A Prayer for Spacious Places

When hard pressed, I cried to God;  they brought me into a spacious place.–Psalm 118:5

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This is a prayer for those spacious places where we find peace, love, and freedom. These places are both physical and metaphysical. They are urban, suburbia, rural; they are the homes of our friends, the tents of our lovers, the blankets of stars.

Oh universe of all things great and small,

I have seen the wonders of this world, and my heart.

I have been split open by the view from the tallest mountain, by the stars shining from the tallest building, by climbing the tallest tree.

These places have broken the broken parts of me,
where grief and pain have made me small and petty.

I have seen so many places where anger has made everything small,
where tiny pebbles of hate burn without fire.

I wish to live only in places where I can be my biggest self.

Places of risk, possibility, enormity, and freedom.
Places that are so immense they terrify and inspire me.

Yet, out of all the spacious and immense places I have been,
from the tallest tree that I have ever climbed
to the view from a building trying to reach the heights of Babel,
the most spacious place I have ever known is love.

Let me live there always.

Amen.

5 Ways To Start Your Journey Towards Self-Acceptance

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So far this month we have talked about accepting our choices, accepting differences, but we haven’t delved too deeply into the realm of self-acceptance. Loving and accepting ourselves may be one of the hardest aspects of acceptance, but self-acceptance is far from impossible. Here are five ways to begin your journey to self-acceptance. We hope they bring you lots of wisdom and love.

  1. Be a bumble bee…which is to say watch Harry Baker performing spoken word about self-acceptance at a Ted Talk.
  2. Take a course on self-acceptance. Everyday Feminism has a great one focusing on self-love (with reduced rates for folks with lower incomes), and Oprah offers a free ten day path towards self-acceptance.
  3. Explore your own unique type of courage with this quiz from Greenpeace.
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others and just breathe.  Read about the ways that yoga to help with that in this article from Yoga Journal  or this one from Rebelle Society.
  5. Try praying, meditating or writing about the best aspects of yourself. Enjoy them, revel in then, and share them!

Have other ideas about starting the journey to self-acceptance? Share them with us in a post, or below in the comments!

Silence is Golden

We are excited to feature a guest post today from Abd Al-Rahman Wally, who is an Engineering student in Egypt. His post invites us all to see the wisdom we can gain by seeking silence in ourselves and our lives.

ما ندمت علي سكوتي يوما و لكن ندمت علي كلامي مرارآ

This is a very common saying here in Egypt, which apparently originated from Roman writer Publilius Syrus’s quote : “I often regret that I have spoken, but never that I have been silent”. Despite its popularity I honestly doubt that anybody actually uses it. Silence has been mistakenly understood as a sign of weakness or ignorance, but I think it’s quite the contrary. Silence has always been a sign of wisdom, and many ancient civilizations have praised silence.

No one, including me, can deny the mysterious aura that surrounds a silent person, but I could not find a trace of this kind of people in modern life, at least around me. I could only find them in novels and history books and when found them there, I was taken by them. I found that these people are often the most respectable and successful. These guys are the ones who come up with the greatest ideas, because silence gives them the time to process things correctly.

So I decided to become more silent. I decided to suspend my eagerness to react immediately towards different situations and instead to wait silently and have patience even in the simplest situations.

When I chose to be silent, I gave myself the opportunity to see life differently, to watch how people act and react with each other during different situations, to notice human interactions.

Now that I am more silent people treat me differently, and I struggle less during conversations. People now tend to ask me about my opinion and invite me to participate. Because after I listened, understood and processed, my opinions now make more sense and carry more weight. When I’m in a group and begin to talk, everybody just stops talking and listens to me, because I’m the silent one, everybody wants to hear from me.

I have also found that when I became silent I actually narrowed the area of mistakes in my communications. As a Muslim, Islam strongly emphasizes the importance of a word, and how people should weigh their words before spilling them. As prophet Mohammed says: “A word can mean the difference between heaven and hell”.

In addition to that, I really started to enjoy life more. In transportation, even with my friends, when I cut the chit-chat and listened to them talking, I discovered more and more about my friends, good things that made me understand them better and more deeply.

I can never forget the one day trip to Fayed, Ismailia. I asked all my friends to just stop chatting for 5 minutes, and just lie there on the grass. Feel the breeze and listen to the whispers of the air running to us across the Suez Canal. 5 minutes passed, another 5, and for 30 minutes we sat there smiling and relaxing.

If you are living in a big noisy city and have ever been to the wild, hiking, camping or whatever, the very first thing that you may have noticed is the silence, the beauteous silence. I find that silence in nature is always connected with beauty, peacefulness and serenity. It is that silence that I try to parallel in my daily life.

Desires, Sex, and Love

We’re pleased to share another guest post from Esraa Mohamed, who previously wrote When Rituals End. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim and physical therapy student with strong passion for the universe and its mysteries. Today Esraa raises questions about love and sexual desire, and whether or not they are interrelated interrelate.

