Category Archives: Spiritual – Religion

Two deaths

Peace cranes 1

Origami Peace Cranes

My family and friends know I’m a prolific letter writer. I must send several notes to elected officials each week about one issue or another. Yesterday I realized I’m now sending more condolence cards than my standard fare of political action notes, a sign of the new Covid-19 times we live in.

Two deaths this week hit me hard, not because of who had died (I didn’t know either man personally), but my heart is broken for their families left behind. Both deaths seem so unfair.

One was a young healthy man who died of COVID-19 in NYC. Very successful in business with a tremendous future in front of him, he left behind a wife and young daughter and parents who are all grieving his loss.  A ZOOM memorial can’t cover the distance the hearts must travel to make any sense of the senseless.

The second death was a well-respected Palestinian physician in Gaza who had been suffering from cancer for some time. Israel has prevented essential medical supplies and medicines from entering Gaza for years now, and routinely denies permission for patients to leave Gaza to seek medical attention elsewhere.

His son in the U.S. has left no stone unturned to get the critical medicines and vitamins to his father, even though he could never travel to Gaza himself to visit, that was verboten by the Israeli authorities. I was pleased to play a minor role in that transit process a year ago. Today his son is mourning his father’s death, unable to join his mother in Gaza and grieve together as a family.

I don’t know the religious traditions of each man, but I suspect one was Jewish and one was Muslim. It really doesn’t matter at all. Both are gone and have left huge holes in the hearts of many.

Argentine cactus bloomIf there’s such a thing as heaven (I’m not at all sure about that) then they are probably both sitting there, digesting their new surroundings where all of the superficial differences have disappeared. The “other” is an unfathomable idea.

They both recognize the pain and sorrow they left behind, and likely want to comfort their family and friends.

In my own musing about these two families’ unbearable sadness, I want to touch their hearts with my heart and ease their burdens.

We are one, there is no other.

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under COVID-19, Spiritual - Religion

Intolerance for the other

A brief message to myself more than anyone else.

Recent events and communications have focused my attention on “the other” and the world’s intolerance for “the other”.

Some concrete examples might help.

ApeirogonA Palestinian-American author condemned an Irish-American author’s book about Palestine. Colum McCann‘s novel (Apeirogon) is about two families (a Palestinian family in the occupied West Bank and an Israeli family in Jerusalem) who each suffer the death of a child due to the violence perpetrated by the other side.  The Palestinian-American author criticizes the book:

Along comes a novelist, who is so moved by this unusual friendship, the story behind it, and what he feels it represents of hope for the future of the nation that he decides to write a book about them. It is a kind of amplifying-the-voice-of-peace endeavour (sic), born from the stubborn belief that anything can be solved by the benevolent enthusiasm of well-meaning folks.

I do not know McCann, though I suspect he wrote this book with a sense of solidarity and a desire to foster “dialogue”. But it is possible to do great harm with the noblest of intentions. The rhetoric of dialogue can be alluring – the idea that talking to find common humanity is all it takes to dismantle structural racism and notions of ethnocentric supremacy. It can make all kinds of people, even victims themselves, become purveyors of injustice. (emphasis added)

The second example is a Palestinian activist in Gaza (Rami Aman) who was recently arrested by Hamas for engaging in a Zoom chat with Israeli peace activists. Perhaps naively, it appears both sides were hoping to understand “the other” better. I’ve written about Rami and normalization here and here.

Both examples illustrate one of the biggest impediments to the future survival of the human species.

!*!*!*!*! Are you serious? !*!*!*!*!

Here’s my thesis in a nutshell. (I’m giving a lot of thought about how best to elaborate on the thesis, and hope to in the future. InshaAllah)

Humans face many challenges today, and they will continue to face many more which are arguably life-threatening. (Take a minute and think about the challenges —- from the small to the existential.) 

How have we made it this far? Those among us with a good dose of testosterone might conclude that it was the spear, sword, gun, and the individual’s strength that ensured “survival of the fittest“.  I disagree.

I believe it’s our ability to cooperate and empathize with “the other” that has allowed humans to achieve much, and ultimately to survive.

I can hear the howls of protest and derision even as I write.  I will summarize what I hear simply by saying that cooperation and empathy are not qualities of weakness or naivety, and they certainly don’t require anyone to ignore danger posed by “the other”.

