What Ramadan Taught Me About Spiritual Purification

What Ramadan Taught Me About Spiritual Purification

Katie Steed

ramadan

The more I learn about Islam, the more I admire the dedication and strength of its believers, especially during the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is observed during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and lasts between 29 and 30 days. It is a month of intense daily fasting, prayer, and introspection, with the ultimate goal of growing closer to God through physical and spiritual purification.

As I read more about Ramadan, I found myself deeply drawn to the idea of spiritual purification. My faith in God has suffered over the past year after going through some difficult times, and I’ve been struggling to re-center my beliefs. Inspired by Ramadan and as time allowed, I decided to take two weeks to highly focus on my own spiritual purification. I am unable to fast from food and drink because of some medication I am taking, so I tried to “fast” from other things that play a big part in my life, like taking time off from social media and turning off my cell phone.

The first couple of days were quite difficult, as I kept getting caught up in my day-to-day routines and forgetting about my goal. When I’d remember to turn off my phone in the evenings to do some pondering, I found myself distracted by what I might be missing and wondering if anyone was trying to get in touch with me. I had to remind myself that spiritual health is more important than the latest photo on Instagram. My “fast” got easier every day and I was surprised at how much simpler it was to focus on my goal when I avoided those things, as I would imagine going without food gets easier and helps maintain the focus on mind (and spirit) over matter.

For the first week, I decided to get to the root of the breakdown in my faith, and that meant digging into issues that I had been purposely avoiding. Taking time to full-on face my spiritual weaknesses was painful. Admitting and accepting personal weaknesses is never a fun thing, but is necessary to progress and become stronger. I finished the week with a better sense of self, both good and bad, and a list of things I wanted to improve.

During the second week, I focused on my faith and relationship with God. Again, the beginning of the week was rough as I faced my doubts in God and some frustration I had been harboring. However, as the week went on I found myself looking forward to my quiet evenings of pondering and prayer. I was reminded of what I believe and why I value those beliefs. I can’t say that my faith is completely healed or that I have no more pain or doubts, but I am more aware and less afraid of my weaknesses, and my faith in God is in a much better place.

Ramadan ends with a three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr (the Feast of Fast-Breaking). It includes special prayers, meals with friends and family, and gifts. I think this is such a beautiful way to end what, I would imagine, can be an extremely trying month. After only my small two-week attempt I felt like celebrating, as my soul and faith felt refreshed, lighter, and stronger. Thanks to what I learned about Ramadan, I have an improved awareness of my spiritual health and a greater commitment to keeping it steady.

Katie Steed is a graphic designer who also loves to write. In her spare time she’s either biking, reading, or traveling.

Getting the Low-down on Fatherhood

Getting the Low-down on Fatherhood

Erin Facer

underdog

I walked in and sat down at a round table with two gentlemen. It was evening time and everyone was finishing up their desserts – mandarin oranges with cool whip. I struck up a conversation with the man sitting across from me. The other one didn’t say much. His head sagged and he struggled to bring it up to negotiate the food into his mouth. Out of the blue, he put his spoon down and asked, “have you heard this song?” He began singing,

“I was born almost ten thousand years ago,

And there’s nothin’ in the world that I don’t know;

I saw Peter, Paul and Moses,

Playing ring-around-the-roses

And I’m here to lick the guy that says ’tain’t so.”

Here in the local assisted living center, it felt a bit like some of the residents may have been born 10,000 years ago. Yet, as I chatted with various seniors, it became clear that there really was little in the world they didn’t know! The more I listened, the more I came to see them not just as old people in a nursing home, but as fatherly figures, not unlike my own grandpa. From the stories they told and the lives they lived they gave me new perspectives on what it means to be a father.

Fatherhood requires faith.

I am in awe of the variety of struggles represented by this relatively small population. John had 3 children. The oldest was adopted and struggled with mental and physical health issues. Ed’s wife had gotten pregnant three times, but all three ended in miscarriage, leaving them childless. Frank never married and has had a terrible relationship with his own father. Christopher’s grown son had passed away from cancer.

Being a father is not just the cheery idyllic picture of a man playing catch with his boy. Fatherhood is complex. It requires men who believe in sacrificing to put their families first. Fatherhood requires men willing to try and have children despite the potential for heartache. It requires men who believe they can be better fathers tomorrow than they were today.

Being a father takes work and worry.

One resident, Tom, described living in the ghetto of L.A. He said it was a dangerous area with gang violence and crime. On many occasions he had to physically protect his children against would-be attackers. One day he got a knock on his door. Upon opening it he found two young girls on his door step. He asked if he could help them and they quickly responded, “will you be our grandpa?!” He was surprised and asked why. They then explained that they often were scared and needed someone to protect them. They had recognized that he was not just a biological dad, he was also a protector and a provider. He was a father.

