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.”
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.
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.
 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.
You don’t just wake up one morning, light streaming in from the window, birds fluttering about, and jump from your bed with exuberance declaring “I have a faith!”
No, it’s more like a slow crawl from your bed as you try to slam on the snooze button one last time.
Getting faith isn’t easy, even though people put the phrase “have faith!” on repeat like it’s no big deal. It’s a slow, sometimes agonizing process that many people give up on, but in truth, it’s worth the wait. Having faith puts that pep in your step when you feel like you’ve busted a kneecap. It gets you to try one more time towards your righteous desires and keeps you smiling when all you want to do is crawl back into bed. Faith is the end result of a long journey, but makes the trip bearable.
But sometimes it can be hard to see the road to faith, or at least the end of the road. If you’ve found yourself in this spot, Martin Luther King Jr. has some wise words.
“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
So what is the first step? Honestly, it’s different for everyone. But if you’re having a hard time viewing that staircase, here are a few steps to get you started.
Identify the Doubt
What’s causing you anxiety right now? What’s making you worry? What’s filling you with doubt? Pinpoint an area of your life that’s weighing you down and take some time to ponder why it’s so hard. If you need to, find a quiet space to meditate or pray about the things that are bothering you, and ask yourself why these things are having an impact on your life.
Why are we doing this? Because in order to identify a solution, we need to identify the problem.
Find Your Mantra
Having a little saying you can repeat to yourself in times of trouble is a great way to dispel fear. Faith is a concept that’s been around since the beginning of mankind, and you can find motivating quotes across the religious or spiritual spectrum. Take some time to search them out and find a phrase or quote that speaks to you. Put this quote somewhere you can see it often, like your phone. Then when you feel that fear or anxiety begin to rise, just take a deep breath, and repeat after them:
“Having faith does not mean having no difficulties, but having the strength to face them, knowing we are not alone.” – Pope Francis
“If it can be solved, there’s no need to worry, and if it can’t be solved, worry is of no use.” -Dalai Lama
“For with God, nothing shall be impossible.” – Luke 1:37
Now that we’ve identified the problem and have a mantra to keep us focused, let’s work on that solution. Write your problem down and start brainstorming ways to fix it, even the hard ones. What are the obvious ways you can fix it? The not-so obvious? Make bullet points until you have a solid list, then go through and find the solution that would be the most effective.
And now you’ll take action. You might be afraid, but that’s okay. Faith isn’t about not having fear, it’s about acting anyway. So take that solution and run with it, not looking back.
Faith isn’t a one-step process, and it’s also not a one-stop shop. In order to find and keep faith, you’ll need to practice over and over again. But that’s okay! With each step you’ll become stronger and stronger until faith is your first reaction to challenges, not fear.
As a writer, believer, and chronic Pinterest fail-er, Maddy believes that everyone has a unique message to share with the world, and enjoys finding new ways to strengthen her faith through different perspectives.
I’m writing this article at a desk surrounded by two calendars, a planner, and a to-do list angrily glaring up at me. I have never been a person that likes to “wing it.” When I’m stressed, I make even more lists to help me organize my rushing and jumbled thoughts. I make plans to help manage stress, but when they fall through or don’t go as planned, I become even more stressed.
We can all relate to this. Besides all of our day-to-day tasks that we plan for, we all have a plan in our heads of how our life should be. We imagine a big white wedding dress, a new car when we graduate, a job that pays well and getting to retire early. I thought for sure I would get married right out of high school and never have a career. This isn’t wrong by any means, in fact, these plans give us hope for the future. Hope that after a bad day we will still have good days ahead. But we aren’t perfect, and our plans fall through. Things change, people change and life is unpredictable. We CAN’T plan the way we wish we could.
But there is someone who can.
There is someone who knows all things and knows us each personally. There is someone who is perfect, and who has a perfect plan for each and every one of us. Why would this perfect being, who knows us each so well, leave us on this earth to plan for ourselves? Why knowing all he knows, would He leave things up to chance?
And the answer is simple. He doesn’t.
We all feel lost, confused and battered at some point in our lives. We all wonder how we can possibly go on from loss, sorrow, heartbreak, and disappointment. we wonder, how in the midst of all the war, terrorism, hatred, and intolerance there could possibly be a plan for us.
In a world that is so unpredictable, we can focus our faith and energy on finding the path that our God has laid out for us. He knows our thoughts, our hopes, and our prayers. He knows what makes us happy and loves us so much, that he would do anything for us to be happy.
But he can’t force His plan on us.
