Ramadan 2018 and Eid al-Fitr: 6 Things You Should Know

Ramadan 2018 and Eid al-Fitr: 6 Things You Should Know

Ross Ackerman

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As Ramadan draws to a close, Muslims begin to look back in reflection on the month of fasting. Each day, from sunrise until sunset, Muslims refrain from food and drink to commemorate Muhammad’s first revelation of the Quran.

Once the sun sets, the daily fast comes to an end and the nightly meal, Iftar, begins. Do you know what to expect at an Iftar?

1. Arrive on time

Iftar is a regular breaking of the fast, and occurs exactly at the time of the sunset. If you happen to arrive late, you may miss the most important part of this Islamic tradition. So don’t do that!

2. Expect a crowd

Community is an important part of Ramadan. Breaking the fast and sharing food strengthens bonds between family and friends. Iftar is often a chance for people to host each other in their homes or gather together for a potluck in a local mosque.

3. Enjoy great food

Since Iftar translates from Arabic as “break fast,” you would be right to guess that the main event at a gathering is eating food. Following the tradition set by the prophet Mohammed, the fast is typically broken with dates and water. Be ready for lots of snacks, drinks, and sometimes even full course meals, but don’t start eating until the crowd breaks fast together.

4. Charity

Caring for others is a central theme of Ramadan. Some Muslims choose to give Iftar to others as a demonstration of this theme. The Islamic religious texts teach that blessings and rewards await those who show kindness to others, especially during Ramadan.

5. Prayer is prevalent

Shortly after breaking the fast with dates and water, Muslims pray the Maghrib. This is one of the five daily prayers recited throughout the year. Immediately following Iftar, Muslims recite additional night prayers called Tarawih. These prayers take place either in a mosque or the home, and sometimes last up to two hours.

6. The last breaking of the fast

After Ramadan comes to an end, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, or the Festival of Fast Breaking. In the spirit of each nightly Iftar, this festival marks an end to the month of fasting. Though the festival takes different forms across the Muslim world, the day of Eid marks the end of one of the important five pillars of Islam, Ramadan, alongside faith, prayer, charity, and the pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca.

Siddhartha Gautama, Buddha—”The Awakened One”

Siddhartha Gautama, Buddha—”The Awakened One”

Linda Clyde

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On an unknown date between the 6th to 4th centuries B.C. a son was born to a king and queen just below the Himalayan foothills somewhere between the Indian-Nepalese border. The infant was named Siddhartha Gautama, “Siddhartha” meaning “he who achieves his aim.” The infant’s mother, the queen, died within a week of her baby’s birth.

After the queen’s passing, the king desired predictions about his infant son’s future and was told by sages that the child would grow up to either be a king or a spiritual leader. The king wanted his Siddhartha to become a king. In order to ensure that would happen, he took great measures to protect him from the realities of the world by secluding him in a palace and showering him with worldly pleasures. Though Siddhartha lived a very naïve and sheltered life, he was trained in archery, swordsmanship, wrestling, swimming, running, and anything that would prepare him to become a strong, brave and noble king.

It is believed that Siddhartha married around the age of sixteen and continued to live a protected, secluded life for an additional thirteen years. He and his wife, whom he affectionately called Gopa, had one child, a son.

In his late 20’s everything changed for Siddhartha when he finally convinced his father to allow him to venture beyond the palace walls. It was then that he first encountered a very old man. The princes’ charioteer explained to him that all men grow old. This new information enticed the prince to learn more about the outside world and he continued to arrange trips beyond the palace. Before long he had encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic, one who practices extreme forms of self-discipline. Siddhartha’s charioteer explained to him each condition of life. The prince was overcome by his new awareness of suffering and death. That very night he left the palace, his wife, and his child and rode far away, cut his long hair with his sword and replaced his fine clothing with that of an ascetic.

For six years he practiced the ascetic discipline, denying himself the most basic of indulgences such as food and water nearly to the point of death. This he did in an effort to better understand human suffering and to discover the meaning of life. During this time, he also investigated beliefs of all kinds and immersed himself in meditation and study. He was so dedicated to the ascetic lifestyle that five other ascetics with whom he practiced became his devout followers. Despite his passionate commitment to seek for answers, Siddhartha was disappointed when he couldn’t find what he was looking for.

One day, a young girl offered him a bowl of rice and Siddhartha accepted. He ate the rice, drank water and bathed in the Nairanjana river. His actions disenchanted his five followers who promptly left him. From his experience as an ascetic, he learned that a balance should be sought instead of a life of extremism. This lifestyle he called the “middle way,” or the “middle path.”

Siddhartha, still determined to find life’s meaning and having exhausted all outside methods for the answers he sought, sat beneath the Bodhi tree and finally looked within himself. After many days of intense meditation, he discovered enlightenment and became Buddha, or “the one who is awake.” He had finally found that everything he had been looking for had always been present and was accessible to anyone. For many weeks he basked in the liberating tranquility of his sacred experience and did not attempt to tell anyone. He felt that what had happened could not be fully described through words. Legend has it that Brahma, the king of the gods, encouraged him to try to share what he had learned, and so he did.

He began to teach others what are known as the 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. He also shared three important realizations about reality 1) Everything is impermanent with the exception of Nirvana, which is a transcendent state free of suffering, desire and a sense of self. 2) The self doesn’t really exist. 3) Suffering results when people do not understand the first two realizations.

The 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path:

  1. Suffering exists.
  2. Suffering exists because of craving.
  3. Suffering can be ended.
  4. The eight-fold path is the way to end suffering:
    1. Right understanding
    2. Right intention
    3. Right action
    4. Right speech
    5. Right livelihood
    6. Right concentration
    7. Right mindfulness
    8. Right effort

Siddhartha Gautama spent the remaining forty-five years of his life teaching the Dharma, the name given to his teachings, and spreading it throughout northern India. His powerful example and influence live on today and is still leading people to experience enlightenment throughout the world. Buddhism is a beneficial practice that can easily coincide with most religious beliefs.

Linda Clyde is a devoted wife, proud mama, and a lover of uplifting things. A few of her favorite things: lasagna, farm animals, t-shirts and jeans, babies, and notebooks—lots and lots of notebooks.

Passover in the Jewish Christian Border Zone

Passover in the Jewish Christian Border Zone

Maeera Shreiber

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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.

What Ramadan Means To Muslims

What Ramadan Means To Muslims

Regina Singleton

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Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar and it is a month in which Muslims abstain from food, water, and sexual relations with their spouses during the day in order to develop taqwa (closeness) with Allah. It also serves to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad. It is a pillar of Islam and obligatory on all adult Muslims who are healthy enough to observe it.

“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous [Fasting for] a limited number of days. So whoever among you is ill or on a journey [during then] – then an equal number of days [are to be made up]. And upon those who are able [to fast, but with hardship] – a ransom [as substitute] of feeding a poor person [each day]. And whoever volunteers excess – it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.”

-Surah Baqarah 184-185

To understand why this month is an essential part of any Muslim’s life, it is important to first understand the significance of the word taqwa. Taqwa is an Arabic word that translates into English as piety, consciousness of Allah, fear of Allah, or closeness to him. A better way of understanding it would be to combine all these concepts: being conscious that Allah sees all and that reverence towards our religion influences our everyday choices, which in turn brings us closer to Him.

During this time we are also encouraged to give zakat (charity), read the entire Quran, study at the masjid (Muslim place of worship), break our fasts with family and friends, and participate in nightly prayers known as tarawih prayer.

When we break our fasts together and give zakat we form a closer bond with our family and community. When we seek knowledge and perform tarawih it strengthens our relationship with Allah and gives us a better understanding of him. All of this is meant to remind us that our purpose on this Earth is to worship Allah.

We experience a renewed sense of spirituality that doesn’t just end when Ramadan is over. It carries on into the rest of the year as well. We are still tasked with seeking deeper knowledge of our religion, remaining charitable, and maintaining bonds with our family and community. Taqwa isn’t just in the heart, it is also supposed to reflect in our actions towards others.

