October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s courageous act of faith – posting his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church door. I stand in awe of this great man who lived a spiritual life full of faith in the God of his understanding.
In 1517, the selling and purchasing of “indulgences” was a widely accepted practice. Anyone could purchase an indulgence which would exempt them from punishment for some types of sins. Young Luther who studied law and theology questioned the practice of selling indulgences to pay for sin. In response to this widely accepted practice, he wrote the 95 Theses, which is a document of 95 deep thoughts, questions, and concerns about why selling and purchasing indulgences was a questionable practice.
Theses 44 is one of my favorites which reads, “Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.” It is a beautiful thought to me that I can become better through love, not just by seeking an escape from a mistake or sin. It is a peaceful and happy way to live. There are 94 additional theses statements, each brimming with truth as well as questions about the practice of selling indulgences, and how to become a better person. Most people will be celebrating the Day of the Dead, and Halloween.
I am happy to celebrate Martin Luther, who through his thoughtful questions about the world around him, left a legacy of living faith that blesses the lives of so many-500 years later. I am honored to celebrate the legacy of this man who opened the door to a religious reformation and whose life was an expression of the faith he had in a higher power.
For most of my life I have been taught to observe a weekly Sabbath day, and more often than not I take that day of rest for granted. In trying to gain a better perspective, I have read about how other faiths than mine observe the Sabbath, and one that I admire most is Judaism.
In Judaism the Sabbath is extremely important, and there are several observances: the Sabbath Day, Sabbath Year, and Jubilee year.
The Sabbath Year occurs every seventh year of Israel’s calendar. While Sabbath days are a time of rest for people and animals, the Sabbath year is a time of rest for the land. No crops are planted or harvested, but any plants and produce that grow on their own may be used.
Jubilee Year happens after every seventh cycle of Sabbatical years, during every 50th year of Israel’s calendar. The word “jubilee” in this case, doesn’t mean a celebration or party. It comes from the Hebrew word yobel, meaning “ram’s horn,” because Jubilee Year began with the sounding of the ram’s horn. During Jubilee Year, not only did the land rest, but all Hebrew slaves were set free, debts were forgiven, and all land was returned to its original owner or owner’s family. The two main ideas of Jubilee Year are that the land belongs to the Lord who determines its proper use, and that God’s people are to be free. Redemption is always possible.
I think the traditions of Jubilee Year are beautiful. I especially love the focus on rest, renewal, and starting over. Life gets hectic and I struggle to practice these principles one day a week, much less a whole year.
Jubilee Year got me thinking about why rest is so important for living things. Rest is necessary for the body to heal itself. Naps are a nice way to get rest, but I also think taking rest by reading a book, working on a relaxing hobby, or any calming activity can heal bodies and minds. Taking time to rest from life is very healthy and leads to a renewal of focus, happiness, and motivation.
In observing a weekly Sabbath, I love the chance not only to rest, but to start each week over and try to be better. I thought about ways I could start over each week, and I decided to take some time each Sabbath to think about how the previous week has gone and come up with simple goals to make the next week better.
Studying Jubilee Year made me think more about the Sabbath than I have in years. I realized what a relief and blessing it is to have one day a week for rest, renewal, and to start over. I feel inspired to take better advantage of my weekly chance to make my life better. The Sabbath is truly a gift from God for our health, sanity, and devotion. I hope to make it a more important part of my life.
Katie Steed is a graphic designer who also loves to write. In her spare time she’s either biking, reading, or traveling.
I’m writing this article at a desk surrounded by two calendars, a planner, and a to-do list angrily glaring up at me. I have never been a person that likes to “wing it.” When I’m stressed, I make even more lists to help me organize my rushing and jumbled thoughts. I make plans to help manage stress, but when they fall through or don’t go as planned, I become even more stressed.
We can all relate to this. Besides all of our day-to-day tasks that we plan for, we all have a plan in our heads of how our life should be. We imagine a big white wedding dress, a new car when we graduate, a job that pays well and getting to retire early. I thought for sure I would get married right out of high school and never have a career. This isn’t wrong by any means, in fact, these plans give us hope for the future. Hope that after a bad day we will still have good days ahead. But we aren’t perfect, and our plans fall through. Things change, people change and life is unpredictable. We CAN’T plan the way we wish we could.
But there is someone who can.
There is someone who knows all things and knows us each personally. There is someone who is perfect, and who has a perfect plan for each and every one of us. Why would this perfect being, who knows us each so well, leave us on this earth to plan for ourselves? Why knowing all he knows, would He leave things up to chance?
And the answer is simple. He doesn’t.
We all feel lost, confused and battered at some point in our lives. We all wonder how we can possibly go on from loss, sorrow, heartbreak, and disappointment. we wonder, how in the midst of all the war, terrorism, hatred, and intolerance there could possibly be a plan for us.
In a world that is so unpredictable, we can focus our faith and energy on finding the path that our God has laid out for us. He knows our thoughts, our hopes, and our prayers. He knows what makes us happy and loves us so much, that he would do anything for us to be happy.
But he can’t force His plan on us.
We have to have faith and be constantly seeking guidance and inspiration from God to truly gain understanding about what He would have us do. And sometimes the path isn’t clear. Life is hard. Things change. And we wonder how these events could possibly be for our good and help us. We may not know in this life, but I know with certainty that we will know. We just have to keep trekking. We have to keep walking down the road less traveled and know that our God will never lead us astray in His perfect plan.
Megan Miller is a BYU student with a passion for social media, writing, and her dog. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Approximately 500 years before the birth of Christ, a man named Siddhārtha Gautama was born in ancient India. Upon his death, he left behind a community of followers who had committed to follow his words and renounce worldly pleasures in order to achieve enlightenment. Today, this man, who is also known as the Buddha, is recognized as the founder of Buddhism—the world’s fourth-largest religion.