However, survival requires that each one of us recognize our self in “the other” — and accept “the other” is a part of me.  (A LOT MORE ON THAT IN ANOTHER POST)

Sadly, our human species seems to be evolving in the opposite direction, ultimately a dead end, and a path destined to bring much suffering along the way.

It’s far easier for me to conjure up “the other” than it is for me to conjure up “the larger family” … “we are one”.   I can see our differences and easily ignore our similarities.

So what does this thesis have to do with Israel – Palestine and the two examples I set out above? Don’t be fooled. It is

  • not to forget who is the occupier and who is the occupied
  • not to forget the past and current injustices
  • not to equate all voices and all perspectives as valid

It is simply to see “the other” as a member of “the larger family” … “we are one” … flaws and all.

We are losing that ability to see “the other” in this evolutionary way every time we dismiss “the other” — such as Colum McCann’s book and Rami Aman’s Zoom chat. we are one

McCann’s voice contributes a meaningful perspective about “the other” regardless of whether you are an Israeli considering your Palestinian neighbors, or a Palestinian considering your Israeli neighbors, or anyone else in the world considering the human suffering in the Middle East.

Aman’s voice on that Zoom chat contributed a meaningful perspective about “the other” too—as did the young Israelis on the other side of that chat.

When anyone attempts to shut down these examples of seeing “the other”, he or she is simply trying to redirect the human species down the dead end cul-de-sac.  It saddens me and I pray they don’t succeed.

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under Gaza, Hamas, People, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

Same God – Embodied Solidarity

There are many contradictions in the world today, top among them are the evangelical Christians who profess their faith and love of God, yet dismiss the “other” contemptuously.  “Love of God and love for our neighbor are inseparable.” 

In 2015, an African American tenured professor at Wheaton, a liberal arts Christian college in Illinois, donned the hijab in an act of embodied solidarity with Muslim women who were experiencing Islamophobic threats and intimidation. Professor Larycia Hawkins posted her picture on Facebook wearing the hijab and wrote that Christians and Muslims worship the same god.

Same God film

The firestorm that followed that simple act garnered national attention, and Professor Hawkins ultimately lost her job.

An alumna from Wheaton, Linda Midgett, was moved by Hawkins’ story and decided to make a documentary.  I was fortunate to see a screening of Same God at the Zakat Foundation of America in Illinois on January 26, 2020 where both Professor Hawkins and Linda Midgett answered questions afterwards.

The important take away message was Professor Hawkins’ valuable lesson about “embodied solidarity” — a new phrase for me. Standing in solidarity with Palestinian refugees in Gaza, what does it actually require?

Education for sure. Reading Palestinian authors, listening to Palestinian voices, watching Palestinian films, and most importantly, visiting Palestinians in Gaza — all with an open heart and an inquisitive mind.

However, solidarity must be more than merely a theoretical exercise of support and affirmation. That’s why the phrase “embodied solidarity” is so meaningful.  Professor Hawkins describes what she means by “embodied solidarity” in this short TEDTalk.  “You can’t be pro-Israeli without also being pro-Palestinian.”

Same God has won awards and is now available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and iTunes.  You can also listen to a podcast with Linda Midgett about her film by Ken Kemp on #SoundCloud

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Peaceful, People, Politics, Spiritual - Religion, Video

The Possibilities

When I visited the Duomo di Milano (the second largest cathedral in the world) on March 24, 2019, I stood in awe of the magnificent interior, and then scrambled around the rooftop with hundreds of other tourists.

I never imagined the possibility that Piazza del Duomo in Milan would be empty a year later, or that I would be listening to the Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli perform inside that empty cathedral.  Today I sat alone but joined more than 2.5 million people from around the world for his performance. Alone but together, I couldn’t have imagined that possibility either. A link to his performance is here. Bocelli did not accept a fee for his performance but his foundation has established a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to purchase protective equipment for doctors and nurses here.

When I arrived in Rochester, Minnesota about 3 weeks ago to visit the orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic about a hip replacement, I was pleased when he said “yes” and not surprised when he said “but we don’t know when we can do it” because the Coronavirus put an end to all elective procedures. I’m a patient person and can certainly wait, but I couldn’t have imagined that I would be sheltering inside for weeks with my brother and his family. (He probably couldn’t imagine it either since we haven’t lived in the same house together since he was 4 years old. He’s much younger than me.) 