Being a father is the best.

Despite the worry and the heartache, the men I spoke to believed that being a father was the best. When asked what it was like to hold his first child in his arms Christopher said, “there is nothing like it.” Reminiscing about their lives, they could have told me about their careers or fun vacations, but they chose to tell me about their children and grandchildren. For them, that was what mattered most. And I reckon they would lick the guy that says ’tain’t so.”

Erin Facer is a graduate of Brigham Young University and proud southerner. Arranging flowers, perusing through old documents and spreading peanut butter on celery stalks are a few things that make her glad to be alive. Contact: Facererin@gmail.com

Embracing Your Inner Underdog

Embracing Your Inner Underdog

Erin Facer

underdog

From the struggling student to the rookie sports team, there is something magical about observing an underdog in action. An underdog is defined as “a competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest.” There is just something magical about watching the unlikely hero emerge victoriously. It bolsters our faith that seemingly impossible challenges just might be possible.

But, most people just want to WATCH the underdog. They do not want to BE the underdog.

In middle school, I joined the track team. I loved it. I loved being on a team, chugging tons of water, and of course running. I loved it, that is until they announced our first meet. I did not want to compete. Terrified that I would get last place, I begged my parents not to make me go. They, however, gave me their best parent pep talk and assured me I would do great.

Well, I got to the meet, ran my guts out and lost. Humiliated, I determined I was not fit to be a runner and that I would never again run in a race. There was no heartwarming soundtrack playing, no Rocky Balboa stair climb. I up and quit and I felt rotten.

Underdog moments test our character. They provide opportunities for us to determine what is worth risking ridicule. When we rise to the occasion, we become our best selves. Unfortunately, as in my story, we often do our utmost to avoid these moments of stretching, causing us to reach only a fraction of our potential.

How can we embrace our own underdog moments instead of passively watching others defeat their own goliaths? How can we develop faith in the possibility of the seemingly impossible?

1. Foster grit – Psychologist, Angela Lee Duckworth, claims that success is not tied to talent or aptitude. Rather, successful people are those who just keep going. For those with grit, failure is not a stop sign, but a “full speed ahead.”

2. Believe you can improve – Early in my running career, I labeled myself as a “bad runner.” I felt certain that practice could never improve my incompetence. Instead of this mindset, I could have recognized the fact that our bodies and minds are surprisingly elastic. We are constantly learning and growing. We can change. We can improve.

3. Admit where you are at – Be honest and open with yourself about what you can and can’t do. This will help you set realistic goals. Tell someone you trust about your goal and be accountable to them on your progress/lack thereof.

4. Celebrate other’s successes – This may seem counter-intuitive, but it works. Prior to my race, I certainly didn’t hope that the other runners would do their best. I hoped they would all trip and break their legs. However, there is power in celebrating what others can do. This allows us to better see how hard work pays off and shows what is possible. We build a bank of heroes rather than a list of enemies.

5. Do what you enjoy – We do not have to be the best at something to enjoy it. Rudy, for example, did not allow his lack of talent to squelch his love of football. For me, abandoning racing had nothing to do with a dislike for running. In fact, I continued to run secretly because I enjoyed it so much but, I allowed the fear of other’s derision to hinder my efforts and slow my progress.

These attributes do not come easily, but through hard work, they can be gained. We can learn to embrace our underdog situations. Embrace our humility, vulnerability, and potential. This past year I crossed the finish line of my first half-marathon, finishing second in my age group. And I could have sworn I heard the Rocky theme song.

Erin Facer is a graduate of Brigham Young University and proud southerner. Arranging flowers, perusing through old documents and spreading peanut butter on celery stalks are a few things that make her glad to be alive. Contact: Facererin@gmail.com

The 411 on Shavuot

The 411 on Shavuot

Chad Schaeffer

Love Thy Neighbor

Shavuot commemorates the revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai to the Jewish people and occurs on the 50th day after the 49 days of counting the Omer. The counting of the Omer is an important verbal counting of each of the forty-nine days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot. Men typically don’t shave or get haircuts during this time, as stated in the Hebrew Bible. Shavuot is one of the three biblically based pilgrimage holidays known as the shalosh regalim. It is associated with the grain harvest in the Torah.

During the course of the holiday, Jewish people don’t go to work, drive, write, or use electric devices. We are permitted to cook and to kindle a stove with a flame that existed before the holiday (or which was lit from such a flame).

Shavuot eve

It is customary to decorate synagogues and homes with flowers and boughs.

