Friday, December 6, 2013

GREETINGS!

Welcome to these collection of posts under PAYAK that speaks of my transfiguring experiences when I visited Chareidi Country in the summer of 2011.  I wonder what brought you to my site - word of mouth, my website at Xlibris, or Google search.  However way you have arrived, A WARM WELCOME TO YOU and please stay a while. Be at ease. Come into a stance of stillness and enter the context of the narratives and the reflections.  Follow the dates of the posts  which started on July 23, 2011 to acquire a chronological perspective of the events.  Let me know how you experienced the brave claims I made.  May your own meditations find you transformed as well.   It will mean a lot to me that I can count you amongst my visitors so please post a comment.  I thank you for your time and effort.

Read. Ponder. Be The Peace.




Friday, July 19, 2013

About this Book/ Summary

PAYAK is a collection of narratives and reflections by a pious Catholic Christian that evolved from attending an ultra-Orthodox Jewish marriage ceremony in Chareidi Country, the invitation for which was under the auspices of a beautiful friendship with an American-Jewish family.  Mystical insights  accrued which led to the development of the thesis that durable PEACE in one's self, in one's locality and in the world is achievable  through vital piety, the mojo of which is humility.  If every person, place, object and event, no matter how unfamiliar or diverse, is encountered in a stance of openness and innocence, violence in all its permutations can be averted. Holding our differences in reverence can antecede religious literalism.   Communication will be fluent even without words,  appreciation of the dignity of fellow human beings in their local contexts will make cognizant similar needs and longings,  good deeds become the currency of piety,  and every healthy goal will be possible with the audacity of Faith.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Order of the Book

Front Cover with Illustration

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Table of Blogs, Epigraphs with Illustrations

Foreword

Preface

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Blogs divided by epigraphs with illustrations

Postcript

Glossary

Author Photo Page

Index

Back Page with Illustration

Blogs and Epigraphs with Illustrations

St. Augustine Epigraph with Illustration

*****

Welcome

Moshe and Noya

The Promise

A Stance of Stillness

Black-and-White Elegance

A Holy Man

"One Who Trembles In Awe of God"

My Own Cherished Dream Came True In Their Life

I  Was Looking For A Balabusta

The Fifth Commandment

The Bachelor's Night

Success and Fast Failures


*****

CHUPA Epigraph with Illustration

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On the Road to Sacred Vows

The Reception

The Bride

The Most Tender Moment

CHUPA

Wedding Party a la Chareidi

Sheva Brachot

*****

MLK Jr.  Epigraph with Illustration

*****

Bracha H'shem, GruB Gott, Pagpalain Ka Ng Maykapal, Ojigi

Ari's Leap Of And To Faith

Promesse D'Amour

A Peaceable Ghost

Are You Religious?

Abraham Joshua Heschel:  My Jewish Saint of Ecumenism

*****

Leo Tolstoy Epigraph with Illustration

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A Bowl of Mitzvot

Postmodern Incarnation of a Mitzvah

These, I Believe

The Noblesse Oblige of Godliness

The Mojo of Piety

Universal Sacraments

*****

Goethe Epigraph with Illustration

*****

Postscript

Glossary










Sunday, June 23, 2013

Postmodern Incarnation of a Mitzvah

Early on in our formative years, my Dad and my Mom inculcated in our family the habit of what is popularly known in the Christian lexicon as "tithing" which has its origins in biblical and Marian spirituality alike.  In this book however "tithing"  simply refers to giving, to sharing, to contributing, to donating and the measure is ever so subjective, i.e. one can give as little or as much.  Tithing is a religious matter because it is between one's self and one's God.  One's deeds are the direct reflection of one's God.  Tithing is one of those frailer virtues that require other virtues to support it or else it can easily weaken and dissipate without much forethought or effort.  Everyone can tithe irrespective of race, creed, gender and sexual orientation, educational attainment, physical abilities or disabilities, and socio-economic status.

Tithing is a discipline.  It requires the following:

1) HUMILITY, to accept that all that we own belongs to God.  That we are stewards of such talents.  That we are asked to manage it well for the glory of God and not ours.  Therefore we need to ask ourselves - do we tithe in order to respond meaningfully to the need of a fellow human being or do we respond to plume our feathers and to leaven our egos, or worst of all to condescend or to patronize the one we are to help thinking that such a one is less than us, which is the most wicked form of prejudice.  Beware that we are not overtaken by our own "goodness'.  It is a fine and a dangerous line to tread without prayer.  I still feel discomposed when I remember the "tithe" that I made based on pride and needless to say, this proved to be fruitless to put it mildly.