My Baltimore friend shared a short 13 minute audio clip of a discussion about the significance of language, and especially the metaphors, that we use to describe things like the Coronavirus. President Trump and many in the U.S. talk about our “war on this virus” and we want to name and defeat this enemy.  Other leaders are using very different metaphors, and a famous epidemiologist uses education metaphors.  Here’s a link to that audio clip. Check it out and see what you think. I couldn’t have imagined the possibility that we might actually build bridges and conceptualize in concrete terms that “We Are One” just by changing our language.  Truly a new paradigm for relating with the “other.”

And my New Mexico friend shared the joy of Easter with me today.  His Argentine cactus bloomed on Good Friday.  I never imagined that a cactus could produce such a beautiful flower.  I can see it.  I believe it. (Photo credit: David Day)

What other possibilities can’t we imagine in this world, and in our lives?

Restoring the Earth and eliminating the catastrophic damage of climate change?

Repairing the social contract between all humans who deserve shelter, food, healthcare, education, love and dignity?

Ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and finding harmony and peace for all people in the Holy Land?

In my old age, with half a century or more of hearing the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday, I never really believed in that possibility. It didn’t make sense and it didn’t seem particularly important to me.  Today, I have a new appreciation for the possibilities that might be just on the horizon.  (Thank you Grandma for sharing the Easter story every year.)

 

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under Climate Change, COVID-19, Peaceful, People, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

Easter in Jerusalem

Today I attended an Easter service in Jerusalem . . . from my bedroom in Rochester, Minnesota.  I was lucky I got in because I learned that the ZOOM gathering had exceeded its capacity of 500, and they were directing the overflow crowd to watch the service online from Facebook.

Easter in Jerusalem

patent leather shoesI’m not a particularly religious person, but I was raised a good Episcopalian who always attended Easter service in my new Sunday dress, patent leather shoes and Easter hat.  The Easter egg hunt was far more interesting than listening to the sermons about Jesus’ resurrection.  But my grandmother was the lead Church elder and I loved to watch her at the front of the church teaching the congregation in her gentle way.

Today, the messages from the Sabeel leaders in Jerusalem mentioned the difficult times we’re all facing with the Coronavirus, but also the opportunity that we have to build a better future around the world and in Palestine.

Mrs. Samia Khouri touched my heart when she spoke. My screenshot doesn’t do her justice.  I sensed she was a very special woman and wanted to know more about her after the service finished.

FOSNASamia Nasir Khoury retired in 2003 after serving for 17 years as president of Rawdat El-Zuhur, a coeducational elementary school for the lower income community in East Jerusalem. She continues to serve as treasurer of the board of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in East Jerusalem and on the board of trustees of Birzeit University in Birzeit, Palestine.

Samia was born in Jaffa, Palestine on November 24, 1933. She graduated from Birzeit College in 1950, and was awarded a BBA degree from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, in 1954. Samia then returned to Birzeit, and worked from 1954-1960 at her former school as executive secretary, registrar and director of women students’ activities. Birzeit, which was founded by her aunt Nabiha Nasir in 1924, would eventually develop into the first university in Palestine. In 1960 she married Yousef Khoury, an engineer. After 44 years of marriage and the blessings of two children and six grandchildren, Yousef passed away in early 2004 in their beloved home of Jerusalem.

Samia was deeply involved with the YWCA, including serving as the national president of the YWCA of Jordan for two terms (as the Palestinian West Bank had been annexed to Jordan in 1950). When Jordan severed its ties with the West Bank in 1988, the YWCA of Palestine was reestablished, and she was its first president from 1991-96. Her breadth of international experience has also included addressing two UN NGO Forums: in New York in 1996, and in Athens in 2000.

Samia writes about justice, truth, and peace for the Palestinian people, the relationships between people and the land, the context of Christian-Jewish-Muslim relationships in the Holy Land, concerns for children in conflict, and gender issues.

Mrs. Khouri was a founding member of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre  and recently published her memoirs entitled Reflections from Palestine: A Journey of Hope. She met met Pope Francis when he came to visit Bethlehem in 2014.

She reminded me of my grandmother. Her firm conviction that a future is possible where the current injustices in occupied Palestine are wiped away — mirrors my grandmother’s belief in a better future for everyone.

The service will be rebroadcast this evening.