When the Buddha died, he did not leave his followers without a path to follow. In fact, the Buddha spent the last 45 years of his life traveling extensively, teaching a diverse set of people about the nature of existence and the Middle Way, a path to liberation that avoids the extremes of both sensual indulgence and self-mortification. Upon his death, 500 of the Buddha’s followers were selected to compile the Buddha’s teachings and doctrines.
For the next 500 years, the Buddha’s teachings were transmitted orally, recited and passed on from monk to monk. Eventually, the Buddha’s teachings, called the Dharma, were compiled in written form. Because Buddhist teachings were transmitted across wide swathes of Asia in hundreds of languages, different versions of scriptures in different languages exist within the various sects of Buddhism today.
The basic canon of Buddhist scripture is called the Tripitaka, which literally means three baskets. The three “baskets” of scripture are: 1) the monastic rules for monks and nuns, 2) the teachings and sermons, or sutras, of the Buddha, and 3) special doctrine, which includes scholastic interpretations of the Buddha’s teachings.
Within the second basket of the Tripitaka is a popular and widely read section called the Dhammapada, which offers a broad selection of the Buddha’s teachings in verse form. It is this section of the Buddhist texts that I chose to explore on my own journey to discover more about the Buddhist faith. While the Dhammapada offers meaningful lessons to those schooled in the complexities of Buddhism, it is also simple enough to serve as the perfect introduction to Buddhist philosophy for a novice like me.
As I read the Buddha’s words, I was struck by how much many of the Buddha’s teachings resonated with me and my own Christian faith. I found myself rushing to copy verses that I found particularly inspiring. In reviewing what I had studied, I found two key takeaways:
1. An emphasis on living a moral life. Similar to the Christian Ten Commandments, Buddhism is governed by five basic rules: Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t lie, and don’t use intoxicating substances. The Dhammapada reminds readers again and again that living a moral life is essential to happiness, and gives tips on how to live morally.
Like a thoroughbred horse touched by the whip, be strenuous, be filled with spiritual yearning. By faith and moral purity, by effort and meditation, by investigation of the truth, by being rich in knowledge and virtue, and by being mindful, destroy this unlimited suffering. (Dhammapada 144)
Speak the truth; yield not to anger; when asked, give even if you only have a little. By these three means can one reach the presence of the gods. (Dhammapada 224)
Good is virtue until life’s end, good is faith that is steadfast, good is the acquisition of wisdom, and good is the avoidance of evil. (Dhammapada 333)
2. Constant admonitions on the value of self-discipline and self-mastery. A core principle of Buddhism is refraining from physical pleasures and cravings in order to achieve the ultimate happiness and freedom from sorrow. While I take great joy in life’s simple pleasures, I’ve also learned that renouncing the things I don’t need (like sugar, for example!) can get me closer to my goals. The Buddha’s words reminded me that while forgoing my desires can be tough, my hard work will insulate me from disappointments:
Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself. (Dhammapada 103)
By effort and heedfulness, discipline and self-mastery, let the wise one make of himself an island which no flood can overwhelm. (Dhammapada 25)
As with any religious text, it does not suffice for followers of Buddhism to read the words of the Buddha a single time. His teachings, the Dharma, are meant to be returned to time and time again. And so I hope to return to the words of the Buddha as a source of peace and continuing inspiration in my own life.
It is true that each of us must follow our own paths through life. But I see the words of wise teachers like the Buddha and my own Savior as an invitation to trace the well-trodden paths of those who have come before me. I must make my own way—but I don’t have to do it alone.
Crystalee Beck is a writer, speaker, and mamapreneur. She helps women thrive at the intersection of mamahood and entrepreneurship. She’s a seeker of truth and feels alive on mountain trails. Learn more at www.themamaladder.com.
Failure isn’t just an inevitable part of life, it’s an essential one. No child gets on a bike and rides down the block on their very first try. Nobody gets through life without scraped knees or wounded souls. We are here to learn, and learning consists of falling and getting back up and falling and getting back up again. As Oliver Goldsmith wrote, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.“
I know several variations of that quote, and I believe them all. However, as a fairly anxiety-ridden person, I am all-too-aware that logically knowing failure is important and okay doesn’t eliminate my fear of it.
When I was young, my family went on frequent camping trips to the Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas. On one of the trips there, I climbed up a steep section of rock. Halfway up, I found myself on an especially narrow ledge. When I looked down, my youthful spirit of adventure shriveled up. I was suddenly gripped by dizzying, throat-slamming terror. I called to my mom, and told her I couldn’t finish because I was going to fall. She told me that it was alright; if I fell, she’d catch me. I don’t even remember if I fell, jumped down to her, or kept climbing. What mattered most was that I wasn’t scared anymore. I was free to act without the fear of failure.
Another time I attempted a cartwheel outside of the safety of my gymnastics class. I hit a table and nearly broke my nose. I ran home where my mother laid me down, wrapped some ice in a washcloth, and told me it would be alright.
As a kid, the world was full of big, scary things. Yet, when I had someone to fall back on – to catch me if I fell or to comfort me afterward – I was better able and willing to try out the world.
Supportive parenting from heaven
I was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder when I was a teenager. That’s when everything became terrifying. Even the very idea of leaving the house filled me with narrow-ledge terror. What if I said the wrong thing and people thought I was stupid? What if I did the wrong thing and they thought I was weird? I was sure people would see all the things I thought were wrong with me. I even dropped out of school. I started therapy and medication, both of which helped. Yet, terror served as a paralytic, and that was something my parents couldn’t protect me from or console away.
One of the most important functions of parenting, when it’s done well, is to help us form our idea of, and model our relationship with, God. Faith in God works like faith in supportive parents. Trusting in a higher power, something greater outside of ourselves, can bring confidence that, unfailingly, as long as we are trying our best to do and be good, we don’t have to be afraid of falling. Either we have someone to catch us or someone to console us.
My relationship with my parents was formed through loving interaction as we spoke and spent time together. I knew who they were, how strong they were. It took years for me to form a similar relationship with God, in similar ways. My faith started to mean something, and to better my life.
