A Prayer for the Breeze

Today as I sit on the rocky shores of Maui, I am reminded of the breeze I felt on the cliffs of Amalphi, a continent and an ocean away. Sometimes it is the small simple things for which I need to pray and for which I need to show gratitude.

Dear Spirit of Nature,

You have been known by so many names, but what I call you matters little.

Today I pray for the breeze that blows across my face.

This breeze sets me free and yet this same breeze blows across the pacific touching other facs I will never know along the way.

I pray that I may always find time to be grateful for this strong ocean breeze,

For the way it moves me and caresses me, for the way it keeps me in the present.

I do not own the breeze but I am grateful to it and to the world of abundant love that created it.

Today, I pray for the breeze and pray that I may always be present enough to notice it.

Amen.

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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.

My Moroccan Interfaith “Aha” Moment

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

Morocco, Hijab, Interfaith

At the beginning of this month I really knew nothing about modesty. As I wrote in my post about preparing for my trip to Morocco, I wasn’t all that sure about modesty and religion, or modesty’s relationship to hijabs and other coverings. I also had absolutely no idea how modesty might relate to my own spiritual journey.

However, since wearing a head covering in Morocco, since reading our own Nermine Mohamed’s post about hijabs, and since encountering The Hijab Project by the amazing Amara Majeed, I feel like I have a much better understanding of modesty.

My experiences in Tangier, Morocco were enlightening and important. I saw women and men  with their own version of modest clothing. Some women covered their heads, others didn’t. Some men, mainly students of the Koranic schools, covered their heads too. Some people wore traditional djellabas, others wore modern interpretations, still others wore jeans and t-shirts.

Although Morocco is a Muslim nation, there was a Spanish Catholic Mission in Tangier as well. When I saw several nuns walking in the Petit Soco in the center of Tangier, for the first time, I saw their habits as a form of hijab. Now this may seem like an obvious connection, but despite my years of interfaith work, I had seen head coverings as something primarily associated with the Muslim and Jewish faiths. This was for me a mix between an “aha” moment, and a startling realization of my own ignorance.

Although I had no judgement on head coverings prior to this moment, afterword I felt a deep spiritual connection with my head coverings. I felt suddenly perfectly at home with my head covered as a Christian in a Muslim country. I also saw the deep and abiding connection between what are referred to as the “Abrahamic religions” meaning Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha’i. These religions share a common bond, and to some extent a common practice of head covering.

For me this is why travel, and the sharing of spiritual journeys from around the world, is so important. No matter how different our spiritual journeys look from the outside, when we see people not religion, when we share experiences and not ideologies, we can find striking similarities, and fonts of wisdom we would have missed otherwise.

Preparing For Modesty

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief  

modesty prepreareI’ll admit, I am not the most modest person in the world. In some senses I have worked hard on doing things that most people consider immodest, such as embracing my sexuality, loving my body, and having excesses of fun. So as I prepared for a trip to Morocco, it wasn’t that surprising that my closet contained virtually nothing that met the cultural standards of modesty there.

Despite all my travels, I’ve never been to a predominantly Islamic country before, so I wanted to make sure I was prepared. I researched what parts of the body I shouldn’t expose, and read copious articles on the mix of European and Moroccan values and fashion happening in places like Casablanca.

I found lots of diverging opinions on dressing modestly. Some people said ti was a political statement to wear whatever they wanted as women, others felt most comfortable adopting the fully traditional Moroccan dress. My favorite piece of advice, coming from a European woman who spent several months living in Morocco, was that she tried to embrace the cultural modesty while still being herself.

Of course, this isn’t simply a cultural question, but also a religious one as well, and I think it is important to respect both religious and cultural values as a traveler. So this brings me back to my closet, and its complete lack of what one might call “Moroccan Modest” clothing. Although I could go for the political statement, as I write this my partner is packing several sari’s I have acquired from around the world to help me cover what my clothing won’t. Hopefully this international hodgepodge of fabrics, and a Ramones t-shirt or two, will sufficiently allow me to feel like myself while embracing a new level of modesty. Hopefully, I will be able to respect the culture and faith of Morocco, while honoring my own. Hopefully, I will be prepared for modesty and presented with new ways of viewing this complex concept.

Silence and Writer’s Block

By: Will O’Brien, Social Media Intern 2015

IMG_0545I seem to have a story, quip, or adage for every possible moment. I often write these down, telling myself that some day when I’m sitting in my little apartment over a pub on the Dingle peninsula working on my next novel these scraps of stories and characters will come in handy. However, as I have sat staring at this blank word document attempting to reflect on silence for the past four weeks not one of these scraps has come in handy.

I haven’t been experiencing the external silence I was yearning to write about. I faced an internal silence – writer’s block. This rut I was stuck in while being stared down by a blank word document is not vastly different from the rut I often feel when isolated from my religious community.

When I first arrived in Morocco, I was told an adage about travel that didn’t make the list, but should have. ‘When you are in a place for a week you can write a novel, for a month you can write an article, and when you are there for a year you have nothing to write.’ As you become accustom to a practice and a culture it becomes the norm. The same phenomenon occurs in the course of ones religious practice.