We have arranged a Facebook watch party of our Holy Saturday service tonight, April 11 at 7 pm ET, where we can watch the entire service together. Go to our Facebook page at 7pm, and watch with us.

After the watch party the recording will be available there as well.

In the service we shared ways to stay connected and get involved.

  • To receive the Countering Christian Zionism toolkit and stay up to date on our Counter CUFI (Christian’s United for Israel) action sign up here.

  • To sign and spread word of our Black Church Call to End Israeli Apartheidclick here.

  • Join the Twitter campaign to Defund Gaza Blockade and invest in Healthcare for Alljoin here.

  • To donate to Friends of Sabeel North America: give here.

3 Comments

Filed under COVID-19, People, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

Crazy dream or a possible reset?

Gaza beachA naive and fantastical idea came to mind as soon as I thought about the coronavirus pandemic and my friends in Gaza “Since Israel and Egypt have sequestered, blockaded, imprisoned the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip going on 13 years now, making it nearly impossible for most to travel in or out, maybe the coronavirus pandemic will have a difficult time getting in and wrecking havoc.”

Yes, I know it’s a crazy notion. As of the date of this writing, there are 263 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the West Bank and Gaza. (Check these current Coronavirus photos from Gaza thanks to Aljazeera.)

However, this absurd idea was immediately followed by a second thought which shouldn’t be so crazy.

“This invisible microscopic virus has the power to upset the status quo, reset the human response to our most perplexing challenges, and open our hearts to the subatomic truth that WE ARE ONE.  Maybe the Israel & Palestine status quo will be upset, reset and opened up to a new reality for everyone.”

I’m watching for signs that this second notion might come to pass. Gaza camel

Come on. If the Saudi Royal family can seriously consider closing Mecca and suspending the annual hajj pilgrimage — one of the five pillars of Islam for every devout Muslim –something unthinkable just a few weeks ago, then the leaders in Israel and Palestine can certainly have their version of a “come to Jesus” moment when their hearts and minds open up to the “other.”

Even sworn enemies can call a truce.  Saudi Arabia, concerned about the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, declared a unilateral ceasefire in Yemen, the first truce in this five-year war.

Is Bibi a big enough man to do the same with respect to the occupied Palestinian territories? A unilateral end of the occupation with no preconditions.

Are Abbas and Haniya big enough men to recognize they can seize the moment and reach out to the Israelis as brothers to build a common future together?

I can already hear the howls from the Jewish zealots who don’t want to share the Holy Land with any Palestinians; and the screed from the Palestinians who don’t want to share the Holy Land with any Zionists. Maybe the coronavirus pandemic will work a miracle on all of them.

But one thing I’m certain of —- everyone in the Holy Land will go through convulsions of personal and collective tragedy and loss.  The coronavirus pandemic is an equal opportunity grim reaper.

And I’m also sure there are opportunities galore, if only the blind will remove their blinders.

On April 7, Al Quds University President, Professor Imad Abu Kishek announced that his university has “succeeded in producing a fully computerized ventilator capable of saving lives and providing a viable alternative to the shortage in Palestine and beyond in the standard commercial ventilators and other respiratory support machines”. The Palestinian Ministry of Health had reported that only 250 medical ventilators are available throughout all Palestinian hospitals and that two-thirds of these machines are already in use. The ventilators should be ready for production as soon as the Palestinian Standard Institute (PSI) gives its final approval to the prototype.  

I hope this time of Passover and the upcoming Ramadan will be potent reminders that We Are One.

 

 

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under COVID-19, Gaza, Islam, Israel, Occupation, Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion

The terrorist is unmasked

The world’s fear of terrorism and terrorists has been misplaced for far too long.

COVID-19 may be our wake-up call that we need to move beyond.

•  Beyond our stigmatization of the “other”.

•  Beyond our demonization of what we don’t understand.

•  Beyond our obsession to protect ourselves from “those people”.

I can point to many examples of our fear of terrorism, and I suspect you can too.  Just a few to show how widespread this virus of fear has spread.

•  Before I traveled to Gaza in 2012, a spiritual leader in my community warned me not to mention “Hamas” out loud when I was in Gaza; she feared for my safety.

•  The estimated U.S. military spending between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021 will be $934 billion. Military spending is the second-largest item in the U.S. federal budget after Social Security.  A false security that misleads and distorts reality.