We have to have faith and be constantly seeking guidance and inspiration from God to truly gain understanding about what He would have us do. And sometimes the path isn’t clear. Life is hard. Things change. And we wonder how these events could possibly be for our good and help us. We may not know in this life, but I know with certainty that we will know. We just have to keep trekking. We have to keep walking down the road less traveled and know that our God will never lead us astray in His perfect plan.
Megan Miller is a BYU student with a passion for social media, writing, and her dog. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m a trauma queen. My therapist says I’ve been through a greater variety of trauma than anyone she’s ever worked with. Jokingly, I “brag” about it. In reality, I’m surprised I’m still alive. And, miraculously—with heaven’s help—my past is becoming the strongest part of my present and the brightest part of my future. It is in this same spirit that I’m celebrating Holi this year, for the first time.
Holi is an ancient Hindu holiday celebrated mostly in India and Nepal. It starts the night of the full moon just before spring—this year starting March 12th. People gather round a Holika bonfire that symbolizes the burning away of the bad and the victory of good. It’s a time to let go of the past, to forgive and forget. The following day, people gather together and celebrate by “coloring” each other. Brightly colored water and colored powders are thrown on each other until everyone’s drenched in color. It marks the beginning of spring. A time of peace and harmony. A fresh start.
We each have things from our past that can interfere with the present. Whether they’re mild or severe, we’re prone to collect them and the negative emotions attached. Like when someone has said or done something hurtful. Or, when we’ve done something embarrassing or hurtful to someone else. The more upsetting the event, the more likely we are to remember. And, the more the emotions can make us feel worse, over and over again.
So, using a fire to symbolize the burning away of the bad and the victory of good can be healing. Fire is often used to purify, cleanse, and change. In nature, fire makes room for new vegetation to grow and the resulting ashes provide nutrients. So, as a Holika fire symbolically burns away emotions from the past that weigh heavy, it can make room for new growth. Allowing for a celebration where we can enjoy the present.
A few years ago, I was in a group therapy discussion where we were working through difficult issues from the past. The instructor had us write down, on a piece of heavy paper, those memories that kept coming up and troubling us. Then, we went outside, walked off by ourselves, and each burned the list. The paper was thick, so it burned rather slowly. I watched as each troubling emotion was consumed, disappearing into the sky as smoke and falling to the earth as ashes. I was making room for new growth and providing important nutrients for that growth to take place.
I’m looking forward to my first Holika fire. And, the next day, where I can welcome a colorful new season of life.
Laurie Campbell can be found, on the first night of Holi, watching past burdens turn to smoke and ashes. Her celebration of spring the next day will likely be a “Westernized version” where she’ll enjoy Peeps of all colors.
Mother Teresa was a woman of intense faith who fervently believed the world could be a better place, drop by drop, person by person. She dedicated her life to succoring and empowering the disenfranchised, and taught us, through her actions, to cultivate and live an attitude of faith.
I’m going into my third Christmas after my mother’s passing from cancer. Sometimes I ask myself if I really know how to “deal with” these things called loss and grief very well. If “dealing with” loss during the holiday season means coping with my grief in a healthy, proactive way, the answer to that question sometimes is, “Yes,” but often is, “Not really.”
I’m grateful for the principles I’ve learned in the last three years from friends, family members, and helping professionals about living with grief and loss, especially during the holidays. I’ve come to realize that putting these principles into effect is a practice—a daily effort over time that has peaks and valleys, but ultimately moves upward.
Principle 1: It isn’t possible to shut out grief during the holidays. You have to make a place for it.
I feel like articles like this tend to promote band-aid solutions to “feel better” during difficult times. The truth is, the pain of separation from those we love will never go away during this life, and sometimes it just hurts. I’ve realized that over the past few years I’ve often run away from my pain or tried to shut it out. However, stifled pain doesn’t go away—it just builds up until it comes out, often at inconvenient times and places.
One of the best pieces of counsel I received from a friend whose father passed away was to create space for grief. Build time into your life to go to that place where you allow yourself to feel that pain, and it won’t pop up and surprise you as much. This can take the form of counseling appointments, rituals like a special candlelight vigil, or an evening in to write about your feelings. Creating this space is always important, but especially at high-emotion times such as the holidays.
Principle 2: Be willing to be present with circumstances as they are and create new traditions.
Tied up in grief is pain of separation and pain of unmet expectations. The separation I can’t control, but I can adjust my expectations of how holidays should go based on my present circumstances.