2) PRAYER AND LOTS OF IT because it is the leading of the Holy Spirit that will direct to whom to give, what to give, how much to give, and how to give it.  Sometimes the better part of tithing is NOT to give, to stay still,  and wait for God's bidding.

3) A DISCERNING AND AN ASTUTE MIND because a budget has to be set.  One has to determine  what one can afford to give.  Tithing is meant to be painless and an act of compassion first towards ourselves and then towards others.  We cannot give what we do not have.  And God frowns upon unnecessary and thoughtless suffering.  However it is amazing to discover how much we have, in surplus even, once the desire to tithe takes root in our hearts.  The collateral advantage of paying heed to this desire is having our financial house put in order, properly placing things where they belong, giving to Caesar what is Caesar's and, to God what is God's.  It is akin to putting together an investment portfolio that pays rich dividends in unforeseen and unforetold ways and more importantly, this market of justice never crashes.  The ancient truth holds true, what you sow you reap.

4) A GRATEFUL HEART because a grateful heart is a merciful and a forgiving heart.  Sometimes untoward and unintended consequences happen to a tithe.  Tithe is sweat, blood and tears as it is a by-product of hard work.  Therefore we want it to benefit whom we intended it would.  My Mom was on her way to bring alms to church when she was robbed.  During 9/11 donations poured in for the Twin Tower victims via an organization only to find out later, that the organization's administration was bogged down by corruption.  Is it possible that God redirected the money to someone who needed it more...can our heart grasp the possibility of such seeming impossibility?  Once we have discerned what to give after prayerful meditation, the moment the tithe leaves our hands, it goes on its way according to God's plan for it.  We have to let it go to do what it must.

5) HOPE, the deep knowing that we tithe because it is the right thing to do irrespective of the cost to us, or even irrespective of the rewards to us.  I have yet to meet a consistent tither who has not been abundantly blessed by it.  Tithing in itself is its own irrepressible benediction, it frees us from anxiety, and it makes us fearless.  It has its own justifying power that is outrageously beyond-the-pale.  If one does not believe in a Benevolent God one will never comprehend the seemingly unlikely relatedness of one current good event to another future good event or even an event that was considered not good now that turns out to be good later.  I know of someone who does not see the connection of his demeaning ways to his subordinates and the pathetic suffering of his autistic son.  Can you fathom how those two phenomena are possibly cause-and-effect?  How can one have more if one has given away?  The more we give, the more we receive.  Poor mathematics.  Paradoxical.  Counter-intuitive.  But true. A devoted tither does not assume returns.  Yet good fortune happens to him and his.  For a personal example, I just was several months into my employment contract at the hospital when I had to leave it to take care of my full licensure.  I had no emergency fund yet as I was newly employed.  It took me six months of unemployment before I was reinstated to the same contract.  How did I survive?  The federal income tax refund check that I thought I lost turned up and the funds were just enough to meet all my needs during that period of time. Is this supernatural, or superstition, or plain, old coincidence?

As part of the tithing culture in my family, we attend to the following as best we can:

1)  Visit the sick.  Respect the sick, including their privacy and their dignity.  Do not insist to visit, to call or bring gifts if they do not want you to.  Be present but do not overwhelm.

2) Go to wakes.  In the Philippines wakes took place in the home.  My Dad admonished us to not pass by a house holding a vigil for the dead without paying respects.

3) Pay your bills right away since you have received the service already.  If you completed a job yourself, wouldn't you want to be paid as soon as possible also?

4) A debt must be paid.  When you don't, you not only dishonor your family and your ancestors and your God, you heap misfortune on yourself.  Unless it was rescinded by your creditor and even then,  you have a debt of gratitude that you pay back not necessarily to the creditor but forward, to someone else who arrives in your sphere of awareness and influence who now needs help.

5) Do not return to the store and get a refund for goods you have already used and enjoyed.  If that store goes bankrupt we are all affected negatively in one way or another.

