Safety in the Unknown

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015Venice, Interfaith, Safety

On a foggy and cloudy day, it becomes hard to see what’s ahead of us. We start to think about all the awful possibilities that could happen. I can see the gloom on everyone’s face. Where is the sun? Is it going to rain? How dangerous it is to go out in such an unclear and gloomy weather, full of hazards and risks? The unknown, the unclear makes us afraid; almost anything that we cannot predict or anticipate; darkness makes our bones creak with fear; roads and paths that we are not used to taking, that are unfamiliar to us make us panic. What if we stumbled and fell and broke our necks? What if we got lost and never found our way back? What if we were confronted – out of nowhere – with our greatest fears? What if we lost on this unclear path the important things that define who we are, the important people that make our lives worth living? What if the sun never came out? What if the pictures remained blurry? It is an endless and nerve-racking labyrinth of questions that blocks our vision and trips our steps up.

I have been on this unclear and foggy path for quite some time now. I still don’t know where I am going. I still cannot see the end of the road, only the mist and netted clouds that reach from high above; melting down to earth- that sometimes I cannot even see where I am stepping my foot. But I find safety in the unknown, in the foggy weather and its mysteries and the solitary and abandoned roads, even if my steps are slow, wobbly and unsure; even if I stop sometimes: out of fear of falling into a dark and bottomless pitfall; out of regret that I might have left and lost irreplaceable things behind; and out of shock at how the journey transformed me into a person I hardly know; a person that I’m still not sure whether I like or hate.

If there’s one thing I came to be sure of is that our fears and worries will never go away; that it’s okay to be afraid sometimes of getting hurt, of falling, of failing, of losing. It’s okay even if we just sometimes want to play it safe or not play at all. But we should also learn how to find safety elsewhere: by moving beyond what’s expected of us– outside of our comfort zone and into the unknown and slippery roads, in shoes that are twice bigger than our size and with nothing to guide us but faith and a dream that might seem at the time out of reach…We can find safety in there; in the unknown, in the dark as being there in the first place is a proof that we’re fighting, that we’re not settling, that we’re pushing ourselves to the extreme of fear in order to reach to the extreme of safety, that lies in the simple fact that we’re still here, still breathing and fighting and still have a shot buried somewhere out there in the unknown.

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Types of Silence

Today’s guest post come from John Smith, who writes about leadership, learning, and human behavior from St. Louis, Missouri in the Heartland of the United States at his blog The Strategic Learner.  His post today take a conversational look at the types of silences we find in our lives, and what wisdom we may find in each. So, here’s John on types of silence…

When I saw the thought-provoking questions that Searching Sophia’s Pockets provided to help our creative juices flow on the topic of silence, the very first question in the list stumped me completely:

How do you find silence in your daily life?

After a moment, my brain kicked in with a smart-aleck response:

Which silence do you mean?

Is it the quiet of the world in deep night or early morning as the sun prepares to rise?

This is usually a relaxing silence, in that delicious space between sleep and the start of the day. Of course, nature is not really quiet, anyone raised in the country or who has spent much time there knows that even in the stillness of early morning, a soft blanket of background sounds provides a restful soundtrack.

If it is not that silence, then is it the silence of cowering in the dark of the night, when only the sound of your own breathing intrudes?

This dark-time silences scare me to the limits of my soul. I have been terrified to the core of my being, either through the threat of harm or death to myself or someone I deeply care for several times in my life. I have feared the loss of a relationship and my ability to meet the challenges of living. Yet this silence is made of stuff that wakes you in the middle of the night and does not allow for a return to sleep.

Is it the silence of being with someone when no words could make the moment easier or less hurtful?

This is a painful silence, which I have experienced more often in my life than I like to admit. Sometimes the words just run out and all has been said that can be said. You stare at each other across the gulf of past actions and past words and do not know what to do to make things better or right.

Finally my answer hit me. There are two times when I have experienced the power of silence more than any others:

The silence I have experienced while staring into another’s eyes without talking, and the silence during prayer while I await for God’s response.

The first silence is simple, yet powerful. As part of my counselor training many years ago, we regularly engaged in this brief act. The idea was to help us become comfortable honestly and openly with another person. The phrase we used then was “to be present with the other.”

I found this to be one of the most challenging experiences in which I have ever engaged. Without words to affect or distract us, we would gaze into another’s eyes without speaking for several minutes, although the time felt like hours.

The connection is almost tangible, as we see another human being through what we call the “portal to the soul”.