Having faith can bring confidence
As adults, breaking bones and skinning knees are seldom the failures we fear.
Sometimes we can’t find confidence in ourselves or our abilities. I finally learned to find confidence in a higher power rather than myself alone. I trusted God and let Him know I was doing my absolute best. So, when I fell, I knew I was falling into His arms. As my faith grew, so did my willingness to risk failure, and my ability to view it as a part of life rather than proof I was somehow flawed.
I’m still scared sometimes. I just moved to a new place, just switched majors. Those were big risks, and either of them could have gone badly. They haven’t so far, and I am supported in knowing God, and that He is there for me. I trust Him with the decisions I make. I trust that no matter how many falls I take, they’re leading me somewhere I want to go.
I don’t know what it is about snow-covered trees that help me feel peace, but every time I ride the lift at my local ski resort, I pass a certain section of pine trees and suddenly feel still. Unfortunately, the lift eventually gets to the top of the mountain and my mind and energy become refocused on making my way back down.
It’s always something, isn’t it? If I do spiritual study at night, I’m soon cutting down the time I planned to dedicate more and more as my eyes get heavier and heavier. So I switch to mornings. I sit down and start my spiritual practice and suddenly I have an urge to check the weather. I must know the forecast for the day right now! 15 minutes later I’ve checked all of my social media, planned my outfit for the day, and learned absolutely nothing of worth. I know that my days are calmer and more productive when I spend time creating my own sacred space, so why can’t I just shut out the world and spend time taking care of that part of my life?
Here are a few things that I try to do each day to create my own sacred:
1. Recognize that everyone does it differently
How often do we compare our spiritual growth to that of others? I have a friend who described how hard it was for her to feel like church was a sacred experience with two screaming, crying babies hanging on her. She felt like she had failed at church because she wasn’t leaving each week with uplifted feelings or faith-promoting stories. I sometimes look at people who study for hours each day and think I will never reach their spiritual level because I just don’t have that kind of time or patience.
We’re not all alike and the way we find our sacred doesn’t need to be either! Maybe you’re a 5-minute a day kind of person or a fully-immersive experiencer. Figure out how you best access your faith and then do that in any way that works for you. Just make sure you do it!
2. See the sacred everywhere
Sometimes creating your own sacred is as simple as looking for it. If you stop, be still, and look for those faith-promoting moments, they will come to you, even on a ski lift. Then give gratitude and keep looking. If we’re not looking for our sacred, we may never see it.
3. Carve out time and make it a priority
Sometimes it can seem like an impossible feat to find time for peace and quiet in your life when your kids are banging at the door, your roommate won’t turn down her music, or your schedule fills up faster than you can manage. Creating your own sacred may take sacrifice on your part to find a quiet space, a quiet time, a quiet mindset. Make it a priority to find that space each day, stick to it, and eventually turn it into a daily habit.
One of my first true spiritual experiences happened on the same ski resort with my favorite snowy trees. This time it was summer and I was at a conference for teenage youth of my church. We were given time to go out and pray, read, and ponder by ourselves. I climbed into a grouping of trees, sat on a rock, and for the first time in my life, I felt a testament of those things that I believe. I was still.
I wish I could have those types of experiences every day, but instead I have to do my best to create an environment and an opportunity that will help me get as close to my faith as possible.
I was gripped by terror. The sign next to my foot, marking 10 feet of water below me, made me feel like I might die. My brain screamed at me to not jump into the pool, but I didn’t want to be known as the girl who was too scared to jump into the pool at swim class. On the other hand, I didn’t want to repeat my near-death experience of my last jump in the pool. As I stared at the clear water, I remembered that this time, I knew how to swim, so I swallowed my fear and jumped.
And I didn’t drown.
I was ten when I took that first leap of faith and jumped into a pool after my near-death experience when I was 4 years old. Taking that jump after waiting 6 years in fear taught me about the relationship between my fear and my faith which helped me in my decisions throughout my teen and early adult years. I learned that sometimes we have to let our fear motivate us to have faith.
When I figured out my fear motivated me to have faith, it seemed like a contradiction. I always thought the definition of faith was believing and trusting in things we cannot see. Others around me said because I believed I shouldn’t fear. I was under the impression that being filled with fear meant I lacked faith in God and faith in myself.
However, I know now that the relationship between faith and fear is different for me. I can believe and trust while still being afraid. The fear of the unknown and unseen will always be a part of who I am, but I find comfort in my faith because I know even if I am afraid of what might happen next, my faith in God and the people around me is stronger than my fear.
I have learned to always let my faith become stronger than my fear, just like when I jumped into that pool when I was 10. I allowed faith to be stronger than fear each time I moved to new schools and had to be brave enough to make new friends. My faith overcame my fear of what would happen when I left my fragile, broken family to pursue my education. Faith beat my fear when I flew to Mexico City to learn Spanish I was nineteen. Faith conquered fear when I decided to continue college when I only had $4 in my bank account and I didn’t know where more money was going to come from.
Many of my major life decisions started with fear, but having faith gave me the courage to make the jump anyway. And if I had believed the idea that I only had faith if I wasn’t afraid, I’m not sure I would have accomplished anything in my life. I’m grateful every day I let my fear motivate me to have faith.
The next time you are afraid of life decisions set before you, remember that faith in yourself, in God, in people, or in whatever you believe will always overcome fear. Be like my 10-year-old self at the edge of the pool. Remember that you do know how to swim, take a deep breath, and jump.
When I was young, I never really thought about faith. I went to church with my family where I was taught scriptures, principles, and ways to live. I never questioned it, but I also never examined my own heart and thoughts to see if I truly believed.
After leaving home for college, my relationship with my faith varied. I went through roller coaster periods of half-hearted indifference, mild commitment, and complete devotion. My faith was largely influenced by people around me and my current situations, but never from my heart.