6) Be fair. Expect unfairness. Wait and watch as God puts to right what was wronged.  Another personal example, for some unknown reason, our work scheduler was preventing me from working extra calls.  I was livid.  I prayed, if only to detoxify myself, and had no more expectation.  All of a sudden the scheduler became indisposed and there was no choice but to give the overflow work to me and guess what, my earnings from the overtime was greater than my basic one.

7) When you pray, pray for everyone, including the flora and the fauna and now including tectonic plates.  If everyone and everything is well, you will be assured wellness yourself.  Anything that is not to rights out there in the Universe will ultimately reverberate to affect all of us.

8) Never say never.  Never say:  "I am busy.", "I don't have money.", or "I definitely cannot."  This mentality closes off your own accessibility to grace and precludes God's power.  Words breathe and live.  Say instead: "I don't have it yet, but it is coming in God's good time."  "God-willing, it's on its way."  "Let me pray on it and see what I can do."  In the same token, if your knee is painful, don't say you're paralyzed because it is an insult to those who are.  Don't give food you cannot eat.  Don't give clothes you cannot wear.  Don't give anything that you yourself cannot use properly.  Ultimately, you are the final arbiter of what is good and useful.

9) Exercise the wisdom of 24 hours.  Who will be served better by this resource given the next 24 hours, you or me?  If I have something that will ease your burden, why should I not give it to you now?  If I did not give it to you, how would hoarding it help me?  Will I even remember fretting over today's decision tomorrow or at the same time next year?

10)  To increase, decrease.  If the vessel is full, it cannot take anymore.  It is more useful when it is empty.  God is best glorified through us when we act from our position of lackness and poverty because we give Him a wide berth to work in His miracles.


What do you do when you think you have nothing to give?

***In the first place, it should never occur to you that you have nothing to give.***

One has to bring one's soul into silence, to rest and be still, and to settle down comfortably into one's skin.  No matter what our external circumstances are, by virtue of our belonging to God, we are endowed with the power to multiply loaves and fishes...literally!!!  There are plentiful opportunities for gentleness, mercy and genuineness it we are open to them.  The only requirement is the desire to share to be unwaveringly rooted in one's soul so that God can act on it, enable you to be led where your personality, your wealth (you have more than you think) and even your poverty are best suited to be "the" response to someone's supplication.  In a somewhere unbeknownst to you at the moment, either in your locality or in the wider world, there is a someone on bended knees begging our Good God to answer his/her prayers. Here lies the calming and healing properties of tithing, where you are able to advance God's ministry by dint of who you are.  Because you might be "the" answer to this someone's prayer.  There is no one but you who can respond perfectly to the supplication and so only you are called to do the task.  No one else would suffice except you.  Be at ease.  You will know when you are called and then the Holy Spirit will guide you how to respond.  Unless you decide squarely though, the wealth of resources out there will stay inert, waiting patiently to be deployed under God's faithful auspices on your say so.

How does one develop a do-able and a fruitful system of tithing?

Make an inventory of your assets.  Everyone has an asset no matter how poor one is.  In my mind, the only poor person is one who has no desire whatsoever to share and that is indeed one pitiable person!  Your assets are your time, energy, talents, material possessions, money, demeanor.  Balance your checkbook. Pray and pray again.  Then pray some more.

God loves a cheerful giver.  So extend to others what you enjoy yourself.  What are your favorite things to do?  Are you an extrovert or an introvert?  Do you prefer working alone or in community?  Are you a good listener?  Do you love to read?  Are you good with numbers?  Do you love clothes and dressing up?  What is your expertise?  What is your avocation?  Do you love music?  Sports?  The outdoors?  Politics?  Are you a nurturer?  Do you like children including bratty ones?  Are you a day person or a night person?  Do you have an embarassment of riches like appliances, shoes, clothes, stuff, cash?  How would you like to be relieved of the burdens of such redundancy in your closets or bank accounts?  Will your spouse and children want to participate in these endeavors too?  Are you homebound and a great pray-er?  Know thyself and take it from there.  There is a reason to your gifts.

