Usually, holidays are synonymous with celebration. We set aside those special times each year to spend time with friends and family and rejoice over the founding of nations, the accomplishments of our past, or simply because we are together. But not all holidays call for laughter. Some ask for tears.
The story of Tisha B’Av begins after the Israelites were liberated from the captivity of Egypt. After passing through the Red Sea and leaving the rule of Pharaoh behind, they made their way to Canaan — their promised land. But when they arrived, God told them they’d have to conquer Canaan to occupy it. The people found themselves on unfamiliar ground. Until recently, the only lives they’d known were the lives of slaves. So, they sent spies to get an idea of what they were up against — and the news wasn’t good. The spies told of a people so large, the Israelites were like grasshoppers in comparison. They told of land that devoured those who lived within it. They reported of a fight so great that victory was impossible. Their doubt was contagious and the people believed their promised land was unattainable. Despite God’s promise, they wept. This marked the birth of Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av — the saddest day on the Jewish calendar.
The ninth has gone down in Jewish history as a day of calamity, from the destruction of the temples to the start of World War 1. It is a day of remembrance that encourages observers to reconnect with their heritage. And while Tisha B’Av conveys a story of sorrow and regret, it also hints at another lesson: self-doubt can be your greatest enemy.
Religion is ultimately about faith and hope. It’s about believing that God can help you find success against all odds. It’s also about knowing that even if we fail, we can end up better for it. It certainly isn’t about saying “I can’t” before you’ve even tried.
Joshua and Caleb, two of the twelve men sent to spy on Canaan, shared a view different from their companions. They believed that the people could successfully take the land. And while they suffered wandering through the wilderness for 40 years due to the weeping of their people, they were also the only two of those original spies who settled in Canaan. They showed that by saying “we can,” they could.
I think that the lesson of Tisha B’Av is a powerful one, but there is something I admire even more about the annual fast. While most holidays are centered around good times, the 9th of Av is a day of reflection on the hardships of the Jewish people. It is a yearly tradition to remind you of where you came from and where you are going.
So, this 9th of Av, take a moment to remember the hardships, mistakes, and suffering of the people who came before you — not just of your bloodline, but of your nation. Remember your friends and their hardships, your parents and their trials, your children and the difficulties that simply come with growing up. Think about the challenges of those in other nations. The 9th of Av is ultimately a day to remember that life is tough, but you are tougher — and that by applying some faith in not only God but yourself, you can attain whatever good things are in store for you.
Robert Milligan believes that creativity is God’s gift to man. He loves writing about his thoughts and creating new worlds in his fiction that families and friends can visit together — because doing things together makes everything better.
I am on my way to a Passover Seder at Brigham Young University. Sponsored by the program in Religious Education, the occasion garners enormous interest. A friend tells me that I had better sign up early because it always sells out.
I have heard about the event for years — mostly from my students at the University of Utah, where I teach literature and Jewish Studies. It always sounded quirky and interesting, but now that I am writing a book entitled “Holy Envy and the Jewish-Christian Borderzone,” I feel obliged to check it out.
These seders are held on a Friday night — Sabbath Eve. Already I discover that traveling into the border zone can entail discomforting choices; typically I don’t go anywhere on Friday nights, except to celebrate the Sabbath. But research calls. As the hour draws near, I find I am dragging my feet; I don’t want to go. Friday afternoon traffic is terrible; and once I get to BYU, I can’t figure out where the event is being held. I wander through enormous ballrooms until at last a student approaches, asking me what I am looking for. When I explain, he looks at me curiously and says, “Oh I’ll take you, but why are you going? You’re Jewish, aren’t you?” How does he know? I am not wearing a yarmulke, or anything else that betrays my identity. But somehow my “otherness” blares.
I walk into a small ballroom filled with long tables and not an empty seat in sight. Over a hundred people are looking towards the front of the room outfitted with a screen. The “seder’ is in progress. I am about to take a seat along the wall, planning simply to be a spectator or silent witness, when a woman hurries up to me, pointing towards a seat at the table. Now I’m in for it. I sit next to Clayton, one the best-behaved 10-year-olds I’ve ever met. The rest of the table nods and turns back to the PowerPoint presentation on “Passover at the time of Gamliel and Jesus” (Second Temple Judaism holds special appeal for Mormons, who see themselves as inheriting and extending the Temple tradition). I find myself thinking, “Okay, the Seder as a museum — a bit off-putting, but nothing terribly objectionable.”