When I finished college and moved to a new city for my career, I was suddenly faced with challenges I never imagined and surrounded by people who thought differently than me. I had always been taught to turn to faith in situations like these; however, when I tried, I suddenly realized how weak and unfounded my faith was, and how unsure I felt of my beliefs. I felt like my bubble of comfort had not simply popped, but had shattered in a fiery explosion.
With all my new thoughts and experiences, the little faith I had slowly deteriorated. I realized all of the things about my church and its beliefs that I didn’t like, and stopped attending. I never stopped believing in God, but I stopped believing He cared. I started to go my own way, and for awhile I felt free.
I had read and heard many stories where people had somewhat big and miraculous returns to faith, and in the back of my stubborn mind I only wanted to believe again if I had one of those experiences. But my return to faith was simple.
I was driving home one night with conflicted thoughts. I had become very unhappy, and after trying for months to figure out why, I began to wonder if it was because I had abandoned my childhood beliefs. I was thinking about all the things I didn’t like about those beliefs and why I was angry, but then my thoughts turned to the things I loved and missed. Suddenly the thought came into my head, “What do you want to believe?”
Before that question came into my head that night, I had never understood that pursuing my faith and beliefs was a choice. Even though returning to my faith was the more difficult road, I decided to take it. I realized that I wanted to believe the good things about God and my faith more than I believed the negative things.
I don’t think my story is unique. Since faith is a belief in things that aren’t always visible, I believe it’s natural to struggle and even to stray. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m grateful for my questions and my discomfort with my faith, because they have caused me to continually examine my life and truly decide the path I want to follow. Leaving my faith helped me realize that the only way I can truly believe something is to examine it thoroughly and firmly decide why I believe.
My return to faith has been difficult, and likely will continue to be so, but the difficulties have made my faith so much deeper and more personal. I have discovered greater happiness with my faith than without it, and I believe that is largely because I continue to choose my faith, despite the things I don’t like or don’t understand. Questions will always come, but now I know that those questions can feed my faith instead of diminish it.
Katie Steed is a graphic designer who also loves to write. In her spare time she’s either biking, reading, or traveling.
I’m sure you’ve heard the word ‘kosher’ and know it has something to do with Judaism and food. But do you know what it means and how it works day to day? I do, because I ‘keep kosher’ and it’s been an important part of my life and my faith.
There are many Jews who only eat kosher food. Those who are Orthodox, as I am, follow the extensive dietary guidelines set out in the Bible such as: no mixing of meat and milk (so no cheeseburgers); only specific hooved animals may be eaten (no pigs); no shellfish or other non-fish seafood; and generally no birds.
Without getting too detailed, I’ll tell you a little about what it’s like to keep kosher, but first I’ll note here that these and other rules I describe are generally understood and practiced by Orthodox Jews. Not everyone who says they keep kosher follows the same rules. Some people are stricter, some less so and some understand the rules differently. But by and large, each person decides how they practice this and other aspects of Judaism.
The rules of keeping kosher can be complicated, even for those who have been doing so their whole lives. There are a number of organizations with experts who give certifications to products that meet kosher standards. The parent organization where I work, the Orthodox Union, is an authority on kosher and certifies thousands of products. You might notice the symbol on items ranging from M&Ms to frozen pizza.
When food shopping, we seek out packaged food with such labels. In America, many products at a typical grocery store are already kosher. And, without getting too technical, there are dozens of kosher certifications with varying degrees of acceptability within the kosher community.
The main exception is meat: to be kosher, meat must be prepared in very specific ways — from slaughter to packaging. That’s why kosher meat is more expensive and not as widely available.
One of the biggest differences in daily life for someone who keeps kosher is dining out. To eat at a restaurant, it needs to have a kosher certification. The vast majority of restaurants in the United States aren’t kosher certified, in part because a kosher certificate adds to the operational cost. This makes going to restaurants very impractical and a rare occurrence: In Washington, D.C., where I work, there is one kosher restaurant. And as of last year, D.C. now has a kosher food truck that travels around the downtown area. A few miles away in Maryland, which has a more concentrated Jewish population, there are a handful of kosher restaurants.
If the need arises to attend a business lunch or go to a non-kosher restaurant, many Jews who keep kosher plan ahead and eat prepared food beforehand and then order a simple salad or other non-cooked items. It’s much easier to eat out in places such as the New York City area. As home to nine percent of the country’s Jews, there are countless kosher restaurants and delis in various parts of town.
Keeping kosher also has a significant effect on travel. As a kid, during family vacations, I recall times when a connecting flight was canceled and the airline offered food vouchers. While other people used them to eat at a restaurant, my family went to the store and bought a lot of packaged cookies and bananas. Keeping kosher when traveling in a foreign country that doesn’t have a significant Jewish population (as is the case in most countries), can be quite difficult.
The situations I’ve mentioned are just a few examples of what it means to keep kosher. In reality, keeping kosher affects just about all realms of life: it can influence the jobs people take, where one goes on vacation and even where to live.
Ultimately, keeping kosher isn’t just about food. Rather, it’s a daily reminder of our faith.
Zev Palatnik is a legislative fellow for the Washington, D.C.-based Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, the non-partisan public policy arm of the Orthodox Union — the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization.
I’ve always preferred walking barefoot when I can. In the grass, at the beach, in my house—it’s simply more comfortable to me than flipflops that rub, or flats that pinch, or boots that weigh me down. Since interning in DC, however, I have had little occasion to take my shoes off. I always should look professional, and that means even sandals are off limits. However, to my great delight Friday, I walked through the marble halls of the Rayburn House Office Building, completely shoeless.
I wasn’t having a rebellious streak, or protesting unreasonable clothing standards for women in Congress. Instead, I was there to visit some friends. The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF, for short) was hosting its 4th Annual Langar on the Hill event, where representatives, interns, staffers, and anyone who wants to attend can sit on the floor, take their shoes off, eat a delicious vegetarian meal, pack food for the DC Central Kitchen, and celebrate the values of equality and community that are enshrined in the Sikh religion.