3 Surprising Facts About Muslims

3 Surprising Facts About Muslims

Asma Uddin

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There are almost 2 billion Muslims in the world and anywhere from 3 to 7 million in the United States, yet most Americans know almost nothing about their Muslim neighbors or the religion of Islam. I’m sure there are a lot of things you could learn about Islam or Muslims that would surprise—even delight—you. Here are a few to get the list started:

1. The Qur’an and the Bible share many of the same stories. Many non-Muslims are intrigued when they learn my six-year-old son, Eesa, is named after Jesus—“Eesa” is the Arabic translation for “Jesus.” His middle name is Jibreel – Arabic for ‘Gabriel’. And my younger son is named Mikael Suleman – yes, you guessed it: Michael Solomon. (On that note, did you know that “Allah” is simply Arabic for “The God”? We add “the” (which in Arabic is “Al” – Al-Lah) because our theology is fiercely monotheist. There is only One God—The God. Christian Arabs called God “Allah,” too!).

The names are important because they point to the same revered figures. Jesus and Solomon are prophets in Islam, and Gabriel and Michael are archangels. Of all the archangels, only Jibreel and Mikael are mentioned in the Qur’an, which makes clear their centrality to Islam: “Whoever is an enemy to God, and His angels and His messengers, and Jibreel and Mikael! Then, God (Himself) is an enemy to the disbelievers.” (2:98). There are, of course, some differences—the most obvious being the Christian belief in the divinity of Christ, whereas for Muslims Jesus is a prophet. But the similarities far outweigh the differences.

What is most important about sharing these stories is that they inform our religious principles and behavior. To share the stories means to share some very fundamental aspects of faith and faithful action.

2. Every year, Muslims are required to give away 2.5% of their assets in charity. This charity requirement is called zakat and it’s one of the five pillars of Islam, that is, one of the five most fundamental obligations a Muslim has to fulfill. Islamic scholars have determined eight categories of recipients eligible to receive zakat funds, including those who cannot meet their basic needs; those who do not have a means of livelihood (for instance, if someone lost their job); and those encumbered with overwhelming debt.

Besides the obligatory charity, there is also a major emphasis in Islam on voluntary charity—we’re advised to give as much as we can, and to not be showy or pompous in our giving (the Prophet Muhammad said something you may find in the Bible, too: charity should be given in secret, such that not even “your left hand should know what your right hand” gives). The Qur’an describes charitable giving as lending God a loan, which God promises in the Qur’an to multiply for us in the many blessings we know only come from Him. “Who is he that will lend to God a goodly loan so that He may multiply it to him many times? And it is God that decreases or increases (your provisions), and unto Him you shall return.” (2:245)

3. Muslims fast—and feeding others is a huge part of our faith. Another fundamental pillar of Islam is the required Ramadan fast. During the month of Ramadan, which is a month on the Islamic lunar calendar, Muslims around the world fast from dawn till dusk. During the summer, that means a Muslim may end up fasting 16 or more hours! This is particularly arduous since the fast requires that we abstain from food and drink. Yes, that includes water, too. The fast helps us detach ourselves from our bodily needs and turn inwards to contemplate the state of our soul.

But what’s really special about Ramadan is not the food we don’t eat—it’s all the food we are encouraged to give others. The month is enlivened by a level of socializing you don’t otherwise see. Muslims are eager to host dinner parties or sponsor the fast-breaking meal at the local mosque because God awards us abundantly for feeding a fasting person. So you may likely break bread with a whole group of other Muslims every single night of the month! And beyond the dinner parties are the ample opportunities to feed the poor, both at your local soup kitchens and by sending money abroad to third-world countries where hunger is unfortunately an epidemic.

There are so many aspects of my faith that help me rejoice in humanity. The generosity that flows so freely from my co-religionists all year, then is amped-up during Ramadan, shows me the goodness God cultivates in His followers. I hope you’ll take a moment to talk to your Muslim neighbors about some of the fundamental pillars of Islam, and share some of your practices, too.

Asma Uddin is the founder and editor-in-chief of altmuslimah.com. She is also a lawyer and scholar specializing in American and international religious liberty.

How You’re Already Contributing to the National Day of Prayer

How You’re Already Contributing to the National Day of Prayer

Sarah Eyring

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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?

Holy Envy: Seeing Spiritual Symmetry in a Navajo Rug

Holy Envy: Seeing Spiritual Symmetry in a Navajo Rug

Val Edwards

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Over the years I’ve traveled to portions of the Navajo Nation a number of times. This piece of the American southwest is both beautiful and evocative. Long mesas, red rock pinnacles, and a unique mixture of old and new: trading posts and modern convenience stores; elders in velveteen and turquoise and their grandchildren focused on their I-phones; radio advertisements in both Navajo and English. The geography, the customs, the people all make the place sacred.

I am an Anglo Christian of Latter-day Saint persuasion and recognize the limitations of my observations. Navajo spirituality tricks me. I think I’ve grasped an insight only to see it change shape and point elsewhere. It is in the works of art that impressions hold together. Spirit and matter are joined.

I’m fortunate to own two Navajo rugs. One is of the Two Grey Hills style, named for the region in New Mexico where it originated close to a hundred years ago. These rugs are known for their natural colors — gray and brown hues, cream, white and black — their very tight weave, and their intricate patterns. At the center of this rug is a serrated diamond; seven borders in alternating colors and different edge designs radiate outward. In each corner are triangles, squares and terraced steps of different colors. A white zigzag line runs down the edge of the rug, just inside a surrounding black border. The entire rug is a perfect symmetry of numerous combinations of geometric designs and colors. When folded together, the corners or edges will match perfectly. Amazingly, weavers use no predetermined patterns or outlines. The design and detail of the rug is in each individual weaver’s mind.

The other rug (a different style) was made by a Navajo woman now in her nineties who completed the weaving in very traditional fashion. She raised and cared for the sheep from which the wool came. After shearing the sheep, she washed and carded the wool, spun it into yarn, dyed it with natural ingredients, and prepared the loom. Then the weaving began. While most rugs now are made of commercial yarns, the same levels of skill and patience are required in the weaving. The design is revealed through long hours (days, weeks, even months) spent running horizontal wefts of colored wool through precisely-spaced vertical warp cords. One expert has said that “weaving requires a unique combination and coordination of conceptual and manual skills.”[1]

The Navajo woman who made the second rug knows her sheep like her own family. When she married as a young girl in 1936, she was given twelve sheep. Decades later, she can still trace her current sheep back to those original twelve. Incredibly, some of those came from sheep her grandparents obtained when they returned to their native lands after the Navajo Long Walk from Bosque Redondo, New Mexico, in the late 1860’s.

I marvel at Navajo rugs — the beauty and art, the craft and history. For me, they also reflect two elements of a Navajo worldview I particularly admire: symmetry and sacred homeland.

Symmetry. To appreciate their meaning, one must look often at Navajo rugs like these two. There is a complexity and a completeness not noticed at first glance. Repeated views reveal not only new designs and combinations of colors and patterns; there is also a wholeness to be grasped, a harmony to experience. The balance, order, and symmetry — touchstones in a Navajo worldview — are extraordinary. “The Gods designed this world to be a beautiful, harmonious, happy and healthy place. To be maintained, beauty needs to be expressed and renewed in ritual, song, art, speech, dress and daily living.”[2] Such is a Navajo rug — individual creativity and cultural patterns that produce something beautiful, good, harmonious, and symmetrical.

Even older weavers, whose trembling hands or failing eyesight won’t allow for perfect lines or straight edges, still envision in their minds beautifully balanced and proportioned weavings. An aspiration and reflection of the lives they have lived. Such equilibrium in life reminds me of how Jesus would have me live.

Sacred Homeland. I think of those generations of sheep that link my rug to the joyous, distressing and necessary Navajo migration back to their homeland, a homeland surrounded by the four sacred mountains. The land was given to them by deities after they emerged from various underworlds. (Several other indigenous tribes have emergence and migration narratives, being led to sacred lands.) The wool for the rug is connected to earth, as are the plants from which the dye is made to color the wool. The connectedness and symmetry achieved in making a rug also exists in all things. The earth is “a living, breathing entity in an animate universe. The land with its water, plants, and animals is a spiritual creation.”[3]

In my own religious tradition, we do not separate matter from spirit. The Navajo worldview takes this thought further and helps me appreciate even more a statement from early church leader Brigham Young. “There is life in all matter, throughout the vast extent of all the eternities; it is in the rock, the sand, the dust, in water, air, the gases, and, in short, in every description and organization of matter.”

