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Pilgrimage

Mary Untier of Knots

Mary-Untier-of-Knots

[Jorge Bergoglio] Made a pilgrimage to the Bavarian city of Augsburg where, in the Jesuit church of Sankt Peter am Perlach, he contemplated s Baroque-era painting from the early 1700’s known as Maria Knotenloserin, “Mary, Untier of Knots,” which was the object of a local devotion. The painting’s story goes back to a feuding married couple who had been on the verge of a bitter separation. The husband, Wolfgang Langenmantel, had sought help from a local Jesuit priest, Father Jakob Rem, who prayed to the Virgin Mary “to untie all the knots” in the Langenmantel home. Peace was restored and the marriage was saved; and to give thanks for the miracle their grandson commissioned the painting and donated it to the church.

At First glance, it is nothing out of the ordinary; the painting shows the Virgin, surrounded by angels and protected by the light of the Holy Spirit, standing on a serpent with the child Jesus in her arms. But the middle of the painting is striking: an angel to Mary’s left is passing her a silk thread full of knots that she unties, handing on the un-knotted thread to an angel on her right.

Father Rem’s prayer to the Virgin had been inspired by an ancient formula of Saint Irenaeus: The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary.

Obedience was precisely Bergoglio’s knot. It is the key vow for Jesuits, and one he strongly believed in; it was what made mission and unity possible. Yet what he had been given was not a mission, but a means of getting him out (sic. Of Argentina) because he was an obstacle. What obedience did he owe?

Obedience comes from the Latin obaudire, to “hear” or “listen to.” The vow is meant above all to free the heart from the ego in order to listen to God, and submit freely to His will: the Virgin is the perfect model of such obedience.

What was God’s will, now, for Bergoglio, in the middle of his life?

Bergoglio took a handful of Maria Knotenloserin prayer cards back with him. In the 1990’s, after a local copy of the painting – known in Spanish as Maria Desatanudos – was hung in a church in Buenos Aires, it took off in an extraordinary way, leading Bergoglio later to say he never felt so much in the hands of God.


Blank Page …

Courtesy: Masternservant

They say that every so often you should open a blank page and try to write something cohesive. So here is my blank page and a photo to go with it.

Are these guys playing B-Ball, and the game has been paused while they sit there on the court all relaxing and chilling? There are spectators in the stands but the MTV shirts could be a giveaway that they are not really ball players. What are they looking at and what is that grin all about on the boy in the white trunks?

I like this photo. Sometimes you find a photo that kind of speaks to you and you re-post it. I try to find photos that you could tell a story about or figure out what is going on in the photo.

*** *** *** ***

The skies are clear over the city and it has been a quiet week so far. I haven’t dine much this week. We usually follow the same routine every day, we get up, fart around online, watch some tv and then hit the sack for a mid afternoon nap before hitting round two of farting around online and watching more tv.

The only channel we watch these days is MSNBC. It is all politics all day every day and into the night. There are hits of other shows that are interspersed in our daily routine like Community and 30 Rock.

Right now Mick Jagger is singing live on SNL which is a Saturday night ritual in our house. It is the season finale tonight and it is speculated that a few of the cast members will be leaving the show after tonight’s episode.

The summer television season will begin soon and that means So You Think You Can Dance and Big Brother …  We don’t really watch any other live reality type tv shows. Although CBS does own the market on reality tv.

*** *** *** ***

What else can I write about?

I had a really interesting dream the other day during one of my naps. It involved a good friend of mine and another friend whom I am acquainted with from the blog sphere. It was one of those naughty but nice dreams that went on for a long time.

I kept trying to hold onto it as long as I could when I realized that I was in the middle of a lucid dream. I have to say that it was pretty vivid and I carried it out of the dream and into waking hours. It is not usual that I can carry a dream out into waking. I usually forget them right after I wake up.

Let’s just say that if I ever get to meet Ruff face to face, we will have a lot to talk about. It must be that the zip up combat boots I bought from him must be enchanted with some kind of sex spell. They are infused with the memories of many leather oriented events while he owned them, and that energy must be pouring out of them into my feet.

It has been a great week for EBAY. All of the items I put up on the site sold and two pairs of motorcycle boots I put up are bid on and will sell come the end of next week. So I am poised to make a fair amount of change from this purge from my closet.

Speaking of purging my closet, this spring we are cleaning house in the hopes that in a few months we will be making the big move up in the city. Which means that all those old clothes that we haven’t worn in more than a year can go to Renaissance. Renaissance is an organization that collects used good from the community and turns them around in reintegrating folks into the community and the workplace. So all the goods you donate go to people who can use them right away.

I have to clear out the balcony of boxes of crap that we haven’t touched since we put them out on the balcony. Living in a high rise building, there really isn’t a place to throw away trash, except what goes down the trash dump. Each floor has a trash drop that goes into a main drop in the basement. There are several recycling dumpsters in the basement so we will be inundating them with old shit that we no longer need or want. This will all pay off when we move because we won’t be moving all that shit.

What are you doing for your community? And what changes are you going to make at home to free up the clutter in your life and try to simplify things. I am reading a book called “The Way is Made by Walking” written by Arthur Paul Boers, he is a Mennonite minister here in Canada.

It is all about his journey to France and Spain to walk 500 miles from St. Jean Pied du Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. This is one of many pilgrimage journeys people from all over the world walk every year. There are a few pilgrimage points like Iona and Lindesfarne, the Holy Land and Rome.

From the European continent you can step out your front door in your respective town or village and find a “Flecha”  and start your journey all the way to Compostela. People from all over Europe have walked from their respective countries to Spain over weeks, months and years. Several times a year a group from Montreal makes the journey. I attended one of those meetings at Concordia a few years ago, but I never followed up on it.

I think the one pilgrimage that I am going to make this year is to Cape Town South Africa. I am really looking forwards to going on this trip and also in what I will find and learn when I get there. My host is a world traveler himself and I will finally get to sit down with him and listen to some of his stories that we have only chatted about via email.

Pilgrimage is about transformation. And I am trying, ever so slowly to begin transforming our lives in new ways in preparation for our next step on our life path.

It is nearing the 1 a.m hour and I think I will close this blank page and say goodnight, I think I’ve purged enough thought for tonight.

Goodnight from Montreal.


Blessed Johannes Paulus II – Celibratione a la Vaticano


40 days and 40 nights

I was gonna wait to post this, but the spirit is moving me today, So here is one of my favorite pieces of writing. I wrote in a few years ago, and I repost it every year at the beginning of Lent. And since I don’t have anything fresh to offer you – you can read this and prepare for your journey … Enjoy..

And so it begins, the walk through the desert. God is moving tonight, I can feel it in my bones deep within my soul. I am in Preacher mode and the message is loud and clear…Write and share the journey.  Here is my Lenten exercise of the journey, it is called “Will you walk with me a step or two.”

One day the Lord spoke to them and they started walking through the desert. Men, women, children the elderly and the herds and flocks. Where they were going was not known, but it was apparent that they were going to get somewhere. If only they walked a step or two.

A young man spoke up and said “I will walk ahead of the tribes, I will lead them as the Lord leads me.” And the Lord asked the young boy, “are you ready to walk for the glory of God,” why “Yes,” the boy answered. So be it the Lord said, “now lead them, but take only that which you need and nothing more.” I will walk with You Lord, he said without a second thought.

The Lord said that the way will not be smooth and there are things you will see on the way that will test your faith, yet I the Lord will make the way straight and the path smooth, if you have faith in Me and the Glory of God the father. Yes, I have faith, the boy replied, so walk my son.

A few days into the journey the boy came across a woman with ragged hair and little clothing. She was elderly and needed some water. The boy was only carrying what he had, and he gave drink to the woman and quenched her thirst. She said to him, that she was lonely and afraid of the road, and the boy replied, woman, have no fear, for I will walk with you until nightfall and we will camp under the canopy of heaven. That day they walked together and the woman was grateful for the company and the water.