From what my Sikh friends told me, the idea of a communal kitchen ties together the past and the present of their faith. Guru Nanak, the person attributed as Sikhism’s founder, thought it would be a tangible way to show that every person mattered, regardless of class, race, gender, or any other social standard. Eventually, Sikh communities operated these centers for tens of thousands of people to receive a meal without cost, where they are treated with respect and care. That tradition continues today, and for the folks at SALDEF, this meal provides an opportunity for them to reach out to people in DC. Attendees can learn about the ways Sikhs help their neighborhoods and the unique religious freedom challenges they face here in the United States.
Arriving there, I didn’t quite know what to expect. A SALDEF intern greeted me and my coworkers. She explained that as a sign of equality, everyone at the event would cover their heads with a kerchief and take their shoes off, sitting on the floor for the meal portion of the event. We had fun figuring out how to tie the bandanas around our head, and were pretty happy with the result.
Joining the line for the meal, we said hello to some friends and scooped food onto our plates. Then, alongside men and women, interns and representatives, people of many faiths and backgrounds, we all sat on the floor together and ate our meal.
Looking around the foyer in Rayburn, seeing similarly covered heads eating or packaging meals to go to the needy, I realized just how special this symbolic meal is. I have volunteered at many food distribution centers, mainly through religious organizations, but I’d rarely seen a meal so laden with simple reminders of the dignity and value of each person serving and being served. I imagine that, for the thousands of people who receive meals from Sikhs, that is literally a life-saving reminder.
After I finished my meal, and packed one for DC Central Kitchen, I needed to leave. I stopped to pick up my shoes I left outside the foyer. Looking at the pile of flats, dress shoes, and heels, it occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to tell a senator’s pair from a staffer’s. The meaning behind the event—showcasing the equality of all people—was clear from the moment I took my shoes off, to this moment, putting them back on. Walking back to the metro, I realized how much I valued learning about self-sacrificing service from sharing Langar—and not just for the excuse to take off my shoes on Capitol Hill, either.
Louis Zamperini was a person of faith, even though he lost his way at times. When I read his amazing story and watched the movie Unbroken—about how he faced trauma, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and alcoholism—I could relate. And, like Zamperini, faith has played an important role in my sobriety, and my life. However, Louis’ life was definitely more dramatic than mine has been.
Louis became an Olympic track star and then a military officer in World War II. His plane was shot down, and he survived for 47 days on a life raft in the middle of the ocean. Then, he was captured by the Japanese and tortured as a prisoner of war.
HOPE AGAINST HOPE
“To hope against all hope” means we hope for something even though it is impossible to see how it could happen. When Louis and his comrade had been adrift in the raft for several days without water, there was no rain in sight. Yet, against all hope, he prayed and promised God he’d commit his life to Him if He’d send rain. The next morning, there was a huge downpour. The very definition of faith means to believe in that which we cannot see.
TRIALS CAN DEEPEN OUR FAITH
Zamperini endured many difficult trials. We tend to think that life would be great if we didn’t have to deal with trouble and pain—if everything could just be easy. Yet, if that were the case, we wouldn’t be able to learn and grow in faith. I have often wished I didn’t have to go through the trials I have faced. Yet, I have to admit, I am so grateful for the strength and increased faith I have gained because of my challenges. “No pain, no gain” applies to faith.
FAITH REQUIRES PATIENCE
Only three men survived the plane crash, and only two lived 47 days at sea. It was Zamperini’s faith and persistence that helped pull them through. However, at some point during the two years he was a prisoner of war and frequently beaten by a guard called “the Bird”, he lost faith. He questioned how a loving God could let such things happen. After returning to the United States and getting married, he still felt like God had been “toying” with him. He began drinking heavily and got angry whenever his wife went to church. Four more years passed before Louis returned to church where he remembered the promise he had made to God before it rained. Then he went home and emptied out all the liquor bottles in his cabinet. He never had another drink. Even though it took years, Louis still managed to find faith again and it helped him overcome.
FORGIVENESS INCREASES LIGHT
For years after the war, Louis longed to hunt down the Bird to get revenge. With divine help, he finally found freedom from his prison of hatred. When he learned of the Bird’s death, “something shifted sweetly inside of him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was finally over.”* For me, it has been important to realize that my hatred for those who committed serious sins against me was only hurting myself. And forgiving them didn’t mean they were being “let off the hook.” It meant that I was being released from the strongest emotions that held me bound to them—vengeance and hatred. It takes time for us to heal and reach a place of forgiveness. When we do, we often find those dark places in our heart and mind can finally be illuminated by divine light.
*Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken. New York, New York: Random House, 2010, p. 386.
Laurie Campbell is a copywriter for advertising, as well as a volunteer counselor with a masters in mental health counseling. She finds photography and nature go hand-in-hand, increasing spirituality and love for God’s pretty amazing creations.
You experience relationships every day. We’ve never met, but right now, you are relating with me as you create an opinion about my writing. Our lives are surrounded by relationships and they have a powerful impact on us.
By increasing your mindfulness, you can make your relationships, the important and the passing ones, positive experiences, and you can strengthen your faith: in yourself; in others; and in your relationships.
Through meditation, you increase your mindfulness. You probably know some of the benefits of this such as a stronger immune system, stress reduction, and better management of anxiety. But did you know it also helps you to increase your empathy and improve your satisfaction with relationships?
Here are three relationship benefits gained through meditation:
1. Learn to be mindful of how your thoughts and actions affect your relationships.
Think of a recent, important conversation with a close relationships (such as a spouse or close friend). Do you feel like you were mindful during the conversation or did emotions run high? Here are some mindfulness guidelines to help with your crucial conversations:
Come to the conversation with faith in a positive outcome
Focus on being present and open
Stay engaged and don’t shut down
If you feel you are disengaging, use coping strategies such as deep breathing
If you feel you are being judgmental, of yourself or the other person, stop
Express empathy for the other person’s different opinion
If you feel uncomfortable, that’s okay: it’s normal
Be aware of the other person’s discomfort and offer them support
Recognize your shared vulnerability
2. Improve your sense of self-worth and stop looking to others for validation. Mindfulness helps you to love and have faith in yourself. In fact, it creates a physiological difference in your brain: you can see a decreased activation of the areas of the brain associated with rumination, according to Biological Psychology. Have you experienced a downward spiral of negative self-talk? We can be our own worst critics! When you shut that down, you love and have faith in yourself. In turn, you won’t need to depend on others for that love and validation, which places unfair expectations and strain on your relationships.