Much can be learned from a rug.

Val Edwards is a retired public relations professional and outdoor enthusiast living in southern Utah.

Editor’s note: This essay is part of an ongoing series on Holy Envy. People of various religions explain what they admire in other faiths. The purpose is to increase understanding and solidarity between believers.

[1] I am indebted to Gary Witherspoon and his clear thinking and understanding, especially as found in “Self-Esteem and Self-Expression in Navajo Weaving,” Plateau, Vol. 52, No. 4.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Robert S. McPherson, Sacred Land, Sacred View: Navajo Perceptions of the Four Corners Region (Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, Brigham Young University, 1992), 11.

Holy Envy: The Holiness of Kneeling

Holy Envy: The Holiness of Kneeling

Daniel Mark

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In Judaism, or certainly in the Orthodox Jewish tradition, we’re not supposed to imitate, much less envy, the ways of the gentiles, a name we give to those outside our faith. So when Krister Stendhal, the late Bishop of Stockholm, urged believers to look for the admirable in other religions, I did not entirely know what to make of it. Does my own faith, the one true faith if I’m right, lack something? Did God give other peoples better ways to serve Him?

These questions do not preoccupy me unduly. But there is one thing I particularly admire. It is, perhaps, the simplest religious act of all.

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” In America, a country whose religious culture is shaped by Christian ways of worship, it is the child kneeling by the bedside that often comes to mind when I think of prayer. This is so despite the fact that I recite the prescribed Jewish prayers three times a day. For Ultra-orthodox Jews, who are more insular, the dominant culture’s images play far less a role in shaping their religious imagination. But, for me, a Modern Orthodox Jew, who, in my youth, consumed the same books, movies, television shows as my fellow citizens, the image of the child knelt in prayer is strong.

What does this act of kneeling mean? To kneel is to humble oneself. It is to show reverence. Submission. Sometimes it is to beg. Other times it is to surrender to overwhelming pain. One story I will never forget is of a great rabbi who, upon hearing that his wife of many years had passed away, fell to his knees in grief, sobbing and wrapping his arms around God’s ankles, as it were. Perhaps being on one’s knees is so compelling because it is not always a voluntary act, but an involuntary expression of being physically, emotionally, or spiritually destitute.

In Judaism, we take kneeling very seriously. In ancient times, this act took place at the Temple in Jerusalem when, on the holiest of days, the high priest pronounced the ineffable name of God. Nowadays, we reserve kneeling (and bowing down from our knees) for a few moments during the High Holidays, especially in the part of the liturgy that recounts the Temple scene. But never besides then. In refraining from kneeling at all other times, in prayer and not, we demonstrate that nothing equates to the Temple experience. Indeed, depending on the flooring of the synagogue, we often put down a cloth or paper towel to avoid incidentally touching down on a marble or even wood surface.

Moreover, during the holiest prayers in our liturgy, including our daily recitals, we stand fully erect, feet together, in imitation of the angels who are said to appear to have only one leg (like our two legs together) and no knees. So, kneeling in prayer is not only rare for Jews but also not necessarily our most sanctified stance.

And yet—and yet—when I am feeling most humble (not often, to be sure) or desperate (not often, either, thank God) or praiseful (working on that one), I feel the urge to kneel. I don’t do it, but I almost wish I could. At those times, I am slightly jealous of my Catholic friends who kneel each week (or day) at Mass. We Jews are ever mindful of the fact that worship is not just a function of the mind and the lips, but of one’s entire being. We regularly enact the Psalmist’s image “All my bones shall say, Lord, who is like unto thee” (Psalms 35:10) by swaying back and forth as we pray. It is a characteristically Jewish image — somewhat like the Evangelical Protestant with outstretched arms, hands high in the air — a trademark of our faith that is alien to all others.

So, it is not that my tradition is insensitive to praying with one’s whole self — with heart, soul, and might devoted in concert to God. Rather, it is being schooled in a faith that values embodied worship and at the same time in a culture that has powerful depictions of knelt prayer that may explain why I am tempted to take a knee from time to time. Spontaneously. Or perhaps the urge to kneel before God is built into our nature as humans, and the God of Israel disciplines us to genuflect only before Him in His house.

As an Orthodox Jew, I will continue to kneel only in the holiest of moments and places. As God would have me do. But whenever I behold seekers of divine comfort drop to their knees in prayer, I will still be moved to a spiritual solidarity that makes this world a humbler place.

Daniel Mark is a professor of political science at Villanova University and currently a visiting fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. He also serves as the Chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Editor’s note: This essay is part of an ongoing series on Holy Envy. People of various religions explain what they admire in other faiths. The purpose is to increase understanding and solidarity between believers.

Looking For Lent

Looking For Lent

Hannah Marazzi

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“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.

Sharing Deep Joy and Deep Pain in an African-American Church

Sharing Deep Joy and Deep Pain in an African-American Church

Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp

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I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I walked in the door of Christ the King United Church of Christ (UCC) in the fall of 2014. I just knew that I had to be in church, but I didn’t know where to go. My family and I had moved to St. Louis a year earlier, and it still felt like an unfamiliar place. When African-American teenager Mike Brown died on a street in Ferguson the previous month, just a few miles away from our house, I knew I needed a church community to help me mourn, to take this moment of fracture—both mine and that of the larger community—and nourish it into something new.

On the face of it, Christ the King was a lot like the church I had been a member of for 25 years in North Carolina. It was part of the same denomination, a liberal Protestant tradition that prided itself on advocating for progressive social causes, including women’s ordination. The minister at Christ the King, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, embodied what the UCC calls its “radical inclusiveness.” But my church back home, for all of its expansive outreach, consisted of a large, fairly traditional, white, affluent congregation in a college town. Christ the King, on the other hand, perched right next door to Ferguson, was small and strapped for money. And the congregation, at least the gathering I could see on Sunday mornings, was all African-American.

I’d like to say that this was an entirely comfortable transition. I’m a scholar of religious history and have taught and written about African-American Protestantism for over three decades. I have attended plenty of services in the black church tradition as a guest and observer. I knew about altar calls, shouting, and prayers that lasted twenty minutes. I even knew the words to some of the gospel songs.

It was harder to know what my whiteness might mean amid such raw racial fracture. But I was raw too, in my own way: I entered there in need of something I couldn’t even identify, an acknowledgment of feeling and experience, that I hadn’t found in the predominantly white UCC churches in town that I’d visited. I came not as an expert ready to interpret this experience, but as someone hurt and angry and in need, both for myself and for this new place I wanted to call home.

What did I find? I found a willingness to talk openly about the gaping wounds in our city that divided us by race. I heard a call for love enmeshed with a vivid and persistent thirst for justice. I saw a community that opened its doors to all-comers, including a homeless man who occasionally showed up and even interrupted the service a few times—and I saw his cries met with attention and acceptance. I met a congregation that didn’t find it weird to see a lone white woman showing up week after week; they just kept right on hugging me.

Most of all, I discovered at Christ the King an astounding mix of joy and pain, both of which were embraced and welcomed in. It is a church that can hold it all because it has to. One sunny Sunday morning we gathered outside the sanctuary after the service with over 100 red and black balloons. As Rev. Blackmon spoke the names of all the victims of gun violence in St. Louis over the past year, we let them sail away into the air. She then asked others to name loved ones who had been shot and killed. At least two dozen people in the gathering identified family and friends lost. So much grief to bear.

Yet it’s the joy and love that nourish people. There’s a lot of great music, and plenty of potlucks after church. And there is a great deal to celebrate: weddings, births, graduations. We take time during the service to praise the young people who are achieving remarkable things and getting good jobs. Sometimes I get antsy when the service goes past the two-hour mark or when the choir launches yet another verse. I’m never convinced I like the keyboard playing in the background during the prayers. None of this is the “white” Protestant tradition in which I was raised, where you felt self-conscious coughing out loud during the service.