Then there is the silence during prayer—a silence of waiting for God’s response. This is a different silence, an anticipatory silence, where you have shared yourself with God and await a response.

When I was younger, I saw this as waiting for the answer: “Yes”, “No”, or “We’ll See”, just like I used to lay out logical arguments and wait for my parent to decide.

Now I treat prayer more like a conversation with a trusted friend, where secrets are shared, doubts are spoken aloud, and the other’s felt presence is often all that is needed. The silence enfolds and warms me, because I trust the relationship. Maybe God will answer and maybe not, but I will receive what I need through the silence.

So, which silence does Sophia mean? I suppose it depends on which silence you need in your life…

Desires and Prayers

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

Whenever I find my heart overwhelmed with desires; I seek solace in this prayer:

آلَلهُمَ لاَ تُعَلقٌ قَلبىٌ بمٌا لَيْسَ لىٌ واجعَل لىْ فيمْا أُحَب نَصٌيبَ

It means “God, don’t let my heart get attached to what’s not meant for me and make what I love a part of my destiny.”

There are times when I fear that what I desire is not good for me, when desires control me and blind me from what truly matters. Maybe we all have desires that drive us away from God, and maybe too we all have times when we lose hope and our hearts cease to desire anything. I think there are times when we all desire too much and give thanks too little.

So for all of us, and for myself, I pray:

God,

My heart is an open book only to You. You know what I desire.

My knowledge is limited and my sight is short and You know what lies ahead and what’s best for me, make my heart desire what’s good for me.

Help me not to cling to futile hopes and false desires, let my heart see what matters.

Make my desires a road that drives me closer to You and not further away.

Help me find patience when my desires are unfulfilled and my prayers unanswered.

Sow satisfaction and gratitude in my heart.

Help me restrain the anger and disappointment I feel about what I lack and what I cannot get.

Let me be grateful instead for the countless blessings I have and those that perhaps didn’t deserve, for I’m seldom thankful enough.

Let my heart always be full of desires, full of hope, full of love. Let me live and trust in You, in myself and in those around me.

Amen.

Hunger For Feeling

We are pleased to share another guest post from Nermine Mohamed, who previously wrote about the fear of liking loneliness too much.  Nermine is a Muslim from what she calls “the huge, crowded and contradictory city of Cairo”, and she currently lives in Germany. Today she shares with us how she hungers for deep emotional experiences and ways to express them. 

Have you ever laughed, truly laughed? The stomach-aching, tears-rolling-down the face, cannot catch your breath kind of laugh.

Have you ever cried, truly cried? Cried your whole heart out, shouted out your pain at the top of your lungs.

What about love? Have you ever felt it, taken it all in? Do you say it “I love you” whenever you feel like it, without over thinking it, without second-guessing it?

Well, I have not, but I hunger for it. I’ve never known how to voice emotions, how to truly live emotions. I have been walking on egg shells all my life, tiptoeing around feelings as if they are a beast I’m afraid to stir.

When I was 12, I lost my mum. She was sick and I was young and I was not supposed to know she was dying until she did. Sometimes people think it is best to protect their children from pain, but I wish I was given the chance to grieve, to fully experience the slipping away of someone dear, to know how precious the little time I had left with her was.

Instead, I cried for a few days and I did not want anyone to comfort me. I did not want to share my grief. And then it was all over, locked-up and thrown away.

Even now, it is not only grief and pain that I don’t allow myself to feel. I do not allow myself to be happy when I achieve something I’ve longed for. Nothing is permanent. Don’t get too excited, it might not work after all!

I’m always stuck midway; a trapeze dancer, swinging back and forth, but never falling, never jumping, never letting go.

But I’m tired of this numbness. I’m yearning, I’m aching, I’m hungry for emotions; raw, deep, acute, soul-shattering emotions. With writing that I can sometimes speak of such things, but I still hunger more.

I want the butterflies-in-my-stomach kind of excitement. I want to be able to get mad. I want to be able to cry. I want to allow myself to love insanely, uncontrollably. I want to have my heart broken, mended and broken again. I want to be able to shout out my feelings.

So, I’ll pray for myself and everyone else out there who feels the same:

May we get swept off our feet by joy, by laughter, by love. May we let go. May we allow ourselves to fall, to get bumped on the head by living every moment, every feeling and emotion to the fullest. May we always have the strength to endure pain, but may we also use it to be more caring, more loving. Finally may we have the courage to seek love, to accept it and to share it in return.

Amen.

Fear and a Hunger for Justice

We received this post too late to put it in last month, but it is too good not to share. It deals with an issue we have seen here more than once, fear, prejudice and being Muslim. Even though it mostly focuses on last month’s topic of fear, there too is a hunger for justice, for equality, for understanding, that underlies this great post from Hafsa Mansoor.

I’m afraid. A lot. I’m afraid that my faith is the defining characteristic- in the most negative way possible- of who I am. Don’t get me wrong; I am proud to be a Muslim, and I am proud to say that. I’m afraid of what people perceive as my religion. I’m afraid that the actions of ISIS and Al-Qaeda will be what people see as Islam. I’m afraid that the cloth I wear on my head will be interpreted as a sign of oppression and not the choice I made of free will. I’m afraid that the Islam FOX News pastes across headlines is the Islam people will think is the actual truth. I’m afraid people won’t bother trying to learn more about Islam because they think they already know what it is… but too many people don’t. I’m afraid that this all-too-popular perception of my faith will bar me from any political position and I will never be able to make institutional change because of it. I’m afraid every time I go somewhere new that I will be assaulted in a hate crime. I’m afraid the horrible things happening across the nations featuring Muslims- or Sikhs mistaken as Muslims- are not isolated incidents but indicators of a growing problem and misconception. I’m afraid.

But that fear empowers me to make change. It forces me to confront the problems I see in society, not just from a “humanitarian” perspective, but also from a sheer need for self-preservation, and don’t think I’m being dramatic when I say that. I aim to confront bigotry of any kind whenever I encounter it I am emboldened to take measures I would not otherwise I would have the courage to embrace to stop Islamophobia in its tracks- from starting a blog on what Islam is and writing this post to setting up a series of talks at my university about Islam and joining the Webster Muslim Students Association so we can educate, inspire, and empower people.

One of the things that has helped me the most in my journey to courage has been my faith- especially the hijab. Now I know that strikes a lot of people as counterintuitive because a headscarf is seen as so intrinsically oppressive in today’s society. But it’s not. It’s actually extremely empowering. I have such an immense amount of control over what other people see of me and how they view merely because of this cloth I wear on my head. And suddenly I don’t feel like I have to spend immense amounts of time every morning trying to conform to the beauty standards and new hair and clothing trends. I also don’t have to feel like I need to count my appearance as part of my charm and thereby sexualize or objectify myself;. I feel like because I’m willing to hide parts of my exterior, people get the message that it’s because I respect my interior. And it shows.

People tell me that I’m “intense” because I am so purely me and so comfortable with myself. I respect myself and my opinions and feel like I am worth something, and Islam has helped me to reach an accord with myself. The Qur’an has innumerous verses on women’s equality and promoted respect for women at a time when women were ordained second-class citizens and innately inferior to men; Islam championed women and gave them rights and worth as human beings, establishing them as queens over their households and men as mere providers for them. She can work and gain an education if she so desires, but it is for her betterment, not to earn money for her husband; if she earns any money through her career, it is hers to keep; her husband will still have to pay for all the expenses of the household. This is the power and respect Islam gave women- the self-respect Islam gave women.

So when I see on the news the bigotry and hatred, it is Islam that urges me to fight it and strengthens me to be able to make changes and join the cause to end the injustices committed on both sides of the debate, and it is Islam that helps me to conquer my fears and do what needs to be done in spite of any hesitations or insecurities that could hold me back.

A Prayer For Times Of Fear

To Whoever is Listening:

I am afraid. I tremble with fear.
This is not the fear that leaves me in awe of some higher power.
No, I have human fear, personal fear, and it is devastating.
I yearn for something to make me braver.
I know that this something is already inside of me.
Please let me find it soon.

 

I know others who are afraid too.
Some fear for their lives, or the lives of their loved ones.
Some fear making the wrong choice.
Some fear failure.
I pray for them too.
I hope that we can all find something that is bigger than our fears.
If we must be afraid, let us be afraid together, so that together we can overcome our fears.

Amen.

 

Want to share your prayers? Share them with the whole word by submitting to Searching Sophia’s Pockets!

Faith and Fear

By: Autumn Elizabeth

Fear not, you shall not be put to shame; you need not blush, for you shall not be disgraced. The shame of your youth you shall forget. –Isaiah 54:4

It is often said that if we trust in God, we need not fear. But here’s the thing. I am afraid. I have not forgotten the hard times of my youth. The disappointment of being a millennial looking for a job, the pain of enduring the violence done to my body and psyche, the hopes dashed, the dreams broken, I still feel them all, and it makes me afraid.

I am afraid to make anything permanent, for fear it will be taken away again. I am afraid of showing my passion for justice; for fear that the world will beat it out of me. I do not yearn for confrontation, yet this is what our world gives me. I am afraid that the world will continue to throw away all the lives, black, brown, queer, female, trans*, that don’t matter to those in power.

Yet, I know that for myself, as a follower of the radical Jesus, I cannot let this fear win. Perhaps, that is what all those passages in the bible are about. Maybe when they say “do not be afraid”, they mean “do not let fear own you”.  I cannot stop fear, but I must dare to move beyond it.

I have to dare to co-create a better world side-by-side with the spirit of universal justice. I have to dare to believe that we can all be valued and safe in this world.  I have to dare to show my heart to the people I love, and to show kindness to the people I don’t know.

I have to dare to believe in a better world, because I believe in a loving God, a powerful force that holds every creation dear. I believe in a God that does not victim blame, does not value some lives more than others. I believe in a God that moves with me in this world so that even the smallest acts of service, of change, of care, matter.

Yes, I am afraid. My faith does not erase my fear, but neither does fear annihilate my faith. They walk hand-in-hand with me as I travel through this messy, broken, and beautiful world.

Afraid Of Liking Loneliness Too Much

 Last week Author in Chief, Jenni Taylor, wrote a post about not being afraid to be alone. Today, our guest post from Nermine Mohamed focuses on fear of liking loneliness too much. Nermine is a Muslim from what she calls “the huge, crowded and contradictory city of Cairo”, although today she is living in Germany. In her post, Nermine shares her wisdom on loving herself while having fears she might be alone too much.

Loneliness is one of the greatest fears of our era. People commit suicide, settle for less, and throw themselves in unhappy relationships just to give themselves the illusion of conquering loneliness. On the other hand, some people are not afraid of loneliness and it is quite hard for them to picture their life with others in it. So, there are actually two sides of this coin: the fear of loneliness and the fear of too much solitude.

I was once a people person. I loved to be around people all the time. It made me feel safe. It made me feel protected. People gave me a sense of identity, a sense of worthiness. I’m no longer that person.

Now, I know who I am and I won’t be afraid to say that I love and enjoy my own company. I never get bored when I’m alone. I think clearly in solitude. I like the sound of my own breathing; I find it soothing; it unlocks my mind; it unwinds my soul. I stopped giving justifications for my thoughts, beliefs or worldviews.

I’m happy with what I’ve become, yet I cannot help but feeling afraid. Yes, I’m afraid of this drastic and ultimate independence and lonesomeness and where it will lead me. Although lots of people fear loneliness, for me it is easy to be alone. It is safe and trouble-free. But is this the way things should be? Are not we made into this world to help one another grow and thrive?

I keep pondering the reasons why I turned into this lonesome soul… There are probably many reasons and fears still buried in my unconscious mind that took part in reshaping who I am. But I know the fear of being rejected, or being caste-out just because I think differently caused me to change. Maybe it is also the intense mental pain I feel when I try so hard to make myself understood and miserably fail at it. Maybe it is my need to justify myself to the expectations of others, no matter how unfair or unreasonable they might be.

Yes, it is healthy to learn to love our own company. Loneliness can make us appreciate good company more; it can unleash our creative nature and make us learn about ourselves in an unusual way. It can help us explore our capabilities, potentials, new talents, and new sides of our personality. It can enrich our soul and make us better people.

Yet, loneliness can also lead to a dingy path and that’s what I dread. I’m afraid too much loneliness might taint my soul and obscure my vision. I’m afraid I’ve been deluding myself thinking that I do not need anyone, because I do need other people. My life can’t be full without others who actually give it meaning and sense.

We cannot go it alone all the time, the road can be long, tiresome and full of stumbles and that’s why we need company; we need people to help us back up when we fall, to slow us down when we go too far, to put us back on the right path when we are lost and confused.

I’m not afraid of loneliness, but I am afraid of liking loneliness just a little bit too much.

I think it is good not to fear our own company, but now I also know that as much as I like my own solo song, every now and then I have to let in some other tunes and just listen to the sound of it all together. Only then I will surprise myself, only when I find harmony in the most unexpected of places, only when I am not afraid to listen to more than my own voice…

The Fear of Loneliness

By: Jenni Taylor

The true knight of faith is always absolute isolation– Kierkegaard

I imagine a knight, the kind from storybooks with armor and a feathery plume. His armor is dented and dusty, his banner battered and torn. He has a face lined and wrinkled, that of Don Quixote- the man who would dream the impossible dream.

