Category Archives: Spiritual – Religion

A wanderer

“Wanderer, there is no path,

the path is made by walking.”

— Antonio Machado

antonio-machado

Antonio Machado (1875 – 1939) was a Spanish poet

An American friend sent me these words a few days ago, and I’ve been mulling them over ever since. Undoubtedly, they reminded her of my elusive pilgrimage. I’ve been “on the road again” and walking for the past 7 years.

I always seem to be on the move, with my ultimate destination being Gaza. I certainly don’t have a well-defined plan or path which I suspect causes some concern or consternation to family and friends watching my journey.

Truth-be-told, I wake up in sweats some nights wondering if I’m on the path I’m suppose to be on, or have I lost my way? I never expected to be *here* when I turned 65.

Exactly where am I?

It doesn’t matter where I lay my head down tonight. What matters are my actions today, the people I’m meeting, the conversations I’m having, and the spirit I’m sharing with others.

It doesn’t matter what things are packed in my suitcase, or what ticket I have for my next travel plans.  What matters is that I travel as lightly as possible (for practical and spiritual reasons) and I travel safely, responsibly and with a good heart towards my fellow passengers.

Machado’s words can ring with different meanings for different people I suppose, but taking them literally, I think I’ve discovered the root of my “obsessiveness” over the Palestinians in Gaza. (Not my word, but the word of family and friends who have observed my attention directed towards Gaza over the past 5+ years.)

checkpoint

Israeli checkpoint for Palestinians posted by Husam Jubran on Facebook

Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza have been removed from life’s path through no fault of their own except for casting a vote for Hamas in 2006. Shortly thereafter, the government of Israel proclaimed Hamas a terrorist organization (probably as stunned by Hamas’ victory as Americans were shocked by Trump’s victory in 2016) and locked down the Gaza Strip in a suffocating siege and blockade that has tightened considerably year-by-year.

“You voted for the wrong guy!”

“We refuse to talk or engage with your elected leaders.”

“If we squeeze you tight enough, you’ll kick Hamas out.” 

“We believe you’re all terrorists, and this blockade is a legitimate security measure.”

Israel’s blockade has disrupted the lives of Palestinian students trying to travel a path towards their academic studies abroad; it’s prevented Palestinian scholars from traveling abroad to accept international awards; it’s stopped Palestinian poets and artists from presenting their talents to audiences overseas; it’s kept Palestinian soccer players from competing in FIFA tournaments; and it’s killed Palestinian men, women and children who were denied permission to travel outside of Gaza for life-saving treatment because they were deemed a security risk.

I know people personally in each of these categories. I’m sure there are many more categories.

Great_March_of_Return_2016-While there are many reasons why the state of Israel should be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague and prosecuted for war crimes, I believe Israel’s decision to prevent men, women and children in Gaza from following their path, and denying them their right to travel, is the most heinous of all of Israel’s crimes, and that government must be held accountable.

 Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that:

  • a citizen of a state in which that citizen is present has the liberty to travel, reside in, and/or work in any part of the state where one pleases within the limits of respect for the liberty and rights of others,

  • and that a citizen also has the right to leave any country, including his or her own, and to return to his or her country at any time.

Israeli officials may argue that Palestinians aren’t citizens of Israel, and certainly they don’t have a state of their own to which they can claim citizenship, and so Article 13 doesn’t apply to the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel and the UN Special Rapporteur for Palestine should go head-to-head with their arguments on that issue before a U.N. body.  Keeping innocent civilians locked up in the world’s largest open air prison with no due process has turned the State of Israel into a putrified petrie dish. The experiment is rotting Israel from the inside out.

Day 1 Lora shadow

“Wanderer, there is no path,

the path is made by walking.”

— Antonio Machado

One day every Palestinian in Gaza will walk their path right back to the homes and villages from which they were forcibly removed 70 years ago. Until that day, they’re teaching all of us by the humanity they model for us day after day.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Elections, Gaza, Hamas, Islam, Israel, nonviolent resistance, Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

Blue Lake

A few years ago, a Palestinian man from Gaza visited me in New Mexico. In addition to the typical tourist sites, I wanted him to see the indigenous people in Taos Pueblo, thinking he might draw some connections, or simpatico as we say in New Mexico.