Then the leader announces that the “lecture’ is over, the seder itself will begin, and dons a yarmulke. I begin to get nervous and find myself desperately scrawling a list of all the things I have to do before Pesach really begins: kasher the silverware, clean out all the chametz (leavened foods), muttering to myself “I don’t just visit Pesach, I live there.”
The leader tells the group to pour “two fingers” of “wine” (grape juice, since Mormons don’t drink alcohol) and proceeds to say the bracha (the blessing) in Hebrew: a non-Jew prays to the Jewish God as part of a performance. Looking back over my notes I see that I have scrawled, “This isn’t yours, it’s mine!” This is probably the moment when I feel most deeply estranged, longing to be at my own Shabbat table; the border zone can be a cold, lonely place, saturated with loss.
And then I hear the leader explaining that the salt water in which we are to “swirl” our parsley symbolizes the tears of the Egyptian mothers mourning their sons lost in waves of the Red Sea. It is a moving interpretation, a wonderful drash, and new to me. Compassion for others, intuited by others. The border zone, it seems, can also be the site of new meaning.
It is time to eat. Clayton, who has waited patiently, tucks in. The rest of the table starts to pepper me with questions: “Do you know this all by heart?” “Have you been to a seder before — you seem to know what you are doing” (and here I thought I was being so discreet). “Is this what real seders are like?” I don’t dissemble, but after explaining that at my house seders are quite a bit noisier and messier, I begin to ask them about their own interest in attending. The answers are varied, but share a common theme: we identify with your story; we too struggled to be free; we too were oppressed; we too have food rituals. Listening to these responses, I start thinking about the limits of analogy. Is abstaining from alcohol or hot beverages in the Mormon tradition equivalent to not mixing meat and milk in the Jewish? And what about comparing a recent historical event — a grueling trek undertaken by nearly three thousand Mormons over a period of four years, pushing handcarts from the Midwest to Utah in search of religious freedom — to a mythic account chronicling more than two-hundred years of slavery brought to an end only by divine intervention?
Before I can reflect any further on such questions that arise when religions come in contact, I overhear my neighbor musing, “It is funny that the Jews don’t understand that Passover is really all about Jesus. After all, they were saved because of the Blood of the Lamb on the doorpost.” All night I have been vigilant, on guard for even a whisper of religious appropriation, and just when I start to relax … bam! There it is. The border zone threatens to become a combat zone. But before I am able to react, the leader announces that the “seder” meal will conclude with a blessing . . . and BYU’s signature mint brownies. Although efforts have been made not to serve leavened food, exceptions must be made — and, to Clayton’s delight, I give him mine.
Once the afikomen has been found (and redeemed for another brownie), the leader dramatically takes off his yarmulke, saying, “Now I want to tell you why YOU should care about the Passover seder.” I sit up straight, listening hard. He continues: “as you know, Jesus was a Jew. Many Christians don’t know this, but he was, and he celebrated Passover.” Gesturing towards an image of Jesus at a table with the apostles, the leader cites a verse from Luke: “And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them saying: ‘This is my body, which is given to you.’ Seders, like this, help us build a bridge to our Jewish friends.” (Well, maybe…) The leader continues: “But more importantly, Jesus instituted the sacrament, and on this occasion, we gather to celebrate not just His resurrection but this time of redemption. For we know that Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith to sanctify the building of the first temple. He — Elijah — is with us.”
I look quickly at my neighbor (the same one who insisted that Passover is really all about Jesus) and, without my asking, he says: “In 1836, upstate New York, Elijah appeared in a vision.” Then the leader asks us all to stand to welcome Elijah: “for Christ has risen and redemption is at hand.” A student opens the door to the ballroom and we all turn in her direction. The leader raises the fourth cup — Elijah’s cup — the cup of redemption, which also signifies resurrection; and we are all silent. Utterly silent for a full minute, I twitch a bit, singing under my breath “Eliyahu hanavi…” (the hymn to Elijah). Then I give in to the silence. The seder is over. As we file out, I ask my neighbor (yes, the same guy) how he felt during that moment of ripe emptiness and fullness. He looks back, meeting my gaze, and says, “Holiness. I felt holiness.”