My kind stepmom and I recently had a conversation about allowing things to be as they are instead of clinging to expectations of how things used to be. I went home for Thanksgiving this year and had a much better experience. I let go of some of my expectations that things would be the same as they were before my mom’s passing as well as my assumption that my family should take the initiative in making sure I had a good time.
For Christmas, my goal is to create new traditions for myself to honor my mother and help myself have a positive experience. My friend who lost her dad said that her family always hangs a special ornament in her father’s honor on Christmas Eve. That idea rang true to me—instead of holding our pain inside, we honor the past while making our loved ones a part of our holiday celebrations moving forward.
Principle 3: Be kind to yourself and reach out for support from those you trust.
During the holidays, some days are going to be painful—perhaps for the rest of my life. Some days I do well, writing about my feelings and reaching out to friends for support, and some days I binge-watch Jane Austen movies and cry in my room. I’m learning how to honor my grief as part of my story without letting my pain drive everything I do. I’m practicing, and my process is okay. Having a friend who can hold space for me without judging, whom I can reach out to day or night, has been invaluable in my healing process, and for anyone going through a similar situation I would wish the same.
So how will the holidays go this year for me? Sometimes when people ask me how I’m doing after a particularly emotionally trying episode, I say, “I’m good.” And I mean it. Growing, refining processes are not always fun and often painful, but they are good. They make me kinder, softer, and more compassionate to others and to myself. They give me the opportunity to come to know myself and come to know God. For me as a Christian, that is what Christmas is all about—hope in Christ and His power to overcome all things.
Ariel Szuch is a word nerd, writer, and compulsive reader who finds purpose in a life of faith.
Born in India in the late 19th century, Mohandas Gandhi, known as ‘Mahatma’ (or ‘Great Soul’) is known for his civil rights leadership. He was the leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Although he was killed in 1948, his years of civil disobedience to promote peace have influenced countless other leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
What can Gandhi teach us?
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
Gandhi fervently believed in humanity. He trusted and had faith that there were good people in the world. In light of recent terrorist attacks, it has been hard to see that goodness (and much of it) still exists in the world today. But, it does! There is still hope. Gandhi’s words are poignant and true. Though there may be a ‘few drops’ in the ocean that are dirty, the entire ocean does not become dirty.
“A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”
When you look in the mirror in the morning, what is the first thing you think? If you are standing in a check-out line at the grocery store, what comes to mind as you see the polished figures on magazine covers? If you are faced with sickness, disability, or failure, what do you think about yourself? What are you becoming because of these thoughts? When we immerse ourselves with positive thinking, we will become positive ourselves. If we think that we might fail, we probably will. What we think, we become. Think GOOD thoughts. Think more of yourself. You are doing better than you think.
“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”
We might feel like our actions are insignificant. It may seem that what we are doing is of no value. Maybe we tell ourselves, “There’s too much bad in the world. It will never change.” Instead of focusing on changing the world, focus on changing yourself. Set goals for how you can improve. If you could change any bad habit, what would it be? Work on remaking yourself first.
“I call him religious who understands the suffering of others.”
Again, with recent devastating events happening in the world it is imperative to look outside of ourselves. When tragedies happen, we unite. We show compassion and love. Pure religion is giving service and being sympathetic to those of different backgrounds, religions, and orientation. Today, try to understand what someone else (a coworker, a neighbor, a family member) might be going through—walk a mile in their shoes. When you ask how they are doing, really listen and seek understanding.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Have the faith to forgive others. Forgiveness does not make you weak; it is a strength. As you forgive others, you will feel an added measure of power. Forgiveness enables us to move forward with life, in spite of defeat or hurt. As we exercise the faith to forgive others, we will be more at peace in our own lives. Is there someone that you need to forgive who has wronged you? How can you move forward?
Gandhi taught us to never lose faith in humanity, to watch our thoughts, to remake ourselves, empathize with others, and learn to forgive. Gandhi was a wise man whose life lessons far extend past the 79 years he spent spreading messages of peace, acceptance and love on Earth.
Cheri Peacock Hendricks is a graduate of SUU who loves running on trails, baking and social media.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” Like Abraham Lincoln, I know that I too will be forever indebted to the beautiful woman I call mom.
When I think of why I choose to have hope in times of darkness, my mind undoubtedly always takes me back to my childhood. Before she even reached the age of 30, my mother found herself—despite her most valiant efforts—a single mother of two little boys and her infant daughter. My father chose to stray from his family and pursue a care-free lifestyle, leaving my young mother with no money, no car, and a pile of ever-growing payments and unanswered questions to tackle completely alone. She thought that surely God knew how much she loved her husband, even if he no longer seemed to value her, her children, or her marriage. She read her Bible and prayed faithfully, and at times found herself asking God why he was punishing her when she tried so hard to be good.