Quite by accident, we happened to visit Taos Pueblo on a Feast Day, and we witnessed the music, dancing and solemn ceremonies involved in the tradition of these people. My Palestinian friend didn’t say much, and I’m not sure if he felt any kinship or connection with Taos Pueblo. Maybe I had assumed too much.

I wish I had told him the story about Blue Lake.

Blue Lake

Taos Pueblo members believe that their tribe was created from the sacred waters of the Blue Lake, or Ba Whyea. From the 1600s, the Spanish and Mexican authorities recognized the Taos Pueblo land rights. And when the U.S. government took control of the Southwest, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) also recognized the Pueblo’s sovereignty over their land and Blue Lake.

Then in 1906, by Executive Order President Theodore Roosevelt placed Blue Lake and the surrounding watershed into the hands of the Forest Service as part of the Carson National Forest.  For the next 64 years, Taos Pueblo leaders struggled to regain their sacred land and waters. They traveled to Washington, DC many times to try and convince Congress to return Blue Lake to them.

In testimony before Congress in 1969, Paul Bernal explained, “In all of its programs the Forest Service proclaims the supremacy of man over nature; we find this viewpoint contradictory to the realities of the natural world and to the nature of conservation. Our tradition and our religion require people to adapt their lives and activities to our natural surroundings so that men and nature mutually support the life common to both. The idea that man must subdue nature and bend its processes to his purposes is repugnant to our people.”

A good history of the Blue Lake controversy can be found here. Finally, in 1970, President Nixon approved a bill that returned full sovereignty of Blue Lake and its watershed to Taos Pueblo.

In speaking of the Bill’s significance, President Nixon stated, “This is a bill that represents justice, because in 1906 an injustice was done in which land involved in this bill, 48,000 acres, was taken from the Indians involved, the Taos Pueblo Indians. The Congress of the United States now returns that land to whom it belongs … I can’t think of anything more appropriate or any action that could make me more proud as President of the United States.”

The Palestinians have been struggling since 1948 to regain sovereignty over their lands, by negotiation, by violence, and most often by nonviolent Sumud, or steadfastness. There are certainly big differences between the struggle for Blue Lake and the occupation of Palestine, but I also see some similarities.

  • Both indigenous peoples have a spiritual connection to the lands that were taken from them.
  • Both cases involved Anglo settlers moving in and pushing out the indigenous people with an arrogance and sense of entitlement that makes me cringe.
  • Both Palestine and Taos have generations of younger people who learned the stories and lessons passed down from their elders about the injustices perpetrated years ago; and memories don’t die.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine will have to end before there is justice in the Middle East, but I have no doubt that the Palestinians will find their justice, as Taos Pueblo did in 1970.

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Filed under Israel, Occupation, Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized, US Policy

Iftar for Gaza

Ramadan is a holy time for Muslims around the world when they celebrate the moment the Koran was unveiled to Muhammad. It’s a time of fasting, praying and reflection. It’s also a time to forgive and ask for forgiveness, which I find very healing. Whether Muslim or not, the world would be a better place if we followed this instruction.

So I ask forgiveness from friends, family and anyone I have hurt this past year. And I forgive those who have slighted me, hurt me or disappointed me.  A new year and a new beginning.

IFTAR for GAZA

To honor my friends in Gaza and to raise funds for UNRWA-USA, I organized an Iftar in Albuquerque with friends and neighbors. The Iftar is the meal to break the daily fast after sunset.

Laura Stokes and good food

We met at Sahara Restaurant on Central Avenue for delicious food — Basmati rice, falafel, hummous, dolmas, shawarnah, and fattoush salad. As I watched my guests serving themselves, I had a flashback to many of the families in Gaza who served me wonderful meals — too numerous to count.  I wish I could have bridged the miles and shared my Iftar with them.

Samia Assed 3

Samia Assed provided a touching introduction to Ramadan, the significance of the Iftar, and why zakat (donations) is considered a very important part of Islam. She discussed the crisis in Gaza and how difficult life is for many families. Since Trump has decided to reduce the U.S. contribution to UNRWA by 83%, the only lifeline that many Palestinians must rely on for their basic sustenance is in serious danger.

Hence, the reason for my Iftar.