“Desires” in the mere sense of the word, are the fundamental motives behind all human actions. There are plenty of desires in this world and they often overlap, one simply leads to another. Yet it is sexual desire that often comes to mind when we hear that word.

Sexual desire in parallel with one’s need to food and water comes at the base of the pyramid yet one’s urge to fulfill that desire has nothing to do with behaving like animals.  Even when I think that I’ve finally reached a verdict in that issue I find that I am, alas, still stuck in the chaotic ground of desire, sex, and love.

Deep inside my rational voice has no problem with sex as a need. You want to have sex? Then go have sex. Yet, I’m wholly perplexed when sex overlaps with love. How do the desire for love and the desire for sex blend together?

Some say there is a huge difference between making love and having sex, some even say that love can’t be reached without involving mutual sexual desires, but I really never got that point. I strongly believe in platonic unconditional love, which excludes sexual desires from the whole equation.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical situation. You fell for somebody, you love every single detail about them and there is no way could you see the world without them. Assuming that at the middle of your way together they no longer fit your needs, Will you give up on them? And if you did. Does it mean that you did not initially love them? That you’ve put the urge of your desires ahead of your love for them?

If I were to answer that question then definitely I wouldn’t give up on them. As long as sexual desire was an extra factor in constructing the love, then its disappearance shouldn’t in anyway ruin the relation. I  want someone to fall in love with my soul, I want to someone who would go on loving me with the same potential when I’m no longer young and beautiful.

So the question is, what are we really talking about when we talk about love? In my opinion love is something much more sacred then simple desires, or the need for sex. Love doesn’t have to be involved with sexual desires. You love someone for their soul, their personality, for the idea of them as a human being.

But in the end, I have more questions than answers. Can love exist without desire? Can desire exist without love? Can sex exist without either one?

As a kid like many others, I too went through an “Oh-No phase”, when I could not believe that my parents actually had desires, had sex, or made love. I remember how puzzling and irritating this phase was, and then at some point I thought I had cleared it all up. Yet it seems like desires, sex, and love are still just as puzzling as they were back then; as soon as the blurry image clears up, something new comes along and fogs it up again.

A Prayer to Keep Us Rooted

Roots are our foundation, our past, and all the things we have buried. Here is a prayer for those special things that keep us rooted.

Dear Spirit of the Past, Present, and Future,

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Photo of “Submerged Motherlands” by Swoon

No matter what kind of past I have come from,

I know the spirit of universal love still surrounds me.

Some days I feel blessed with strong roots, strong support,

and some days I feel disconnected and disheartened.

Help me to add to my foundation only that which will make me stronger,

help me feel rooted to faith, love, and community.

I know that as I explore the spiritual mysteries of this world,

I am finding deeper connections to everyone.

Help me explore the present with grace and mindfulness,

help me find the wisdom and let go of the pain in my past,

help me breathe love into the future.

 

Amen

Roots, Old and New

By: Jenni Taylor

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A wise person once told me to live in a place like my gravestone will be next door. You claim it as your own, make yourself part of the whole, and dive in with everything you’ve got.

When you give to people, you are giving to the place, too. Tears, laughter, blood from broken bones or broken hearts- it all spills into the ground and becomes food for roots. Relationships are tangible things, leaving vibrations in the air and under your feet long after you’ve gone.

Traveling, I set down roots. I make myself a part of that place. There are swing sets in Chicago, trees in Saint Louis, malocas in Peru, and dumpling vendors in China where I have left fingerprints and feelings and memories. Each new place I find myself, it becomes home.

I find myself home now. Not the physical house I grew up in, but surrounded by family and soon to be surrounded by friends. I am returning to old roots for a moment, for a breath of fresh air, of life and energy poured into my somewhat tired soul through the hugs of people I love dearly. I find myself blessed, with conversations and laughter that mean the world to me. I refresh myself before diving back into my new home with new roots reaching out ever so slowly in the jungle of Shanghai. I reach my roots out all over the world, feeling the community of individuals, families, teachers, friends, all who have made my life so incredibly rich.

I love my worldwide roots. Don’t be afraid to jump out, to find a new home, start something new. The ones you love will still be there for you.

Equality in Marriage

Today’s post comes from our regular contributor David Etim, who is writing from Lagos, Nigeria. He writes about the ways he finds equality as necessary in a faith-centered marriage.

In a globalized world that is filled with cross-cultural relationships and marriages, I have been thinking a lot on how it is possible to build a healthy and growing family where the woman (wife) is unjustly treated and she is not in decision-making position in the family. To be honest I believe this injustice goes against my faith.

