I kept on watching her, envying her a bit and I wondered from where all this could  possibly come from; all this unrestrained joy and happiness, this peacefulness, not worrying about a thing, and tuning out the world’s noise and living in your own song.

As I watched her carefree dancing, I found myself thinking about forgiveness. She gave me a reason today to start forgiving. To start forgiving the world I’ve been angry at for a long time now. The restlessness, the closed doors, the circle that gets tighter every day, how I got to be so lost and confused, all the thinking and worrying, all this must stop, must be forgiven and forgotten, because only forgiveness can make us lighter, freer, happier, like blue ruffles!

So it is okay; to have lost people, to have been hurt and disappointed. It is okay not to know who we are or what we want. It is okay to change our minds, to change course, to go back to where we started or to stop all together, take a break and think it all over again, because sometimes all that we need is simply to flow with life’s streams, without worrying where we will end up.

Blue ruffles taught me today that I should start forgiving: forgiving myself for giving up, for not trying harder, for losing hope, but more importantly I should start forgiving the world as it is—regardless of every hardship—finding on my way beautiful things to explore and beautiful people to know. In order to flow, to sing and dance around like blue ruffles, I must forgive.

I followed her after we got dropped off and she was still singing and dancing around while holding her granny’s hand (who was all the time attempting to control her to no avail thankfully) and I could not resist snapping a shot of her as I wanted to keep this memory for when I need a reason to hope, to forgive and to start afresh.

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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.

A Prayer for Inspiration

As we move towards through our month dedicated to inspiration, we offer this prayer in hopes that it inspires all of us.

Divine Spirit of Inspiration,

Inspire us to do good in this world.

Let us be living examples of hope.

Bring us inspiration to create, to pray, to live beautifully.

Give this world the inspiration it needs to move toward true unity.

Inspire us every day to do our best as we care for ourselves and those around us.

Amen.

If you would like to share your own prayer, please feel free to submit it to us! Like all prayers on Searching Sophia’s Pockets, please feel free to edit and shape this prayer for use in your home or place of worship, and then share the experience with us!

What is Modesty for a Muslim Woman?

Since this month’s topic seems to have a lot of people stumped, we decided to have each member of our staff reflect on the question: What is Modesty?  Our Writing Intern, Nermine Mohamed, offers her perceptive today as  Muslim and as a woman. Her answer shows incredible wisdom and gives us all a touching image of modesty to consider. 

Our Writing Intern

When I think of the word “modesty” what comes to mind is not a specific appearance, dress, or behavior, but more like a combination of everything: a certain lifestyle, a certain aura that surrounds and frames a person. It is a tone that is never too loud or too self-assured, it hovers between confidence, uncertainty and accepting that you can always be wrong. Being ready to listen more than talking, feeling no need to stress your own ideas among a group, always thinking before speaking, making sure that what you say is of value and not just noise to fill in the silent gaps. It is knowing when to talk and when to be silent and also knowing that silence is not a bad thing at all! Not everything has to be spoken. It is being comfortable with oneself. The way we look, the way we talk, the way we behave among people. Modesty does not mean not drawing any attention to ourselves, but it means drawing attention to the right things, the meaningful things. It is how we behave as if no one is watching us, seeking no praise or compliments for being who we are: natural, unassuming, effortless, no need to be anyone but ourselves. It is like a breeze, caressing one’s skin. Always soft, nice, kind, and caring, it spreads out positive and good feelings and makes you feel at ease, never making a fuss, but simply passing by without you even noticing.

Want to share your ideas about what modesty is? Share them with us by submitting!

Courage is Acceptance

FullSizeRenderBy: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

Recently, six amazingly brave people climbed on an oil rig that is still headed to the Arctic. These six people were part of a Greenpeace mission to stop Shell from drilling in the arctic. Along side this direct action, Greenpeace also  started a conversation about what courage is.  Then I ran across a post about living cross culturally and I remembered that this Saturday is Global Citizen Earth Day.  Suddenly, courage was an international question. I began thinking about courage, acceptance, and my cross cultural life as interconnected concepts.