By managing your assets ("talents) wisely, you are not only present to those who are marginalized but more importantly you help avert more people from becoming vulnerable.  It is far easier to help someone who is down and out than to give a leg-up so that someone do not fall through the cracks.  It is a no-brainer to help a beggar, but the same person in better clothes might be more difficult to help even if the one critical help we provide will avert disaster for him.  We are so used to hierarchical levels of living that imagining a world where everyone is equal in everything is difficult to do.  More often than not, unintentionally perhaps, we contribute to the vulnerability of our world.  Hence, the value of prayer to open our eyes to what is true, to open our skin so we can leave it and enter into the skin of another and know what it is like to wear it, and to open our hearts to discern what is best for everyone to the boundless extent that God provides through our doing.




Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Mojo of Piety

Piety is the key to settling all differences.  Piety enables us to focus the prism of our differences into our one similarity - the humanity in all of us.  We have the same needs, the same longings, the same yearnings.  We need food, shelter and water to exist; we need safe socio-political and economic infrastructures to thrive. We want to be successful in our endeavors.  We long to be cared for and to be attended to as a dignified individual.  We long to be loved unconditionally.  We yearn for our better half, a healthy ecology for our children and our children's children, and we all wish to leave a noble legacy that will echo through the ages.

Family.  Community.  A world of communities in harmony.  I do believe that only an awesome fear of a goodly God can bring our tethering world into an axis of calm.  The humility which makes piety coherent dissolves all our negativities into our optimisms, our ideals into fruitful harvests, our finitude to our infinitude.  We are able to appreciate each other As We Are.  For example, I observed something in Ari that is all his own, which has nothing to do with his religion, just his essential God-given attribute.  He has a sweet and generous disposition.  He always was that, very passionate and abundant in giving.  It comes through in his demeanor unfeigned and it enhances his religiosity.  He makes his devotion to his religion persuasive.  His piety facilitates his becoming into God's Intent for him.   His religion does not take away from the God-given substrate from which he evolves.  It would be a travesty to his God if he abandoned the good that he was born with in an attempt to comply with the requirements of his religion.

Piety, this unconditional devotedness to God is marked by humility by definition and by necessity.  Humility is the core value of piety, its vis-a-tergo (force-from behind), its mojo.  When violence results from piety it is not piety.  When we cannot bring out the best in those whom we meet or within the limits of any given set of circumstances - this is not piety.  Many scoff at pious people because of the common understanding that piety is fanatical, shackling, fossilizing and as such causes agitation instead of calm.  That is NOT piety.  True piety is the actualizing of life in the fullness of God's expectations of that life - a life that is vibrant, nurturing and productive.  A pious person is a person who lives responsibly and peaceably, conducts business fairly, contributes to the good of his community, never hesitates to take the higher ground in matters major and minor, and respects the divine in everyone.  A pious person is never one who uses his religious constraints as a crutch to avoid his duties and responsibilities to the larger society.  Piety is a style of living that includes one and all in its ever-widening circle; a style of living that is patient when resources are long in coming and refuses to compromise ideals in the meantime;  a style of living that is ready to share even the most attenuated of gifts; a style of living that is wealthy with gratitude no matter how that life is put through its paces; a style of living where one finds true joy in the achievements of others and of course in one's own; a style of living where one does not hesitate to take peers along on the path to success; a style of living that upholds and fights for justice, compassion and mercy as a matter of faith.  Piety rocks - it is cool, energizing, freeing, wholesome, noble  and transformative when lived within the breadth and height and depth of its divine imperatives.  And the sine qua non of piety is humility.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

About the Author


Maria Nolita M. Banda, MD

Hello fellow seeker:

I am ecstatic to offer you this my first book, as an emphatic voice to advent durable peace in our selves and abroad.  I am one who has always lived my life in unlabeled and uncategorised ways.  I was formed and shaped by a cauldron of differences, from the time I was conceived in the Philippines to my adulthood in the States.   Which has been further enriched by my acquaintances of different peoples in their local cultures in my extensive travels half-the-world over.  I have also lived part of my age of discretion in New York where I was exponentially nurtured in the thoughts, emotions, visuals, smells, textures and sounds of a veritable melting pot of races, religions, social strata, sexual orientations, cultural mores.  My profession as an obstetrician-gynecologist, first as a house-officer-in-training in Manila and then as a hospitalist in Syracuse,  has given me intimate occasions into diverse family dynamics and other remarkably challenging human relationships in both Third World and First World settings.  I have learned that we can peaceably overcome the demands of our differences if we could but dignify the beauty of our humanity in all its grit and glory.