I recently asked my mom how she did it, and most of all, why she chose to have hope when she felt completely and entirely abandoned. My mom recalled one particularly trying day where she was in agonizing pain from having had her appendix burst, no money to buy groceries to feed her three small children, and found herself in so much despair that her small frame was wasting away from the darkness she thought may consume her.
While driving down the hot Las Vegas freeway one day in a vehicle a beautiful friend had loaned our family, she heard an audible voice tell her, “It will all be okay.” My mother knew at this time that God hadn’t turned his back on her or her three little children, but rather he removed her from what would have been a lifetime of darkness. She knew that having faith in the future wasn’t going to be easy, but that it was her only lifeline—and oh, how she needed a lifeline. From that day forward she vowed to give her cares to God because if she didn’t the internal despair would destroy her and she had to be strong, not only for herself, but for her children.
I remember at a very young age being keenly aware that my mother was someone special. I saw her day in and day out give the best of herself in order to provide my brothers and me the brightest future she could. I know that I will never understand the depth of her pain. But just like Job in the Bible, God trusted her to endure. He knew she would not only endure the trials, but that she would emerge even stronger than she was before because she had hope and believed in good things to come.
I am so grateful my mother taught me at such a young age that your only choice is to have hope. When it feels like we are walking entirely alone, when we want nothing more than to crawl into a ball and not face the weight of the world, or when those who are supposed to love us the most betray us, there is always someone much greater than us who knows our hearts and loves us deeply. He knows our pains. He loves us perfectly and as hard as it may feel sometimes, He asks us to trust Him. I choose to have hope no matter what life throws at me, not because it is a good option, but because it is my only option.
Audrey Denison is a young professional working and living in Washington, D.C. Contact her at email@example.com
Faith is a huge aspect of my life but many times I forget it’s even a thing. Tough times remind me of my need of faith. Like in the video, it took making a decision between following a dream and cutting off a poisonous relationship to remind me where my faith needed to be. God was offering an escape and I needed to have faith in Him, that He was in control.
“I had to take that step forward.”
Video courtesy of Jefte Campos (submitted as an entry for the 2015 Film Your Faith Video Contest).
It was a dark time in my life. All the warning signs were there, I just didn’t pay attention to it. I had started dating this girl that led me down a path that I had never hoped to walk.
Faith – it just seemed so obsolete to me at the time. And I would lay awake at night with the question, “What are you doing?” I was 14, and I had been offered a job at the church. The process took about three months before I was hired on, but I remember thinking I should just go back and put in my two weeks notice, so I did.
It had been two weeks, and still no news from the church. There was something just reassuring and that still small voice. It was roughly around this time that the girl that I was so deeply in love with had relapsed and went to jail. I was torn. This opportunity that I had always dreamed of had come up. I believe that’s when faith became faith. And without even thinking about it, it radically changed my life. I had to take that step forward.
My relationship with the girl ended almost immediately after she was released and I moved closer to the church. God was slowly laying down the puzzle pieces, revealing the larger image he has for me. Showing me how faith brought me here.
Outside the mall, the wind gently swirled around the falling snowflakes. But inside was chaos. Every floor teemed with children and parents, teenagers and college students, and I was one of them. I thought I was spending time with my brothers as we browsed through the stores a few days before Christmas last year, but it turned out that we were spending more time trying to find the best deals for the “Titanfall” video game. And everyone all around me was hurrying from one place to the next.
The holidays seem to be defined more and more by “busyness.” People are busy buying gifts, students are busy studying for final exams, families are busy catching flights and trains to visit relatives.
As the year comes to an end, the story of Christmas bids us to something different, something better. As I read about the birth of Jesus Christ, I feel the cool breeze of a night sprinkled with thousands of stars. I hear the soft sound of sheep and the quiet footsteps of shepherds. I see a family rejoicing over the birth of a baby.
To me, Christmas is about celebrating faith. The birth of Jesus Christ represents hope in a broken world, a world consumed by busyness. He was born in a humble manger, wrapped in a simple cloth. There were no ornaments or candy canes, no Santa Claus or marathon TV shows, no flash sales or BOGOs.
Jesus invites us to lay aside for a moment our wish lists, to pause the holiday movies, to dry our hands from washing too many cooking pans, and to follow Him. To take a moment to remember who God is and who we are as His children. As we do, we will find the true light in the winter darkness. At the root of our human identity, I think we are all searching for something, or someone. Christmas reminds me that I can put my hope in something that lasts: faith. Sales come and go. Even the Christmas tree won’t last forever. But God does.