Women and girls light candles this night to usher in the holiday. I’m not sure of the reasoning for this, but it is a tradition that most synagogues follow. After the holiday evening prayers, a festive holiday meal, complete with the recitation of the holiday, kiddush is enjoyed. (Kiddush is a prayer and blessing over wine, performed by the head of a Jewish household at the meal ushering in the Sabbath or a holy day, or at the lunch preceding it. On this night it is customary to remain awake and study the Torah until dawn. Every year it is fun to see the kids try to stay up. Some make it but most fall asleep. Typically most synagogues will bring in a scholar and have him or her teach to those in the synagogue.

First day of Shavuot

Torah reading: Exodus 19:1–20:23; Numbers 28:26–31
 Haftarah: Ezekiel 1:1–28; 3:12

Reading of the Ten Commandments is done on the first day of Shavuot.

All men, women, and children go to the synagogue to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments. At many synagogues, the youngest children recite the Ten Commandments. This is in commemoration of the Jewish people declaring, “Our children are our guarantors [that we will keep the Torah].” They do this because there is a midrash which states that this is the only guarantee acceptable to G‑d.

In the past, priests would bless the congregation with the priestly blessing during the Musaf prayer. Many communities chant the Akdamut poem before the reading of the Torah.

Kiddush is recited and a holiday meal follows. It is customary to eat dairy foods this day.



Candle-lighting, from a pre-existing flame, occurs after nightfall. Whoever will say yizkor lights a yahrtzeit candle, also from a pre-existing flame. After the holiday evening prayers, people have another festive holiday meal, complete with the recitation of the holiday kiddush.

Second day of Shavuot

Torah reading: Deuteronomy 15:19–16:17; Numbers 28:26–31
 Haftarah: Habakkuk 2:20–3:19

The Yizkor memorial service is recited (and charity is pledged usually) for the souls of departed loved ones. Kiddush is recited and a holiday meal follows. Some communities have the custom to read the Book of Ruth on the second day of Shavuot. The holiday ends at nightfall.

Love Thy Neighbor

Love Thy Neighbor

Emily Hedrick

Love Thy Neighbor

In June 2016, my friends and I had the opportunity to spend three weeks in Morocco during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Although my initial goals for the trip were to visit amazing sites, I had no idea that I would come away with a deeper respect for Islam.

Morocco is in Berber country in the northwest corner of Africa. For a Westerner like myself, everything was foreign— the language, the writing, and the culture. I was greeted by our guide Mohammed (there are a lot of Mohammed’s in Morocco) who introduced us to Moroccan life. My questions about Islam were endless and Mohammed graciously answered every single one.

me on a camel

After our two-week tour, Mohammed invited me to spend a few days with his family. Not wanting to pass up on his invitation, I spent three days getting to know his family and learning their customs firsthand. Communication was tough because I had a lot of questions for his family, but only Mohammed knew English. It was a wonderful opportunity to sit back and observe this close family who is dedicated to their beliefs. As I spent those few days with Mohammed, his wife, and his three sons I could see very clear that Allah came first and a very close second was his family. They were dedicated to their daily fasting, praying, and reciting of the Quran.

me on a camel

Mohammed, his brother, two sons, and I took a drive around the windy roads of the Atlas mountains. We stopped at a mosque for Mohammed and his brother to pray at. There were no other buildings or structures around and it was far from the town in the valley. I learned later that this mosque was built only in the last couple of years. When King Mohammed VI was traveling around his country, he stopped in this area. He met an old man and asked him what he could do to help him. The old man asked for a “place where he can pray.” The King was surprised by his request because most people ask him for financial help. He went back to his palace and organized funds to build a mosque. This mosque is now a place of worship for many of the shepherds and others who live in this isolated territory.

This story has stayed with me ever since. My experiences in Morocco have been one of the highlights of my life. I look at my friend Mohammed as an example of someone who truly lives his faith. He and all the Moroccans that I met generously live by “love thy neighbor as thyself” and are a continued example to me.

Faith in God’s Timing

Faith in God’s Timing

Karen Trifiletti

faith is like a hike

Faith in God’s Timing

Karen R. Trifiletti, M.A.

Is God Running Late?

I, like you, feel I’ve spent quite a bit of time in God’s waiting room. I could likely write a book titled An Impatient Woman’s Guide to the Universe! My tutorials began early. I recall trying to shorten a piano practice as a young girl— lunging over the keys, reaching the wall-mounted clock and moving its hands–as if changing the hour and second hand would speed up time! My piano lesson had ended, but my lesson about time had just begun.