That night, they made camp, the tribes of the Lord.

The Angel of the Lord came down and struck the rock and water flowed. They all drew water from a spring that appeared and everyone’s thirst was satiated. And the animals were watered as well. Food was passed from group to group until every last one was fed. That night they sang the song of the Lord until everyone was sent to a sleep protected by the Lord himself.

The very next morning, rested and fed, the tribes packed up their wares and started the journey as they did the day prior. The sun hung low in the sky, and by high noon, sweat was pouring off the brows of the people. The young boy made his way in front of the pack, leading them as he was guided by the spirit of the lord. Soon after noon the boy came across an elderly man who was being carried by two men, visibly shaken and tired.

The boy looked up to the sky and said, what can I do Lord?

The answer came and the boy took the arm of the litter and helped carry the man for the rest of the day, until darkness fell and camp was set up for the night. Once again, the Angel of the Lord came down and struck the rock and from the rock a spring came up from the earth once again, the people and the animals were watered. The tables were set and the people were fed to their fill. Once again, they praised the God of Abraham and in the coolness of the night they slept under the canopy of the heavens.

On the third day they awoke to a cloudy day, grateful for the relief from the sun, they gathered up their wares and began to walk once again. Today the young man was tired. He had been leading this lot for days now, and yet the lord said, Keep walking. So he did.

On this day he came upon a young person drawn from travel, covered in dust from the desert. Visibly the boy had not eaten in days and was close to death.

The young man stopped and knelt down next to him and shared his water and some bread from his pack. He lifted the boy into his arms and carried him for the rest of the day. Hours passed and the boy was filled with faith and strength as he carried his charge on his back. That night at camp, the young boy gathered some bedding and laid his friend in a cool soft place.

That night the Angel of the Lord appeared and once again, struck the rock and water flowed. He bathed the young man whom he had carried all day, then they broke bread and shared living water from the earth. Miracle, you ask, quite possibly so.

That night all were fed and after the plates were cleared and all had been fed, they gathered before the fires and praised the God of Abraham. They rested beneath the canopy of heaven.

For 38 days and 38 nights, the boy walked with his people, helping each soul he encountered to the best of his ability as God had commanded him to do.

On the 39th day they awoke. The angel of the Lord was there at first light and he told them, the journey was almost over, walk on as the Lord commands.

That day was no different. On that day the young boy would meet his final “person.” She was laden with child, and was walking alone carrying everything that she needed. No man walked by her side, no assistance came to her. She was visibly close to giving birth, and the Boy took her hand

As night fell, the boy gathered the women together and they prepared the woman for birth. A call went out to the men and they gathered together some wood for someplace to keep the child. As was foretold, the Angel of the Lord appeared to them once again, and struck the rock and as happened each night before, water flowed.

That night the stars shone brightly, the heavens were alight with song. Something was about to happen. For after the meal, the woman called for the boy and he appeared by her side. The time had come and she wanted to share the birth of the child with him, for he walked with her a step or two. That night under the canopy of heaven a child was born and she asked the boy his name.

He answered, “My name is David.” She smiled at her son, and spoke to the heavens, May God in heaven be blessed and may he bless my son David, born this night. The heavens replied with a thousand shooting stars… What a glorious vision the host of angels come down from heaven to sing to David, the newest member of the tribes of Abraham. That night they rested and slept in peace.

On the 40th day the young boy awoke, there standing before him were 40 men, women and children. All of those whom David had walked with through the desert. At that moment an Elder man spoke to David and said follow me, there is someone who would like to see you David, HE has asked for you by name.

The people before him parted and through them David walked until he reached a hill that was green with foliage and there a spring bubbled up. “Take off your sandals David” a voice spoke to him. David did not skip a beat. As David looked up from undoing his shoes, There the Master sat on the rock before him.

David’s eye welled up with tears, he had done exactly as he was instructed, as the Lord had told him. He had led his people through the desert helping each soul he met on his path. The Master knew what was in his heart and soul. David was without words. The Master got up from where He sat and approached David and wrapped his arms around him, and said……..

“Well done good and faithful servant. In YOU I am well pleased.”

What for? David said, all I did was what you asked of me while I walked. And the Master replied, “you know David, each time you helped one of these souls on your journey, you helped ME.” “What the least of these you have done for my brothers and sisters you have done for me.”

The Master reached down into the pool of water and blessing the water he blessed and baptized David the Boy, and then David the infant. And for a moment the heavens opened up and God’s voice was heard, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

And from the sky a beam of light shone forth into the desert and the sands were parted and there in the swirl of dust a city appeared. It is there that the people made their homes. The journey had ended. And a placed blessed by God was theirs to live in.

So will you walk with me a step or two. The journey is long and the road may be rough, but as the Lord says “I will make the path straight and your burden will be light.” Take only that which you need. And if you meet someone of the road, stop and ask your questions, share your water and food, for you never know when the Master will reveal himself to you.

Are you ready to start walking !!!


Believers prepare for Quebec hero’s sainthood

CTV.ca News Staff

Hundreds of Catholics from across the country are gathering in Montreal and at the Vatican to mark a unique journey which began humbly more than a century ago.

Blessed Brother Andre Bessette, a frail orphan who grew to become a folk hero in Quebec, will officially be recognized as a saint at the Vatican during a canonization ceremony on Sunday, more than seven decades after his death.

Renowned among believers for his healing abilities and his role in the creation of Montreal’s majestic Saint Joseph’s Oratory, Brother Andre lived to the age of 91 and became known in his time as a miracle worker.

Born Alfred Bessette, he was unschooled, illiterate and frail as a younger man, but he joined Montreal’s Congregation of Holy Cross and worked as a gatekeeper in a boys’ college.

Bessette soon began receiving the needy and the sick and told them to ask Saint Joseph for help. Later, many would say that their prayers had been answered, and for the next 25 years, Bessette would spend his days welcoming people at his small office.

Using money he earned cutting hair at the boys college, he would also construct a tiny chapel in the woods of Mount Royal. That humble chapel would become the site of Saint Joseph’s Oratory, which is now the largest church in Canada and is the world’s largest shrine dedicated to Saint Joseph.

By the time of his death in the 1937, Bessette had become a hero in Quebec. His funeral attracted a million mourners, according to his biography at Saint Joseph’s Oratory.

Throughout his life, however, he remained a humble figure.

“I am nothing,” he once stated. “Only a tool in the hands of Providence, a lowly instrument at the service of Saint Joseph.”

He also dismissed claims of his healing abilities.

“People are silly to think that I can accomplish miracles! It is God and Saint Joseph who can heal you, not I. I will pray Saint Joseph for you.”

About 900 of the faithful are flying to the Vatican to watch the ceremony, with tour packages selling out well ahead of time.

For those who can’t make it to Rome, coming to Montreal to mark the occasion is every bit as special.

“I think this is so huge for Montreal and Quebec,” said Suzanne Murphy, who travelled from St. John’s, N.L. “I think it’s such a wonderful event.”

The event will begin in Montreal starting at 4 a.m. local time Sunday, and will be broadcast on a giant screen in the church’s crypt.

“Everyone here is feeling jubilant,” said Father Charles Corso, adding that last minute preparations are still taking place.

With a report from CTV Montreal’s Annie Demelt


Randall and the Whale…

We need to keep Randall, his family and his calling in prayer…

So I’m in my beloved office, easily the nicest office of any Canadian Covenant Pastor I believe.

Yes, I resigned this morning. One of the toughest things I’ve ever done.

Things were shifting it felt like, since this past winter, and I couldn’t determine what it was exactly. It felt like the church was at a great place, a kind of wide open space and I wasn’t getting any sense of new direction for us.