•  Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang points out the racist and xenophobic attacks targeting Asian Americans related to the Coronavirus; attacks based on an ugly fear of the “other.”

Homeland-Security-Advisory-System•  Although we no longer see the color-coded terror alerts, the U.S. Government maintains the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative, a joint collaborative effort by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and law enforcement partners. The Department of Homeland Security offers security resources for businesses and communities, as well as a link to leave tips of suspicious terror activity online. 

jerusalem_light_rail•  And Israelis live in a state of perpetual fear of the “terrorists” in the West Bank and Gaza, so much so that every aspect of their lives is governed by their fear — from the checkpoints, to the Iron Dome, to riding on public transport.(It goes without saying that Palestinians live in fear as well, the difference between both is a topic for another blog post, but I’ll summarize by saying that the Israelis have succeeded in labeling Palestinians, and particularly Hamas, as “terrorists,” while the Palestinians have failed in convincing most of the international community that Israelis are “terrorists”.)

NOW, a genuine terrorist has emerged.

 

Lora with mask

COVID-19 is not a person, place or imagined enemy. It is real, and it doesn’t play favorites. Azzam, Taha and Reuven are just as likely to fall victim as Zuhal, Saamia and Lora. False notions of comfort and protection are . . . false. So this is the lesson I’m slowly digesting during my self-imposed isolation at home.

 

WE ARE ONE!  

Your fear is my fear. Your future is my future. Your dreams are my dreams.  I care about you as I care about myself.  And I know a new path is opening up to a new world for all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Comments

Filed under COVID-19, Spiritual - Religion

Putting Faith into Action

 

The Catholics and Jews came together in my world on Sunday, August 11, 2019 in Baltimore.  I attended the 10:30 am service at St. Ignatius Church with a friend, and then attended the Tisha B’Av #ICEOutHoCo protest in Howard County with other friends in the afternoon.  The messages from both events resonated deeply.

Jesus ChristThe priest said, “Today, young people are the principal protagonists of an anthropological transformation that is coming to be through the digital culture of our time, opening humanity to a new historical epoch. We are living through a period of change from which will emerge a new humanity and a new way of structuring human life in its personal and social dimensions. To accompany young people demands of us authenticity of life, spiritual depth, and openness to sharing the life-mission that gives meaning to who we are and what we do. Accompanying young people puts us on the path of personal, communitarian, and institutional conversion.”

When it was time for the petition, where We pray to the Lord ….. Lord, hear our prayer, my ears couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

St. Ignatius ChurchWe pray to the Lord, defeat the gun lobby and the public officials in their pay. Strengthen us to demand legislation to ban the sale of assault weapons, to require background checks, and to prosecute with rigor domestic terrorism. Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray to the Lord, shield innocent children cruelly harmed by politicians who stoke bigotry to stay in power. Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray to the Lord, end the affliction of all who suffer from violence and rescue them from bitterness. Lord hear our prayer.

Later that day, Jews United for Justice led a protest in front of the Howard County Detention Center against ICE and the detention of immigrants. The goal is to convince the county to end its contract with ICE to use the facilities.

Tisha B'Av Action

Several hundred people gathered peacefully at this Tisha B’Av Action to #CloseTheCamps

Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av (Aug. 10-11, 2019), is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, on which we fast, deprive ourselves and pray. It is the culmination of the Three Weeks, a period of time during which we mark the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

 

We heard speakers talk about the 9th day of Av, a Jewish fast day “commemorating the destruction of the Temples which has become an emotional lightening rod for all Jewish national tragedies. The Jewish community is not the only community that is suffering in our contemporary world. The day prompts us to be human beings in community with others.” We also heard from immigrants and others about their experiences with ICE, and about the call to action — demanding Howard County to cease its intergovernmental agreement with ICE. http://jufj.org/hoco-ice/

Tisha B'Av Action mother and child

This particular demonstration moved me in a way that many others haven’t because of the unity in spirit that I felt permeated almost everyone there.  Old, young, religious or secular, the energy was peaceful yet determined. Everyone was focused on the mistreatment of immigrants, on ICE, and on our responsibility to end this immoral path our nation is on.  [The organizer at the beginning of the action told us the ground rules, and I noted that he said our signs were welcomed but no Israeli flags because they wanted this to be an inclusive event.]