Do you ever feel like things are taking sooo long in God’s plan for your life? Knocking has not yet yielded specific blessings or items on your spiritual hope list? Let’s face it. It’s easy to be like Uzzah–to step in and try to steady the ark of our lives–make it happen, isn’t it? (See 2 Samuel 6) But don’t such impetuous moments only seem to cause us to lose ground, waste time, or cause a mess from which our Maker must extricate us?

I’m learning that our life snapshot often looks the exact opposite of what God has promised—like a film negative in a darkroom–before He reverses it and gives us the colorful, pixel-perfect product He is producing in us and for us.

So Why Does God Wait?

Good question, right? Well, we know that the Creator is not wasting time. He’s too economical for that! My journals reflect that often He is:

  • Putting us in posture of dependence
  • Preparing us for what He’s preparing us for
  • Paving the way for us to know Him better

Posture of Dependence

Doesn’t it seem that our Higher Power often comes through after our reserves are spent, so He and not “we” get the glory?

Here’s a simple illustration: My daughter was performing with peers in a high-school performance of Seussical Musical. Several days prior to opening night, she contracted an untimely, persistent virus that stole her voice. My daughter’s peers came together, of their own accord, to fast and pray to the Father of Light for Talia to have her voice back in time to perform. Two days before the performance. No voice. The day of the performance. No voice. Dress rehearsal. No voice. Talia walked on stage with a prayer and promise in her heart. It was as she spoke her first lines that her voice returned. It’s true that God is sometimes and purposefully, “a Nick o’ Time God.”

You can probably recall lots of instances when God’s answer came through at the last minute to test and stretch your trust in Him—and on matters where the stakes were far greater, and the stage was real life. You’re not alone. Think “widow of Zarepeth” (See 1 Kings 17:10-16); “Moses” (Exodus 14); “Hagar” (Genesis 21:12-21), or of sacred stories in your own tradition. The universe’s pattern of fulfilling our hopes when we least expect it, when human help won’t cut it, or when it looks impossible, seems to be its hallmark.

It seems to be in that space in-between, when our own resources end and when God is all we have, that we learn that He is all we need—one anonymous writer said.

Preparing Us for What He’s Preparing Us for:

It seems God prepares us for what He is preparing us for—a work, a circumstance, an answer, a reward.

I think of the account of Joseph, shared in some traditions. He spent years in prison unfairly before he was placed as second in command for all of Egypt, so he could handle being second in command and be in a position to be used of God to save his family (See Genesis 39). Things changed instantly for him—once he was prepared for what His Higher Power was preparing him for. It took the pit to prepare him for the palace. Sometimes it happens that way with us, too.

One man of faith once candidly shared that he’d harbored resentment for a parent who’d abandoned him and his family when he was a child. He meditated about his predicament often and asked God to take his feelings of hostility away. He wondered why no recognizable answer came. Then, years later, it happened. He became a father himself and was playing with his son. He said, in a moment, he felt the loss his father must have felt—for he would never know the joy he himself was experiencing. His heart softened; he felt sadness and pity for his father; and his prayer was answered. This man of faith’s conclusion: Our Higher Power or Spirit of Light often waits until we are prepared to receive the answer He has to give. Until we have a place in our soul to receive it, an answer would be an unrecognized gift. God prepares us for what He is preparing us for.

To Know God, Our Higher Power

God wants us to know Him. And sometimes, that only comes with darkened skies and delayed answers.

Words to close with: “Don’t consider divine delays to be divine denials; don’t steal tomorrow from God’s hands” (JB Cowan, Streams in the Desert, Zondervan, 1977, p. 125). His timing is precise. The One we wait for will not disappoint. He’s never a minute late. We don’t need to mess with the hands on the clock like I did as a child. Our times are in His hands.

And, if I ever write that book about God’s timing, I hope it will be retitled, A Once-Impatient Woman’s Guide to the Universe!

Karen R. Trifiletti, M.A. is a mother of two, writer/author, with extensive faith-based web and print writing, training, strategic consulting, and creative development experience. Contact her at karenrose.trif@gmail.com.

William Tyndale: 3 Things to Learn from the Father of the Bible

William Tyndale: 3 Things to Learn from the Father of the Bible

Zac Layton

William Tyndale laid a foundation of faith and, with help from his comrade Martin Luther, turned the western world upside down. Known as the “Father of the English Bible,” Tyndale’s fierce loyalty to God’s word ignited a fire within him, driving him to translate and publish the first English New Testament for the masses. It’s a feat that would keep him at odds with Christianity’s elite and lead to his fiery martyrdom.

In 42 short years, William Tyndale left a legacy we can pattern today for courageous and faith-filled living.