And we struggled through Lauralea’s health scare, then a daughter got married and two sons were graduating and my course was drawing to a close. I felt like it was a good opportunity to spend some discernment time about what I wanted to do for the next part of my working life. I quietly listed some of the dreams we’ve held on to for a while, and wondered if now was the time for some of those things to come alive.

It was a tough spring, feeling like we were waiting for the other shoe to drop, and something to fall into place and give us clarity, but nothing gave us clarity or peace.

Calls came from other churches, asking of we were open, and each one was processed & prayed through by us and some of the church leadership here, and nothing stuck, nothing seemed right or gave us that peace.

And then late one night an email came from a friend who asked if I would be willing to consider a church that needed some of the things I had to offer.

I knew this church and have known it for some time, and I need to say that I have thanked God many times that he had never called me to pastor it. For my own biased reasons, I never wanted to pastor that church, or truth be told, live in that province.

And just so you know how arrogant I can be, I have told God in the past, never that church. Please.

The reasons are my own, but I remember crawling into bed and telling Lauralea of the email and who had sent it. Once she heard who was asking she said “That’s probably it then eh?” I said something smart like not if I can help it.

So we processed this call like any other, and I fought for a long while to get my heart to the place where it didn’t matter if we went there or not. Obviously I had things to deal with about my perception of the place. Or at least, about my arrogance in telling God what I would or wouldn’t do.

Fighting with God gets old, and I tried to get my head to the place where I could actually believe that God didn’t care where I was working. But like Lauralea asked one night, “How do you feel about living in the belly of a fish for a few days?”

Point taken.

Really this process has been about coming to terms with my wants and wishes being contrary to Gods. And how to live in that space.

Fortunately or not, this church wouldn’t get out of my system, I couldn’t shake it. I had less peace when I considered dropping it, than when I considered walking it through. And the people who were discerning with us were agreeing. So we met with the church and they with us, and we were impressed with who they are. Good, prairie people, with a few systems issues and a long past history to live out.

It is a rural church, located in a field, in Alberta, at the crossroads of two grid roads. There is a manse beside the church, and a cemetery beside the manse.

It’s a rural church, did I mention that? I’ve pastored in Southern Ontario with tons of people, then in Winnipeg with lots of people, then in Prince Albert with a few thousand people. But who am I when I pastor a church in a field?

Like I told a friend, my world seems to be continually getting smaller, or perhaps more focused.

So there is much to be nervous about, yet there is a great deal of peace that goes with this decision. I am good, really, about going there and I’m starting to look forward to it. I’m not so good yet about saying goodbye to this place.

Gateway. Prince Albert. Saskatchewan.

And in all honesty I’m trying to process how it was that I felt like I wanted to go in one direction, and the direction God had for me, for now, is an opposite one.

Then the fortune cookie I got last March makes bizarre sense. It sits in a frame on my desk now because it has sat on my desk all spring and summer, taunting me with the words:

“You will find your solution where you least expect it.”

Indeed.


The Way …

Today was a day to “not labor!” I think everybody has been glued to the tv as of late watching hurricane Gustav hit the gulf coast. Thank God, it doesn’t look as drastic as Katrina was. And I guess that’s a good thing. I just can’t bring myself to add to the political discussion today because it is just insane.

I finished the reading of “The Way is made by Walking.” And now I am reading the indexes at the back of the book. I thought that I would have tidbits of information to share with you. I did circle some page numbers and highlighted a few sentances here and there.

Lord teach us to be Prayerful…

“I wonder what it would be like to have God’s will neatly laid out for discernment with vivid flechas amarillas [yellow blazes]. Why the constant work of prayer, journaling, Scripture reading, pondering, consulting with fellow believers? And then often we still are not sure that we have it right!  But even here, while matters were clearer there was much discernment required.” pg. 50

Your Pack’s Too Big …

“As I prepared for my pilgrimage I assembled careful lists of what I would need, and I kept weighing accumulations (unlike my pilgrim forebears, I included shampoo, soap, laundry detergent and a change of clothes; I did not intend to need that incineration pit.) (read the book) Somewhere I read that thirty pounds was a good goal and aimed for that, although once I was in Europe people kept telling me that my bag was too heavy and I ought to cut down to nineteen or fewer pounds!”  pg. 57

Well, that’s the Camino…

“I heard intriguing theological insinuations in discussions of “the Camino.” People personalized, even divinized, this route. They spoke of it mystically, as if it is a wise caring mentor: “It will teach you what you need to know” ; “It surfaces what you must face” ; “If you walk it more than once, you did not get it.” And Italian chef, Stefano wrote from Italy, months after we’d parted, “The Camino works in me … step by step.”pg. 105

No “Ustedes” Por Favor…

“Philo of Alexandria, an ancient Jewish philosopher, is reputed to have said “Be compassionate, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” This is invaluable counsel in ministry. It gives one patience and helps one listen. I use it when teaching about dealing with conflict and difficult behavior. How can we maintain such a mindset? On the Camino, as matters grew harder and our energy depleted, people became more inclined to help one another. As conditions worsened, compassion increased as well. We were all fighting a great battle, taking on a huge challenge, but we reminded each other that none of us was alone.” pg. 116

Focal ways of Life …

“North American culture is highly mobile. I myself have moved way too often, and I am not alone. I like to think I answered God’s call in those transitions, but I suspect that I also did so because of career opportunities, if not advancement. I am challenged in this regard by a fellow resident of Indiana, essayist Scott Russell Sanders, to take more seriously the merit of “Staying Put.” Our unsettled way of life detracts from our ability to honor any place. If we don’t learn how to detect God standing still, we’ll not find God when we’re moving around either. Thus one of three central Benedictine vows is stability, the promise to remain committed to a single place and its community for the rest of one’s life, trusting that God will speak and convert even — and perhaps especially — when that place no longer easily entertains.”

“Once, I was struggling with my work as a pastor and felt tempted to find easier work without the complications of congregational life. Henri Nouwen encouraged me to stay instead and, in his words, “go deeper.” pg. 133

After reading for two nights and coming to the end of the narration, I had the thought that I had missed something in the read, and therefore I would have to re-read the book because there was so much information and spiritual teaching in the text. Each of these quotes is nestled in between much more context in the read, You just have to read the book yourselves. They say that this book is not just a one off read, that you will pick it up again and again… I wanted to share some of the book with you anyways.


Reconciliation Islam, Democracy, and the West Pt. 2

We continue on our journey through historical Islam and we are going to look at a number of thoughts in this section of the text, as it covers 50 pages to the end of Chapter 2. We begin tonight’s lesson with the 5 Pillars of Islam. Muslims believe that there are Five Pillars of Islam, which are the fundamental principles that make up the most basic requirements for life as a Muslim:

  1. Shahada (“Witness”) This is the declaration that all Muslims must make: “I testify that there is no god but one God, and that Mohammad is the messenger of Allah.”
  2. Salat (“Prayers”) All Muslims must pray five times daily, facing Mecca.
  3. Zakat (“Almsgiving”) Muslims must give a certain percentage of their yearly income to the poor and needy.
  4. Sawm (“Fasting”) During the holy month of Ramadan, all Muslims must fast every day from sunrise to sunset.
  5. Hajj (“Pilgrimage”) A pilgrimage to Mecca, the location of the holiest place in Islam, must be performed by every Muslim, if possible, once in his or her lifetime.

Our writer makes certain statements in this text that she believes will bring together the fighting factions of Islam to a peaceful resolution. Stated here: “It is my firm belief that until Muslims revert to the traditional interpretation of Islam – in which “you shall have your religion, and I shall have mine” is respected and adhered to – the factional strife within Muslim countries will continue. Indeed, until quranic tolerance is reestablished, the key Muslim countries of pakistan and Iraq will not only continue to weaken them but will continue to threaten to spread inflexible and extremist interpretations elsewhere in the Muslim world.

Those who teach the killing of adherents of other sects or religions are damaging Muslim societies as well as threatening non-Muslim societies.