I welcome further discussion and any questions - visit nolibandamd.blogspot.com where your commentary can be posted.  Thank you.

Peace.


Title Page


                                 PAYAK

The Mojo Of Piety



Maria Nolita M. Banda, MD

Illustrated by Jessica Marie Banda-Smith
Foreword by John J. Ziegler, PhD


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Noblesse Oblige of Godliness

Devotion to a good God can only mean a safe, healthy and wholesome attitude towards life.   Godliness irrespective of the religious persuasion in which it is practised, obliges noble responsibilites toward a world that is balanced and pacific.  A world where everyone can fall-in-love, be welcome at weddings across orthodox religious borders because of a friendship that cannot be denied, build a family and live prosperously, raise children in a community of free peoples, live happily ever after with generations upon generations of rambunctious grand-children.  For me, this peaceable world is my favorite prophet Isaiah's prophecy incarnate and I quote:


    The wolf will live with the lamb,
          the leopard will lie down with the goat,
    the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
          and a child will lead them.
    The cow will feed with the bear,
          their young will lie down together,
          and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
    The infant will play near the cobra's den,
          and the young child will put its hand into the viper's nest.
    They will neither harm nor destroy
          on all my holy mountain,
     for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
          as the waters cover the sea.

The Archimedian point on which the burden of proof for Isaiah's illogical utopia rests with PAYAK.  Piety that is truly goodly and Godly is a powerful virtue in the hands of a humble person.  PAYAK abides by the faith that one is created in the image of God and is therefore omnipotent - the bold and daring potency to ease the suffering of the vulnerable wherever one encounters them, to help fulfill the promise of dreams and talents in a system of equal access to resources like education, health and gainful employment, to aspire for a society where everyone can exercise their right to excel and to be relevant, to promote a culture of life for the young and the old - this is true power.  What would it be like if everyone is free to exercise one's Faith devotionals, to avail of bread and water without putting one's life on the line, for children to play under a clear and benevolent sky without fear?   What would it be like to be altogether fear-free; to dwell in an anxiety-free space?  What would it be like to sleep through a quiet night, unafraid of violence, harassment or abuse of any kind?  What would it be like if the market place allows everyone to live up to a hard work ethic in a harm-free environment and be remunerated accordingly?  Throughout history religion has been maligned, used and manipulated to underwrite violence to the human spirit - using God's name in vain a million times over.    How can bloodbath be Godly?  How can unkindness towards another, gross or subtle, be of God?  How can curtailing the freedoms of another, which we desire and cherish for our own, be Godly?  Is not the God of all religions the same goodly God who has given everyone ~ i.e. of all creeds and races, of all sexual orientations, of all ages and phenotypes ( e.g. visual attributes), of all socio-economic strata ~ inalienable rights for a tranquil and full life?  From my unscholarly and simple perspective of matters religious and political, I can only conclude that it is not the religion but the practitioner of the religion who is at the crux of ill will - the unforunate misreading and misinterpretation of the dogma and the doctrine of the religion, calculatingly using these misconstructions to rationalize burning-at-stakes, holocausts, killing fields, oppressions, repressions, segregation, prejudices, caste systems and all forms of social immobility.

This book would not have been if Moshe and Noya excluded me from attending Ari and Menuha's Chareidi wedding by reason of my I-am-ness - I am Christian among other differences.  They could have used myriad perfectly acceptable excuses to un-include me.  In the early days whenever they invite me to their family's many milestones, Moshe teased me, saying:  "We love you even if you're Catholic!"  LOVE.  Perhaps after all has been said and done, this is what it is that binds us as friends all these years.  All my encounters with them, lovingly jeweled with beauty and with wisdom, have always been predicated on a staunch friendship which anteceded everything that has to do with religion.  Otherwise how does one explain all that is happily recorded within the pages of this book - the wonder of a true, enduring friendship that defies categorical explanations.  Humanity and compassion trump all else. It would have been desperately sad if we allowed anything to confine that which is so rich and exquisite and freeing.   I also trust that neither of us will do anything to harm the sanctity of this friendship no matter where God takes us and no matter how God puts it to the test.  Because of our "differences" we do not carelessly take anything for granted - we are esteemably respectful of each others's sensibilities.