Is this holy envy? Close, but not exactly. It’s more of a fellowship of the heart. Christ the King isn’t a typical “black church” any more than there is one typical “white church.” But I do think there is a lot that many white Protestants could learn about loving and living together in community from their brothers and sisters in African-American Protestant traditions. How to hold and share deep pain and profound joy, and most often both at the same time. How to sing and pray as if your life depended on it. How to welcome whoever God brings through the door.

Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp is the Archer Alexander Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of Setting Down the Sacred Past: African-American Race Histories.

Editor’s note: This essay is part of an ongoing series on Holy Envy. People of various religions explain what they admire in other faiths. The purpose is to increase understanding and solidarity between believers.

The Faith on My Sleeve

The Faith on My Sleeve

Samantha Schroeder

The Faith on My Sleeve
As someone who wears my faith on my sleeve, faith counts every second of my day. Many people these days are prepared to (over)share nearly every aspect of their lives, from what they eat for breakfast to who they go home with after dinner. Yet for most millennials, being open to talking about the faith is not a part of this culture of oversharing.

Oversharing my faith led me to both a beautiful transatlantic friendship and a professional failure. As someone who wears my faith on my sleeve, my conversion was met with both blessings and challenges. The zeal of a convert can be an inspiring thing– from sparking new relationships to deepening current ones. On a snowy February day three years ago, I ran into a woman I vaguely recalled meeting briefly the day before. She was a Hungarian research fellow spending the semester in Washington. We spent six hours on a snowy day talking about Christianity. I opened up to this Hungarian woman about my faith journey- from my love of the church’s teachings on contraception and chastity to those on the Eucharist and confession, some which I embraced intellectually and spiritually and others which I was still struggling to accept. She wrote to me that night, about how our conversation had inspired her to consider her Christian faith. Three years later, that friend is now a Catholic woman, and I will be celebrating another sacrament with her at a wedding in Budapest this May. Somehow, the exuberance of this American Catholic did not scare away this Eastern European woman.

While the fervor of my faith led me making a friend over 4,500 miles away, there are also downsides of wearing my faith on my sleeve. In one particular case, my exuberance was met with hostility. Just after I was received into the Catholic Church, I started a new job in Washington. I was twenty-five, a newly minted Catholic, and excited about my next professional adventure. After a few months into my new position, apparently something Catholic I said at an event was reported to my boss. I was profoundly embarrassed by this anonymous feedback relayed to me at my brand new job. What did I say? Who did I say it to? What can I do? A few months and two complaints later, I felt utterly defeated. For the first time in my professional life, I was made to feel insecure about my faith. While my pre-conversion encounter earlier that year made a great impression on a total stranger, apparently this post-conversion work encounter made a terrible one. I began a period of soul-searching- do I have to change my personality? Put my passions on the backburner? Hide my faith?

Today, I no longer feel divided between my aspirations for professional success and spiritual sanctity. If you take the call to evangelization seriously– “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), we are all called to wear our faith on our sleeves. Christ calls us to carry our lantern alight with Truth wherever we go. And if we happen to be exuberant lantern-carriers, it will be difficult to hide the light we are carrying. While our profession of the faith will vary at different moments and in different stages of our lives–perhaps I don’t have the zeal of a convert that I had in the spring of 2015–we are indeed called to stand up for Truth and profess our Christian values in the public square. Through these trials that saints are made. We grow in humility, and although our lessons in humility might be painful, Christ first said to his disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”

Interfaith Friends and Deep Gratitude

Interfaith Friends and Deep Gratitude

John Inazu

Photo by Chris Berry and BenRosePhotography

Interfaith friendship means finding common ground with others even when we differ in our beliefs. This requires clarity about our differences and charity across those differences. Religious differences are not trivial, like our preferences for sports teams or ice cream flavors. Rather, they concern the ultimate questions of existence, with serious implications for how we choose to live our lives.

The weight of religious differences means that I do not actually revere all the beliefs of my interfaith friends. I do not have “holy envy.” But I do have a genuine appreciation for these friends and their influence on my life. Let’s call it “deep gratitude.”

Respect for individuals can exist where beliefs diverge.

I have deep gratitude for the counsel and example of my dissertation advisor, Jeff Spinner-Halev. Jeff is Jewish, which means that his faith commitments differ from mine as a Christian. But we share academic commitments in what we write and how we write. Throughout my graduate work, Jeff demonstrated an ability to blend a commitment to excellence with a willingness not to take himself too seriously. But more than that, he never hid his faith or the obligations that flowed from it. To the contrary, Jeff’s integration of faith and work modeled for me the kind of scholar who bridges different worlds without neglecting any of them.

I like to think I’m a better husband and father from conversations with my Muslim friend, Eboo Patel, the founder of Interfaith Youth Core. Despite our religious differences, Eboo and I experience common pressures in balancing travel and speaking engagements with family commitments. We have spoken together around the country and are currently co-teaching a class at Washington University. I always enjoy debating issues of pluralism and religious difference with him. But the defining moment of our friendship came during a walk around a park where we talked about our families. In that moment, and in many subsequent ones like it, Eboo encourages me as a person of faith and a human being to care for my family, to guard against pride, and to take seriously my own commitments.

My atheist friends challenge me with their honesty and eagerness in probing weighty questions. I won’t name these friends because they do not publicly identify as atheists. But they do not shy away from that label in our private conversations. I admire their willingness to articulate fear and uncertainty, which I sometimes find lacking in Christian friends who mask rather than confess their own doubts. This does not mean, however, that I think doubt and unbelief are good things. As a Christian whose hope is rooted in the life and death of Jesus, I wish that my atheist friends (and friends of other faiths) could share in that hope. But I value their depth of thought in our discussions about the difference between optimism and hope (the latter requires an object toward which it is directed). And I admire the integrity of their reasoning, though ultimately it can have the effect of leaving them without hope, absent a belief in God. This is a costly honesty, but honesty nonetheless, something that is missing in many of our social interactions. And their openness to share it with me signals trust, vulnerability—and friendship.

Interfaith friendships personify differences in a way that softens our assumptions and stereotypes. They allow us to experience charity that is rooted in relationships with real human beings. I do not think abstractly about Jews, Muslims, and atheists—I think of Jeff, Eboo, and other friends whom I have the privilege of knowing. And I thank God for each of them.

John Inazu is the Sally D. Danforth Distinguished Professor of Law and Religion at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference.

Editor’s note: This essay is part of an ongoing series on Holy Envy. People of various religions explain what they admire in other faiths. The purpose is to increase understanding and solidarity between believers.

Holy Envy: A Christian Sings Shalom Amid the Darkness

Holy Envy: A Christian Sings Shalom Amid the Darkness

Hannah Marazzi

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I remember my first Shabbat dinner. The smell of challah baking in the oven transports me back to that “oh holy night” in an instant.

It was a cold night in Krakow, Poland and I shivered against the air in a small room off one of the city’s main squares, waiting for the cantor in front of me to signal we were ready to begin.

I had just spent the day at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial, stumbling alongside a Holocaust survivor who described in great detail the horrors he had experienced because of his faith, because of his identity.

We had walked through the rows and rows of bricks, the models of barracks, and rooms full of shoes belonging to those who would never again walk on this side of heaven. Each step seemed to fill the group with uneasy silence and pushed us closer to hopelessness, closer to a horror that seemed impossible to shake.

We emerged from the day with cold in our bones and the sense of an evil too palpable to bear, one not defeated by a mere prayer muttered by the countless who lined the train tracks around the former concentration camp’s perimeter.

Shabbat, shalom and the practice of rest and renewal — a religious practice rooted in peace — was the last thing on our minds as we left Auschwitz-Birkenau that day. And yet there we were, mere hours later, seated around long tables at sundown, sitting in silent, rapt attention to the prayer we had been promised would come.

Suddenly the silence was broken and the still strong voice of the Holocaust survivor, himself a cantor since boyhood, filled the room. He lifted the kiddush cup, “Vay’chulu hashamayim v’haaretz v’chol tz’vaam” (translation: “Now the whole universe — sky, earth, and all their array — was completed.”) The candles were lit: “Baruch atah, Adonai, Eloheinu, melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat.” (translation: “Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the light of Shabbat.”)

Tears and questions filled the space, silence was replaced with prayer. If the man in front of us who had witnessed the horror of evil and death could answer the ancient call of faith to take hold of rest and peace, so too could we.

“Shabbat Shalom,” we greeted one another. These words, this blessing, put to song began to dance throughout the room, building a sense of anticipation. Slowly, a sense of peace and belonging re-entered the space. The challah broken, the prayers sung, the candles lit. God still with us, peace still possible and shalom still present.

I have since experienced Shabbat dinner several times since that holy evening. While I come from the Christian tradition and a denomination that does not undertake the tradition of Shabbat dinner or Havdalah, I returned from that evening, determined to restore the gift of Shabbat to my own spiritual practice. I remember reading the words of Rabbi Sacks who reminded people of faith today that “Shabbat is where a restless people rested and renewed itself.”

In that moment, I was reminded that I too am told as a Christian to rest. I too am called to live the invitation of true Sabbath shalom. I too am told by Exodus 2-:8-10 that the “seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.” I too am reminded in Hebrews 4:9-11 that “here is a special rest still waiting for the people of God.” I am reminded that since the beginning of time, we are a people who are constantly called back to a place of rest; we are commanded to be a people defined by peace regardless of how dark and hopeless the world appears to be.

Each week I now make a practice of marking the Sabbath in my own way. So if you arrive at my front door on a Friday night, do not be surprised if you smell freshly baked challah right out of the oven. I will look at you and we will both remember this story of when I first witnessed light piercing through the dark. And I will invite you to remember that no matter how dark the world gets, God is still with us, peace is still present, and Shabbat and shalom are still possible.

Hannah Marazzi is a writer and marketer based out of Ottawa Ontario. She is passionate about community, dialogue, and empowering the next generation of young people to belong to their communities. Hannah has worked in the human rights, multi-faith, and communication sectors and was raised in a Mennonite Community in British Columbia. She is believes that faith is an integral part of the public sphere and continues to seek out conversations regarding the intersection of faith in common and public life.

Editor’s note: This essay is part of an ongoing series on Holy Envy. People of various religions explain what they admire in other faiths. The purpose is to increase understanding and solidarity between believers.

Holy Envy: What One Muslim Woman Learned From Mormons about Centering Her Children in the Faith

Holy Envy: What One Muslim Woman Learned From Mormons about Centering Her Children in the Faith

Asma Uddin

Holy Envy: What One Muslim Woman Learned From Mormons about Centering Her Children in the Faith
“Terrorism dominates the news, anti-Muslim sentiment is rising and American Muslim kids are bullied by young people and adults alike. As parents, we wonder: How do we make our children feel safe even when we don’t? How do we make them feel safe about their faith?”

I wrote that in an opinion-editorial for The Washington Post a few years ago, co-authoring with a friend, a young mother like myself, who was confounded by the same question. In the piece, we interviewed several other American Muslim parents, all expressing similar concerns about protecting faith and spirituality in an age of politicized religion.

Each of us shared practices we implement to buffer our kids from outside spiritual threats. There have been plenty of times when I have rushed to turn off CNN when my daughter walked in to hear politicians declare “Islam hates us” or to video footage of the latest horrific terrorist attack.

But buffering can go only so far. We need tools to help youth stay firmly rooted in their faiths and remain conscious of God’s presence even when—especially when—the outside world threatens to rip away their spiritual wonder and certainty. Many of the parents I interviewed for my op-ed said their solution was to ground their children first and foremost in the basics of Islam.

What else can Muslim parents do? And is there anything from other faith practices that might work for us, too? Based on my interactions with believers from other faith communities, I am certain there is.

Mormon practice, in particular, fascinates me. This is partly because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with its history of religious liberty persecution, provides models of perseverance for American Muslims today. It also has a uniquely American flavor at a time when American Muslims are still struggling to strengthen their communities and build institutions. In this moment when such institutions are few and far between, I envy the organization of the LDS Church, particularly for its effects on youth.

One sociologist, Kenda Creasy Dean of Princeton Theological Seminary, has found that Mormonism is uniquely successful in cultivating youth “who firmly understand what they believe and why their faith needs to have a claim on their behavior.” She identifies four elements of this success:

  1. Mormon youth know their faith, and they know it well. They don’t learn it from media or from friends outside their faith community. They aren’t fed generalities or what Dean calls the “feel-good stuff.” And there’s both an institutional and home dimension to their teaching. Classes happen in both venues, helping to connect what happens outside the home to what happens in the kids’ safest, most intimate spaces.
  2. Mormon youth are taught to articulate what their faith is and why they participate in their religious practices. By translating knowledge into testimony, they acquire key skills, like leadership, storytelling, and the ability to connect with others personally.
  3. It’s not all talk — action matters too. Mormon youth define their goals and work toward achieving them. Contributions start small but early — tithing, volunteering for service projects, and Church building upkeep.
  4. Purpose isn’t defined in earthly terms only. The ultimate reason and hope of religious life is to be successful in the life that comes after death.

Some of these overlap with Muslim practices, particularly the focus on life after death — as the Prophet Muhammad advised, “Be in this world as though you were a wayfarer.” Life is entirely about journeying to the hereafter. This sort of focus can’t help but buttress one’s spirituality.

But other areas of overlap show how the modern experience of Islam can learn from Mormonism. Consider, for example, the second element above: articulating one’s faith. In our current political climate, every young American Muslim is expected by the larger society to serve as a spokesman for the faith. Yet, unlike the Mormon articulation of faith, this spokesmanship tends to focus on apologetics and political talking points. Even worse, it begins to chip away from the experience of Islam as religion.

When it comes to learning the faith, there is also room to improve. So many young American Muslims today learn about their faith through media. For us, learning has all too often become a matter of reaction: What are others saying about Islam and how do we respond? How do we defend our practices from ugly accusations? Again, I lament the spiritual emptiness that comes with politicized religion. Meanwhile, the beauty of Islamic beliefs is inviting to be discovered more richly.

I realize that so much of what I envy about Mormonism is its ability to extract itself from its surroundings and focus inwardly. The Church has faced and continues to face challenges from without, but it keeps its adherents firmly centered on substantive beliefs translated into concrete, impactful actions. In my own experience of faith, particularly as I transmit it to my kids, the Mormon model of centeredness is something I seek to replicate.

Asma Uddin is the founder and editor-in-chief of altmuslimah.com. She is also a lawyer and scholar specializing in American and international religious liberty.

Editor’s note: This essay is part of an ongoing series on Holy Envy. People of various religions explain what they admire in other faiths. The purpose is to increase understanding and solidarity between believers.

Olympic Faith

Olympic Faith

Heidi Bennett

Olympic Faith

The Olympics have deep religious and spiritual roots. “For the ancient Greeks, the sport of the Olympic Games was quite literally a religious exercise — a display of religious devotion and worship,” scholar Paul Cartledge writes in History Today. According to the Religion News Service, “Athletes paraded into the stadium past a line of religious officials and often dedicated their performances to a patron god. Even the prizes were religious — crowns of olive leaves made from trees in a sacred grove dedicated to Zeus.”

When the modern Olympics were organized in 1894, the International Olympic Committee was founded on the idea that the Olympic athlete “would embody a personal kind of sacred temple … he would be his own representation of the sacred body of followers” (Anthony Moretti, quoted in https://religionnews.com/2018/02/08/god-and-the-games-2/).

Fast forward to PyeongChang 2018, where we have seen history in the making as we witness the touch of divinity in all athletes by their execution of talent, hard work, passion, dedication, and faith—faith in oneself as well as faith in a higher power.

Here is a sampling of athletes at PyeongChang who rely on their faith in a higher power.

Shannon Abeda, an alpine skier who competes for Eritrea, relates what many athletes must feel after a setback: “Sometimes you must have faith, having faith despite whatever odds are unsympathetically stacks against you, whatever curveball is being thrown and even at your lowest of low there is always a way. When the forecast is dim, overcast and no sight of sun you must believe with that small light in your heart. Try again, and again, again.”