3. Manage your own emotions better so you don’t react as much to others’ actions or words. Meditation also helps change your brain for the better in regards to managing your emotions. A study using fMRI showed that participants who did a short mindfulness intervention were better able to regulate their emotions in response to negative stimuli. The study found that it didn’t need to be extensive periods of mindfulness or meditation, nor did the participants need to be meditation experts to see a difference.
About a year ago, I attempted to make meditation a daily habit.However, when I sat down to do it, I felt a tangible feeling of dread. I thought meditation was supposed to help me with anxiety, but it seemed to exacerbate it!
At the time, I wanted meditation to be an instant cure all. And, I wanted it to somehow work its magic on an infant with difficult sleep habits. As I was trying to meditate, I felt on edge, waiting for the baby to cry.
It took me a long time before I learned consistency. Today, I am slowly learning to be more mindful, but I have learned to notice when I put up emotional barriers blocking other people. When I take the time to meditate (I don’t do it every day, still), I like to use a visualization of a person close to me. As I focus my thoughts on them, I picture a light shining within them that grows and grows. Little, by little, I am learning to see that light in each of my relationships and help it to grow.
I’ve also learned that by strengthing my faith through meditation, I am more satisfied, committed, and invested in my relationships. Over time, I’ve reaped incredible benefits! Have you?
Lauren Elkins is a writer, former IT industry expert, and a mom, with a lot of faith in herself, her family, and God.
Nearly 2,500 years ago, in the middle of two million square miles of the Persian Empire, in the city of Shushan, there lived an orphan, a beautiful Jewish girl named Hadassah, though she is better known by her Persian name, Esther.
Esther’s story of faith and courage happened thousands of years ago, but it lives on today because people are still inspired by her faith and courage.
As the Bible story goes, Ahasuerus, the king of Persia became angry with his wife Vashti for disobedience. He began looking for a new wife from the young virgins of his empire. Esther was brought before him and he liked what he saw. Soon she was chosen to replace Vashti as queen.
At the time, Esther had been raised by her cousin Mordecai, and even after she became queen, he was never far away. He counseled her as often as he could and in the beginning advised her to hide her Jewish identity.
King Ahasuerus appointed an evil man named Haman to the highest position at court and decreed that everyone should bow down to him. Whenever Esther’s cousin Mordecai was in Haman’s presence he refused to show him this respect. Haman resented Mordecai and abused his position of power by sending forth a decree to exterminate the Jews.
Mordecai went to Esther and pleaded with her to approach the king to save their people. Doing so would put her life at risk, but Mordecai believed that God had made her queen so she could save her people. Esther decided that she would go to the king for help, but before doing so, she fasted for three days and told Mordecai to ask their people to do the same.
When the time was right, she did risk her life to approach the king and shared Haman’s evil plans to annihilate her people. The king flew into a rage and sent Haman to be hung on the very gallows the vizier had built to hang Mordecai.
Esther’s Legacy of Faith Lives On
Every year, Jewish people celebrate Esther’s story of faith and courage on a holiday known as Purim. The word “Purim” means “lots” in ancient Persian, because it’s believed that Haman cast lots to choose which day he would massacre the Jews.
Today the holiday is celebrated by exchanging gifts of food, donating to the poor, eating a celebratory meal, public recitations of the entire scroll of Esther, drinking wine, and by wearing masks and costumes.
This annual celebration is an example of the power of a single story of faith to affect millions of people and live on for generations.
Without Action, Faith Is Just a Word
Most of us won’t be asked to risk our lives to save a nation, but our simple acts of faith can inspire and empower others. Even if your story isn’t passed down for 2,500 years, it can be impactful for your loved ones and your posterity—especially if you write it down.
It takes humility and optimism to believe that everything will work out. But more often, like in Esther’s story, it takes action to ensure that it does. Our faith may have the power to move mountains, but if we don’t act on it, we’ll never know what’s possible.
Stories of faith can be found in all cultures, religions, and places. Seeking them out and passing them on promotes courage in the face of adversity, and empowers the human spirit.
Linda Clyde is a believer—because she’s convinced it’s way better than being a doubter. One of her favorite things to do is spread optimism and hope with the power of words.
I’m a trauma queen. My therapist says I’ve been through a greater variety of trauma than anyone she’s ever worked with. Jokingly, I “brag” about it. In reality, I’m surprised I’m still alive. And, miraculously—with heaven’s help—my past is becoming the strongest part of my present and the brightest part of my future. It is in this same spirit that I’m celebrating Holi this year, for the first time.
Holi is an ancient Hindu holiday celebrated mostly in India and Nepal. It starts the night of the full moon just before spring—this year starting March 12th. People gather round a Holika bonfire that symbolizes the burning away of the bad and the victory of good. It’s a time to let go of the past, to forgive and forget. The following day, people gather together and celebrate by “coloring” each other. Brightly colored water and colored powders are thrown on each other until everyone’s drenched in color. It marks the beginning of spring. A time of peace and harmony. A fresh start.
We each have things from our past that can interfere with the present. Whether they’re mild or severe, we’re prone to collect them and the negative emotions attached. Like when someone has said or done something hurtful. Or, when we’ve done something embarrassing or hurtful to someone else. The more upsetting the event, the more likely we are to remember. And, the more the emotions can make us feel worse, over and over again.
