A Meditation on Forgiveness

Prison_Sophias_Pockets

Today’s post takes wisdom beyond walls from a metaphor to a reality. Antonio Turner is incarcerated within the Pennsylvania prison system. In this post, Antonio shares his ideas on pain, forgiveness and ultimately, redemption. Antonio have his permission to post this via written letter from inside prison. 

By: Antonio Turner

Quietly I calm my breathing. I relax, struggling to delve my mind into the most intrinsic core of my being. On a trek to forgive my mother remains the unconquerable hurdle on this journey. Why is it so difficult?

Although I have forgiven her from a cognitive standpoint, her rejection still lingers forming a cesspool in my mind: inside an already toxic and overflowing subconscious. Trying to contain the unrestrained resentment bubbling to the surface makes it hard to steady my mind on the difficult task ahead. The forgiveness process, for me, has not been a nourishing act from the heart. Yet since this betrayal and abandonment continue to be a taunting fact of my life, groveling about the matter will get me absolutely nothing!

So today as I ponder my life during a spell of meditation, the hold this unconquerable hurtle has on my heart is becoming a cancer. I sit paralyzed with fear – in my late forties – tormented by these feelings which have a direct effect on other women in my life.

As I secretly detest my mother for the immeasurable mental, physical and emotional pain she inflicted, my body tenses. I call God into my meditative space for help – to relax, to comfort and to guide.

I pray the combination of God and opening up my heart to Him will release the hurt carried every day. I so desire the fetters which have kept my mind in chains for the better part of three decades to be loosened – to release their grip on me. Since I was a little boy, I’ve prayed for this. Maybe I’m a dreamer, thinking, hoping this can happen.

            Blue stars, a gleam of hope

            Galaxies of complicated thought.

            Spheres of emotional entanglement

            A calloused heart full of rings and knots.

On bended knees, if I were only able to open my heart wide enough – seeking a depth of understanding more powerful than sight, I pray. I ask God to give me a comforting lens to examine my bitterness.

Maybe through the lens of forgiveness, I could’ve seen how she only acted out of her own pain – being a victim of domestic violence herself. She was an innocent floundering in her own torrent of pain. My meditation moves towards removing my selfishness, yet was it unreasonable for a child to want to be wrapped in the love of his mother? I don’t know. I’m just a dreamer.

 

My imagination has a tendency to run away from me. Through the prism of compassion can my prayers cause me to see my mother trying her very best? How can you shower affection when you are dealing with your own deep wounds, ones skewered and damaged by love itself?

By the grace of God, I’m now able to recognize her rejection actually had nothing to do with me. Her own woundedness prevented her from being able to love herself. With that emptiness piercing her soul, how could she truly love her own child?

Within my prayers, I ask, “How can I detest someone with so much visceral pain? With no self-love, wasn’t it impossible for her to love me?” I craved that love so much, which is why I pray for forgiveness now.

Guided by a beacon of light from my heavenly Father, I sit creating a sculpture with my words. I’m the one who needs to beg for forgiveness. As I fix my gaze on a starless sky – witnessing the clouds finally freeing the moon – suddenly the gates of my heart spring open. Could this be the first step to free my own hurt permanently?

As I end my prayer, I realize every present moment is an opportunity for a new beginning. And through the trials of suffering, the soul learns wisdom and compassion. My time in meditation has taught me it is possible to attain a newfound freedom from the realm of resentment. I don’t want to end this prayer, but know only through God can I release my mother from what she did to me. God provides a new forgiveness process much greater than my pain.

 

Advertisements

The Silence of What We Don’t Say

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

The above Ted Talk really got me thinking about the end of our theme of silence, which also almost exactly coincides with the end of the Christian Lenten season and the beginning of our theme of acceptance. In the talk, poet and educator Clint Smith talks about how our silence is sometimes implicit acceptance.  Although our intern Nermine already wrote about some of the negative sides of silence, I found myself exploring both silence and acceptance in their most positive lights.

Yet, silence and acceptance aren’t always positive. It is important to look at the ways my silence hurts the world. I am not someone who is generally accused of biting my tongue. In fact, one my greatest struggles in life has been learning how to preach my truth without alienating or hurting others. Even so, I am not guiltless when it comes to the silence of what we all neglect to say. I live a huge urban center, and I  am guilty of being silence and ignoring the humanity of those around me. I have silenced more than a few people with my words, with my implicit acceptance of systems of oppression.

So as we close this month, as we move from silence to acceptance, I pray that each of us can look at the places where our silence has caused pain, has sent the message that we accept some terrible injustices. I pray that we all have a chance to seek the best in silence and acceptance, and that we also take time to grapple with the use of silence and acceptance that hurt our world. I pray that none of us stay silent when we should be speaking our truth.

When Silence Must End

Keeping International Women’s Day in mind, our intern Nermine, has written this compelling piece about the silence surrounding sexual assault and harassment in her home country of Egypt. We find immense wisdom in her strength to speak out, to break the silence, and we are honored to share her words here.

danger

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

Where I come from, we (women) are raised and taught that silence is just the other side of femininity: an essential quality you must possess as a woman. We are not to raise our voices. We are not to laugh too loudly. We are not to object too much, for a troublesome woman is less feminine and therefore less desirable. We are not to express bluntly what we want or desire, for audacity is a smear in your reputation that will forever haunt you. Our silence is always taken as our approval and acceptance, when in reality we often keep silent simply out of fear, helplessness, or a deeply-rooted conviction that this is the best we can get. I know I have been silent for all of these reasons, and more.

Being labeled loose or slutty is  the price we as women in Egypt have to pay if we chose to speak up and fight against this society. This society that taught us that domestic physical and sexual abuse must be kept behind closed doors. This society that taught us that this abuse is a normal part of our lot as women. This society that taught us that sexual harassment and rape are our fault and we must remain silent as these stains of shame will never go away.