We say our goodnights. Walking out into the dark, I think of my own seders (and those of my friends), and how the moment when we open the door for Elijah is usually filled with awkward giggles; someone might move the table (as if at a séance), saying “oooh, do you think he is here?”; or someone’s uncle wearing a Santa Claus beard knocks at the door and enters to gales of laughter and song. If anyone believes — really believes — that the messiah might arrive, or even that it is the faintest of possibilities, they keep it to themselves. But now, thinking about that ballroom filled with such calm, sturdy faith, I get a taste of “holy envy,” knowing now what it means to experience spiritual lack.
On the way back to my own, “authentically” Jewish home, where my own Pesach preparations await, I find that I am emotionally spent. The Jewish Christian border zone is so very messy: disquieting, humbling, and well worth the trip.
Maeera Shreiber is Associate Professor of English and Religious Studies at the University of Utah. She is the author of Singing in a Strange Land: A Jewish American Poetics and the forthcoming Holy Envy: Writing in the Jewish Christian Borderzone.
Did you know the United States has an annual National Day of Prayer? Regardless of your religious beliefs, you can participate this year on Thursday, May 3. In fact, you may have been participating in small, daily ways already.
What is The National Day of Prayer?
The National Day of Prayer comes each spring, and has ever since 1952, when President Harry S. Truman declared it law. In 1988, the law was amended to appoint the first Thursday in May the official date of celebration. The amended law was signed by President Ronald Reagan, who said:
“From General Washington’s struggle at Valley Forge to the present, this Nation has fervently sought and received divine guidance as it pursued the course of history. This occasion provides our Nation with an opportunity to further recognize the source of our blessings, and to seek His help for the challenges we face today and in the future.”
People of many religions honor the day, including Christians, Protestants, Catholics, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews. Some gather to pray in houses of worship, and others celebrate with food, music, and time together.
This year, the theme is “Praying for America: Unity,” based on the scripture Ephesians 4:3: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
How Can Each of Us Participate?
Our nation is divided, but goodness can still be found. In 2017, stories of light shone through the darkness which shrouded nearly every bit of news. In addition to praying for the unity we desperately need now, we can follow the examples of the people who inspired us.
Find Common Ground
Do you remember when a 22-year-old rapper from Harlem and an 81-year-old grandmother from Florida became friends after competing in 324 rounds of an online crossword puzzle? Spencer Sleyon agreed to play a Words With Friends game with a random opponent. Over a year later, he and Rosalind “Roz” Guttman were still playing and had become real-life pals. They met in person in December of 2017, when Spencer traveled to Roz’s hometown.
Speak Well of Others
When Senator John McCain announced his brain tumor diagnosis last summer, fellow politicians—including some who opposed him in the past—rallied to offer support and encouragement.
Former president Barack Obama, who ran against McCain in the 2008 presidential election said, “John McCain is an American hero and one of the bravest fighters I’ve ever known. Cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against. Give it hell, John.”
Help Someone in Need
Around the same time last summer, nine swimmers, including an entire family of six, were trapped in the current at Panama City Beach in Florida. Beach-goers spotted them and rushed to the rescue. No one could do it alone, however. So a reported 70 to 80 strangers held hands and formed a human chain that stretched from the sand to the swimmers, who all survived.
On this year’s National Day of Prayer, we can each do something to build unity in the United States. Whether it is through prayer, friendship, kind words, or service, your part will make a difference. How will you celebrate?
“So what exactly is Shrove Tuesday?” my sister texted me on February 13th this year. While many people were preparing to celebrate Valentine’s Day, many people the world over were stuffing their faces with pancakes. Shrove Tuesday, also known as “the feast before the fast” signifies the gathering of Christian communities in homes and church basements across the globe to break bread before the forty days of Lenten fast that proceed Easter.
Having been raised largely in the Mennonite tradition, Shrove Tuesdays, Ash Wednesday services and the practices of a prolonged Lenten fast preceding Easter were unfamiliar to me before my university days. While I would often reflect on the story of Easter celebrated by Christians every spring, there was really very little sustained meditation on preparing one’s heart for Easter.
This year was different. I attended a Shrove Tuesday dinner in the basement of my new church. Hemmed in on each side by congregants from every stage of life, I devoured homemade pancakes prepared cheerfully by our clergy. At my table sat a young mother, an older man with a story of ongoing homelessness, young professionals and for a brief time the Pastor’s wife. The next morning I rolled out of bed for the 7:00am prayer service marking Ash Wednesday, a penitential service that signals the beginning of the season of fasting that precedes Holy Week and Easter Sunday.
Before we celebrate the sacrifice of our Saviour we must first remember the agony, we must first repent; we must first understand what it is to do without in our own small way. Lining up behind congregants, I bowed my head as the curate made the sign of the cross, repeating softly “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
I’ll be honest -this Lent, this doing without, that dust the curate talked about, all seem very apt in the anticipatory season that precedes Easter. In this Lenten season, the world does indeed seem dark and close to crumbling with great specificity to dust. It’s nothing and everything all at once. The dust seems visible to me through the shadow of the grave of which I am reminded as an acquaintance mourns the brutally slow loss of his mother to brain cancer and news of yet another bloody school shooting is splashed across the newspaper one morning. The dust rises in the seeming ashes of a dream as my friend cries across from me into her half eaten lunch. All she wants is a baby and new life seems impossible. Dust comes to me in the form of dust motes that slip through the air as I muffle sobs of my own as those dear to me describe a seemingly irreparable relationship. What to do with all of this space and sadness? Dust seems almost merciful in light of these losses.
Yet, I find myself thinking, perhaps herein lies the message of Lent and Easter: That redemption, hope fulfilled and comfort all begin within the presence of darkness. Isn’t this what first drew me to the faith? Isn’t it what breathes life into me on my darkest days now? The promise that in the ashes of brokenness and impossible darkness, a light dawns over the resurrected world. For what is the hope of resurrection and restoration if not seen alongside what comes before?
This Easter, it was the long shadow of the cross to which I looked to, baptizing my view of all that has gone before and all that is to come. As we in the Christian tradition broke the fast and celebrated the miracle of our Saviour restored and returned once again to live among us, I prayed for new eyes to see all that God is creating from the dust. As my eyes continue to catch on the crumble, on the dust motes and the shadow of the grave, as I know they will, I’ll remind myself to remember that dust is not the end and that resurrection has the last word.
Have you ever noticed how packed churches get on Ash Wednesday?
If you think about it, what often gets churches packed on Christmas and Easter—besides often being obligatory for practicing Christians to attend—is that many families are bringing along family members who may or may not be practicing Christians to attend with them.
You’d almost think it’s Christmas or Easter how packed churches get on this mid-week day that’s traditional yet optional for all range of Western Christians to attend—from Methodist to Lutheran to Presbyterian to Anglican to Catholic to Western Orthodox churches. But, on Ash Wednesday, nearly each man or woman has arrived on their own—often by themselves!
This year, the webmaster of my church was pleasantly surprised when she looked at the web analytics: the site had more users on Ash Wednesday than any other day of the year. Which actually seems to support the sense of non-churchgoers in attendance: it’s those who aren’t getting the bulletins and announcements each Sunday who need to look up the service times online.
I observed this a couple years ago when attending a service in Washington, DC. During the standing-room-only service, I saw faces I never saw on Sunday that day. My husband even recognized an old teaching colleague who was not a church-going Christian at the time; nevertheless she felt compelled that day to attend. “I just felt a pull today,” she said, after receiving the burnt ashes of last year’s palms on her forehead.
So what is it about Ash Wednesday that makes people remember it and show up? It certainly isn’t just to get a black smudge on their foreheads.
I think there’s something about Ash Wednesday that reminds us of something essentially human. If there’s something we can all relate to as human beings, it’s that we’re sinners. There’s something universal in this sense that we’ve strayed and we know it. There’s something beautiful about this honesty and willingness to show up and say so.
For Christians, Ash Wednesday is the start of the 40 days of Lent, preparing for Christ’s death and resurrection, during which Christians are called to pray, fast, and give alms to the poor. Many also give up something like sweets, or add a spiritual practice to their daily routine, as an effort to focus more on letting God work in our lives.
But, giving up chocolate or not, the pivotal part of Ash Wednesday is what perhaps most resonates with those making the greatest turnout. It’s the call to repent, to change our lives.
Of course, that’s what all Christians attending on Sundays are aiming to do as well—returning to keep refocusing our eyes on the goal, lift each other up, be nourished, and try again for another week. Because it’s true these 40 days, each Sunday, and Ash Wednesday that we’re all sinners. We all desperately need what we don’t deserve. It’s mercy, and it’s available for the taking, direct from the source of all Love, in limitless supply, every week and every day. All we need is to come and ask.
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.
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.
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.
I am a child of the desert and a lover of trees. I grew up with figs and pomegranates and acres and acres of citrus groves in my backyard. These trees bloomed in early spring and bore fruit all winter. I played in the secret shade of their green leaves all year long.
Then I moved to a place where winter was a gray crusty thing that often overstayed her welcome, where everything froze, and everything died, and there were plenty of days when it hurt my face to go outside. There was no secret green shade in this winter.
Nearing the end of my first winter there, I was convinced I had made a terrible mistake by moving to this frozen wasteland. And then I saw a maple tree bloom. It took me by surprise, in the still-cold air of early spring. Bright green buds unfurled, the sun shining behind them lighting them up like green stained glass. Next, leaves grew—huge—the size of dinner plates. In the heat of summer, I found shade.
Today, Jews celebrate Tu BiSh’vat, sometimes called Jewish Arbor Day or New Year of the Trees. It’s a time to plant trees, reflect on the lessons they teach, and connect to generations before and after.
I have planted over twenty trees since moving. It’s a wonder to me every year, after enduring winter, to watch the trees reawaken.
In that time, my heart has been broken. Shattered really, and more than once, hasn’t yours? Griefs, disappointments and betrayals are part of being human. No one is spared.
Sometimes after so much hurt, we walk around numb, frozen, guarding our hearts against future fractures. We push through, carry on with the business of life, steel ourselves, because we must. After all, so many rely on our strength to get things done. The world does not stop turning for our sorrows, so we bind ourselves up, compose ourselves, and do what we must to meet the unrelenting expectations.
Tu BiSh’vat is for all of us. On this day, we remember how even solid ground thaws year after year. We remember that no matter how dark or cold the winter, buds swell, tender shoots appear, leaves unfurl with complete faith in another growing season. Tu BiSh’vat reminds us that we can open our hearts again, with faith that the light will seep in, and we can soften, thaw, regenerate—and grow. Click here to learn more about Tu BiSh’vat.
Rachel Coleman is a writer, designer, and believer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
I was 14 years old the first time I went to Hawaii. Part of that dream vacation involved a trip to Pearl Harbor, where I read the names of the attack victims, watched a film detailing the history, and saw photos of Hawaii taken on the day that has lived in infamy.
It was a poignant moment for me as an American as I tried to imagine what that day must have been like. But it was also an uncomfortable moment, because I was surrounded by dozens of Japanese tourists who watched the same film, saw the same photos and read the same names I did. I wondered what the experience was like for them; I wondered what it was like to confront this part of our past from the other side.
Thirteen years later, I experienced a little of what those Japanese tourists must have been feeling.
My husband and I took our two daughters to the library in our Texas town. The children’s story time room contained an impressive display for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. The display included a video recounting the history of civil rights in the U.S. and powerful photos of civil rights demonstrators, one of which included a police dog attacking a black man in Birmingham.
“How do we teach our kids about this?” I whispered to my husband. But instead of his voice, I heard a child near me ask his dad a question:
“A dog is attacking him, Dad? But he’s not even doing anything.”
The boy was African-American, probably not much older than my oldest daughter. His dad was also looking at the photo, though with perhaps more emotion.
“That’s right,” he said. Because what else could he say?
For the first time since our arrival at the library, I really looked at the other families in the room. I discovered that everyone else was African-American; that my family and I were the only white people there. And I understood a little bit about those Japanese tourists.
I recognized the negative history that existed between the races in our country. But I also understood how far we’d come, how little animosity remained in that room, and how blissfully unaware my children were that there was any difference between them and the black children at all.
My parents were far removed from the civil rights movement of the 1960s. They were farm kids living in Idaho, a thousand miles away from that police dog in Birmingham. I’m not even sure if a single black person lived in their entire county. I know that no matter how much I read or learn, I will never really understand what the photos on those walls meant to the families that surrounded me. But I can try to imagine.
Another young mom approached my daughters and I as we watched the film. She talked to my oldest daughter, who was wearing a light blue princess dress-up.
“Are you Elsa?” she asked. My daughter, always the shy one, looked away and wouldn’t answer.
“She is,” I smiled. “She’s being shy.”
“We know all about Elsa,” she said. “My son — even though he’s a boy — sings ‘Let it Go’ all day long.”
And there we were, two young moms with children who loved the same Disney movie, chatting about our lives that were more similar than they were different. Her son did a silly dance move and made my girl laugh. We learned that our children were similar ages and both loved to watch “Bubble Guppies.” We talked while in the background Dr. King’s voice on the film said “I have a dream that one day … little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
While we still have a very long way to go, I saw a little piece of Dr. King’s dream come true that day. In the children’s room of a public library in Texas, white families and black families metaphorically joined hands as sisters and brothers. We were on our way to moving forward together with faith in the future.
Breanna is the author of two books, the mother of three children, and a frequent contributor to several faith-based magazines and blogs. She blogs about her faith, her family, and her favorite things at www.breannaolaveson.com.
It’s almost time for Christmas. You’ve sent your holiday cards, baked delicious treats, decorated the house and checked off every item on your shopping list — after all, the spirit of Christmas is the spirit of giving.
Generosity is central to the holiday season, and nothing says “Christmas spirit” like choosing the perfect gift for someone you love. But some of the best gifts you can give aren’t under any Christmas tree. They’re free, they won’t wear out, and they only get better with time. When you give these gifts to family, friends and strangers all year long, you’ll always get more than you give. This year, give these five gifts to everyone you meet.
It’s often said that gratitude turns what we have into enough. Maybe it’s a good thing that in the United States, Thanksgiving comes shortly before Christmas. When we take time to reflect on the wonderful things we have, and when we are truly grateful for those blessings, we feel more content and positive.
This holiday season and all year long, cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Be grateful for the gifts you receive, and count your blessings every day. Express gratitude to those who help you. Showing others gratitude will increase love and strengthen relationships.
Buying someone the latest technology is great, but sometimes the best thing you can give another person is your forgiveness. When we forgive, we heal. Others heal. We let go of a weight that brings us down, and we rebuild bridges that were previously burned.
Forgiveness may be one of the most valuable gifts we can give, but it can also be one of the most difficult. If it helps, pray for assistance. When you genuinely seek to let go of anger and hurt, forgiveness is possible. And it is liberating.
People from all over the world speak the same language — love. This year, give everyone around you more of it. Give your family a little more of your time. Pay attention to how others are feeling and offer extra kindness to those around you.
This gift can even extend to people you don’t know. Treat your mail carrier, your waitress and your grocery store clerk with extra attention and kindness. When you spread that kind of joy around, you can’t help but feel a little more joy yourself.
It’s stylish to be cynical, but you don’t have to be. While many people seem to take pleasure in leaving negative reviews online, being critical of others and being generally pessimistic, you can do better. This year, give everyone around you the gift of someone positive to be around.
Try it: when you’re tempted to complain, say something positive instead. Look for the good in someone who upsets you. Thank others for offering you service instead of pointing out how they could have done it better. Being positive and happy is contagious and is the perfect gift to give this year.
We often think faith is something we have in God or in the future, and that is certainly true. But this year, you can give the gift of a different kind of faith: faith in those around you.
Everyone has plans and ambitions, but courage can be difficult to find. Let a friend or family member know that you believe in him or her. Encourage those you meet to pursue their dreams, and offer help and guidance as appropriate. Having faith in the potential of others — especially when they might not believe in their own potential — is among the greatest gifts you can give.
Breanna is the author of two books, the mother of three children, and a frequent contributor to several faith-based magazines and blogs. She blogs about her faith, her family, and her favorite things at www.breannaolaveson.com.