So, using a fire to symbolize the burning away of the bad and the victory of good can be healing. Fire is often used to purify, cleanse, and change. In nature, fire makes room for new vegetation to grow and the resulting ashes provide nutrients. So, as a Holika fire symbolically burns away emotions from the past that weigh heavy, it can make room for new growth. Allowing for a celebration where we can enjoy the present.
A few years ago, I was in a group therapy discussion where we were working through difficult issues from the past. The instructor had us write down, on a piece of heavy paper, those memories that kept coming up and troubling us. Then, we went outside, walked off by ourselves, and each burned the list. The paper was thick, so it burned rather slowly. I watched as each troubling emotion was consumed, disappearing into the sky as smoke and falling to the earth as ashes. I was making room for new growth and providing important nutrients for that growth to take place.
I’m looking forward to my first Holika fire. And, the next day, where I can welcome a colorful new season of life.
Laurie Campbell can be found, on the first night of Holi, watching past burdens turn to smoke and ashes. Her celebration of spring the next day will likely be a “Westernized version” where she’ll enjoy Peeps of all colors.
Novelist, poet, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou is famed for many things, including her unflinching honesty. Not only did Angelou write about fighting a daily battle against racism, but also her rape at eight years old. The trauma of rape and the fear that her testimony had caused the perpetrator’s murder left Angelou mute for the next five years.
If anyone had the right to wallow in self-pity, Angelou did. Yet she is rarely remembered for the abuses she endured. Instead, she showed incredible faith in herself and in the future. Today, Angelou is remembered for her strong spirit, joie de vivre, and for daily demonstrating the importance of self-empowerment.
Here is some of her advice on self-empowerment:
Step 1: Refuse to be a Victim
“Self-pity in its early stage is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable.”
“A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.”
While you may find temporary relief in self-victimization, self-pity is not a place you want to stay for long. This is the time to have your cry, take a few deep breaths, and then resolve not to let your past dictate your future.
Step 2: Forgive
“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
Forgiving is usually a long and difficult process, but in the end you are the one left with a lighter heart and brighter future. Have faith that sacrificing your grudge will lead you to the kind of healing and freedom you seek.
Step 3: Reject Defeat
“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
Life will throw everything it has at you—that doesn’t mean you can’t throw a few things back. Hold your head high, throw your shoulders back, dig your heels in, and make up your mind to come out the winner. You have the ability to emerge from life’s storms a stronger, better person than you were before, but it’s going to take equal measures of faith and gumption on your part.
Step 4: Create Your Own Happiness
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
“Determine to live your life with flair and laughter.”
Life has an abundance of both woe and wonder, but what we find is what we look for. Have the courage to create happiness for yourself.
Angelou was never one to take a back seat in life. Despite her trials, she declared, “You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
Even when life seemed impossible, Maya Angelou had the faith to create a better future for herself. She showed us that we have the power to rise beyond tragedy and hurt. Life was meant to be enjoyed, and like Angelou, we should allow nothing to hold us back.
Camille Ward is a student of English Education at BYU. She loves to spend time with her family and is not to be trusted with a budget in bookstores or bakeries.
Some 18 years ago I was filming life in a village about twenty kilometers inland of the Bay of Bengal. It sounds romantic, and it was…except for dysentery. We were with a small humanitarian group who had been petitioned by one of the village elders to make the trek from America to his tiny village of Vuudi Mudi. We tagged along to film. Little did we know about rural India: the bad roads, the lack of transportation, no infrastructure, no health care, mud everywhere.
We were greeted by a roadway into the village lined with painted white stones. A banner hung on poles welcoming us, and there were strings of flower petals everywhere. We were the first Americans to visit the village in nearly 50 years. The bus stopped at the center of the village, a small Hindu temple that was not much more than a concrete pergola. All 400 villagers gathered to see us. Their joy and fascination were overwhelming. There was dancing and music on makeshift instruments and everybody wanted to hug us. It lasted deep into the night: the women in layered, flowing colors of bright saris, little kids in cloth shorts or skirts, brass ankle bracelets that kept rhythm with drums and 3-stringed instruments and a cacophony of dented bells, brass horns and rhythm sticks. The night was clear. Coconut trees seemed to bend in on us. We were exhausted. They begged us to share some music of our own. We promised we would have a number ready for the next night and collapsed on the cement floor of a tiny hut. We woke to 30 or more children smiling at us through the window. It was cold. The sun was glowing through the damp haze. It was like waking up in the middle of a 3rd grade classroom. I quickly became attached to one boy in particular. We nicknamed him Coconut because his head was shaved due to lice. He had a deformed hand from falling in the fire as an infant. But his smile could light up the Ganges at night.
Our task was to film daily life: coconut harvesting, fabric dyeing, traveling vendors weighed down with baskets or brass. Our film crew of three bought a whole stock of bananas for breakfast. The vendor kept shaking his head at his good fortune. Coconut led the way, wrangling the other kids and proudly carrying our gear. We tried to pay him but he wouldn’t take so much as a banana. It was his honor to help, he told us.
As soon as the sun began to drop, villagers began gathering at the temple to hear the Americans perform. We had a guitar with a crooked neck and four strings. It was probably the first live performance of Beetles songs in a Hindu temple since the Fab Four visited the Maharishi. We sang the three songs we knew over and over while the kids laughed and danced.
Two days later we were walking the twenty kilometers to the Bay of Bengal for a huge Hindu celebration. Thousands of people thronged the streets. In the early morning it was a river of color, a procession that made its way to a courtyard to picnic and wait for their turn to walk through the temple, light incense, drop flower petals in reflecting pools and thank the gods for their good fortune. These were people who lived two seasons a year; the harvesting season where they worked long days, and the monsoon season, where they waited out the rains in dreary grayness. Their faith was remarkable. Even though they often had to rebuild their homes when the monsoons ended, they had faith that when the storms lifted, the gods would smile on them once again. And so they made the pilgrimage each year to express their gratitude. Most people lingered for days, sleeping around fires and visiting friends from other villages. I sat with a group of children who were listening to one of the village elders tell stories. Through a translator I got bits and pieces of one of the tales, the story of Dhaka Sietma. For many families, the trek takes days. They often travel at night if it is too hot during the day. Children grow nervous about being left behind and falling asleep in the dark. The elder was explaining what happens to such children. Before morning, Dhaka Sietma, a kind of goddess of lost children, collects all of the sleeping children along the roadside and places them by the warm fire of their families.