It is a terrible fact that I consider myself lucky because I was only sexually harassed once. I was quite young and I never spoke about it. I shoved the memory out of my mind as there was nothing but guilt, shame, and helplessness. The memory has not been forgotten.

Looking back, a part of me wished I had screamed and fought, but I didn’t. But now I raise my voice about this ugly reality that women in my country are facing on a daily basis. Although lots of awareness has been raised lately, so many voices are still silent about abuse, harassment, rape and oppression against women in all its forms.

I know that sometimes silence can seem easy and safe; we think it will save us from more pain and help us avoid battles that we think we won’t be able to overcome. But this silence is poisonous, it is painful, it is haunting and it must end.

I salute all the strong and courageous women in my country and elsewhere: those who chose to speak not only for themselves but for others too. And my heart goes out to all women who still cannot and I pray that we may have the courage to speak up and fight even among the piercing eyes and pointing fingers that are ready to blame us. I pray that we may always know our value and our strength and believe that we deserve better, and I pray that we may together defeat this silence that was not our choice.

A Prayer for Desires

As we close the month of desires, we offer this prayer about desires. There are so many facets to this theme that the prayers it generates could be infinite.  Nermine’s recent post on prayer and desire also contains a beautiful prayer on the theme of desires. 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!

Dear Spirit of the Heart,

Bless my desires,
let them light in me a fire for peace and justice.
Let my desires give me strength to persevere.
Give me desires of the fiercest kind,
desires that are holy, powerful, and true.
Let me honor those desires with all I do and all I say.

Help me to be kind to my desires,
desires for success, for love, for pleasure, for companionship.
Help me to recognize the humanity and the universality of these desires,
and let that wisdom guide me to a better understanding of all people on this earth.

Bless me with a life full of desires,
full of passion, pleasure, and determination.
Through my desires,
let me show my faith,
let me show my love,
and let me share my light.

Amen.

Unrealistic Desires

Today our writing intern, Nermine, responds to our Autumn Elizabeth’s post about unfulfilled desires. Nermine adds her own wisdom to the subject of desires, and gives us all a new way to look at our desires. 

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

I call myself a positive person; always looking at the big picture, the full half of the cup, the hidden wisdom behind all tragedies. My heart overflows with infinite desires; diverse, contradictory and often times even unrealistic.

I desire a world where harmony and acceptance exist; a place in which people would look beyond how I look or dress, where I come from, or which religion I’m adopting and try to know the real me and accept me the way I am. A world in which truth will not be silenced and injustice will not go unpunished, tolerated or worse accepted.

I desire a world, in which people’s hearts are more tender, more loving and generous, where their words are not painful, but healing and their faces glow and smile with hope and inner peace. A beautiful world of different colors, different tongues, different faiths, all living in harmony without prejudice or judgment.

In this brutal and an unjust world, I try not to lose my faith in goodness, in beauty and in humanity. I have this solid belief, not merely a desire, (which might sound unrealistic for some), that goodness and peace will eventually prevail, that truth, tolerance and justice will find their way back into our veins.

My visions can sound utopian and my desires unrealistic and I know that. I know that this worldly experience is not meant to be easy and trouble-free; that it is meant to be tough and painful to test our perseverance and faith. I know that without hate, love wouldn’t be special and sacred. I believe that we need lies for the truth to be meaningful and that without the tragedies, we won’t appreciate the blessings.

I’m also confident that God never burdens us with what we cannot endure. That’s why I believe that all desires are valid and also possible, even though that there’s no sign to tell me so. I believe in unrealistic desires.

Even if my desires are never fulfilled, I am still thankful, for those moments of peace, love and harmony, no matter how rare and short they are. I’m thankful for the warm hearts that I come across every now and then, which make the coldness and bitterness of the world cease, even if just for a little while. I am glad for the open minds that are willing to listen, to understand and to accept.

Mostly I’m thankful for the heart that still desires, that still hopes for a beautiful world, still trusts in a Generous, Just and Merciful God, and still believes that even though sometimes desires are unfulfilled and prayers unanswered, they are never unheard, and that despite what we lack, and what we still yearn for, we are eternally blessed.

Ferguson: We Are Praying

Searching Sophia’s Pockets prides itself on being dedicated to global spiritual journeys, and yet today we feel most keenly that both Autumn and Jenni spent years of their respective spiritual journeys in the Saint Louis area, which struggles at this moment with the decision not to indite officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown. 

To honor that part of our journey and to stand in solidarity with everyone affected by the decision, firstly we offer Searching Sophia’s Pockets as a safe space, as always, on the internet. We offer these pages, these posts, these prayers, and their comment sections a as a safe place for conversation, rest, and action.

Secondly, we offer the following prayer, along with the quiet lamentations of our hearts, to the people of Ferguson, Saint Louis, and more broadly to those upon whom our racist systems inflict harm, which is to say, the world.

Dear God,

We are in agony,
crying, aching, but still we are praying.

This is the world we have made,
one where hurt has boiled to the surface,
despite our attempts to deny it.

Give us strength to bear witness to the racist systems that run this world,
to face the realities of oppression with open hearts and minds.

Give us compassion to gather with those who are not like us,
make us united in our common love,
our common search for justice,
and our common desire for peace.

When systems of power rage against us,
help us continue to survive as beacons of love.

Let us not dally in sentimental love,
the easy love that cannot withstand times like these.

Let us show the ferocity of love,
the bravery of love,
love that is not sated with mere words,
but demands living justice for all.

We are afraid, we wish for an easier way,
yet, filled with radical love,
we can stand together against even the greatest injustice,
calling out, in voices clear and united,
Black lives matter!
Amen!
Amen.
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.

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.

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!