What happens when one develops spiritual writer’s block? Many practitioners or organized religion have been practicing in the same tradition for years if not decades. They participate in the same communities with similar people worshipping and creating community in the same way. Does the practitioner still have something relevant to say? How do they go about finding a fresh perspective?

Now, this is not an evangelical how to blog post – 10 Easy Ways to Rekindle Your Passion in the Chapel – but perhaps looking at a few authors’ suggestions might serve as a nice road map. When I struggle with my own bouts of writer’s block I often turn to the all-knowing Internet to find how the best deal with a similar problem. Without fail the top advice is always to set a routine for yourself.

While this sounds like reinforcing the problem perhaps the ‘yourself’ is more important than the ‘routine.’ We often rely on the timing of exterior factors to determine when we take time for religion. Whether that is the placement of the sun or a priest changing the time of mass this routine is not uniquely yours.

When I stepped back and took the time to worship and reflect on my own, my perspective was refreshed. I developed a relationship and point of view that I could not have built on someone else’s schedule. It takes a personal routine to break down a personal block.

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.

Desire and Identity

By: Jenni Taylor

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. –Psalm 37:4 (NIV)

My heart is full of desires. Chiefly, in this moment, my desire is to be a strong and beautiful woman.

My grandmom, who died long before I was born, was the matriarch of the family. She was strong, and she was beautiful. Life was not kind, but she held her family together. I see her strength in my aunts and uncles, her prayers reflected in their lives, and I know her legacy lives on.

I am a teacher. A traveler. An actress. A daughter, a friend, a writer, an adventurer. I am full of titles, striving to live a life of meaning, a life that won’t be forgotten or lost in the void. But maybe the void is where I need to be.

I was lost in the woods of north Wisconsin once, with mosquitoes and ticks and aching arms. I looked around at the forest surrounding me and thought, I want to be nameless. I just want to be. I want to be my imperfect body with my soul swirling around the tree tops; I want to be naked and free, connected, and bigger somehow. I want to lose myself so I can become something more.

I say that, but the honest truth is my identity is everything to me. Letting go and becoming that person I was in the woods takes effort now. It takes intention, it takes prayer, it takes believing in something bigger and better than myself and my dreams.

I’m sitting in a cafe in Vietnam right now, watching the chaos of motorbikes and noodles and movable markets. I am blessed, and I am humbled. Yes, I want to be strong and beautiful, but by God do I also want to be connected to the lives surrounding me, the millions and billions of lives searching for peace and meaning and strength, just as I am. So I pray:

Thank you for being bigger and better than I am. Thank you for the desires of my heart. Thank you for life, opportunities, and choices. Help me to love. Help me to give. Help me to become less of my titles and more of my heart.

Thank you for this beautiful country, it’s strength, it’s women, it’s optimism.

Amen.

Lessons Learned from Starting Over

Today we a proud to feature a post from our writing intern, Nermine Mohamed.

I was never afraid of change or starting over. I love beginnings; the fresh, blank page ready to be filled, the glowing eyes, the perky heart, anticipation of what the new road holds for me, the chance to do it again and to do it differently, the hope and faith in a better tomorrow. I live with the “start over” button always ready to be pressed at a whim, on a hunch or simply out of boredom. I don’t settle or compromise in how I want to live my life, so I’ve hopped between different jobs, changed careers, learned new things, with different people coming in and out of my life, and I, personally, have changed quite a few times in the process. But with each new experience, I felt I’m getting a tiny bit closer to finding who I am, what I want to do, and the person I want to become.

Almost four months ago, I’ve decided I need a drastic start over, so I packed my bags and moved to a different continent and started school. Away from the life I’m used to and the people I love, I began to look at starting over differently. I’ve learned a lot about myself; my flaws, my strengths.

I’ve also learned that starting over can be hard and exhausting. Some days I go to bed weary and beaten up by everything that’s not working, by everything I thought would happen but did not. I ache from the bumps in the road, the disappointments, the losses, and I yearn for any sign to assure me that this is the right track. That’s why starting over means doing it every single day. With every morning, I must start over and I should never give up.

Starting over has also taught me to appreciate not only what lies ahead, but also what I’ve left behind; the little things I’ve always taken for granted, the family and friends who always have my back, the people with whom I’ll probably never cross paths again. Everything matters and every person I left behind was a part of shaping who I am now. Starting over means appreciating the “here” and the “now”, and the moments that led me here. I means telling people how much they mean to me, as I might not have another chance.

I’ve realized how blessed I am, and how I should be thankful every moment of every day, for all the second chances God has given me, for the new experiences and the new people coming into my life. It is important to be thankful for the hard times when the world was tight and doors were closed, and for how suddenly everything change and how generous and unexpected God’s blessings are. But mostly I have learned to be thankful for the little hints that appear every once and awhile that assure me that it’s going to be alright, that it’s all worth it, that starting over was the right decision.

Coffee Break Prayer

In honor of our theme of Hunger, we will do a series of food-based prayers this month, including a Dinner Prayer!  Enjoy and don’t for get to submit your own prayers!

Dear Spirit of Divine Energy,

Give me a break.
Let me carve out a moment for myself.
Give me energy to move through my world,
todo the things I need to,
and those things I want to do too.
Let me have time to enjoy a hot drink with a loved one,
and let me be uplifted by that communion.
Help me give myself a break.

Amen

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.