When we finally did find the video game on sale and bought it, we returned home from the mall. But what I remember most about that day wasn’t the shopping, but the dinner afterwards, when it was just my brothers, my parents, and I holding hands around the table, heads bowed down in prayer and in gratitude.
Take time this holiday season to reflect, relax, and rejoice.
As I stood inside the ancient Celtic temple known as La Roche aux Fées, or “fairy rock,” in northwestern France, I felt a sense of awe and reverence. Although my faith, my god, are not the same as those who worshipped there thousands of years ago, I knew that this was a special place, a space of worship and devotion not that different from my own.
The Roche aux Fées, a prehistoric dolmen, aligns with the sun at the winter solstice.
One thing that all faiths share is a respect and reverence for the divine, and each faith has at least one place that is set apart as sacred or holy. As we visit the sacred spaces of other faiths, we begin to recognize all that we share. Let’s look at a few of these spaces.
Many Christians revere the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Christian quarter as the site of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. A church was first built on this site in 326 AD, around the tomb believed to be the one that held Jesus’ body. Others visit the Garden Tomb, discovered in 1867, to contemplate Jesus’ burial and resurrection.
Many believe this spot inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem was the location of Jesus’ tomb.
The Western Wall in Jerusalem is one of Judaism’s most holy sites. It is a remnant of an exterior retaining wall built around the Jewish Temple of Herod, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. It is sometimes called the Wailing Wall because the faithful gather here to pray and lament the loss of their temple.
Jews mourn the loss of their temple at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
While Jerusalem also has many sites sacred to Muslims, the most sacred site in Islam is the Kaaba or Ka’ba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. According to the Qur’an, the Kaaba was the first Muslim house of worship and was built by the prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael. Wherever they are in the world, Muslims pray toward the Kaaba, and at least once in their life, each able Muslim must make a pilgrimage to the site.
Pilgrims circle the Kaaba inside Islam’s most sacred mosque, Al-Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca.
For centuries Buddhists have made pilgrimages to the tree in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India, where it is believed the Buddha achieved enlightenment. Hindus bathe in the Ganges River to wash away their sins. Pagans and new-age devotees gather at Stonehenge and other ancient sites. Each sacred site honors and celebrates the divine, the Power greater than us all.
Buddhists pray at the Bodhi Tree, where the Buddha achieved enlightenment.
A woman prays in the Ganges River.
Druids and traditional Morris dancers celebrate the summer solstice at Stonehenge.
People come to other sacred sites, such as temples, mosques, cathedrals, and sanctuaries, to have a personal encounter with the divine. They’re places of prayer and devotion, a place to ponder our connection to God, whatever form that god may take.
As much as these sacred spaces feed our souls, I find that the most wonderful thing about faith is that you don’t have to go anywhere special to experience it. You can carry it with you, allowing any space to become sacred to you. Rabbi Gary S. Creditor said it beautifully: “Holy ground can be a place inside of me, wherever I am, at any moment, at every moment.”
With the Christian share of the U.S. population declining and the number of adults who do not identify with organized religion growing, you might ask: Is religion still relevant?
For some major companies that promote faith in subtle and overt ways with customers or employees, the answer is yes.
Tyson Foods: Respecting Faith, Offering Hope
Tyson Foods, the world’s second-largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork, promotes itself as a “faith-friendly” company with many employees who have a “set of beliefs about themselves and their world and how one should live in the world.” And they say that “even those who say they aren’t ‘religious’ often still bring these spiritual values with them. Here at Tyson Foods, these faith and spiritual commitments are valued and respected.”
The company employs 115 office chaplains who provide “compassionate pastoral care” to its 124,000 employees, regardless of religious beliefs. These chaplains also deliver meals to those affected by disasters.
Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby: Honoring the Sabbath Day as a Recipe for Success
The fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A closes its stores on Sundays so employees can “rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so. … It’s part of our recipe for success.”
Hobby Lobby, which operates some 500 arts-and-crafts stores in the United States, also closes Sundays. It seeks to honor “the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles” (the Sabbath Day commandment is the fourth of the Ten Commandments).
In-N-Out Burger and Forever 21: Sharing Bible Verses
The next time you visit In-N-Out Burger, look at the bottom of your cup, container or wrapper and you’ll likely see references to Bible verses such as John 3:16, Proverbs 3:5, or Nahum 1:7.