For $150, UNRWA-USA can provide a package providing enough flour, rice, whole milk, oil, chickpeas, lentils and protein-rich sardines to feed a family for the summer. My goal is to raise $1500 to help 10 families in Gaza.  Thanks to generous friends, I’ve raised enough to feed 7 families and will continue reaching out to the community near and far until I meet my goal. Online donations are graciously accepted here.

This was a great chance to network. Laura Stokes announced that PDA will be showing the film Radiance of Resistance,  the story of nonviolent persistence and resistance by the Palestinian people against the theft and occupation of their lands.  This film features the courageous actions of two Palestinian girls, one of whom is now in an Israeli prison.   

June 13, 2018
First Unitarian Church
3701 Carlisle Blvd. NE Albuquerque
5:30 PM MINGLE, 6:00 PM PROGRAM

Thank you friends!   Your hearts and words at the Iftar cheered me and provided me more sustenance than you can ever imagine.

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Filed under Peaceful, People, Spiritual - Religion, United Nations

Iftar in Albuquerque

Ramadan in Cairo

Waiting for sunset in Cairo for the Iftar meal

During Ramadan (this year May 15 through June 14), Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, with a pre-dawn meal known as Suhur and a sunset meal called Iftar.

This year I’m hosting an Iftar for my Muslim and non-Muslim friends in Albuquerque to raise funds for food-insecure refugee families in Gaza. For $150, UNRWA-USA can provide a package providing enough flour, rice, whole milk, oil, chickpeas, lentils and protein-rich sardines to feed a family for the summer. My goal is to raise $1500 to help 10 families in Gaza.

The date and location of my Iftar in Albuquerque will be announced soon, perhaps with an extra surprise thrown in. I hope you will consider donating online, and help me reach my goal before the end of May.

Following the US funding cuts in January 2018, many of UNRWA’s programs are at risk, including emergency food assistance for the nearly one million Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip who are relying on UNRWA to meet their basic needs.

With 47% of households in Gaza food insecure, this Ramadan, I am committed to doing something about it by hosting an Iftar for Gaza.

Please consider making a donation before attending the iftar, so we can tally our impact!

By joining this nationwide movement, we’re not only putting food on the table for a Palestine refugee family — we’re also sending the message that Americans care.

Thank you for helping me reach my goal and for providing a lifeline for Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip!

Donations to UNRWA’s cash and food assistance programs are zakat eligible as certified by the National Zakat Foundation. For other ways to help this month or for information on how to host an Iftar for Gaza, please visit unrwausa.org.

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Filed under Gaza, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

A pilgrim joins the march

I’m joining hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pilgrims walking to el Sanctuario de Chimayo in northern New Mexico today, Good Friday. It’s a tradition that many have followed every year for generations, but this is my first time walking to Chimayo.

Chimayo

Granddaughter and I visited Chimayo in 2014

On the side of the church is a little room with a dirt floor. We must bend low to enter the room, it accommodates only a dozen or so people at a time.

On the floor is an open pit of earth just over a foot wide. It is said to be healing earth, tierra bendita. Pilgrims touch it reverently to their heads and limbs, perhaps gathering a bit of it in a plastic bag, before moving on to make room for a few more of the thousands who wait their turn. The walls of the room just outside this chapel are covered with the canes and crutches of those who have been healed here at Chimayó. Tacked up among them are notes of thanksgiving, testimonials, and little paintings called milagros, “miracles,” depicting some particular story of grace and healing. “It is the faith, not the earth, that heals,” says the priest at Chimayó.

I’m carrying 4 small glass vials with me to collect some of this healing dirt —- one for each of my sons and one for me.  glass vials

This pilgrimage means different things to different people. For me, it’s a time to reflect on my family, my friends and my gratitude for everything that is good in my life.

I’m also thinking of my friends in Gaza who are marching to the border with Israel today. It’s the beginning of the #GreatReturnMarch with actions spanning 46 days. They’re pressing the international community and the State of Israel to acknowledge and comply with their right to return to the homes, businesses, villages and towns they were forcibly expelled from when Israel was created in 1947-48.  They’ve been waiting for decades for their right of return to be fulfilled. Many still have keys to the houses they left behind in present-day Israel.

Both of our journeys today (in northern New Mexico and Gaza) are journeys of faith . . . faith in the restorative power of community, and faith in the healing power of justice. I pray there is a milagro – miracle in Gaza today.

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

Crumbling Silos

We are living in silos. Each hardened and impervious, it seems.

Ralls_Texas_Grain_Silos_2010

As long as we stay put in our comfort zones and don’t venture out, life is good.  We can ignore the other silos as full of irrelevant, idiotic, foolish “deplorables” — or maybe they speak another language and our attention span is short — or maybe they just don’t interest us.

OTHER (Verb)
1. To view or act towards another group as though they are intrinsically different, alien and separate from oneself.
2. To MARGINALIZE                           

Life in my silo is just fine, thank-you-very-much!  My silo has treated me very well all these 64 years. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Western, educated white woman
  • Middle-class, white picket fence and safe, bicycle-friendly neighborhood
  • Good schools (elementary, high school, universities)
  • Extensive travel at home and abroad
  • Loving nuclear and extended family
  • Freedom to pursue nearly any idea or dream
  • No fears for my personal or my family’s safety

Why would I ever want to leave? But my silo is crumbling, along with all of the others, and it’s clear to me that I have no choice in the matter.

I saw the cracks starting years ago but it was easy enough back then to ignore and pretend it wasn’t happening. Like watching a loved one die in front of my eyes and not registering the reality of her death until she was gone.

Now, there’s simply no denying that all of the silos are crumbling, crumbling at a faster pace than ever before. Some people may pick up torches or assault rifles to protect against the “other” and some may bury their heads to avoid the messiness of “politics.”

But everyone’s silo is crumbling and the undeniable truth is that we’re all facing the same challenges of a silo-free world together.

What’s responsible for these crumbling silos?

  • The relentless onslaught of a changing climate which so many people still deny.
  • The epic failure of capitalism that is currently destroying people and environments.
  • The war machine (aka military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about) and the destruction it has wrought in so many countries, including my own.
  • The blessing and curse of the Internet. It allows people to hide and listen only to Fox News (or NPR) in their silos if they choose, but it also allows people to reach across oceans and connect with people in other silos they wouldn’t have otherwise.

I’m nervous because the unknown is always scary. No one can predict what a post-silo world will look like. But I’m also excited because I catch glimmers of a much better world emerging.

This pilgrim is very thankful to be alive at this time.

lora

“BUILD BRIDGES, NOT WALLS”

 

 

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Filed under Peaceful, Politics, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

The magical Oud

Music can sooth the busy mind, and calm the tormented soul.  Music can bring people together, and it can lift them above their struggles.

oudFive years ago, on a beautiful evening in Gaza, I was serenaded by an Oud player and his fellow musicians for several hours. The event was a complete surprise to me, and was without a doubt one of the highlights of my visit.  I will never forget the magical feeling I had that evening. “This can’t be real.”  “This is too good to be true.”  “Someone pinch me and wake me from this dream.”

I haven’t stopped thinking of these wonderful musicians in Gaza, especially the Oud player, Yehal Adel.  You can catch a snippet of Yehal’s talent here. He composed the music and words to this beautiful song about his love for Jerusalem.

Recently I was reminded of the power of the magical Oud when I heard Rahim AlHaj play in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He was playing with a group at the St. John’s United Methodist Church.

Rahim AlHaj is world famous and his performance at the Library of Congress is just a sample.  I hope I can introduce these two Oud players, and someday they may play together!

Rahim AlHaj was born in Baghdad, Iraq and began playing the oud (Arabic lute) at age nine. He moved to the US in 2000 as a political refugee and has resided in Albuquerque, New Mexico, ever since. Rahim has performed around the globe and is considered one of the finest oud players in the world. His compositions evoke the experience of exile from his homeland and of new beginnings in his adopted country. In 2015 Rahim was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship.

Sourena Sefati was born in Ramsar, Iran, and started playing santour (hammered dulcimer) at age 11. He won the award for best composer of Iranian music at Art University in 2006 and served as instructor at Art University and Elmi-Karbordi University in Tehran from 2008 to 2014. Sourena moved to the United States in 2014, and teaches Iranian music in Albuquerque.

Issa Malluf is a Palestinian-American native of New Mexico. Originally self-taught, Issa has become a highly skilled and internationally recognized specialist in Middle Eastern, Arabic, and North African percussion.

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Filed under Gaza, Peaceful, People, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized, Video