Since I have lived it, I wish everyone the capacity for hospitable openness to people, places, and events one may deem different from what is familiar.  By this I mean zero pre-conceived notion.  One of the uncanny sequelae of this life-altering event is that I have become a deeper seeker into my own religion just as much as I exult in their progress in their own religion.  How true what my Dad used to say - The New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament and the Old Testament is revealed in the NewTestament.  I feel a sense of security when Moshe and Noya respond to my request for prayer at the Qottel; and I meditate on their prayer requests to me as fervently as if I was meditating for my own.  Maybe because I do not intellectualize the religion, I feel God with such ardent enchantment in our friendship.  Or maybe it is as simple as practising without equivocation basic decency toward and respect of the other.  When we are together, we are in what Pre-Celtic (i.e. pagan charism) Mythology calls a "Thin Place" - a sacred space where we are with God just like being under the chupa.  Whatever it is, I wish all of us the humility to enter into the salt of an exquisite friendship like I enjoy with Moshe and Noya,  and bask in its life-giving Light.








Introduction: Who is PAYAK?

Payak is a Tagalog word which in its direct and literal translation to English means the adjective "simple".  When it describes a person, it also connotes humility which is how I use it in this small book.

Payak is a person who is humble, unassuming, plainspoken, still, and true.  Payak accepts one's strengths and limitations, each of which are reverentially referred to a providential Creator and so there is no accommodation for defense of nor desire to prove one's self.  It is unconflicted in one's spirit that all is of God therefore one can only be grateful, forgiving and patient with one's self.  Because one is secure in the brave specifications of one's divine purpose as a unique creation of a good God, one can afford the same measure of gentleness toward one's fellow human beings who can be great one moment then flawed in another.  One has the capacity to exult a heroic deed and to forgive a destructive one.   Payak instantly invokes a safe milieu of honesty whenever and wherever one is present and with whomever one is.   There is never an aspect of dissimulation aware that any form of dissembling is the beginning of violence.  One sees reality for what it is, addresses it dispassionately and appropriately recognizing that every one, thing and event is perfect in God's world and timing.  Payak believes that standing down is more often the best part of valor if doing so will assure the greater good, as such always in an attitude of forgiving.  Payak can immerse in any substrate and absorb it without judgment because there is no anarchy of needs to be other than one  is.  Payak thrives in obscure equanimity yet actively acquits one's being by the effects of one's actions on a larger world.  It is the soothing effect of how Payak achieves what one must that marks one's presence.  Payak is everything and is nothing.  One owns everything and one owns nothing; nothing can be added or subtracted from Payak.  Payak is whole and integral.  Payak is fearless.  And such is the sheer crystal-clarity afforded by humility - the freedom to be one's self, inclusive of the magnificent dignity "self"  implies.  And the precious corollary to this is - the humble person cannot but hallow the freedoms of another human being as a matter of course.  This is what I meant by PAYAK -  a person who incarnates the humility to be free to be one's self and by dint of one's nature as such, the gift of freeing others to be and to become who they are.  PAYAK promotes endless, fecund possibilities for peace in one's self, in one's locality and in the world and therefore is productive of healthful fruits that reverberate creatively to infinity.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Preface

Friendship was the rock on which this work was founded.  Every experience that came on its heels was made sacred by the authenticity of every soul that made this journey rich and memorable.  This small book is my meager offering to advent durable PEACE in our world.

This book evolved from a blog of my exotic and esoteric religious experiences when I fulfilled a promise to a friend that I will attend his wedding no matter where it would take place, no matter when.  In meeting what was required to stand by my word, I not only traveled many, many hours across the seas but I also found myself immersed in Chareidi religion and in all aspects of life that was in faithful keeping with the ancient practices of its Old Testament rituals.  It has to be said at this point that I am a Catholic Christian and that I am a pious Catholic Christian.  This difference in the manner in which we exercise our Faith is at the crux of the thesis that is developed in this small book.  My trip took on a supernatural spiritual adventure that delved me deeper into my own faith in God, a study in inclusivity and wider understanding of who my God is.  It was not something I preplanned since I did not know what to expect in the first place; it just happened on its own.  I think it cannot help itself from evolving the way it did because I decided to be healthfully receptive and responsive to the unanticipated mystical growth that unfolded unmitigatingly under an Auspice Greater Than Me.  In choosing a stance of stillness I unwittingly catalyzed this beyond-amazing destiny to come into its powerful denouement and do its religious dazzling in me by me not placing prejudiced psychological obstacles in its path.  I simply dedicated myself to every Chareidi experience;  I was focused, uncluttered and attentive.   I held every encounter in reverence.  I just did!  Without forethought.  As I pondered the relevance of this uncanny chapter in my age of reason,  I became convicted with the fact that PEACE in myself and in my larger world is absolutely arrivable through the humility of a person, and even through the piety of the religious irrespective of creed and,  I also learned that genuine friendships can antecede religion.