The late Richard Snyder, the son of the company’s founders gave a simple reason for sharing such subtle religious references with customers: “It’s just something I want to do.”
Though these religious references are so small that “most of our customers never notice,” a company spokesperson said, at least two people did. In 2000, Do and Jin Chang (the founders of Forever 21, a global clothing outlet) copied In-N-Out by placing a reference to John 3:16 on the bottom of its shopping bags. That verse says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The Changs are born-again Christians who to promote faith through their products in various ways. In 2011, they released religious-themed tees with messages such as, “Love,” “Jesus ♥ You,” “Holy,” “Jesus ♥ Me,” “God,” and “Three Words to Live by: Prayer, faith, and trust.”
From honoring the Sabbath Day to sharing Bible verses, these companies have continued a culture of faith among employees and customers.
I look outside the window, and there he is, sitting on the ground. His blue winter hat adds a pop of color to a cloudy day in the middle of March. Though I’m a few feet away, I notice his eyes; eyes I’m sure were once vibrant but now look like pools of gray. He holds a cup in his hand, asking for money as people walk by, not daring to glance at him.
“Your toastie is here,” the barista says as she puts down a plate of a grilled bacon-and-cheese sandwich.
“Thank you,” I nod. The mouthwatering smell knocks me out of my reverie and compels me to return to the task at hand.
I am sitting in a Costa Coffee cafe, one of the many in Edinburgh, Scotland. As a study abroad student, my designated ‘chill’ days are spent weaving in and out of tea shops, writing in my journal, and catching up on my reading (or at least trying to).
My mother commends my nerves of steel, nerves shaped by my years of competitive chess (yup, it’s a thing) and spelling bee endeavors (when the bright lights of ESPN are casting down on you and thousands of people across America are waiting for you to misspell a word on national TV, courage is forged on that stage). But in the few weeks leading up to my departure from my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, I felt heart palpitations on a whole new level.
Traveling to another country, across oceans, thousands of miles away from the comforts of my house, can be scary.
I did not know anyone in Edinburgh. All I had was one email contact (referred to me by my brother’s friend’s mother) and one Facebook contact referred to me by a Brown University classmate. But no real friend waiting to greet me at the airport.
I even remember writing in my journal consistently every day for three days, “I am scared.” I desperately wanted to make friends, find a church community, establish a ‘homebase’ in a foreign land. We were not made to feel lonely.
And so, I used what any twenty-first-century young lady would do.
For me, Google was a Godsend. The first week I was in Edinburgh, I typed in the search bar, “Christian churches in Edinburgh.” Surprisingly, a lot popped up, so I clicked on each link and searched around and learned more about each church.
I was a stranger, and they welcomed me. (Image via Anna Delamerced)
One of those was King’s Church. After clicking around on its website a bit more, I believed it to be a Biblically-sound church whose people seek to love God and love others. “There would be free lunches for students!” the website also said. As a student on a budget (the dollar ain’t strong against the mighty pound), I thought to myself, “I need to eat after church, right?… Might as well try it out…” I decided to see for myself.
And so, one crisp January morning, I woke up with the rain cascading down on my window, left my flat (apartment for us Americans) at 10:00 a.m., and thirty minutes later, after the wind inverted my umbrella, after getting lost and having to ask an elderly Scottish man “do you know where Viewforth Road is?” arrived at the front steps of King’s Church.
Immediately, several greeters welcomed me. Names were exchanged, explanations given as to where I was from (“Ohio, but if you don’t know where that is, that’s okay, I attend university near Boston”) and what I was doing in Edinburgh (studying abroad for one semester), and teas and plenty of biscuits were offered to me.
One of the welcome members and I bonded over our study of medicine, over being students in our third year of “uni” (university), over the fact that despite the morning’s torrential waters, here we were, in the entrance of the church, excited to worship the same God.
Ironically enough, no lunch was served that Sunday, because it turns out it was the first service since all the students returned to uni from winter break. But there was a little gathering in the foyer afterwards (with more tea and biscuits), and immediately the leader of the student ministry approached me. Luke was his name and he immediately connected me with full-time students, especially the students who were small group leaders. That Sunday, I felt love in a way I hadn’t before. I was a stranger, and they welcomed me.
Faith, food, and fellowship. (Image via Abena Boakyewa-Ansah)
Over the course of these past two months, I have come to know this love more deeply. The people I have met in Edinburgh have fed me, cooked Filipino soup for me, even baked homemade cheesecake for me. They have walked me home in the dark when I was just starting out and didn’t know the difference between Marchmont Road and the Meadows. They have made me laugh with their (attempts at) rap and dance skills. They have cooked lunches for all the students every Sunday. They have propped open the doors to their flats and let me spend a few hours every Tuesday eating dinner, sharing stories (both the embarrassing and the profound), reading the Word, discussing and asking each other questions, and singing to God together. They have encouraged me to see life with an eternal perspective. They have prayed with me and for me. They have inspired me to live a life of love.