The morning we left the village, we found Coconut in the same place we found him every morning—curled up on the cold ground outside our hut, his legs pulled up close to his body and tucked under his ragged shirt to keep warm, waiting to carry camera gear. He insisted on serving us and we could do nothing about it. He would never come inside the hut, never take a sweatshirt or a blanket or even a woven mat in the cool evenings. We had even offered to buy him a bottle of Fanta from a roadside shack, a treat I’m sure he’d never had. His service to us was a great blessing he told us, and refused the drink. I have also come to suspect that he didn’t want to elevate himself above the other children in any way. His faith was all he needed–the assurance that whatever the seasons brought, all would be well. No social promotion could replace that. His gratitude, humility, and willingness to serve were the manifestations of that faith.
Abraham Lincoln is remembered as a man of honesty, courage, and kindness. What was he like when it came to religion? Was he a man of faith too?
Lincoln grew up in a Baptist family, but he was a skeptic, and though he later attended Protestant church services with his wife and children, he never joined any church. While his exact beliefs remain a bit of a mystery, Lincoln was often clear about his faith in a loving God who watches over His children.
The following messages, in Lincoln’s own words, teach us why looking to God should be as important to us today as it was to him then.
Don’t forget God.
On March 30, 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of prayer and fasting to be held the next month. He explained:
“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which has preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. …It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
Trust in His timing.
In the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln responded to a letter from Elizah P. Guerney, thanking her for her kind words and prayers.
“The purposes of the Almighty are perfect, and must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile, we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.”
Pray to Him for guidance and peace.
Before the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln hadn’t been worried. General Daniel E. Sickles, a participant in the battle, asked Lincoln why that was. He replied:
“Well, I will tell you how it was. In the pinch of your campaign up there, when everybody seemed panic-stricken and nobody could tell what was going to happen, oppressed by the gravity of our affairs, I went to my room one day and locked the door and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed to him mightily for victory at Gettysburg. I told Him that this war was His, and our cause His cause, but we could not stand another Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville. … And after that, I don’t know how it was, and I cannot explain it, soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul. The feeling came that God had taken the whole business into His own hands, and that things would go right at Gettysburg, and that is why I had no fears about you.”
Read His word.
Lincoln is said to have read the Bible regularly. His thoughts on its teachings are simple and strong.
“In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.”
Lincoln learned these principles over a lifetime of challenges, failures, and successes. What have your experiences taught you bout faith?
As a single person, I often have that visceral reaction to said holiday in February. Sometimes I wonder why I react that way. Sure, it’s often a reminder of what I don’t have, the gratuitous PDA, the boxes of chocolate with mystery centers that no one actually likes, the crushed expectations, and so on. But if I’m honest, sometimes it’s the idea of a relationship itself that triggers the rejection response.
You see, I hate risk. I don’t like roller coasters because of the out-of-control feeling. I don’t even like the game Risk because I hate staking my success on shaky odds. CERTAINTY. That’s what I’m about. But lots of things in life aren’t certain, and relationships are one of them. Frankly, as much as I say I feel lonely sometimes, when it comes down to it, being alone feels easier—or at least safer—than letting someone in. Granted, in dating relationships there are measures to keep yourself safe from physical and emotional abuse, but in any relationship there will ALWAYS be risk that you cannot control, and it’s that inherent risk in a relationship that makes me shy away.
Thus, I’ve come to realize that love—relationship—connection—requires faith in a few ways.
1. Faith in the value of connection.
The Bible defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV), “substance” meaning the “reality,” “the material part” (King James Dictionary). So faith is the concrete action that aligns with a belief in something greater than self. Faith in a relationship context is being willing to step into a place of uncertainty, because it’s in that space that a relationship has the opportunity to grow. Connection is the purpose of our existence, and we must risk pain with the belief that caring for someone is worthwhile, no matter the outcome. That belief helps us have the courage to step into that place of uncertainty.
In one of the first conversations of a recent relationship, I was fighting the tidal wave of fear that made me want to run for the hills when the thought came, “You can’t learn what you need to learn by yourself.” I can’t figure things out on my own and then step into the perfect relationship—it doesn’t work that way. We cultivate connection by moving forward in relationships with people and working on issues that come up in the process.
2. Faith in the power of my process.
I told the boy I liked him…and then immediately panicked. I can’t do this. I need more time. How do I know if I can trust him? The uncertainty and vulnerability of that first step was almost too much for me to handle. In those panicky moments I had to get curious about why I was reacting that way, and it led me to recognize the source as some deep-seated pain that I’ve been sitting on for a long time. I was grateful for loving friends that talked me out of running away and helped me feel my way through the pain to address the core issue. Getting at the root of those problems that block connection requires faith that facing the pain will get you where you want to be.
3. Faith in constant sources.
The ability to exercise faith is certainly influenced by the character of the person in whom you place your faith. I find that my faith in God, He who never turns away, gives me the foundation I need to be able to exercise my faith in relationships with other people. The strength of my relationship with Him determines how much I am able to stay open and vulnerable to other people, because if I base my worth and security off my inherent worth as His child, I can weather the storms of relationships with less perfect beings.
And so I move forward. I’m still scared sometimes, but if I value connection, believe that my process will work, and trust in a higher power, then this is what I have to do. If I want my life to be rich and full of meaning, I have to take a chance on people, because it’s only then that I can experience the exquisite sweetness of connection that comes from two people taking a chance on each other.
Ariel Szuch is a word nerd, writer, and compulsive reader who finds purpose in a life of faith.