On Seeking Knowledge:

The Prophet remarked on the importance of seeking knowledge throughout life: “Seek knowledge by even going to China, for seeking knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim.” The Prophet placed the utmost importance on seeking knowledge, instructing humans to go to extraordinary lengths to gain not just religious knowledge but all knowledge.

The Past:

The past is used too frequently to define modern Muslims, especially when evaluating their receptivity to democracy. We don’t define Judaism by the brutality of the conquest of the tribes of Canaan or by the pain and suffering of the plagues on Egypt. We don’t define Christianity by the barbarism of the Dark Ages or by the persecution of the Inquisition.

When analysts look at the receptivity of modern Muslim communities to democracy, they too often look to Islamic texts and interpretations, as well as to the kind of social structure of the first community of Muslims. This construct, labeled “Muslim exceptionalism,” is based on the view that the norms of the Muslim community of the past must necessarily define the Muslim community of the present. It assumes that Muslim thought and Muslim society have not evolved, adapted, or changed over time. Some feel that “the character of Muslim societies has been determined by a specific and remote period in their past during which the social and political order that continues to guide them was established.

The scholar is referring to Prophet Mohammad’s early community of Muslims in seventh-century Arabia. This theory is predicated on the bizarre belief that they strength of the past continues to hold on to the psyche of Muslim society, blocking progress in political and other fields, including human rights and technological and economic development.

Morals and Beliefs:

The Qu’ran provides broad beliefs and morals by which to live. The specifics were left to be interpreted in light of the proper historical context. “The text is silent. We have to hear its voice. In order to hear, we need presuppositions. In order to have presuppositions, we need the knowledge of the age. In order to have the knowledge of the age, we have to surrender to change.

Equally important to the context of interpretation of the Qu’ran is who interprets it. Some Muslims, especially those belonging to theocratic regimes, try to assert that only a select few can interpret the Qu’ran. This is not the case. Interpretation of the Qu’ran is not limited to any one person or committee. The Qu’ran did not establish a specific institution or group of leaders as its sole interpreters. Any Muslim is free to interpret the Qu’ran. All Muslims are guaranteed the right to interpret the Qu’ran (ijtihad) Thus even the approach to interpretation of the Qu’ran is embedded with democratic values.

Indeed, Muslims are told that each person is accountable for his or her individual behavior. No relative, teacher, or other can intervene for a Muslim of the Day of Judgment.

Interpretation:

Every interpretation needs to be based on the context in which it is undertaken. In the modern world, modern interpretations need to be made while respecting the underlying principles of the Qu’ran. The Qu’ran, while the word of God, is a text that is historically rooted in the time of its revelation. There is no explicit mention of democracy in the Qu’ran because it was not a word used in the seventh-century Arabia. However, the principles of consultation and consensus among the people, which are found in the Qu’ran, are the bases of democracy. Moreover, the principles of equality, justice, and law, which are the underlying foundations of democracy, are repeatedly stressed in the Qu’ran.

Our author continues with her beliefs as she states:

For Muslims like me, who believe in democracy, Islam is about consent and people’s participation. Islam and democracy are compatible. Radwan Masmoudi agrees that contemporary interpretations need to continue to be made; he asserts that it is better than “the doors of ijtihad – closed for some 500 years – be reopened.”

Even the conservative Pakistani Islamist leader Khurshid Ahmad conceded that “God has revealed only broad principles and has endowed man with the freedom to apply them in every age in the way suited to the spirit and conditions of that age. It is through ijtihad that people of every age try to implement and apply divine guidance to the problems of their times.”

We are moving into more current events and places in this portion of the reading and I reiterate the following text because it is important for Westerners and others to understand what is bubbling just beneath the surface and why there is wide spread war around the globe.

Continuing:

Islam proclaims that the earth belongs to “Khalq e Khuda,” the people of God. We are all God’s creatures. The earth is given to us in trust by God. We the people are the agents of God in this world. We are to govern the earth as a sacred trust and as trustees of the responsibility to pass it on the future generations. The right to declare who is a “good Muslim” and who is a “bad Muslim” is a right that belongs only to God.

Those who say that we on earth must determine who is a good Muslim and who is a bad Muslim are in many ways responsible for the political legacy of murder, mayhem, sectarian warfare, and oppression of women and minorities we see in the Muslim world. These extremists are destroying the Muslim world by pitting Muslim against Muslim.

Militancy:

The militants seethe with anger, but their anger is always tied to their political agenda.

  1. First they were angry and the West had abandoned three million Afghan refugees and stopped all assistance to them after the Soviets left Afghanistan.
  2. Second, they are angry that their offer to the government of Pakistan to send one hundred battle hardened mujahideen to help in the Kashmir uprising on 1989 was rejected.
  3. Third, they wanted King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to turn to the “battle hardened mujahideen” to protect Saudi Arabia after Iraqi president Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. He refused.
  4. Fourth, they went off to fight in Bosnia when the region was engulfed in war (from 1993 to 1996, I lobbied President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister John Major, and other European leaders to intervene to bring the conflict to an end.)
  5. Fifth, they tried to exploit the Chechen nationalist movement.
  6. Sixth, with the fall of my government they turned their attention to Kashmir and tried to take over the nationalist Kashmiri movement from 1997 onward.

Muslim extremists systematically targeted historical nationalist movements to gain credibility and launch themselves into the Muslim heartland with a view to piggybacking off nationalist movements to advance their agenda. However, most Muslims were suspicious and not welcoming of their extreme interpretation of Islam. Thus is was only in Afghanistan, already softened by years of resistance by Afghan mujahideen, that Muslim extremists were able to establish the Taliban dictatorship.

Driven out of Afghanistan after the September 2001 attacks on the United States, they returned to Pakistan, where the journey had begun with General Zia-ul-Haq in 1980.

After the United States invaded Iraq, these same extremists turned their attention to that country. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi went off to fight in Iraq. Presumably others did, too. Again they used religious propaganda to kill, maim, and effectively divide one of the richest Muslim countries, Iraq, into a land of carnage and bloodshed.

Sunnis and Shias, who had lived peacefully side by side for centuries, began to kill each other, and Iraq began to fall apart. It is quite easy (and typical) for Muslim Extremists to blame the Americans for the sectarian civil war that rages in Iraq today, when actually it is a long standing tension between Muslim communities that has been exacerbated and militarized to create chaos under which extremists thrive.

Iraq is not the only goal of the extremists. Pakistan too is in great danger. Pro-Taliban forces have taken over tribal areas of Pakistan. They occupy the Swat Valley. They have been ceded Waziristan by the Musharraf regime. They are moving into the settled areas of Pakistan. Their apparent next goal is the cities of my country, including our capital, Islamabad. They thrive on dictatorship; they thrive on terror; they provoke chaos to exploit chaos.

I (Bhutto) returned to Pakistan on October 18, 2007, with the goal of moving my country from dictatorship to democracy. I hoped that this transition could take place during the scheduled elections of 2008. I feared that otherwise the extremists would march towards Islamabad. Islamabad is near the town of Kahuta, where Pakistan’s nuclear program is being carried out.

It is my fear that unless extremism is eliminated, the people of Pakistan could find themselves in a contrived conflict deliberately triggered by militants (or other “Islamists”) who now threaten to take over Pakistan’s nuclear assets.

Having a large Muslim nation fall into chaos would be catastrophic. My people could end up being bombed, their homes destroyed, and their children orphaned simply because a dictator has focused all his attention all off the nations resources on containing democrats instead of containing extremists, and then has used the crisis that he has created to justify the same policies that caused the crisis. It may sound convoluted, but there is certainly method to madness.

And in closing this discussion:

Islam was sent a message of liberation. The challenge for modern-day Muslims is to rescue this message from the fanatics, the bigots, and the forces of dictatorship. It is to give Muslims back the freedom God ordained for humankind to live in peace, in justice, in equality, in a system that is answerable to the people on this earth accepting that is it God who will judge us on the Day of Judgment.

It is by accepting that temporal and spiritual accountability are two separate issues that we can provide peace, tranquility, and opportunity. There are two judgments: the judgment of God’s creatures in this world through a democratic system and the judgment by God when we leave this world.

The extremists and militants who seek to hijack Islam aim to make their own judgments. In their failure lies the future of all Muslims and the reconciliation of Islam to the West.


The Hajj …

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By SCHEHEREZADE FARAMARZI, Associated Press Writer

MINA, Saudi Arabia – For days I have tried my best to perform the rituals of the annual Muslim hajj that are supposed to bring me close to God.

Along with the millions of other pilgrims, I circled the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site, seven times and prayed in Mecca‘s Grand Mosque. I re-enacted the frantic search of Hagar, Abraham’s wife, for water for her son in the desert. I spent a night on a desert hill in an effort to reach out to the Almighty and stoned pillars that represent the devil. I clipped a lock of my hair in a gesture to reflect my purified state.

But for me, dealing with the unimaginably dense crowds has made it difficult to meditate on the divine and reach the spiritual goals that all pilgrims seek.

Fear not, my five devout co-pilgrim female roommates assured me. The pilgrimage has affected me even if I don’t feel it now.

“Wait ’til you return home,” Mariam Shaltaf said. The reason for my failure is because I didn’t come prepared, she said — the hajj requires months of advanced purification, worship and reading. “But you will live it from now on,” said Shaltaf, a 42-year-old Palestinian hospital worker in Jordan.

Sawsan al-Momen, 47, a retired Jordanian school principal, said it was better as a first timer to visit Mecca not during the hajj but when it is quieter to appreciate its sanctity.

Then when you return for the actual hajj, she explained, “You will not notice the distracting crowd because you are focusing on God alone and nothing around you.”

My colleagues say the pilgrimage helps them become not only better believers but better people.

“My whole attitude has changed,” said al-Momen, who is on her fourth hajj. “Every time I come here I become more forgiving.”

“It’s recharging. It’s a beginning of a new pact between me and God,” she said.

On Wednesday, the first day of the three-day Eid al-Adha holiday, the five of us women sat on our mattresses on the floor in the relative comfort of our air-conditioned room in Mina, reflecting on the past few days.

We arrived here at dawn Wednesday, after a bus ride from Mount Arafat — just a few miles away — that took 11 hours because of the many vehicles and pilgrims on foot. With at least 3 million pilgrims, a population equivalent to that of a moderate-sized city moves between the hajj sites, all at the same time, all largely on the same roads.

At every stage, the exhaustion of working my way through the tide of pilgrims, tripping over people lying on mats spread on roads, avoiding being crushed by carts, vehicles and wheelchairs has frustrated my efforts.

I had been looking forward to Monday night and Tuesday’s rituals at Arafat, the hajj’s spiritual high point. Pilgrims on the desert plateau are supposed to meditate and seek guidance and forgiveness from God. The idea of communing with God at sunset on Mount Rahma, a small rocky hill at Arafat, seemed inspiring, even exotic.

But it took almost an hour of struggling through crowds to reach Mount Rahma, where some Muslims believe Adam and Eve were reunited after leaving the garden. The heat was too oppressive to stay long enough to get into a meditating mode.

Communion with God would have to wait for another season, I decided.

Around midnight on the way to Mina, we stopped in the plain of Muzdalifa to collect at least 49 pebbles to use in the subsequent ritual stoning of Satan. It was like a kids’ game, squatting and searching for the right pebbles — chickpea-sized and round.

At Mina, we joined the lines of tens of thousands of pilgrims before sunrise moving past three stone walls that represent Satan, known as the Jamarat. The ritual is a purging one, re-enacting Abraham’s stoning of the devil, who appeared to him three times to tempt him in the deserts at Mina.

Pilgrims beamed with satisfied smiles as they left the walls, lit with green fluorescent lights.

The ritual has been one of the most dangerous of the hajj, the cause of frequent stampedes as crowds file past the walls along a gigantic platform. Two years ago, more than 360 pilgrims were killed when several tripped over baggage while others behind them kept pushing ahead, causing a pileup. A similar crush killed 244 pilgrims in 2004.

Following the 2005 accident, Saudi authorities tore down the platform and built a larger one with more entrances and exits, like a multistory parking lot. Thousands of police enforce strict traffic rules, keeping pilgrims moving in one direction.

Cranes still surround the three-quarter mile platform with only one level completed — in addition to the ground floor. Over the next years it will be expanded to five levels, with the Jamarat extending up through them to allow pilgrims on every level to stone it.

After Wednesday’s stoning, pilgrims briefly return to Mecca to perform the “farewell” circling of the Kaaba — a cube-shaped stone structure draped in black cloth that Muslims around the world face during their five daily prayers — bringing the hajj to a close. Tradition says the Kaaba was built by Adam and rebuilt by Abraham and the descendants of Noah.

The pilgrims will return to Mina for two more days of stoning the Jamarat.

On Wednesday, pilgrims cut their hair to reflect their new purified state. Males often shave their heads completely while women clip a lock of hair.

Pilgrims are also required to slaughter a lamb or goat — representing the lamb that Abraham sacrificed in the place of his son Ishmael.

I’m resistant to having a lamb killed in my name, even though the Saudi government will donate the meat from the 3 million livestock slaughtered here to the poor in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries.

My four roommates insist my hajj won’t be valid unless all the requirements are carried out, including sacrificing a lamb.

“God has commanded that a lamb be slaughtered, whether we like it or not,” said Wafa Bitar, 50, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin.

There are many other hajj rules that are more frequently broken. Pilgrims are supposed to be forgiving and refrain from arguments. But in tightly packed crowds such restraints are difficult to observe.

Tensions were unavoidable even among the more than 30 women I spent three days and nights with in the quarters the Saudi government provided reporters, their families and government guests.

They became acute when the men in the group frequently received better treatment, such as sometimes being served food before women. The Saudi information minister only spoke to male journalists at Arafat; women had to make do with a meeting with an adviser to the minister of the hajj.

While I go away from the hajj with unanswered questions, my roommates feel spiritually enriched.

Al-Momen says the hajj — among other things — will breathe new life into her marriage.

“I told my husband that we will have to be more forgiving and patient with one another,” she said.


Danny C.

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He was tall, cute, joyful and he was my friend. So many years later, he writes me after reading an entry that I wrote some time ago, and just recently, I started updating because I have specific memories of that time.

Danny’s mom, God bless her, has passed on, and I remember the times we used to bar hop together. Imagine your son and his friends barhopping with mom. I remember those days. It seems that I could recall this time period like it was yesterday.

You used to dance, you were into Janet Jackson, remember that number “Miss You Much” you used to do the dance like the video in the disco. We had some good times. I think we must have gone to the Boulevard Station together – I can’t remember too well. I know it was a drive from Orlando out to the coast.

I know we had some great times together, I’m not as spry as I was, but I can still dance.

It is interesting the lives we led and the boys we chose to date, and the friendships that remained – I cannot remember where we split up in the time line, but I know that I must have missed you, because if memory serves, we were friends. So I emailed you my phone number, I hope you use it. I really would like to visit the old haunt once again and celebrate the lives lost over the years. I would like to make that pilgrimage to the P-House one day in the future, that would be great.

So Danny, the next step is in your hands. Where do you want to take this reconnection???

Stay tuned folks, this reunion may take place.


Willing to Surrender

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“I guess the big question is… are you willing to surrender your life to Him and see where He leads you?” I refer you to Scotty’s Entry on his blog from a Starbucks in Jordan.

I ponder the word surrender. I ponder the word acceptance and I ponder the word wander. In my studies of ancient Celtic Christianity, I am struck by their desire to find God where they may, and the fact that the “arrival at any location is just as important as their need for pereginatio – “to travel beyond.”

“Thus we incorporate our models into ourselves, becoming what we image ourselves as the true purpose, the true structure of existence. Images and symbols, the great symbolic forms, are the shaping forces of our spiritual lives. We become what we behold. It is as though there were a continuing creation, forming us according to those things we choose to contemplate most seriously and so incorporate into ourselves.”

John W. Dixon, Jr. “Franciscan Exegesis,” Theology Today, 43:4

Are you willing to surrender your life to Him and see where He leads you? That is not a difficult question to answer, I do surrender myself to the God of my understanding but I believe I am missing part of the equation to consider whether or not I am being sent, so to speak. I don’t have a specific community that I am or should be connected to. I am missing that communal connection to serve outside my rooms of recovery, where I abandon myself to God as I understand God.

I am working towards a goal in my studies and one day I will reach that final goal of some sort of ministry, be that in the M. Div studies or some other form of ministerial work. I want to have a full life in faith, and yet I feel that I have fallen short of my goal in reckless abandonment to my God. I am farther back in the spiritual pack than others. Yet I follow closely the spiritual walk of others in the hopes that one day I will reach that point where I am totally ‘in service’ of God, in some form or fashion.

I am always on the lookout for that ‘spiritual road marker’ that will definitively tell me that “This is the project you should go after” or God will speak with a resounding voice to me and say “here ya go, try this on for size.” I was reading the other day about a job that was vacated in a particular church in Saskatchewan and for a few moments I thought to myself, I wonder what that particular job pays? And I put the idea out on the table here at home, and it was immediately shot down with a resounding NO!

I don’t know where this journey is taking me or where I will end up. But I know that I am not done yet surrendering, I am not done listening. I am not done wandering. The opportunity of a lifetime, I believe is still ahead of me, where ever that  opportunity lies, I have always maintained that I won’t cave to the language police here in Quebec, which leads me to remember that I may not stay here for the rest of my life.

There are places I still want to see in this great country, I have wanted to find myself in some backwater town in BC serving a community of faithful or working in a specific community, with a little church and a lot of nature. I believe that there is an adventure still left in me and that at some point, I will get the call that will send me. And I will know when that happens. Because it will stir from within me not from outside me.

Lord, hear me when I call to you
Harken my prayer and listen
Speak your words to me
in the silence of this night
and Guide me where you will.

Prepare the road and make it
straight, give me what it is that I need
and I will be ready
Speak to me for I am listening
Teach me and I will learn
Love me and I will be filled with
your joy and your peace.

Make ready the path I am supposed to walk
send me a guide to start me on the way
call to me and I will come to you
Let me hear you in the whisper
Let me see you in the daylight
Let me Love you like no other…


The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana Site Here: 

Everyone seeks peace and harmony, because these are what we lack in our lives. From time to time we all experience agitation, irritation, disharmony, suffering; and when one suffers from agitation, one does not keep this misery limited to oneself. One keeps distributing it to others as well. The agitation permeates the atmosphere around the miserable person. Everyone who comes into contact with him also becomes irritated, agitated. Certainly this is not the proper way to live.

One ought to live at peace with oneself, and at peace with all others. After all, a human being is a social being. He has to live in society–to live and deal with others. How are we to live peacefully? How are we to remain harmonious with ourselves, and to maintain peace and harmony around us, so that others can also live peacefully and harmoniously?

One is agitated. To come out of the agitation, one has to know the basic reason for it, the cause of the suffering. If one investigates the problem, it will become clear that whenever one starts generating any negativity or defilement in the mind, one is bound to become agitated. A negativity in the mind, a mental defilement or impurity, cannot exist with peace and harmony.

How does one start generating negativity? Again, by investigating, it becomes clear. I become very unhappy when I find someone behaving in a way which I don’t like, when I find something happening which I don’t like. Unwanted things happen and I create tension within myself. Wanted things do not happen, some obstacles come in the way, and again I create tension within myself; I start tying knots within myself. And throughout life, unwanted things keep on happening, wanted things may or may not happen, and this process or reaction, of tying knots–Gordian knots–makes the entire mental and physical structure so tense, so full of negativity, that life becomes miserable.

Now one way to solve the problem is to arrange that nothing unwanted happens in my life and that everything keeps on happening exactly as I desire. i must develop such power, or somebody else must have the power and must come to my aid when I request him, that unwanted things do not happen and that everything I want happens. But this is not possible. There is no one in the world whose desires are always fulfilled, in whose life everything happens according to his wishes, without anything unwanted happening. Things keep on occurring that are contrary to our desires and wishes. So the question arises, how am I not to react blindly in the face of these things which I don’t like? How not to create tension? How to remain peaceful and harmonious?

In India as well as in other countries, wise saintly persons of the past studied this problem–the problem of human suffering–and found a solution: if something unwanted happens and one starts to react by generating anger, fear or any negativity, then as soon as possible one should divert one’s attention to something else. For example, get up, take a glass of water, start drinking–your anger will not multiply and you’ll be coming out of anger. Or start counting: one, two, three, four. Or start repeating a word, or a phrase, or some mantra, perhaps the name of a deity or saintly person in whom you have devotion; the mind is diverted, and to some extent, you’ll be out of the negativity, out of anger.

This solution was helpful: it worked. It still works. Practicing this, the mind feels free from agitation. In fact, however, the solution works only at the conscious level. Actually, by diverting the attention, one pushes the negativity deep into the unconscious, and on this level one continues to generate and multiply the same defilements. At the surface level there is a layer of peace and harmony, but in the depths of the mind there is a sleeping volcano of suppressed negativity which sooner or later will explode in violent eruption.

Other explorers of inner truth went still further in their search; and by experiencing the reality of mind and matter within themselves they recognized that diverting the attention is only running away from the problem. Escape is no solution: one must face the problem. Whenever a negativity arises in the mind, just observe it, face it. As soon as one starts observing any mental defilement, it begins to lose strength. Slowly it withers away and is uprooted.

A good solution: it avoids both extremes–suppression and free license. Keeping the negativity in the unconscious will not eradicate it; and allowing it to manifest in physical or vocal action will only create more problems. But if one just observes, then the defilement passes away, and one has eradicated that negativity, one is freed from the defilement.

This sounds wonderful, but is it really practical? For an average person, is it easy to face the defilement? When anger arises, it overpowers us so quickly that we don’t even notice. Then overpowered by anger, we commit certain actions physically or vocally which are harmful to us and to others. Later, when the anger has passed, we start crying and repenting, begging pardon from this or that person or from God: ‘Oh, I made a mistake, please excuse me!’ But the next time we are in a similar situation, we again react in the same way. All that repenting does not help at all.

The difficulty is that I am not aware when a defilement starts. It begins deep in the unconscious level of the mind, and by the time it reaches the conscious level, it has gained so much strength that it overwhelms me, and I cannot observe it.

Then I must keep a private secretary with me, so that whenever anger starts, he says, ‘Look master, anger is starting!’ Since I cannot know when this anger will start, I must have three private secretaries for three shifts, around the clock! Suppose I can afford that, and the anger starts to arise. At once my secretary tells me, ‘Oh, master, look–anger has started!’ The first thing I will do is slap and abuse him: ‘You fool! Do you think you are paid to teach me?’ I am so overpowered by anger that no good advise will help.

Even supposing wisdom prevails and I do not slap him. Instead I say, ‘Thank you very much. Now I must sit down and observe my anger.’ Yet it is possible? As soon as I close my eyes and try to observe the anger, immediately the object of anger come into my mind–the person or incident because of which I become angry. Then I am not observing the anger itself. I am merely observing the external stimulus of the emotion. This will only serve to multiply the anger; this is no solution. It is very difficult to observe any abstract negativity, abstract emotion, divorced from the external object which aroused it.

However, one who reached the ultimate truth found a real solution. He discovered that whenever any defilement arises in the mind, simultaneously two things start happening at the physical level. One is that the breath loses its normal rhythm. We start breathing hard whenever a negativity comes into the mind. This is easy to observe. At subtler level, some kind of biochemical reaction starts within the body–some sensation. Every defilement will generate one sensation or another inside, in one part of the body or another.

This is a practical solution. An ordinary person cannot observe abstract defilements of the mind–abstract fear, anger, or passion. But with proper training and practice, it is very easy to observe respiration and bodily sensations–both of which are directly related to the mental defilements.

Respiration and sensation will help me in two ways. Firstly, they will be like my private secretaries. As soon as a defilement starts in my mind, my breath will lose its normality; it will start shouting, ‘Look, something has gone wrong!’ I cannot slap my breath; I have to accept the warning. Similarly the sensations tell me that something has gone wrong. Then having been warned, I start observing my respiration, my sensation, and I find very quickly that the defilement passes away.

This mental-physical phenomenon is like a coin with two sides. On the one side are whatever thoughts or emotions are arising in the mind. One the other side are the respiration and sensations in the body. Any thought or emotion, any mental defilement, manifests itself in the breath and the sensation of that moment. Thus, by observing the respiration or the sensation, I am in fact observing the mental defilement. Instead of running away from the problem, I am facing reality as it is. Then I shall find that the defilement loses its strength: it can no longer overpower me as it did in the past. If I persist, the defilement eventually disappears altogether, and I remain peaceful and happy.

In this way, the techniques of self-observation shows us reality in its two aspects, inner and outer. Previously, one always looked with open eyes, missing the inner truth. I always looked outside for the cause of my unhappiness; I always blamed and tried to change the reality outside. Being ignorant of the inner reality, I never understood that the cause of suffering lies within, in my own blind reactions toward pleasant and unpleasant sensations.

Now, with training, I can see the other side of the coin. I can be aware of my breathing and also of what is happening inside me. Whatever it is, breath or sensation, I learn just to observe it, without losing the balance of the mind. I stop reacting, stop multiplying my misery. Instead, I allow the defilement to manifest and pass away.

The more one practices this technique, the more quickly one will find one will come out of negativity. Gradually the mind becomes freed of the defilements; it becomes pure. A pure mind is always full of love–selfless love for all others; full of compassion for the failings and sufferings of others; full of joy at their success and happiness; full of equanimity in the face of any situation.

When one reaches this stage, the entire pattern of one’s life starts changing. It is no longer possible to do anything vocally or physically which will disturb the peace and happiness of others. Instead, the balanced mind not only becomes peaceful in itself, but it helps others also to become peaceful. The atmosphere surrounding such a person will become permeated with peace and harmony, and this will start affecting others too.

By learning to remain balanced in the face of everything one experiences inside, one develops detachment towards all that one encounters in external situations as well. However, this detachment is not escapism or indifference to the problems of the world. A Vipassana meditator becomes more sensitive to the sufferings of others, and does his utmost to relieve their suffering in whatever way he can–not with any agitation but with a mind full of love, compassion and equanimity. He learns holy indifference–how to be fully committed, fully involved in helping others, while at the same time maintaining the balance of his mind. In this way he remains peaceful and happy, while working for the peace and happiness of others.

This is what the Buddha taught; an art of living. He never established or taught any religion, any ‘ism’. He never instructed his followers to practice any rites or rituals, any blind or empty formalities. Instead, he taught just to observe nature as it is, by observing reality inside. Out of ignorance, one keeps reacting in a way which is harmful to oneself and to others. But when wisdom arises–the wisdom of observing the reality as it is–one come out of this habit of reaction. When one ceases to react blindly, then one is capable of real action–action proceeding from a balanced mind, a mind which sees and understands the truth. Such action can only be positive, creative, helpful to oneself and to others.

What is necessary, then, is to ‘know thyself’–advice which every wise person has given. One must know oneself not just at the intellectual level, the level of ideas and theories. Nor does this mean to know just at the emotional or devotional level, simply accepting blindly what one has heard or read. Such knowledge is not enough. Rather one must know realty at the actual level. One must experience directly the reality of this mental-physical phenomenon. This alone is what will help us to come out of defilements, out of suffering.

This direct experience of one’s own reality, this techniques of self-observation, is what is called ‘Vipassana’ meditation. In the language of India in the time of the Buddha, passana meant seeing with open eyes, in the ordinary way; but Vipassana is observing things as they really are, not just as they seem to be. Apparent truth has to be penetrated, until one reaches the ultimate truth of the entire mental and physical structure. When one experiences this truth, then one learns to stop reacting blindly, to stop creating defilements–and naturally the old defilements gradually are eradicated. One come out of all the misery and experiences happiness.

There are three steps to the training which is given in a Vipassana meditation course Firstly, one must abstain from any action, physical or vocal, which disturbs the peace and harmony of others. One cannot work to liberate oneself from defilements in the mind while at the same time one continues to perform deeds of body and speech which only multiply those defilements. Therefore, a code of morality is the essential first step of the practice. One undertakes not to kill, not to steal, not to commit sexual misconduct, not to tell lies, and not to use intoxicants. By abstaining from such action, one allows the mind to quiet down sufficiently so that it can proceed with the task at hand.

The next step is to develop some mastery over this wild mind, by training it to remain fixed on a single object: the breath. One tries to keep one’s attention for as long as possible on the respiration. This is not a breathing exercise: one does not regulate the breath. Instead one observes natural respiration as it is, as it comes in, as it goes out. In this way one further calms the mind so that it is no longer overpowered by violent negativities. At the same time, one is concentrating the mind, making it sharp and penetrating, capable of the work of insight.

These first two steps of living a moral life and controlling the mind are very necessary and beneficial in themselves; but they will lead to self-repression, unless one takes the third step – purifying the mind of defilements by developing insight into one’s own nature. This is Vipassana: experiencing one’s own reality, by the systematic and dispassionate observation of the ever-changing mind-matter phenomenon manifesting itself as sensation within oneself. This is the culmination of the teaching of the Buddha: self-purification by self-observation.

This can be practiced by one and all. Everyone faces the problem of suffering. it is a universal disease which requires a universal remedy–not a sectarian one. When one suffers from anger, it is not a Buddhist anger, Hindu anger, or Christian anger. Anger is anger. When one become agitated as a result of this anger, this agitation is not Christian, or Hindu, or Buddhist. The malady is universal. The remedy must also be universal.

Vipassana is such a remedy. No one will object to a code of living which respects the peace and harmony of others. No one will object to developing control over the mind. No one will object to developing insight into one’s own reality, by which it is possible to free the mind of negativities. Vipassana is a universal path.

Observing reality as it is by observing the truth inside–this is knowing oneself at the actual, experiential level. As one practices, one keeps coming out of the misery of defilements. From the gross, external, apparent truth, one penetrates to the ultimate truth of mind and matter. Then one transcends that, and experiences a truth which is beyond mind and matter, beyond time and space, beyond the conditioned field of relativity: the truth of total liberation from all defilements, all impurities, all suffering. Whatever name one gives this ultimate truth, is irrelevant; it is the final goal of everyone.

May you all experience this ultimate truth. May all people come out of their defilements, their misery. May they enjoy real happiness, real peace, real harmony.

MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY


Evolution (Fall Photo Essay #1)

Sunday 9 September 2007
Temp: 18c
Cloudy – Cool
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Today marks the beginning of my Fall Evolution Photography Project. Here you have three shots from my balcony of the trees in the neighborhood and at the bottom, Cabot Square. If you notice on these photos that the trees are starting to “lighten up,” I will be posting this series of photos over the next few months to photo document the seasons changing.

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As you can see – I have updated my blog photos and I will be taking other shots of the neighborhood and my travels around the city. So stay tuned for much more photography in the coming months.


Pope speaks of Europe’s tragic past

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By VICTOR L. SIMPSON, Associated Press Writer 

VIENNA, Austria – Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged Europe‘s tragic past and warned of its uncertain future Friday as he honored Jews killed in the Holocaust and urged the continent to accept its Christian heritage.

Abortion must never be considered a human right, Benedict said, and urged European political leaders to encourage young married couples to have children and the continent’s graying population “not to become old in spirit.”

“Europe cannot and must not deny her Christian roots,” the pope declared, saying that Christianity has “profoundly shaped this continent.”

Benedict opened a three-day pilgrimage to Austria, once the center of a Roman Catholic-influenced empire and now a wealthy but small nation that has seen considerable dissent against the church, as in much of Europe.

In an evening address to Austrian officials and diplomats in the former imperial Hofburg Palace, Benedict spoke of the “horrors of war” and the “traumatic experiences of totalitarianism and dictatorship” that Europe has undergone.

The pope, born in neighboring Bavaria, Germany, began his visit by paying tribute to Holocaust victims.

He stepped out of his popemobile in a driving rain and joined Vienna‘s chief rabbi, Paul Chaim Eisenberg, in prayer before an austere stone memorial honoring the 65,000 Viennese Jews who perished in Nazi death camps and others burned at the stake in the 1400s after refusing to convert.

He made no public remarks during the seven-minute stop but told reporters aboard his plane from Rome that he wanted to extend his sense of “sadness, repentance and friendship to the Jewish people.”

In 1938, the city’s vibrant Jewish community numbered 185,000 members. Today, there are fewer than 7,000.

Alluding to the nation’s past complicity with the Nazis, President Heinz Fischer conceded in a greeting to the pope that Austria had “dark hours in its history.”

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Austria’s top churchman, noted Christianity’s roots in Judaism and urged his countrymen never to forget the atrocities committed against the capital’s Jews.

“It is part of the tragedy of the city that here, of all places, this root was forgotten — even denied — to the point where godless will destroyed the people to whom God gives his first love,” he said.

Benedict, who visited and vacationed here often as a cardinal, faced a challenge: Many Austrian believers, disgusted by clergy sex scandals and deeply resentful of a government-imposed church tax, have grown cold — and tens of thousands have left the church altogether.

Benedict’s trip underscored the difficulties the Vatican confronts across Europe, where cathedrals are empty as disillusioned believers question the relevance of faith in the postmodern era.

The pope defended the vitality of Christianity today, saying Christians throughout history have been examples of “hope, love and mercy.”

In his condemnation of abortion, Benedict said he was speaking out “for those unborn children who have no voice.”

He also urged Europeans to ensure humane care of the elderly, assailing “actively assisted death,” a reference to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

In a reflection of anti-pope sentiment held by some Austrians, about 300 young demonstrators marched through central Vienna on Friday to protest the pontiff’s conservative stance on homosexuality, gay marriage and other issues.

“I think the pope represents a system that has repressed people and other religions for hundreds of years. It’s simply antiquated,” said Ludwig List, 19, holding a banner that read: “Papa Don’t Preach.”

Security was heavy for Benedict’s visit, with more than 3,500 police officers and soldiers and 50 aircraft deployed to protect him. The Interior Ministry said the measures were taken even before this week’s thwarted terrorist plot in Germany.

On Saturday, the pope holds an open-air Mass to commemorate the 850th anniversary of the founding of Mariazell, a famous shrine to the Virgin Mary about 60 miles southwest of Vienna.

The Vienna Archdiocese said 33,000 pilgrims had received tickets for the event and that 70 bishops, mostly from Eastern Europe, would join in. Benedict called the anniversary “the reason for my coming” and said he would go as a simple pilgrim.

Benedict’s visit concludes Sunday with a Mass at Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral and a visit to the Heiligenkreuz abbey outside the capital.

___

Associated Press Writers William J. Kole and Veronika Oleksyn contributed to this report.


Pope speaks of Europe's tragic past

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By VICTOR L. SIMPSON, Associated Press Writer 

VIENNA, Austria – Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged Europe‘s tragic past and warned of its uncertain future Friday as he honored Jews killed in the Holocaust and urged the continent to accept its Christian heritage.

Abortion must never be considered a human right, Benedict said, and urged European political leaders to encourage young married couples to have children and the continent’s graying population “not to become old in spirit.”

“Europe cannot and must not deny her Christian roots,” the pope declared, saying that Christianity has “profoundly shaped this continent.”

Benedict opened a three-day pilgrimage to Austria, once the center of a Roman Catholic-influenced empire and now a wealthy but small nation that has seen considerable dissent against the church, as in much of Europe.

In an evening address to Austrian officials and diplomats in the former imperial Hofburg Palace, Benedict spoke of the “horrors of war” and the “traumatic experiences of totalitarianism and dictatorship” that Europe has undergone.

The pope, born in neighboring Bavaria, Germany, began his visit by paying tribute to Holocaust victims.

He stepped out of his popemobile in a driving rain and joined Vienna‘s chief rabbi, Paul Chaim Eisenberg, in prayer before an austere stone memorial honoring the 65,000 Viennese Jews who perished in Nazi death camps and others burned at the stake in the 1400s after refusing to convert.

He made no public remarks during the seven-minute stop but told reporters aboard his plane from Rome that he wanted to extend his sense of “sadness, repentance and friendship to the Jewish people.”

In 1938, the city’s vibrant Jewish community numbered 185,000 members. Today, there are fewer than 7,000.

Alluding to the nation’s past complicity with the Nazis, President Heinz Fischer conceded in a greeting to the pope that Austria had “dark hours in its history.”

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Austria’s top churchman, noted Christianity’s roots in Judaism and urged his countrymen never to forget the atrocities committed against the capital’s Jews.

“It is part of the tragedy of the city that here, of all places, this root was forgotten — even denied — to the point where godless will destroyed the people to whom God gives his first love,” he said.

Benedict, who visited and vacationed here often as a cardinal, faced a challenge: Many Austrian believers, disgusted by clergy sex scandals and deeply resentful of a government-imposed church tax, have grown cold — and tens of thousands have left the church altogether.

Benedict’s trip underscored the difficulties the Vatican confronts across Europe, where cathedrals are empty as disillusioned believers question the relevance of faith in the postmodern era.

The pope defended the vitality of Christianity today, saying Christians throughout history have been examples of “hope, love and mercy.”

In his condemnation of abortion, Benedict said he was speaking out “for those unborn children who have no voice.”

He also urged Europeans to ensure humane care of the elderly, assailing “actively assisted death,” a reference to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

In a reflection of anti-pope sentiment held by some Austrians, about 300 young demonstrators marched through central Vienna on Friday to protest the pontiff’s conservative stance on homosexuality, gay marriage and other issues.

“I think the pope represents a system that has repressed people and other religions for hundreds of years. It’s simply antiquated,” said Ludwig List, 19, holding a banner that read: “Papa Don’t Preach.”

Security was heavy for Benedict’s visit, with more than 3,500 police officers and soldiers and 50 aircraft deployed to protect him. The Interior Ministry said the measures were taken even before this week’s thwarted terrorist plot in Germany.

On Saturday, the pope holds an open-air Mass to commemorate the 850th anniversary of the founding of Mariazell, a famous shrine to the Virgin Mary about 60 miles southwest of Vienna.

The Vienna Archdiocese said 33,000 pilgrims had received tickets for the event and that 70 bishops, mostly from Eastern Europe, would join in. Benedict called the anniversary “the reason for my coming” and said he would go as a simple pilgrim.

Benedict’s visit concludes Sunday with a Mass at Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral and a visit to the Heiligenkreuz abbey outside the capital.

___

Associated Press Writers William J. Kole and Veronika Oleksyn contributed to this report.