They didn’t have to do any of that. They didn’t have to bother with an American study abroad student whom they knew they may not see ever again after the semester ends. They didn’t have to spend their money or their time or their lives with me. They didn’t have to share their food, or their love, with me.
But they did.
Sharing is an act of faith and an act of love.
Where does this kind of love come from?
We love because He first loved us.
I am content to know that there exists a God who already loves us so much, and I see and witness and feel his love through people. And God’s love — unconditional, freely given, undeserved, everlasting — is available to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Love is stepping out of your comfort zone. Love is laying down your life for another person. Love is giving your time and energy and resources to a friend, not to seek to get anything out of it, but because love overflows out of you. Love comes from God.
And so, here I was, sitting in Costa, with a choice in front of me.
Too often I have chosen the wrong decision whenever I encounter a homeless person. I have walked by. No, I confess I have hurried by, looking down at the ground. I have not dropped even fifty pence into his cup.
I realized my mistake.
I might not ever meet this homeless man again, and I don’t know how much a sandwich can impact a person…
But it didn’t hurt to try to share some kindness, to try to carry on the love, the very love I have been given.
I walked up to the counter, bought a sandwich, and ran across the street to stretch out my hand, and meet him.
“I gotta show you this rash I have, it’s revolting.”
“Why are you so angry? Is it that time of month?”
Too much information! Things you might not want to say to someone, unless of course you’re purposely trying to offend, gross out, or come across as a jerk. As taboo as they may seem, the following subjects may be viewed with strikingly similar distaste.
“Yes, I believe in God.”
“This book I just finished really strengthened my faith.”
“Would you like me to pray for you?”
When’s the last time anyone you know spoke openly about their faith? How can faith, of all things, be so censored?
The definition of censorship describes the suppression of material that is “obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.” It’s easy to see how immorality, violence, drug use, and profanity fall under the scope of appropriate censorship, but do those attributes describe faith to you?
Just as society shouldn’t censor faith, neither should we censor our own faith. We shouldn’t let fears of ridicule, embarrassment, or being misunderstood hinder our worthy attempts at expressing belief. Hiding your faith is not faith at all. Have faith in your faith!
True faith is not blind, it sees more with less. Have an open heart and listening ears to other’s expressions of faith and you may find that your own will miraculously strengthen and expand. Faith by nature is vulnerable. It claims to believe in something that can’t be fully explained. Expressing faith is not meant to be an end, but a journey, often more fulfilling than the things we know for a fact.
Don’t censor any faith, yours or theirs. Let’s create a culture where discussion of faith is not only welcomed, but empowering to those who participate.
St. Patrick’s Day has come to be known for many as a time to wear green clothing, to feast on corned beef and cabbage, and to put green food coloring in practically everything. But what and who are we celebrating? Who was the man—the Saint—that inspired St. Patrick’s Day?
Although St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint, he wasn’t even Irish. Accounts vary but he was born somewhere in the British Isles, around the 4th century, to Roman parents. His given name was Maewyn Succat.
As a teen, Patrick was captured by pirates, taken to Ireland and sold as a slave to herd and tend sheep. During his six years of captivity, Patrick turned to God and became deeply devoted to Christianity. At the age of 20, Patrick had a dream from God telling him to leave Ireland by going to the coast where he would find a ship waiting to sail to Britain. Acting on his dream, Patrick ran away from his master and travelled 200 miles to a port where he convinced some sailors to let him board their ship. He was finally able to make his way back to Britain where he was reunited with his family.
After returning to Britain, Patrick went to France where he studied and entered the priesthood, and adopted the name Patrick. In another dream Patrick saw the children of Pagan Ireland reaching out their hands to him. He became increasingly determined to return to Ireland to free the Irish from their pagan ways by converting them to Christianity.
Patrick returned to Ireland and spent the next 40 years preaching, converting, and abolishing paganism. He and his disciples are responsible for converting all of Ireland to Christianity.
After years of living in poverty and enduring much suffering, St. Patrick died on March 17 at Saul, Downpatrick, where he had built the first church in Ireland.
St. Patrick has never been formally canonized by a Pope, but many Christian churches declare that he is a Saint in Heaven.