Each dated blog is a journal, a travelogue, and a meditation all-in-one.  The earlier blogs are narratives of the experience itself and the later ones are reflections on that experience.  And interspersed are autobiographical flashbacks to provide perspective.  The travelogue is to an imagined place of beauty and peace.  Epigraphs with illustrations serve as pragmatic dividers as well as stand-alone, quick triggers for meditation.  I invite you to vicariously enjoy this trip with me and to dwell self-effacingly inside the same contemplative space I occupied.  That in doing so you might draw insights into your own relationship with your God, your self and your neighbors, irrepressibly opening yourself up to the rich possibilities of your life for peace.

The generic relationships you will encounter in these blogs are listed as follows with names and places romanticized to preserve anonymity and privacy:

Moshe - a colleague who became a friend
Noya - Moshe's wife who also became a friend; they are a unit
Yochanan, Barukh and Ari - the three sons of Moshe and Noya
Menuha - Ari's fiancee
Yoel and Sapir - Menuha's parents
Menuha's brothers and in-laws - Tobiah, Meir, Marni and Hava
Libi - Sapir's Mother
Iyov - Ari's best friend
Shmuel and Orit - special friends of Ari
The 12 Children of Shmuel and Ori
Mayim - Yaffa's Mother
Miryam, Rani, Shifra and their respective families - Ari's friends
Katy - My professor in French at Onondaga Community College (OCC) in Central New York


Dedication

To every effort to achieve freedom from fear for all peoples

Postscript

Christmas:  Feast of Light

It is the blush of LOVE that blooms unselfconsciously.
It is BEAUTY encapsulated in the quiet joy of a sincere glance
or a deep smile that irrepressibly restores TRUST in an otherwise cynical universe.
It is INNOCENCE of babies sleeping and
of children playing which reminds us of our FREEDOMS.
It is ostentatious OPTIMISM that in spite of inevitable fractures in our lives,
there is Holy Proof of the occult symmetries of JUSTICE.
It is audacious HUMANITARIAN acts which fertilize the soil with KINDNESS.
It is any small, brave movement towards COMPASSION
which makes time and space safe and soft.
It is good things we fathom in the SIMPLICITY of our hearts
like FAMILY,  FRIENDS,  PEACE.
When any of these take hold, Heaven kisses Earth for one eternal moment...
and it is CHRISTMAS.

Acknowledgement

There are three persons who fueled my ambitions for this book which culminated to its successful completion and publication and hence, to whom I will be forever indebted:

Jeffrey Howard, the telephone airline representative who lavishly extended himself to me so that he singlehandedly redeemed his company's shortcomings in my eyes.  Without his tenacious hard-work ethic,  I would not have been where I should be when I should be, and this book would not have been.

Jessica Marie Banda-Smith, my niece and god-daughter, whose illustrations captured the spirit of my book that then encouraged me in ways I cannot sufficiently articulate.  I consider it a significant milestone to see the three-dimensional product of our work, as well as its electronic equivalent,  that bear our names together.

John J. Ziegler, PhD whose critique and guidance I trust and respect, proved incalculable in the editing of this book to its finer version.  I was moved beyond expression by the alacrity with which he responded to my request to write the Foreword.  When he said yes I knew that all will be well with this book.


Thank you
to EVERYONE
who made this
endeavor
a beautiful
experience.

Universal Sacraments

Sacraments are tools available to all of us for making hallow even the most mundane encounter in any existential situation.  I have yet to experience a religion who does not encourage its practitioner to constant prayer whose ultimate goal is awareness of God at every moment of every time at every place.  Constant prayer seems to be the mark of the pious no matter to which faith they belong.  The life of truly pious people is one whole prayer - they know God is in every one, in every place, in every time and in every thing; they know that ALL THAT IS is in God's perfection.  There is nothing in their world that is not of God.