The Scriptures has many guidelines on marriage and gender equality. We can see it captured in Ecclesiastes for example : ” Two can accomplish more than twice as much as one, for the results can be much better” ( 4:9 TLB ). So, ” Live happily with the woman you love….” ( Ecclesiastes 9:9 TLB).

In the light of this, and in all honesty, “Marriage is honorable.” So, at this moment in my life, I believe my dignity is not in my strength, nor my skill; it is in my God-ordained friend, counselor and loving wife, mother and real partner for life. “….A gift too wonderful for words!”  ( 2 Corinthians 9:15 NLT). To find this equal partnership is a great honor that I take very seriously.  ” ….What is important is faith expressing itself in love” ( Galatians 5:6NLT).

 As it has happened, Barack Obama is the President of the United States of America today not just because his parents disobeyed the law criminalizing marriage between Whites and Blacks at that time, but more importantly their cross-cultural marriage has a divine tinge, as we might see in their love and in his actions.

In this globalized world, equality in love is one of the most consistent and striking findings that I have discovered through my faith.

Asking for Strength

Today, we have the honor of posting a piece from the amazing writer and journalist Alex McAnarney. Alex is a native of El Salvador and former resident of Mexico City. Her work focuses on migration, youth, gangs, and health and can be found at perishmotherland.tumblr.com.

Her post today, though longer than what we usually publish, is a testament to strength, wisdom, and love. We ask you all to take a little extra time over the weekend and experience all the beauty and honesty this post has to offer. We ask you all to recognize your own triggers, and take care of yourselves while reading, and as always, we ask you all to honor the wisdom we are blessed to share with you today.

When Friederich Nietzsche wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he developed the idea of the “Overman” (übermensch). While the concept of the Overman remains up for debate, several interpretations fall along the following: guided by individually crafted values, the Overman lives with purpose, possessing the power to impact others around him (or, I controversially interject, her). The Overman attempts to go above and beyond the human

In stark opposition to a strength that surges from the individual will to transcend humanness, morality, and likely— given Nietszche’s struggles with migraines and neurosyphillitic infections— illness, I’ll quote Psalm 46:1-3: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

I can’t say I know what the meaning of strength really is. To ground yourself in the absurd, greyness of life and live with a measure of creative dynamism to carve out your own rugged path independent of others—a life of perpetual overcoming— is a type of strength. Yet, to relinquish yourself and your trust to someone else when the cacophony of “mountains falling into the sea” becomes too deafening, that too is a type of strength. One thing about strength is clear: I ask for it. A lot.

June 1994
Abue, my great-grandmother, is dead. I find out three days after they bury her. They didn’t want me to see her when she was in the coffin because they thought I wasn’t strong enough. I think it would have been nice to kiss her forehead and say bye like I did when she was going to sleep. I get mad at mom for deciding for me. From the back seat of the Toyota, I see that Tita, my grandma and Abue’s daughter, is sad. Her chin whiskers quiver but no tears come out. When my mom pulls at my hair when she brushes it I think of Abue and how she brushed my hair, expertly, gently. It makes me sad, but I think of Tita’s quivering chin whiskers and tearless eyes to suppress the waterworks. When she comes to visit us, I ask her why she doesn’t cry.

“Tears are how bad things stain you. They’re hard to wash out and forget,” she says.

I shroud myself in this. When the other girls at school pick on me because my hair is like a beehive, I try hard not to cry and get mad instead, catching bees in empty butter containers and letting them roast in the Mexican sun. When I get in trouble for telling made up stories about sleeping in a dungeon to my classmates, I really, really try not to cry. But my parents are really, really mad. When I get an egg accidentally thrown in my eye at a party, I don’t cry. I just scream and scream and scream and try to punch the boy who did it.

June 1997
When Dad leaves, I try my hardest to only cry once. It’s really hard because mom is crying and the kids at school suck, especially the boys. Daddy doesn’t cry. I know he feels bad, but I guess he’s strong? We always say Dads are strong at school. I want to be strong and not cry because I’m sad or because mom cries. I grab my little prayer book which I read every night and squeeze it in my hands trying to draw out a few drops of meaning. I only get half burnt flakes of pages. The book belonged to my mom, and before her, Tita. I don’t know if I should ask the fading doodle of a girly boy with a yellow hat on his blonde head. I ask him anyway, “Give me the strength to never cry.”

June 2003
I don’t tell anyone because I was passed out, drunk and possibly drugged. I hide the bruises. I don’t mention his attempts to keep me in the room after, calling me his Latina Lolita. I claim him as a notch of conquest achieved on a fun weekend in Key West. I don’t need to be a victim, I can keep saying what I’m saying: He was a 25 year old Marine my 16-year old self managed to seduce. I shove every shred of despair into a tightly sealed jar and lock it away in a mental cabinet, never to be explored again. Individual responsibility is strength, after all. In the meantime, I ask the 500 mg of ibuprofen I just swallowed “Give me strength to walk straight tonight.”