Test your St. Patrick’s Day knowledge with this quiz:
Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that marks the beginning of Lent, a Christian season of humility leading up to Easter.
When you pass some of your Christian neighbors on the street, you may notice that they are wearing an outward symbol of their faith — a cross of ashes drawn on their forehead.
So what exactly is Ash Wednesday and why is it significant to Christians around the world? Here are three things you need to know.
What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a time for penance and fasting. During the Lenten season, people resolve to do better and to be better. The days of Lent are meant to reflect Christ’s forty-day fast and resistance to temptation in the wilderness. Christians today voluntarily surrender something — a favorite food item, or maybe a not-so-great habit — as a small token of suffering in recognition of Christ’s suffering for mankind.
Ash Wednesday is also the day after Shrove Tuesday, a day meant for penitence in preparation for Lent, but which has now become a popular, secular day known as Mardis Gras, or “Fat Tuesday” — a sort of feast-before-the-fast celebration.
The last week of Lent is called Holy Week. These holy days represent important events in Christ’s life leading up to his death on Good Friday. Christians celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, an event that gives them great hope. On Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, Christians remember when Jesus of Nazareth entered Jerusalem and crowds gave him a kingly welcome. This reminds believers how fleeting earthly honors can be.
Why do people wear ashes?
At the Ash Wednesday service, the priest draws a cross on believers’ foreheads while he recites the words, “Thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” This is called the imposition of ashes.
The ashes are actually from palm branches that were saved from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service.
The ash mark reminds believers of a solemn truth: Life is temporary, and everyone will eventually face death. Such a serious day draws people around the world to reflect on this truth.
How do people find faith as they acknowledge one of the starkest truths of human existence?
Lent is meant to be a dark time, but people endure the deprivation because they have hope in the resurrection. Christians find hope in Christ’s example — his life, ministry, and death.
This faith is a deep source of comfort, and Ash Wednesday uniquely highlights how people can find light in the darkness.
This time of year, reminders of romantic love are everywhere. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolates fill grocery store shelves. Maybe you hear Adele on the radio and become a bit misty-eyed about a break-up.
But many kinds of relationships, not just romantic ones, fill our lives year round. Healthy relationships are a vital element of our well-being. Although having good relationships you can count on isn’t always easy, it is definitely worth the effort.
One secret ingredient to add to your relationships is faith.
Faith in Yourself
We’ve all heard the adage, to love others you need to love yourself first. Loving yourself can admittedly be hard, but having faith in yourself can make it a little easier. When you believe in yourself you develop confidence. As your confidence increases so does your ability to connect meaningfully with others.
Having faith in you is a good habit that you can carry into all kinds of relationships.
Faith in God
Believing in God can also enhance your relationships. Knowing that you have worth in God’s eyes lifts your self-esteem. Your value is not based on what someone’s opinion of you might be for that day. When you don’t look to others to validate and accept you, you are freer to love and appreciate others.
“The light of faith is capable of enhancing the richness of human relations, their ability to endure, to be trustworthy, to enrich our life together.” -Pope Francis
Believing that others have worth in God’s eyes has the potential to improve your relationship with them, too. It is easier to treat someone kindly when you start to recognize their true worth. Their concerns start to matter to you because you see them in a fresh way.
Faith in Others
Even when you recognize someone’s worth, they can still disappoint you or let you down. That’s when faith in others matters. Faith has the potential to improve communication and soften judgments. Giving people a break and trusting in their good intentions can make a huge difference in how you perceive and act toward them.
Try to set aside criticism each day and look for the good in the other person. What is she getting right? Appreciate the effort the other person puts forth, even if it falls short.
Faith in a Relationship
Connecting to someone, even someone you know really well, takes faith. It takes faith to start dating someone. Sometimes it even takes faith to believe you can have another relationship after one ends.
Withdrawing into yourself can be a natural reaction to not trusting others or being caught up in your own problems. Consciously trying to look outside of yourself and connect with others can be challenging, but it becomes easier with practice and as you start to see the benefits. Reach out and discover what someone else has to offer.
Faith in the Future
Having faith in someone, yourself, or a situation takes patience. Whether your relationship with your sibling could use a little TLC or if you’re (sometimes impatiently) waiting for your Mr. or Mrs. Right, sometimes it seems like things might never change. You may even want to give up. Don’t! Good things are ahead if you will just hold on a little longer.
Reaching out in faith to God can offer great hope for the future. Pope Francis wrote, “Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us.”
Love takes a lot of faith, time, and effort. Life is much richer with it than without it. Go ahead, have a little faith. You might be surprised.