The Catholics and Jews today each reinforced similar messages from different angles.  They spoke from a place of peace, not anger or violence. They focused on injustices and harm occurring in the real world, not abstract concepts of good and bad. And children were highlighted in each. The time has come for leaders of the past to follow the leaders of the future.

Tisha B'Av Action vote

The youth in Gaza are demanding justice too. Our silence to Israel’s occupation and blockade is as deadly as the White Supremacists killing children in mass shootings, and ICE killing children in detention cages at the border.

Our hearts and heads must connect these dots so that our empathy and actions end injustices everywhere for everyone.  The time has come to end our tunnel vision.

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under nonviolent resistance, Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

We Are One

Christmas_Hill_Park_in_Gilroy_California_USA,_March_2017

Another senseless tragedy, this time at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California.  At the end of the day on the last day of the festival, a white male entered Christmas Hill Park and started shooting. In a flash 3 people were killed, including a 6 year old boy, and many more were wounded.

On the other side of the country, I learned about it within minutes on Facebook. Friends posted their shock and disbelief, their concern for the victims.

I was shocked too. Gilroy was my home in the 1980s, where I worked, raised children, and made good friends. My home was a block from Christmas Hill Park. I volunteered at the Festival for several years. My first assignment as a city planner in Gilroy was to document a massive flood that impacted much of the city, including Christmas Hill Park.

After hearing news of the tragedy, I posted my personal connection to Gilroy and the Garlic Festival on Facebook, and read many similar messages from people who have even a tenuous connection to Gilroy.

Then it hit me.

Although most people are saddened by a tragedy, we feel a visceral connection when the tragedy “hits home” and touches a place or person we actually know. That’s when we want to share our stories and humanity where there were inhumane acts committed.

WeAreOne-MedI think it must be human nature. When we feel a connection, we can reach across the time and distance that divides us and reconnect with the victims. We are one.

It’s not yet human nature to empathize with the “other” — those we don’t feel a connection with.  I know, because I’ve watched my own empathy quotient rise as I’ve connected with people.

Before 2016, I had no connection to Sudan and probably couldn’t even place it on the map accurately. Then I met a Sudanese woman who made my Subway sandwich in Baltimore every week. We talked, we got together for dinner at each other’s homes, we shared a Christmas Eve together, and we bonded. Today, I can’t hear news about Sudan without thinking of my friend. I hope to visit her in Baltimore in a couple of weeks.

Before 2004, I had no connection with Palestine. That’s when I made my first trip to Gaza with a friend. (I’ve written about that trip on this blog, and it’s included in the book I’m writing.) I knew the Zionist messaging about the Israel-Palestine “conflict” but nothing more. Then my eyes and heart were opened.

I wish all Americans could open their eyes and heart and be one with the Palestinians in Gaza. Maybe I can because I lived there, I worked there, I visited there and I know people there. 

Maybe that’s why the U.S. State Department prevents Americans from traveling to Gaza; it doesn’t want Americans establishing a visceral connection with the Palestinians. Israel doesn’t want the world connecting either, which is clear from its 12 years blockading the 2+ million people in the Gaza Strip. 

Will homo sapiens evolve? Can we connect with each other as one, and leave the “us versus them” paradigm back in the savanna? I hope so.

 

6 Comments

Filed under Gaza, Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

My First Ramadan

Ramadan is the most holiest of holy times for Muslims because it’s the time that the angel Gabriel gave the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.  It’s one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  Devout Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day during the month of Ramadan. (I knew this from earlier visits to the Middle East.)

This year, Ramadan began May 6th when I found myself in Cairo preparing to join a medical convoy to Gaza, and was scheduled to end June 4th (or maybe June 5th depending on the country). Most of my Egyptian family at Pension Roma, my home when I’m in Egypt, are Muslim. They were looking forward to Ramadan.

On the spur of the moment, without much thought or preparation, I decided to join them in their daily fasting. Of course, fasting is only one part of Ramadan; reading the Quran and praying every day is also very important to Muslims during this time. I didn’t plan to read or pray.

ramadan lanterns

So why did I fast?

  • To respect my friends. It felt disrespectful to eat or drink when they couldn’t.
  • To experience the feeling of emptiness and fasting for myself.
  • To challenge myself. Could I abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset for an entire month? (I like challenges.)

What did I learn?