January 4, 2005
There is pain. There are rivulets of blood pouring from somewhere that I cannot locate. My vision is a pinhole of post-Grand Mal seizure confusion that envelops the world in a blissfully anesthetized miasma save for one little opening through which I can see blood, a stretcher, a worried fat man.
“-hit you?”

The pinhole is slowly stretched by halogen lights into a gaping, heaving asshole of reality I’m not ready to enter. My arm lifts heavily to wipe some drool that feels embarrassingly chunky. Through the asshole I see: bloody chunks of teeth and lip clustered on my hand.

“Did somebody hit you?”

“I had a seizure,” I mutter.

My shoes are off. My hand is holding an empty pillbox. My shoulders are shrouded in a brown EMT blanket. My mouth is red, dripping, and toothless.

I must have collapsed in the parking lot. I press my nose. Not broken. No plastic surgery freebie for me. It’s funny. I laugh with a blood choked gurgle.

A male EMT looks at me funny. I keep laughing and trace the remaining bits of canine and fronts with my index finger. Jagged stalactites hanging in anticipation of the next earthquake, because the aftershocks always happened. Little bastards, won’t get the pleasure I begin to try pulling out the bits with my own hands.

“Don’t do that!” the resident advisor sitting next to me swats away my offending hand.

You don’t understand. I think to myself, they need to go. They were weak!

I don’t cry. I try my hardest to be hilarious even though I have no idea how or where I am. As I do that, I keep trying to pull my bits of teeth out. To my fingers, I plea “Give me the strength to pull this weakness out of my body.” Continue reading

Honoring the Choices of Others

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Today, we start a series of responses to Faith Aloud’s multi-faith Forty Days for Prayer. After looking at the prayers, which are currently being prayed during the Christian season of Lent, we invite you to send us your responses. Today’s post comes for our very own  Autumn Elizabeth.

I have made a lot of choices in my life. I’ve chosen which church to attend as an adult. I’ve chosen which birth control method to use, which people I want as romantic partners, and even which countries to live in. I’ve chosen to make a lot of decisions that other people may not understand. But in every decision, I know that God understands.

The God I know, the Jesus I follow, does not require me to justify my choices to those who do not know me. I am called only to make my choices with my God, and to let the choices of others remain between them and their God.

We can never know the real reasons for the choices of others. Yet, the universe calls us to love, not hostility.

I have chosen to protect the very women today’s prayer honors. I have stood in front of anger, hatred, and violence at abortion clinics and tried my best to project the love of God. That was my choice–to protect the choices of those who I do not know.

So today, I choose again to use my voice, my faith, and my love to shield people from harm.  I pray for the women who must walk through crowds of hostility and anger. I pray that more people will choose to protect everyone’s right to make their own choices with their own God. I pray that we all choose to honor choice with love, respect, and care. 

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Love is a Choice

Today’s post from David of Lagos, Nigeria helps us transition from the theme of Love into our March theme of Choices. David shares with us how his faith helped him navigate the choices and challenges of his love life. So here’s David’s wisdom for all of us, as we navigate our own choices, our own loves, and our own spiritual journeys.

We live in a world of choices. Love is a choice. Dating and marriage are choices. According to the oft quotes phrase by Chinese philosopher Laozi, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” My journey of a thousand miles in search of a life partner began with the first step of a choice.

During my days working as a career banker my search for love was rather pathetic; I made choices, and my love life hit a brick wall twice. During these years of disappointment and rejection, I made up my mind never to engage myself into another relationship.

I chose to remain single in life, never to marry. I strongly believe that singlehood is a choice not a curse. I held onto Isaiah 56, especially verses 3 and 5 in the The Living Bible translation, which say, “…Don’t let them think that I will make you a second-class citizens. And this is for the eunuchs too. I will give them – in my house, within my walls a name far greater than the honor they would have received from having sons and daughters….”.

Yet, I also learned from Scriptures how others made better choices about who to marry, and I also understood that the choice of a life partner shows a lot about our priorities in life. I learned that spiritual qualities are more important than physical appearance. I discovered a plan towards marriage when God says, “….Remember that in God’s plan men and women need each other” ( 1 Corinthians 11:11 TLB ) and ” I advise you to obey only the Holy Spirit’s instructions. He will tell you where to go and what to do….” (Galatians 5:16 TLB ).

From my experiences and readings I realized life can be fulfilling when you are connected to someone worth living forever. At this point in my life, I would love to say, “Holy Spirit thank You for the closed doors. Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, you were re-directing me to something better……a marriage of spiritual qualities and special comfort.” This is my dream, wish and prayer for that special person whom the Holy Spirit chooses…but for now, I remain single.

Life is full of choices and life is very interesting. I found strength in the Scriptures, and now I am like a pearl merchant on the lookout for choice pearl…… “All I need is faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).