A.J. Edelman, an Orthodox Jew who competes in skeleton for Israel, finds strength in his faith: “There’s a lot of emunah (faith) that goes into the whole journey. Before every time I go down a run in competition, I say a shir hamaalos (psalms), I think they are appropriate to say as I’m looking at mountains.”

Two members of the American women’s hockey team, Gigi Marvin and Nicole Hensley, share more than just a jersey, they share a love of Jesus Christ and His word.

Gigi Marvin told the Religious News Service, “I’m back on the ice, proudly wearing the ‘USA’ across my sweater and representing my country,” she said. “But my mission is more than winning another medal or championship. It’s about sharing Christ and leading others to Him.”

Goaltender Nicole Hensley tweets out Bible verses and writes them on her face mask. She told The Hockey Writers, “Hockey has put me in some situations where I kind of wondered either ‘why am I doing this?’ or ‘why am I here?’ Or even, ‘I don’t want to be here – why is God making me go through this?’ And in the end those reasons are some of the reasons that I have been able to get to where I am today. Looking back with 20-20 hindsight, obviously He had a plan in every single place that He put me. It is easy to say that now, but really it’s just taught me that through the hardships you have to trust in your faith. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable to either grow in your faith or grow as a person or player as well.”

Korean alpine skier Kim Sohee finds strength in prayer. Before every race, she prays, “God, please hold on to my arms and legs.” She developed this practice early in life: “I was a 6th grader in elementary school when I first entered an international competition. For the 40 days before the competition, I went to early morning prayers. My mind became very peaceful, and I became brave. Since then, I always pray before games.”

For American figure skaters Alexa and Chris Knierim, their faith in Jesus Christ helped them through an illness that threatened Alexa’s life. For them, just being at the 2018 Olympics is a success, and their bronze medal is a bonus. But this victory has not gone to their heads—quite the opposite. The husband and wife team speak about their relationship with Jesus Christ and how they have given all of the glory to Him: “Here at the Games, it’s no longer about me…I am a true believer in the Lord and I’m trying my best to shine his light and let people know that it’s okay to promote him and do things for him.”

Freestyle skier David Wise (USA) shares the Knierim’s faith that the Lord will support him: “I don’t have to worry about what’s happening or the outside influences as much because I feel like I can trust God, and he’s going to see me through. I can look back on my path and realize that God had a pretty significant part in taking care of me. It takes the pressure off and I can enjoy it.”

American cross-country skier Noah Hoffman finds that cross-country skiing and his Jewish faith have something in common: a strong sense of community. “Supporting each other and supporting the community is really important to the Jewish community, and it’s a big part of athletics in general and the cross-country skiing community in particular,” he said. “It feels like a tight-knit network that is really founded on supporting each other, and that’s one important connection that I make between the two.” … “Life in general is about community and shared experiences,” he said. “Having many different communities is a privilege, and the Jewish community is a huge part of that. I feel so lucky to be a part of so many things that are bigger than myself.”

American skier Nick Goepper also enjoys the community aspect of faith. There are many Christian athletes on the slopes, and that helps Goepper stay focused and grounded. “It’s never fun to do it by yourself,” he told Beliefnet. “It’s good to have other people that are on the same path as you. In 2014, Goepper said his favorite Bible verse is, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength. “I kind of envision me skiing and God is kind of like an eagle right next to me screeching in my ear that everything is going to be all good,” he said then. “I just try my best and that’s all I can ask for.”

When Simidele Adeagbo tried out for the Nigerian skeleton team, she said, “I just continued to push forward in faith that this was possible,” she said. “And here I am.” Her reliance on the Lord becomes evident when she steps onto the track and begins the process of hurtling down headfirst at speeds greater than 70 mph. “This sport is a faith sport,” she said. “You have to have faith when all you are is just you and this sled. You have to let go and let God drive it in a partnership with you.” All along, she’s watched God put everything into place, little by little, to help her achieve her dreams. When asked, “What’s next?”, Adeagbo responds, “I don’t know. But I know God will continue to guide me.”

Mormon speedskater Jerica Tandiman finds that faith helps keep her grounded. She told the Deseret News, “[My faith has] helped me through a lot of hard times in training and skating,” she said. “Being an elite-level athlete, there are a lot more lows than highs, there are a lot of disappointments, setbacks and hard training. And having that religious background helped me to get through those hard times. I don’t know if I can say why, but it does. Knowing I have that religion, that life isn’t all about my sport, there are things that I can turn to that help me get through those hard times.”

Good friends helped American snowboarder Kelly Clark find faith in God. “They loved me because of who I was and not what I did,” Clark said. She also read The Purpose Driven Life by pastor and Christian author Rick Warren. “That book laid one of the best foundations I ever could have hoped for,” Clark said. Once Clark understood Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross and His resurrection for humanity’s salvation, she reflected on what she read, learned and experienced. She asked herself two questions: Could she wake up another day and not think about God? And could she wake up another day and pretend He wasn’t real? He was very real, very present in my life,” she said. “I gave my heart to the Lord that day.”

American skeleton athlete Katie Uhlaender told Religious News Services, “To be a good human, to be a good Christian, I have to focus on what I can control, and set the example. That’s what a lot of athletes are trying to do, is focus on what we believe and the good in the Olympic movement.”

For Nigerian bobsledder Seun Adigun, faith is the secret to her success: “When you ride on faith, you’re able to live in that element of selflessness. You’re able to live in that moment of fearlessness. I don’t attribute any type of individual success to myself, but more so to God’s will to put me in places to allow things to flourish for opportunities to present themselves.”

American bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor and her husband Nic Taylor (who is an alternate on the men’s bobsled team) find that their faith affects how they approach competition. Elana told the Christian Sports Journal, “The Lord calls us to love everybody. Every day it’s a challenge. Within this sport, I’m called to love everybody. That means that every single German or Canadian that I want to beat, I still have to love. That means competing the way God wants me to compete.”

American speedskater Maame Biney recognized God’s power in helping her reach her goals. She wrote in an Instagram post, “I want to start off by thanking God. I am so sure that none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for him. If God hadn’t given my dad the strength to wake up, and take me to practice, I wouldn’t be here today. I also want to thank God for giving me the passion to do this.”

What a weekend!! I’m still in awe that I’m going to the Olympics?!! I want to start off by thanking God. I am so sure that none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for him. If God hadn’t given my dad the strength to wake up, and take me to practice, I wouldn’t be here today. I also want to thank God for giving me the passion to do this??. Daddy. I know that I can be a pain at times and not appreciate what you’ve done for me. I do appreciate you. When I’m older I want to be just like you. Wanting to help people, having an amazing heart, being dedicated, and being the best parent ever. Scratching the surface to any one of those things would already make me a great person. Thank you for letting me push myself, Werid, right? But it worked. And b/c of you, I will keep pushing myself. Hehe I love you Daddy❤️ This one is to my host family. Letting me stay with you guys for 6 months have been amazing! You guys have really made me feel like part of your family! Mrs. Melissa, you really have been a mother to me and I will forever love you and keep you close to my heart. Mr. Robert, hehe thank you for those Cafe Rio trips?And Abby. I’m so happy that I’ve been able to become your big sister. Love you guys always and forever? This one goes out to the whole skating community! You guys have made a huge impact on my dad and I. @dominionspeedskating I love you guys tons! We’ve been through so much together. Tears, laughter, and everything in between. I honestly can’t thank everyone who has helped us b/c there’s SOO many people. You guys know who you are?much love? This last one is to my friends (from school) who got that I couldn't do anything b/c I had a goal. I’m so happy that you guys didn’t abandon me?. I love how you guys tried to understand. It really means a lot to me?. Also, to my church family for praying for me for years!! Without your prayers for safe travels and successful competitions I honestly don’t believe that my dad and I would have made it this far? It’s been an amazing journey and I can’t wait to see what happens!! Hehe I’m super excited to go to PyeongChang, Korea and represent USA with the rest of the team?????!!

A post shared by Maame Afua Biney (@biney.biney) on

Heidi Bennett is a California native who now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband and son. She is addicted to learning new skills and can be contacted at bennetthp@gmail.com.