Faith to Persevere

“Yea, except you fought sometime against desperation, hell, death, sin, and the powers of this world for your faith’s sake, you would never know true faith from a dream.”

When circumstances, people, and odds seem to be stacked against us, we can stand with faith, hope, and boldness—smiling brightly—knowing that God is leading our way. However rough the path may be, He is always there carrying us to something better.

Serving to Bless

“Serve each other freely as one hand doth the other. Seeking each the other’s health, wealth, help, aid, and succor, and to assist one another…and serve in…love, hope, and faith.

One of the great joys in life is being the answer to somebody’s prayer. A simple goal, one that might take some time to achieve, is to go about doing good until there is no more good left to do. These don’t have to be big, miraculous events, but with every day friendliness and acting in love and faith we can leave in our wake an inheritance of hope.

Living with Love

“He first loved us, that we might see love again and again.”

God is love and His plan for us is love. In fact, we are only able to love because “He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

What a supremely awesome display of love He showed us!

When you think about those times in life when you felt love, it is most likely tied to a kind or caring act from another– or perhaps when you were giving of yourself generously. You see, actions define us, now and forever. The great general-turned-slave, Maximus, from the epic film Gladiator prophesied, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

And so it does. Love is not a noun, something passively waiting to be acted upon. Love is defined in actions and characteristics that are shown consistently and daily in the faith-filled lives of those who are looking to lift burdens and inspire those in need.

Zac Layton is a husband and a father to three daughters. A BYU grad and former copywriter and marketing director for global businesses, he’s now working as a program manager for his dream employer in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Faith of Refugees

The Faith of Refugees

Steve Wunderli

faith is like a hike

The disruption of lives around the world through unstable economies and war has sent people fleeing to safe places. Many are families. Many leave families behind. Caught in the turmoil of politics and an uncertain future, it’s remarkable to witness the faith of these refugees in the face of so much hopelessness. I interviewed a number of them within a year of their landing in the United States. They are from the Congo, Somalia, Tanzania, and South Sudan. Here are some of their stories:

Jeremiah left his village in South Sudan at the age of 4 when his parents were killed. He was one of the lost boys who survived the 400-mile-trek to Ethiopia, and two years later, to Kenya where he stayed for 12 years before coming to America where he is now a U.S. citizen. His family was Christian, although he doesn’t remember what denomination. In the camp, he was taught by Catholic nuns. “I always knew that God was leading me,” he says. Jeremiah became the natural leader of his group of 30 boys who came to America, encouraging them to get their college degrees and to believe that God knew them–a long ways from that desert trek when they were 4 and 5 years old. When I asked Jeremiah how he survived, he said: “Because I believe in Jesus Christ.”

Hawa is a tiny young woman from Somalia who was also raised in the refugee camp in Kenya. She is Muslim and the silk scarf loosely wrapping her head accentuates her beautiful face. She doesn’t stop smiling the whole time we talk. She is one of seven children. “It was always our dream to come here,” she says. “I want to be a teacher. I love children.” Education is a light to those in refugee camps. As the mind develops the world opens up and hope increases. Hawa’s family always had faith in a better life and they never gave up hope. Their faith was in a future place where they could worship without persecution. Now they are part of a very diverse community. “Yes, I love it,” Hawa says. “People are from all over the world.”

Bashire found himself in the middle of the conflict in Burundi. He moved to Tanzania, then back to Burundi to find a wife. After marrying, he and his wife fled to a refugee camp in Tanzania to wait out the war. But the war kept going and the camp was no place to raise a family. After nine years they came to the U.S. The kids enrolled in school, two are now in college. “We knew God was watching, but we didn’t really find him until we came here,” Bashire says. “We just worked every day and hoped for a better life. And now we have one.”

The story of each refugee is different, yet each is weaved with common threads. The brightest color being their daily hope, their faith that life will get better. Each believe in God, and each worships in a different way. And perhaps that is the beauty of it. Each person brings their faith into the tapestry of a community. All over the country refugees are becoming part of existing faith communities. The community is then enriched by the different insights and experiences they bring. You have to wonder if that is the way God intended it to be. That He gives a bit of truth here, an insight there, and a myriad of experiences. When a community comes together to befriend, all are enriched. It’s diversity by design. After all, aren’t we all His creations? And all who seek Him will find a path that leads to Him.

Jeremiah told me that along his trek there were small miracles, mostly in the form of people who would feed them, or hide them, or give them directions to safe passage. From Heaven’s view, I wonder if we could see this great migration of God-seeking people, slowly moving and coming together, separating themselves from those who would persecute and do harm.

As those with faith exercise their beliefs and seek God, I believe that we are the ones along the path pointing the way to safe passage, offering them a bit of nourishment and being strengthened ourselves by their hope.