Living abroad has taught me a lot of things, and has involved a strange mix of struggle and beauty. Yet, of all the things I have seen, and learned by  living in a world of cultural mixing, I think the most important is that accepting difference is brave, even courageous.

When I am experience someone’s difference, or a different culture, when I am confronted with a different idea about how to greet my neighbor or how to pray, I have two choices. I can degrade the things I find strange and different, or I can accept them.

It takes a lot of courage to accept difference. It is easier to degrade it, and our history as humans has shown that humanity often takes this easier route. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, even the degradation of the earth can all be seen as ways we humans have tried to degrade difference.

But every day each of us has the chance to choose something else, to be brave, to embrace difference. I may not understand someone else’s faith, but I can be brave and accept that it is true for them. My support of Greenpeace’s direct action against Shell may seem wrong and strange to you, but you can be brave, you can accept that this is my path, my way of saving the planet.

We are each called to our own spiritual journey, our own life path, our own interpretation of faith, we all have our own passions, our own beliefs, our own way to save the world. Be we can all also share the common courage of accepting each other’s difference. Courage isn’t belittling the things we find different, courage is accepting them and seeing if they hold any truth for our path.

Being Present, Being Accepted

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

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I had the pleasure of being in Malaysia recently, and visited the Batu caves near Kuala Lumur. The Batu caves are celebrated as a holy pilgrimage site for Hindu believers.

Next to the religious site was an educational one- a section of caves protected by the environmentalists and used to teach tourists about the ecosystems hidden in the dark. You are given a headlamp, and then you follow a guide into the darkness to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of squeaking bats, scattering cockroaches, and some intelligent prehistoric spiders.

Caves are not my comfort zone.

I read a book recently, a collection of general wisdom, that often spoke about accepting the dark parts of yourself. A ying and yang sort of thing. In all honesty, the idea is a far cry from the “strive to be holy” Christianity I am familiar with. Our human world has generally accepted light as good and darkness as evil for millennia.

Which brings me back to the cave.

The cave filled with creepy crawlies was not a spiritual place- it was, quite simply, just old. It is a place without sunlight, where the animals adapted and eventually formed an entire ecosystem centered around bat poop (really). It’s a circle of life. A place where bugs and bats adapted to the darkness with bigger eyes, longer feelers, better ears, more advanced webs to catch prey. It is a basic life, a prehistoric dinosaur life. Not evil. Not good, either. Just life.

Which brings me to wonder. I was not mad at the bats and bugs for being what they were. They just were. Would sunlight enlighten them somehow? It would change them, certainly, but I don’t think that’s an allegory for spiritual enlightenment. They just are. And when they adapt and change, they still just are. There’s some spiritual wisdom buried in here somewhere that I’m trying to pull out. Theology aside, striving or no striving, there is some truth to this idea of acceptance.

I am me, now, in this moment. I will be me later. I was me yesterday. I am constantly changing by millimeters like the stalagmites and stalactites I saw in this beautiful cave. I don’t have millions of years, but I do have a lifetime to be formed into a piece of art. I am art now, and I will be art later. I am uniquely formed,with my drops of water, my scars, even my location and chemical makeup. I am unique, In the same way the other mites and tites around me are unique.

I am beautiful now. I was beautiful before. I will be beautiful tomorrow. However short or long life turns out to be, I am complete and growing, the paradox of art.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well –Psalm 139:13-14 New International Version (NIV)

Finding Yourself in Silence

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.–Khalil Gibran

I spent three days on the back of a motorcycle steadily winding its way through the mountainous north of Vietnam, through the villages on the outskirts of Hanoi. The guide was driving, and because of the roar of the motor I was excused from making conversation.photo 4

It was three days of near total silence, and the silence was welcomed with open arms. Stress, responsibilities, and agonizing meetings had dominated my life recently, and a break was long overdue. So it began- one the back of this dirt bike Honda.