Holy Envy: A Mormon Learns to See by Jewish Lights

Holy Envy: A Mormon Learns to See by Jewish Lights

Betsy VanDenBerghe

Holy Envy: A Mormon Learns to See by Jewish Lights

A long time ago, back in the 1980s, I found myself getting depressed on east-coast subways. Their dank ambience and indifferent passengers, some of them crazy and yelling nonsensical rants, made certain commutes feel dystopian.

After exiting the train into a particularly gloomy station one night, I looked up at a billboard looming over the scurrying crowd below. Meant to encourage Sabbath observance in the Jewish community, the placard showed a serene woman hovering over the luminous glow of a Shabbat candle, shining a light in my subway darkness. I stared and absorbed its warmth while the horde passed me by.

That year the publishing industry in which I worked was overtaken by Jay McInerney’s poignant and funny breakout novel Bright Lights, Big City. But the lights in that book only dimmed the protagonist in cocaine-infused sleep and re-emerged as the sun’s harsh rays aggravated a hangover. All around, the city seemed a murky place.

How much more the radiance of that Shabbat candle lifted my spirits over the drab neon of urban streets. How grateful I was, in a moment of holy envy, for what the Jewish tradition had offered me, a Mormon, through the joy and cohesion I’d witnessed in communities many consider rigid. Even more lasting, how richly modern Jewish writers (from a variety of branches) have taught me not only about navigating the tension between secular pursuits and religious loyalty, but also about finding light when the world seems darkest.

Like many who outwardly observe Hasidic Jewish communities — men in dark suits, women in head scarves, day-to-day life constrained by more dietary and moral restrictions than even we Mormons grapple with — I considered certain sections of Jerusalem, where I lived during a semester abroad, oppressive. Then, some fellow students and I ended up at a Hasidic dance venue. Accompanied by an ecstatic musical ensemble, a group of men burst into a glorious dancing frenzy that emitted a joy so palpable my flesh stayed goose-bumped and my head awash in serotonin for hours. This paradox of highly restrained living co-existing with deep passion captured my imagination.

Later, living in a Jewish neighborhood in Boston, I watched families walking to synagogue on Saturdays. What a reversal, I thought, from my own upbringing in Utah where we were the ones walking to church on Sundays while those not of our faith watched me. I felt strangely jealous, even though my Sabbath was only a day away.

Appreciation of my own religious enclave, with our similar tight-knight communities, matured in important ways thanks to Chaim Potok’s novels. His Jewish characters navigated between the sacred obligations of their religion and the creative affinity they felt for writers, thinkers, and artists that the good world offers beyond the purview of the synagogue. While most modern and postmodern authors throw religion under the bus of a secular worldview, Potok remains wary of the nihilist and relativist directions those buses tend to move in. He recognizes that the gifts of belonging to what scholars call “intense” religions (interestingly, the kind that continue to flourish over declining “moderate” religions in this country) also entail the demands of high expectations and the irritations of communal idiosyncrasies.

Those who barricade themselves heavily within faith communities, Potok suggests, miss out on light and truth beyond the enclave. But those who discard their religion for the world risk losing meaning, a connection with the Divine, and a faith community, however flawed, to help them along the way. Perhaps balance is not only possible, I gleaned from Potok, but imperative.

Reading Holocaust memoirs sometimes left my connection to the Divine shaken. Elie Weisel wonders where God is as he witnesses an Auschwitz group hanging that includes a young boy whose light weight keeps him flailing helplessly in the noose. This and other biographical encounters with the unthinkable gave me a low-grade fever of religious malaise for a time. But other Jewish authors helped heal it, including Victor Frankl, who, in one of his concentration camp moments of despair hears a voice tell him “Yes” to his question about ultimate purpose. The confirmation was quickly followed by a light in a distant farmhouse glimmering on the horizon “as if painted there,” he writes. “Et lux in tenebris lucet — and the light shineth in darkness.”

Gerda Weissmann Klein signed my beloved copy of All But My Life after a public lecture. She survived not only the camps, but a thousand-mile winter march that started with four thousand girls and ended with two hundred. She survived because on the hot summer morning when she was to report for transport, her deeply religious father looked up from his Bible and told her to wear ski boots.

Before the departure, this father found Gerda in a sober mood, secretly contemplating suicide, and put his hand on the back of her neck, saying, “Whatever you are thinking now is wrong … Promise me that no matter what happens you will never do it.” Gerda makes a sacred vow, but the spiritual and physical impoverishment of the camps takes its toll and, given an opportunity, she yearns to throw herself under an oncoming train. “At the precise moment,” she writes, “when death seemed the only solution,” she feels a strange sensation on the back of her neck reminding her of the promise, and goes on living.

I also have a nostalgic copy of Bright Lights, Big City signed by Jay McInerney. Chapter Four includes a brilliant subway encounter with a group of Hasidim from Brooklyn. The protagonist, wracked by existential despair, sits beside one who is peacefully reading his Talmud. “This man has a God and a History, a Community,” he realizes and goes on to contemplate religion’s gifts of transcendence, hope, and community — gifts he’s never known. “Wearing black wool all summer must seem like a small price to pay,” the secular man thinks of his subway mate. “He believes he is one of God’s chosen whereas you feel like an integer in a random series of numbers.” But the insight passes quickly. After inwardly laughing about the Hasidic haircut, he disembarks and the partying continues apace.

“We religious believers, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, are often mocked as people who have lost touch with reality,” observes scholar Ulrich L. Lehner. “But I think the opposite is true.” According to Lehner, authentic religion invites us to not only accept the reality of our failings and those of the world around us compared to the greatness of God, but also to re-focus our desires and give certain things up. I’m grateful for the gifts of my Jewish friends, in books and in person, who have helped me understand that even the best the world has to offer is not worth the loss of my faith, which promises that “thou wilt light my candle: the LORD my god will enlighten my darkness.” (Psalm 18:28)

Betsy VanDenBerghe is a writer based in Salt Lake City.

Editor’s note: This essay is part of an ongoing series on Holy Envy. People of various religions explain what they admire in other faiths. The purpose is to increase understanding and solidarity between believers.

What Makes Ash Wednesday So Powerful

What Makes Ash Wednesday So Powerful

By Mary Rose Somarriba

What Makes Ash Wednesday So Powerful

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.

Unfrozen: Thawing My Faith

Unfrozen: Thawing My Faith

Kim Webb Reid

As winter arrives, I want to delight in flickering candles, fuzzy socks, and good books. But my biology doesn’t seem to agree with the season, no matter how much I try to convince my mind of its charms. I spend these dark months fighting to stay alert longer than the sun’s low pass across the sky and wishing to be free of all the stifling, extra layers. Humans aren’t created to hibernate, but at the same time, it’s hard for some of us not to.

Sometimes my faith behaves the same way.

I don’t always notice autumn creeping into my religious life at first, a cooling of my heart toward my neighbor or an increasingly drowsy approach to spiritual practices. Other times, a blizzard barrels in with such a disorienting crisis, my faith gets buried before I can find my bearings. In times like these, I know better than to think my faith is gone. But it isn’t safely preserved, either, like something I’ve stuffed in the freezer. It’s more like the hibernating polar bear growing more emaciated as it sleeps beneath tundra snow. Without sustenance, it will die.

After a few spiritually dormant seasons, I’ve learned to identify choices I can make to melt the ice encasing my faith.

1. Remember. I may not be feeling much, but I can still decide how to use my mind. I ponder the gifts that belief has given me in the past, including a calmer way of seeing the world and less frenetic striving for meaningless things. What was I doing differently then than I’m doing now? How were my prayers more heartfelt? Why did I stop? Sometimes the truth is simple—I’m lazy. Other times the answer is more difficult: I’m angry.

2. Surrender. I believe God is good, so sometimes I pretend to be okay with His will—choosing aloofness over authenticity whenever life disappoints. I’ve had to learn that God is strong enough to handle my real feelings, even when they’re hurt, but I’m not strong enough to bury resentment. When I try, it doesn’t disappear. It grows cold and crusty around my heart. I have to acknowledge the baggage I don’t want to keep before I can surrender it.

3. Get a physical. Medical issues can cause the most vibrant faith to feel frozen. If I see no obvious changes in my life but feel blah toward God, I have to consider if I need a checkup. For years, I thought I was becoming weary in my faith when really my body was telling me it was allergic to everything I was eating. Since faith is lived in a physical body, it makes sense to nurture my health to keep faith alive.