Faith is Like a Hike

Faith is Like a Hike

Matthew Havertz

faith is like a hike

Matthew Havertz

I was too young to be embarrassed by my mom’s blue fanny pack. Her pony tail, tied with a scrunchy, bounced as she said,”There is a waterfall at the end of this hike!” My 8-year-old friends and I got excited.

The sky was clear and the air was hot as we followed my mom one by one onto the trail. I looked down at my feet stepping one after another on the brown, dirt path. Every once and a while we passed a rock. “Are we ever going to get to the waterfall?” I thought to myself. All I had was my mom’s word.

faith is like a hike

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally got to a forest of pine trees. I looked up at these beautiful, green, towering things. Their aroma smelled incredible. “But where is the waterfall?” I thought as we stopped to take a break.

Soon I could hear water babbling over rocks as we continued on. “Okay, maybe the waterfall is close.” We continued on for another eternity. The forest started to bore me. After awhile, I could see the stream. The water shimmered as it danced along it’s stone path.

Soon enough, I heard the rumbling of a large amount of water. A few moments later, I could feel mist. I knew my mom was right—there was a real waterfall. Then I saw it: a tall powerful cliff with water pouring off the top. I remember playing with my friends in the water and bowing my head under the cool, crisp downward flow.

Oftentimes, faith is like hiking towards a waterfall. At first, all we can do is trust in the words of others. As we get closer to our spiritual destination, we see evidence of our faith. In this life, most of us will never perfectly know the truth of the words we have trusted in by actually, physically experiencing Heaven or seeing angels. However, we can know the words of others are true by the evidence around us. Just like I believed my mom’s words were true because I heard water babbling in the distance.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

faith is like a hike

Do Biblical Miracles Exist Today?

Do Biblical Miracles Exist Today?

Maddy Stutz and Madison Seyfried

bible miracles

Like many, you might have thought that the healing powers of muddy ponds were solely reserved for Biblical times. But what if I told you there’s a place performing these same miracles as we speak? Welcome to the muddy grotto of Masabielle, France, also known as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. This sacred pond has been a part of some major Catholic pilgrimages for over 150 years, attracting nearly five million pilgrims a year.

A simple dip is said to cast away handicaps, injuries, and even terminal conditions. (But no, not your Facebook addiction!) Science has no explanation for these miracles, but you’ll find a heap of old bandages and crutches near the grotto to this day. And it all started with a girl searching for firewood.

Bernadette Soubirous was just 14 years old when she was sent with her sister to search for firewood, and came across an apparition. They dropped to their knees and prayed in worship of the spirit, who they later said was the Virgin Mary.

Bernadette would come to see the Virgin Mary many times, who guided her to the grotto that has healed the sick ever since.

Healings like this are not unusual for believers. We’ve been told these stories ever since we were old enough to comprehend them! But unlike biblical times, we now have the blessings of advanced scientific technology to help turn legend into fact. Since 1883, medical examiners have put belief to the test to find a science-backed explanation for these healings. Since these investigations started, the number of healings has drastically been reduced with just 4 confirmed miracles over the last 40 years.

Now, 4 out of millions of people might sound like, well, a 4 in a million chance of being healed. But let’s be honest, those slim pickings mean the world to someone who was told they have no chance at all. In truth, these miracles might come down to just one thing: faith.

When Christ came upon a blind man and told him to bathe in the pool of Siloam, do you think he was the only one who took a dip? No, I’m sure that after the miracle was performed numerous people tried to duplicate it. But they were missing the faith that the blind man held.

It’s faith that heals, not water.

As a writer, believer, and chronic Pinterest fail-er, Maddy believes that everyone has a unique message to share with the world, and enjoys finding new ways to strengthen her faith through different perspectives.

The History of Vaisakhi from a Sikh’s Perspective

The History of Vaisakhi from a Sikh’s Perspective

Satnam Singh

vaisakhi

In India, Vaisakhi is a month where the year’s crops are harvested. It’s a joyous occasion when farmers and their workers celebrate their success. However, Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi for another reason; on this day, a new crop of mankind was created— “The Khalsa.”

On the day of Vaisakhi in 1699, a revolution occurred in the Punjab. At Kesgarh Sahib in Anandpur, a new nation was created by Guru Gobind Singh— a nation of warriors who fought against oppression; a nation who fought for the poor and the needy; a nation who fought for the rightful cause of mankind.

The Guru convened a large gathering in Kesgarh at Anandpur. The Sikhs were invited by special “HukamNamas” (orders) from faraway places. Divine music was sung and as the chanting of Asa Di War (morning hymns) concluded, the Guru retired inside the tent. He then came out and brandished his sword and addressed the assembly, “My devoted friends, this sword is daily clamoring for the head of a dear Sikh. Is one among you ready to lay down his life at a call from me?” There was a deep silence and everyone wondered as to what the Guru had planned.

At last Bhai Daya Ram, a 30-year-old Khatri of Lahore, stood up and bowing himself before the Guru, he offered his head. The Guru took him into the tent. A few moments later he came out with blood dripping from his sword; again, he made the same request and four more followed including: Bhai Dharm Das, a 33-year-old farmer from Delhi; Bhai Mokham Chand a washerman of Dwarka; Bhai Sahib Chand a barber of Bidar; Bhai Himmat Rai a water carrier of Jagannath.

After taking the fifth man inside, the Guru took a longer time to come out. At last, he appeared with his sword sheathed, his face beaming with joy and satisfaction. Behind him walked those, who had apparently been killed. They were all dressed like the Master in saffron garments. Their faces, dress, and appearance were like the Master. They had given him their heads, and he had given them himself and his glory.

The five Sikhs who had given the Guru their heads were titled the “Five Beloved Ones” (Panj Piyaray). They were then requested to focus their thoughts on the Almighty God. The Guru then stirred the pure water in an iron vessel with the Khanda (two-edged dagger), until the prayers prescribed for the ceremony were chanted.

The use of a Khanda has a deep meaning. The first edge of the Khanda signifies the creative power of life and its sovereign strength, it’s immortality that can never be overpowered. The second edge of the Khanda signifies the power of chastisement and justice which protects truth, and all those who believe in God and truth. The iron vessel in which the pure water was stirred, signifies the strength of heart and mind. The chanting of hymns symbolizes divine power and is meant to give the Sikhs a strong faith in their religion and in the Almighty Lord.

Sugar crystals (Patashas) were added to the holy water (Amrit), which, the Guru’s wife Mata Sahib Kaur brought in. This was meant to bless the initiates, not only with courage and strength, but also “with the grace of womanly sweetness.” With the Amrit prepared (which was called “Khanday Ka Phul”), the Guru stood up and asked the Five to kneel. The Guru showered the Amrit in the eyes of each and asked them to speak aloud, “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Kee Fateh” (wonderful God’s is the Khalsa, and wonderful God’s is the victory).

The Amrit was sprinkled in their hair and each was asked to drink the Amrit from the same vessel. This transformed them into lions, knitting them together in a brotherly love—destroying the distinctions of caste and creed. After this, the Guru gave each the title of Singh, or lion.

After instructing the Five, the Guru himself knelt before them with folded hands and prayed for them to initiate him into the new faith. A similar practice was followed and Guru Gobind Rai then took the title of Singh and became Guru Gobind Singh. They became mutual protectors of each other and there was no difference between Guru Gobind Singh or his Khalsa (meaning “The pure one who seeks for Truth”). This gave the Sikhs a perfect principle of democracy, the Guru declaring wherever any of the Five were, there he would be. The “Five Beloved Ones” will have an authority superior to that of his own.

News of this unique event was recorded by a Persian news writer and the official report was sent to Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor of India at the time. The report quoted the instructions of Guru Gobind Singh to his Sikhs after they were baptized. The instructions were: “Let all embrace one creed and obliterate differences of religion. Let the four Hindu castes who have different rules for their guidance abandon them all, adopt the one form of adoration, and become brothers. Let no one deem himself superior to another…”

The Story of Easter is Personal

The Story of Easter is Personal

Tiffany Tolman

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The Story of Easter is Personal

Death is hard because we are inherently circle people. It’s in our nature to see things in terms of forever. Unless it involves something unpleasant like cleaning toilets or getting a cavity filled, we don’t like endings. That’s why death’s stark ending hurts our souls and breaks our hearts.

2016 was shrouded in gloom. As we said goodbye to Professor Snape, Princess Leia, John Glenn and Harper Lee (and that’s just the beginning), death hung heavy in the collective air. But for me, 2017 has been hard for more personal reasons.

Already this year, a close family member lost her mother to cancer, a friend has been battling an aggressive disease, and my father-in-law looked death square in the eye with a massive heart attack that stopped his heart for nearly twenty minutes. He barely survived. For me, this year is the reason the story of Easter is so deeply personal to Christians.

In the Christian faith, Easter represents hope.

For Christians, the celebration of Easter commemorates not only the Passion of Jesus but the miracle of His Resurrection. According to Christian tradition, Jesus was killed on a Friday afternoon and resurrected on a Sunday morning, with the promise that every person ever living (and dying) on the earth will not stay dead forever.

This hope rings true to people of faith—including people from religious traditions outside Christianity—because we are circle people. We like the promise of no endings.

When my sweet ninety-year-old grandmother died a couple years ago, I cried. I have so many memories of times spent just with her. She made me strawberry milk, and I played in the ocean that was her backyard during irrigation days. I miss her. My grandfather, her husband, died just before I was born, so I never knew him. But I’m sure she cried and cried and cried when he died. That’s what happens when we lose those we love.

But the promise of Easter is that those separations and sorrows won’t last forever.

A few years ago, I performed Johannes Brahms’ Requiem in a choir. If you enjoy that kind of thing, it’s a piece you don’t want to miss. After learning to chew up and spit out the unfamiliar German words, I could finally focus on the meaning of the text. And the words resonated with my soul. I spent several rehearsals, tears streaming down my face, rejoicing as the somber plodding refrain, “All flesh is as grass; … for lo, the grass with’reth, and the flower thereof decayeth,” made way for the triumphant declaration, “Death, O where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy triumph?”

When Christians celebrate the events of Jesus’s final week of life on earth—Palm Sunday, remembering His triumphal entry into Jerusalem as a king; the Last Supper, where He taught His closest followers important Christian doctrine; the Garden of Gethsemane, where He prayed throughout the night; Good Friday, a day of betrayal, anguish, and death—they do it looking forward to the hope of that early Sabbath morning when Jesus put an end to the finality of death.

For circle people, the story of Easter promises an end to the endings and hope for countless tomorrows with those we love. And that makes it personal.

Tiffany Tolman lives, loves, writes, reads, and plays through the window of faith. And that makes all the difference. Find her at th.tolman@gmail.com.

3 Ways to Celebrate Buddha’s Birthday No Matter Your Faith

3 Ways to Celebrate Buddha’s Birthday No Matter Your Faith

Maddy Stutz

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Consider this your Facebook reminder that someone has a birthday today…it’s Buddha!

Buddha and what he exemplifies means a lot to millions of people around the world.

Buddha’s real name is Siddhartha Guatama and was an actual person who was born on April, 8th around the year 563 BCE. Buddha started out as a prince, but later denounced his crown and founded Buddhism.

Buddha’s main message was to lead a moral life and to be aware of both yourself and those around you. These principles are basics in any religion, making it easy to apply them in our own lives!

So here are 3 ways you can celebrate Buddha’s birthday no matter your faith.

A Meditation Celebration

Meditating is one of Buddhism’s most talked about methods of gaining enlightenment. Trust me, this works way better than pinning quotes to your Pinterest board! Start by finding a quiet spot that’ll stay quiet for at least 15 minutes. If that means you’re just chilling in your car, that totally works!

Once you find your quiet place, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Count the breaths you are taking and try to slow them down. Once you find a slow, peaceful rhythm transfer your focus to your body. Are there any areas that are tense? Focus on those areas and imagine cool water brushing over them. When they’re nice and relaxed, bring your attention back to your breathing. When you’re ready, open your eyes and take note of how you feel. You can use this quick meditation as a way to wind down, or start going more in depth with your thoughts. It’s all up to you!

Pat on the Back

Buddhism is all about being self-aware, and recognizing both your faults and successes! So, we’re gonna write ourselves a letter of recommendation!

Yes, I am totally serious.

I want you to write a letter about why you’re qualified for this “job” called life. Write down what strengths you are proud of, and what life experiences have helped you get to where you are now.

Next, I want you to answer the dreaded interview question, “What are your weaknesses?” Take some time thinking through this, but make sure not to punish yourself for your weakness. No one’s perfect, so don’t put that expectation on yourself! Find ways you can turn a happy weakness into a happy strength, then go out and make it happen!

Pat Someone Else’s Back

Not just anyone’s back…but an enemy’s back.

I know a name just popped into your head. One popped into mine, too!

Take a few minutes to think about this person. What have they done right? What about them can you actually admire? If this is taking a while, go ahead and scroll up to that section about meditation. Clear your head a little and try answering this question when you’re relaxed and calm.

When you have at least one good quality, go ahead and pick up the phone and tell them!

Okay, who are we kidding, no one calls people anymore. Especially their enemies.

If you feel comfortable getting on the phone, that’s great! But if not, then go ahead and send your compliment via a Facebook comment or email! Either way, you’re getting outside of your head and focusing on others, despite their flaws.

After all, that’s what Buddha was all about.

As a writer, believer, and chronic Pinterest fail-er, Maddy believes that everyone has a unique message to share with the world, and enjoys finding new ways to strengthen her faith through different perspectives.