  • For a newbie, fasting is not easy, especially during the first week or two. I experienced headaches, fatigue and very low energy at the beginning. Instead of working on a writing project every afternoon, I napped.
  • Surprisingly, the empty feeling in my stomach felt good. By nature, I’m not a foodie who looks forward to cooking or eating. It’s just another bodily function which I must attend to in order to keep my body healthy. My doctor routinely chides me for my bad diet. During Ramadan, I had a good reason for not eating.
  • Giving up water in the hot Mediterranean climate is something else. I found it very difficult not to drink water when I was thirsty. By mid-afternoon, my mouth and throat felt like cotton. Yech!
  • Appreciating how my internal clock could adjust to the early morning (3 AM) knock on my door to join Yousef and the rest of my Egyptian family for a meal before sunrise. I’ll remember that time together with a special fondness.
  • The best part of Ramadan for me was sharing the pre-dawn meal and later breaking the fast with the Iftar meal at sunset with friends and community.

Iftar gathering in downtown Cairo 2

Every afternoon just before sunset, I walked the streets in my Cairo neighborhood and watched people preparing for their Iftar meal. The fast-food guys rushed by on their scooters delivering orders to shopkeepers. Many people took seats on the sidewalk, patiently waiting for the signal from the Mosque that the official time of sunset had arrived and people could eat.

In a restaurant where I frequently ate, everyone was seated and chatting well before the appointed hour. Suddenly, the entire place would fall silent as everyone started eating in unison. Food takes on a new meaning when you’ve been fasting the entire day.  The Iftar ritual always began the same way — eating a date or two, and drinking water and juice (mango or date juice). Delicious!

Breaking the fast with friends (new and old) reminded me how lucky we are to have the gift of food, and also that millions of children and families around the world are starving because of war and ungodly sanctions that prevent food delivery.  [How can Saudi Arabia hold itself up as a good Muslim country when its actions are directly causing so much death, destruction and starvation to millions of Muslims in Yemen? If I was a practicing Muslim, I would boycott Hajj and Umrah in Mecca until the monarchy in Saudi Arabia aligns its actions with the teachings of the Quran.]

I experienced many, many examples of love and kindness during my first Ramadan. The Cairo shopkeeper (the man in the middle) always asked about my bum leg because he noticed I was limping. Each day he told me he would pray for me, and he encouraged me to pray as well. Then there was the date seller from Aswan (right photo) who introduced me to the most delicious dates I’ve ever tasted. He waved to catch my attention each time I passed, even if I was on the other side of the busy street.

I had the wonderful opportunity to reconnect with very good friends from Gaza now living in the United Arab Emirates, so I decided to spend the last two weeks of Ramadan in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.  

On my arrival we headed straight to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi because the sunset was nearly upon us.  The Mosque prepares Iftar meals for 30,000 people every day during Ramadan. The Mosque and its beautiful surroundings were only surpassed by the superb organizational efforts to provide a feast on such a grand scale. I was speechless.  

Iftar in Abu Dhabi 3

Another day we drove out to the sand dunes where we watched the sun slowly sink in the west and ate our Iftar meal on a blanket under the stars.  Despite the alarm I felt driving out in the middle of nowhere without another soul in sight and no markings or signs anywhere, the serenity and peaceful surroundings was a heavenly experience beyond anything I’ve known in my 65 years.

Iftar in the Sand DunesEid al-Fitr marks the end of the month of Ramadan. It feels like every joyous holiday in the world wrapped up into a single day. We woke before dawn and went over to the small neighborhood mosque in Sharjah where everyone was gathering to say their morning prayers. I stood back and watched.

Eid al-Fitr in Sharjah women praying

Children in their new clothes reminded me of the excitement and anticipation I experienced every Christmas morning as a child. I learned about the Eid tradition in many families of giving their children a little money to spend on sweets and toys. [And I was reminded that many children in Gaza are going without even this little pleasure because life in Gaza is practically unlivable.]

Fasting this Ramadan gave me time to meditate and think. For me, Ramadan is about sharing love with each other and there’s an abundance of love to go around (more than enough for every man, woman and child on this Planet).

Love is love, whether a Muslim, Jew or Christian shares it.  Our world needs much more of it but there are so many examples of people withholding love for the “other”. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Allah – Yahweh – God never intended for any of us to be miserly with our love.

I felt well-loved and cared for during Ramadan. I will always remember my blessings.

 

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under Egypt, Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized