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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
They come in many shapes and sizes, but these hats have one thing in common: Faith, each a symbol of reverence and sacred tradition.
Sikh men—and sometimes women—wear a dastaar or turban to cover unshorn hair. It’s a sign of spirituality as well as honor and self-respect, among other virtues.
A yarmulke or kippah is a cap worn by Jewish men during prayer, on the Sabbath, and during other sacred occasions. In some Jewish communities, the brimless cap is worn by men nearly always.
A Catholic nun’s veil is a protection from vanity and a sign of commitment and faith.
A biretta has been worn by certain Catholic clergy, such as priests, bishops, and cardinals, for centuries, and is a symbol of ecclesiastical authority.
Rtse zhwa (meaning “yellow hat”) is worn by Tibetan Buddhist monks. In Buddhism, yellow is a sign of humility and separation—renunciation of the world.
A shtreimel, always worn over a yarmulke, is a unique fur hat worn by Hasidic Jewish men and others. Tradition holds that the hat was a response to an edict to shame Jewish men for honoring the Sabbath, but the design became an emblem of honor.
A hijab is a female covering of modesty in Muslim cultures, and is also a symbol of dedication and separation, such as light from darkness or the profane world.
A tichel is a head covering worn by Jewish women, a sign of modesty and commitment.
Amish and Mennonite women, among other Christian women, wear bonnets based on New Testament advice to cover their heads during prayer (see 1 Corinthians 11:2–16).
A bindi, a red dot on a woman’s forehead, the location of the sixth chakra or third eye in Hindu tradition. Among other meanings, it’s a symbol of creation, intuition, communion with the Infinite, and the path of self-realization through prayer.
A mantilla or chapel veil expresses submission to God, often worn by women during Catholic mass, which also shows reverence and respect for the status and beauty of women.
The miter worn by some Christian clergy is a symbol of consecration to the priesthood, like the miter worn by the high priest in the days of Moses in the Old Testament.
A kufi, worn by Muslim men during prayer and other important occasions, is a sign of deep humility and reverence for God.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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…”
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.