4. Be mindful. When I sense my faith going cold, I try to notice the words I hear, think, and say. Too often I’ve become a passive absorber and repeater of noise. I can be a proactive sifter instead, noticing each word’s effects on me—which ones are enlivening and which ones benumb my believing heart.

5. Be still and trust. Writing from the perspective of a fictional adversary bent on faith’s destruction, Christian author C. S. Lewis penned: “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”[i] Choosing faith, even when it’s frozen, is powerful. I know that as long as I’m listening for God’s voice, He’ll speak in His time. He understands better than I do that patience is a part of thawing faith too.

As much as it’s hard for me to admit, I know winter has a purpose. Through these cold months, I’ll pray, seek, and wait. If I’m still not feeling the warmth, I’ll light a few candles, cozy up with the best books and most truthful voices, and trust that spring will come.

[i] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 40.

Kim Webb Reid is a fiction writer, personal essayist, and former magazine editor. She especially enjoys writing for young readers and visiting the kids’ section of the library with her daughter.

Holy Envy: What Confucianism Taught Me about Mourning

Holy Envy: What Confucianism Taught Me about Mourning

Michael Ing


I have studied Confucianism for nearly 20 years. More specifically, I research Confucian ritual and ethics dating approximately 2000 years ago. Many of these rituals deal with death and how Confucians mourned for those who passed away. During my studies, I have been struck at how texts written long ago in a foreign place and in a foreign language could speak about grief and loss so poignantly.

One of the texts I work on discusses burial customs. It explains that the dead should be entombed with the things he or she enjoyed while alive. So if our loved ones enjoyed playing musical instruments like a flute or zither, they should be buried with such. However, the instrument they are buried with is significantly different from the instrument they played while alive. The buried instruments, the text explains, should not work. The holes of the flute are not to be carved, and the strings of the zither are not to be tuned. This is because, according to the text, our loved ones are in fact dead and will not actually play them, so there is no use in making them work. However, we should still put them in the tomb, because our loved ones are not entirely gone from us.

This is a remarkable attempt to make sense of the world after the loss of a loved one. To continue living as if nothing has changed is to deny the reality of the loss. To view the loss as something completely severed from our lives is to deny the reality of the relationship we had with the deceased. “Death,” writes one scholar, “marks both an end and a terrible new beginning.”[1]

My grandmother died several years ago, quite unexpectedly. Despite living far away (in Atlanta), she was an important part of my childhood. I grew up spending several weeks with her each summer. She taught me how to swim, fish, and play video games. Her death, in many ways, marked the complete end of my childhood and the beginning of my life as an adult in a world without Grandma.

Confucians practiced elaborate forms of mourning; and mourning is differentiated from grief. The latter is a feeling that comes upon us when confronted with loss. We are “stricken” with grief, often unexpectedly. Mourning, on the other hand, is what we do to cope with grief. In my faith tradition — Mormonism — we often suppress our grief and give it the shortest life possible. We comfort ourselves with reminders of the rewards in the life to come, consoling each other that families are forever, and hope this will remedy our grief. But I believe we could benefit from more constructive ways of mourning.

I am not discounting the consolation that an eternal family brings. At the same time we must not forget, as grand as these promises are, they do not always meet the immediate needs of the mourner. They may not, for instance, help the widow whose three children have come down with the flu and who now must navigate between work and sick kids at home with no one else to watch them. They may not hearten the widower who had been with his wife for 60 years and is now lying in bed at night unable to sleep. Nor will they soothe the friend who now has no one to talk with in her time of need.

It is the mundane parts of life that suddenly become significant when we lose someone. Yet all too often we pretend that the grand parts of the gospel make up for these ordinary moments.

I have learned from my studies that we can change the way we handle grief. Rather than seeing it as a problem in need of a remedy, we can view it as a constitutive part of a meaningful life. This may not lessen the amount of grief we feel, but it will open the door for more fruitful ways of processing it.

Early Confucian tradition had a custom similar to what we call a funeral procession. One text explains:

In following [the funeral procession to the grave], mourners were expectant and anxious as if they were following after [someone alive] but could never quite catch up to him. When returning, they… were hesitant and uneasy as if they sought after [their loved one], but did not find him. As such, when mourners follow [the funeral procession] it is as if they long to see [the deceased still alive]; and when they return it is as if they are bewildered [in not being able to find him].

Regardless of where they sought him, he could not be found. They entered the door to his home, but did not find him there. They ascended up into the main hall, but did not find him there. They entered his personal quarters, but did not find him there. Alas, he was gone; only to be mourned, and never to be seen again!

This is why mourners wail, shed tears, beat their chests, and falter. They stop doing these things only after they fully exhaust their sorrow.[2]

Much of this is foreign to us (and I am not necessarily advocating it) but is also profound. What I get out of this is a stark recognition that as hard as we try to live life as it was lived before the loss of a loved one, it cannot be done. Life before grief is never the same as life after grief. We need more ways to cope with our grief as we learn to live with loss. Death will never stop hurting, but as Confucian ritual teaches us, that hurt can bring new meaning to a new life.

Michael Ing is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University. He focuses on ritual, ethics, and issues of vulnerability as they relate to the human condition.

Editor’s note: This essay is part of an ongoing series on Holy Envy. People of various religions explain what they admire in other faiths. The purpose is to increase understanding and solidarity between believers.

[1] Amy Olberding, “Slowing Death Down: Mourning in the Analects,” in Confucius Now: Contemporary Encounters with the Analects, edited by David Jones (Chicago: Open Court, 2008), 143. Olberding’s work on Confucian attitudes toward death informs my description in this article.

[2] Liji, “Wensang,” 36.1.

I Can Start Over Again

I Can Start Over Again

Daniel West

We’ve all been there. You’re hanging out with a group of people on December 31. Perhaps you’re talking to someone, you hit a lull in the conversation, and they ask “So, what are your New Year’s resolutions?” You pause, perhaps because you haven’t thought about that yet, and possibly because you have thought about it, but telling another person what your thoughts are forces you to commit. Do you even remember what your resolutions were last December 31?

If not, why not?

This hinges on two concepts with which people who believe in deity are familiar: hope and faith. In order to follow through with a resolution–New Year’s or otherwise–we need both. When we only hope for things, we want an outcome to be good, but we are unsure of what it is or what we should do to ensure the outcome occurs. Faith gives us the direction and focus we need to get the results we desire.

I had some Army training at Fort Knox, Kentucky this summer. There were many events that measured my Soldiering skills, one of which was a shooting range. On the range, we had to shoot at 40 silhouettes that would pop up for a few seconds at a time at distances from 50 to 300 meters. To pass the course, we had to hit at least 23. When it was my turn to shoot, my eye protection fogged up, (Kentucky is quite humid) I had trouble getting a proper sight picture, and I did not hit enough targets.

Thankfully, I had a second chance. I could have gotten right back in line, drawn more ammo, and hoped for a better result. I realized that this probably wouldn’t have worked, so I exercised faith. I knew that I was capable of shooting better than I did, and I took the steps to get the result I needed. I took some basic marksmanship advice from one of the sergeants, watched the targets for a while to see exactly how long I had to shoot at each one, and did one other important thing: I prayed.

“Heavenly Father,” I said “I know that you can’t make me a better shot, but could you please keep my glasses from fogging up?” I took what I had learned, as well as the extra strength that I gained from prayer, and went back to the line. My glasses remained clear, and I hit 35 of the 40 targets.

Another key part of having the faith to keep resolutions is to share it! Find someone you can trust, and tell them what you’re doing and why. Whether you’re writing a book, going to the gym, or learning a new skill, you are more likely to follow through if someone else knows. Finally, counsel with whatever god you believe in daily, and gain strength through prayer and meditation.

If you make a resolution for 2018, exercise faith. You have a book full of blank pages upon which to write the next chapters of your life. Have a sure outcome in mind, and make some solid goals and plans. As you trust in God, trust in yourself, and meet those goals one by one, next year you will be able to say that you resolved to do something and you did it.