It was in the silence of the roads, the strength of the mountains, and the patience of the empty rice paddies where I emptied my heart like emptying lint out of old, unused pockets, and filled it up again. If eyes are the windows to the soul, my eyes were due for a window washing. I spent those hours watching the landscape and filling my eyes with beauty, with fog creeping over lakes and fisherman casting their nets.

I let my mind go free. I let thoughts float by, without judgment, just acknowledgment that they needed to exist in order to move on. I thought about places I’ve been, people I know, things I have done. Positive blended with negative in one big pool of remembrance, acknowledgment of pieces of my life I had not given thought to in a long time.

photo 1It was in the silence I began to find healing. There was no music, no conversation to drown out the honesty flashing through my mind, and I stood face to face with myself, a full look at my naked soul in a mirror. I saw someone who was tired, but strong. I saw the experiences that left marks on my heart and began to see those marks as beauty marks. I saw my soul reaching for beauty, truth, and strength.

So I took my soul by the hand and showed it the spectacular beauty, truth, and strength in the mountains surrounding me, and began to see it echoed and copied into my soul’s DNA. I soaked up nature like a sponge in a bathtub, and made it a part of me.

I so desperately needed that silence, the quiet, the roar of the motor and the flashing pavement beneath the wheels. Within another two weeks I found myself crying on a beach looking at a rainbow, and sang a song of thankfulness to the skies. Silence leads to song, and mountaintops lead to more journeys. It is in the silence when you can truly find yourself.

The Ritual Of Prayer

Lord, Teach Us to Pray. – Andrew Murray

Some om, cross legged, eyes closed, hands out in open surrender. Others kneel, nose to ground, stomach pulled in as a physical reminder of smallness. Some pace, some chant a mantra. Some lift their hands and others clasp them tight. Many rock back and forth. Some begin to hum, others sing, others say “thank you” over and over until the words are unrecognizable and begin to echo in their ears. The sounds of prayer fill a room, an orchestra tuning their hearts, finding a rhythm, connecting and listening and joining in with those around them.

Peace is found in the ritual. Peace is found in the music of prayer, the songs, the dances, the sway of a church choir and clapping of hands and the stillness and silence of Lord Hear Our Prayer.

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Prayer is mysterious. It is evasive. It is absolutely impossible to do at times, when the heart is hard and life is loud. I find myself drawn to the rituals, rediscovering the winding cacophony of vocally expressing praise, thanks, amazement, wonder, and needs. I remember the voice of my father, deep and muttering, lost in another world where his words are more than consonants and vowels thrown together. I remember my mother, who rocks back and forth and sings whatever song comes to mind. I see their faith, their rituals of spiritual connection, and I am reminded of the good news that I, too, can have a ritual.

So I quiet my heart. I open my mouth. I sing, I hum, I think of the beauty of the world and the honor of being in it to make a difference. I say thank you. I say wow. I say please. I look at my students, and pray that their lives will be filled with joy, discovery, compassion, understanding and action. I pray for those far and near, during this month of rituals when I cannot be with those I love. I pray that the music of my prayer will change my heart, even if it doesn’t change anything else.

I pray the rituals of prayer give peace to those singing the music in their hearts.

The Strength to Survive with Grace

Today’s post is again about the strength of mothers. Sharon Thomas, who has been a church planter and pastor for many years throughout Chicago and the Midwest writes about her mother’s strength to survive, to endure, and to do it all with grace. According to Sharon, this where she gets her strength from…