Don Quixote had his Sancho, but not always. There are moments in every knight’s life when he must go it alone, in the silences and the dark places. The monsters growl, the trees grow claws in the night, and the knight completely loses sight of his quest in favor of simply trying to survive.

lonly

It is there, in the moments of darkness, despair, loneliness and weakness, that a God of love quietly reaches out his hand. It is not a call, barely a whisper, and sometimes he is silent. But it is only in the dark can his presence be felt, and only in the silence when we are able to hear the slightest hint of a love lullaby being sung to our hearts.

I believe we are meant to be knights. I believe we are supposed to stand strong against injustice, fight for the underlings, bring peace to the lands we live in. I also believe even the strongest of us need to find strength, that knights can falter or fail or get lost in the wilderness. The quiet and dark are feared, as knights tend to fear weakness and prefer to fake a loud show of bravado than to be alone with their faults. But there they are, all the same. They will only be beaten when we learn to be still and alone for the universe to whisper secrets in our ear. Don’t be afraid to listen.

Fear VS Self Worth

Suzanne is an actress, and former Miss Arab USA, who devotes much of her time to ending bullying in schools through her work with notMyKid. Her post for us today is about fear and the pain fear brings. Yet her post also brings us wisdom surrounding self worth, and leaves us with hope for a better tomorrow.

Fear can do strange things to people.

On September 11, 2001, our entire country was fear-stricken and naturally, everyone responded in so many different ways. I’m of the opinion that people are born inherently good and learn hatred through experiences. The experience we all shared that day manifested our fears and wreaked havoc on our souls in a way that it seems we are still recovering from.

I was in high school when the attacks happened. My first thought was the same as everyone else’s, “Oh no! How terrible! Those poor people.” Approximately two seconds later my thought was “God, please don’t let it be an Arab.”

I’m an American-born Palestinian and have deep ties in the Middle East. I’ve always been so proud of my heritage. My parents really did a good job at balancing us within two cultures. But in my day to day life, it wasn’t a looming factor. I was an ordinary school kid who went to class, hung out with friends and had a mad crush on a boy in school. I wasn’t always thinking about my heritage. It was just there.

Until that day. Until I became embarrassed and scared to be me. Scared of what it meant.

The kids around me suffered from a separate fear. The fear of another attack, the fear of the unknown. And often times, I became their proverbial punching bag. In moments of fear, it is normal to find the humor in things.

It’s unfortunate when that humor is at the expense of others. I started getting compared to the most evil man alive. And the thing is, my classmates knew that I had no connection to these heinous crimes. I was just the obvious choice if you wanted to lighten up the situation through the conventional ‘bullying/making fun of someone’.

And in those moments, I hated who I was. I secretly wished for blond hair and a last name like Anderson or Smith. I didn’t want to be me. I was afraid of that.

I now travel to different schools across Arizona and talk to students about my experience with bullying. Obviously, the primary objective is for students to hear this and either, stop bullying or stand up for themselves or others who are victimized. But there’s something else. Something that I have found to be far more important.

Self Worth.

Through the years, I have learned that happy people don’t bully, secure people don’t bully. If you know someone who’s a bully, chances are that they have some internal struggles and manifest their pain in an unhealthy way. I learned how important it is to not bully the bully as they have their own struggles. It makes it so imperative that these people feel that they are valued, that they are worthy of being loved just as they are without the need for intense ego trips.

Meanwhile, bullies prey on the weak. As strong as I used to be, in that moment when I was ashamed of who I was I became the perfect target for a bully to use his words to hurt me. At that time, my self worth went out the window.

I believe that this strongly applies girls today. A person could bully us all day and night and it wouldn’t make a difference if we felt that we were of value, if we loved our bodies, if we knew that we were smart and capable.Self worth is the underlying factor of every issue where we experience fear through verbal bullying.

I’m quite aware that so many young people are physically bullied and that’s something that is beyond what I am describing here. But let’s imagine that everyone- the potential bully and the potential victim- had an understanding of self worth. I think it’s safe to say that bullying and fear of it would decrease exponentially.

We have a long road ahead of us, but I’m optimistic that it’s getting better. It’s become more and more acceptable for people to be unique and different. Gay kids are cool, smart kids are cool, athletic kids are cool. We are who we are and it’s nothing to fear!