Bertha Zielke Cornish

Sharon’s mother as a young woman

In honor of my mother who went to be with Jesus when she was only 44 years old. I wrote this several years ago for a college composition class. Mom I love you. . . .
 There are many ways to measure success. I doubt my mom would have considered herself successful, no matter how you measured it. My mom’s success can only be measured in intangible ways, like her unselfish devotion to her family and her godly character that she knowingly or unknowingly passed down to me.
 Mom would have thought of herself as rather ordinary looking, but now when I look at the old black and white photographs of her, I can’t help but notice how pretty she was. She was quite tall and rather large boned. She had a strong, slender body and long, lanky arms and legs. Her face had a pure, clean look, like she had just scrubbed it with fresh, cold water. When I was going through adolescence, my mom diligently instructed me to never pick my pimples, because doing so would cause unsightly, permanent scars, and since she had none of these unsightly scars, I figured she knew what she was talking about. She also urge me to sit up straight. I never did that as well as she did. She sat with her long, slender back straight and her shoulders up as if she had just seen her date arrive at the senior prom.
 A person could not tell by the way she carried herself that she had a hard, difficult life, and that she was raising eight children with none of the modern conveniences enjoyed by most people during the ’50’s and ’60’s. The only tell-tale sign of her hard life was her rough, calloused hands. I can see her now as she would go out the back porch to hang up the heavy, wet laundry with the cold, north wind howling around her like invisible arms trying to whirl her around and her ungloved hands fumbling to get the clothes pins in place. Several hours later, she would hurry out again to take the now frozen clothes off the line. They were freeze dried and looked like they could walk in by themselves, and I could not help but notice her red, chapped hands.
 In the late evening after the dishes were washed and put away, mom would sit on the worn, faded couch between my sister and me with an old, frayed hymn book in those rough, cracked hands, and we would sing up a storm. The singing and laughter filled the house like the aroma of mom’s fresh baked bread, and it made us feel warm and secure. The memories I have of her bringing in laundry, kneading her bread dough or rubbing Vick’s mentholatem on my chest when I had a chest cold instilled in me the knowledge that her hands were an extension of her heart.
 A difficult life seems to have a way of making us bitter or better. Mom was successful at focusing her life on what she could change and not on what she could not. Her inner strength and joyful spirit enabled her to live above her circumstances and thankfully she passed that strength and spirit down to me. It was her nature to think the best of every situation, so I have learned how to respond to unsettling and difficult situations in my life by watching my mother. Mom was successful because she lived her life for something that would outlast it.

The Truth about Strength

By: Jenni Taylor

There are easy truths that take no strength at all to believe.

These are the truths about yourself, the ones that start as a germ of an idea and worm their way into very official-looking file cabinets and folders filled with examples, proofs, quotes, and graphs.These are the truths that may have started with a mistake, an imperfection, or a failure. They are often truths that began as someone else’s words, and those words became tattoos etched on skin.They are easy.

It’s easy to look in the mirror and be critical, self-deprecating, and mean. It’s easy to put on the blinders and only see faults, shouting, “This is me! I am ugly! I am worthless! I am unloved! I will never change!” It’s easy to open those file folders and prove how right you are about how wrong you were made.

It is much, much harder to speak the truths that take strength to believe. Strength you might not be sure you have anymore. Strength, and a little faith (about the size of a mustard seed is usually enough) to see what else is there.

“I am a runner.” This is a fact. I run. The days when the endorphins kick in and I’m on top of the world, I can shout out this truth complete with fist pumps. But there are days, many days, when
I am slow. I am tired. Everything hurts. There are mornings when I creak out of bed and can’t manage to stand up straight, and saying I am a runner sounds like a hilarious joke in my ears. But I
say it, and I do it, and no matter what I feel, it is true.

Some truths require belief and action. “I am a writer” is only true if I write, and I have the strength to do so. Others require nothing but belief, and can rock the ground under my feet if I actually hold them tight.

“I am important.”

“I am beautiful.”

“I am loved.”

The truths get harder. Identities are easy to lose in the face of circumstance. We spend years in high school and college building up our personality tests telling us that we are good at something,until the real world hits and we realize we might not be that good after all.

But who we are doesn’t go away. So, today I pray for the strength to believe the truths about myself- the truths that bring life, hope, healing, and return to strength once again.