***The Sacrament of Bread

Is there a culture that does not revere bread, both from a  religious and a secular perspective?  Breaking bread is the signal event for coming together of kindred spirits, of sharing, of fellowship, of nurturing.  There is nothing like sharing a meal to ease the soul, strengthen the body, and inspire the mind.

***The Sacrament of Word

The world was created with Words.  And God pronounced it good.  A good word is formed by a good mind and inspired by a good God.  Word has power.  Word can inflate or deflate, inspire or inflame, affect or infect, heal or crush, beatify or condemn.  Word reflects thought.  We are free to choose healthy, optimistic and fertile words.  We can use words that will elevate our mood, defy misery, and inspire achievement.  Indeed we have the unique power to choose words that will move us ever forward into an irresistibly successful future.

***The Sacrament of Money

The best communicator in all languages is money - efficient, effective, powerful.  It also does not require translation.  It is the currency that enable us the agility to navigate our way around our world.  It is a good thing to have.  Why then is it considered ill-advisedly?  Because of how we earn it and manage it.  If I had a dollar and a quarter of it has been acquired dishonestly, the whole dollar is tainted and will not bear good fruit.  However a dollar that has been earned credibly will multiply in ways that will mystify the mind.  Also whenever we share it, this fruit of our honest labor, its blessings are exponential.

***The Sacrament of Things

Things, objects of our affections, symbols of our arrival, are often maligned as evil tempters and tormentors.  But they are an expression of ourselves.  Anything that has been touched with our hands becomes imbued with the divine.  And when we use these things to alleviate the plight of a suffering neighbor, they become kindness objectified.

***The Sacrament of Flowers

Flowers in all their colorful and fragrant glories are the very epitome of all that is ephemeral in our world.  They seed, they grow, they bloom, then they wither and then, may reseed and the cycle of reincarnation resumes.  This is their reason for being - to dazzle us with their beauty and transientness.  There is death that follows life and then, followed by life again.  That change is the only thing for certain.   And that this moment, replete with the innocence of possibility, is the only measure that is eternal.

***The Sacrament of Water

Simple yet complex.  Life-giving but can be treacherous.  Pure, potable water is premium these days.  It is the gold of our time.  We have to respect it and our essential need for it -  all of us on this Earth cannot thrive without it.  Therefore we have to tread softly and take good care of this planet in which we live.  We have to do our part in maintaining its purity for the health of us and of all those to follow us.

***The Sacrament of Nothing

Buddhism is an entire religion dedicated to the pursuit of nothingness or emptiness.  The desert fathers also have made an obsession out of exotic poverty such as only bleak desert conditions could accrue.  Minimalism in design have mesmerized those thirsty for something that is nothing.  All these I believe is in the pursuit of purity, clarity, transparency, honesty and simple cleanliness.  It is the pursuit of richness in silence.  We are so cluttered by so much that emptying is the only way by which we can even glean the God that has been buried underneath all that debris we call civilized trappings.  Silence.  Solitude.  The fruits of these - finding who we are beneath all the seductive trimmings - the gift of self, the gift of God, the I AM.

***The Sacrament of Extravagance

Our God is an extravagant God and so, should we be.  If we are to extend ourselves to our neighbor, especially those who have need of our presence or of anything under our stewardship, we must give of these with no holds barred.  We must always claim abundance.  We are to die with every cell in our body used up and burned out.  God did not stop creating until Adam was un-lonely in the Garden of Eden.  We are not to band-aid a problem, we are to help resolve it completely.  Anything that is brought to our attention requires us to address it fully.  We are to respond with alacrity trusting with fidelity that we are fully equipped to take care of the matter.  Claim possibility with the audacity of Faith - nothing is ever impossible with God.   A miserly God is a contradiction in terms and so is a miserly pious person.

***The Sacrament of Time

Time is finite.  It is what we do with it that confers infinitude to it.  No one can buy time yet what we would give to have more of it.  Time ~ time is the best gift we can give one another.  Time ~ is also the one best gift we can offer God.  Time is precious and fleets by quickly; we need to manage it wisely with the respect it so deserves.

***The Sacrament of Body

Our physical body is the vessel that contains our Soul, that which is the Divine Essence that uniquely sets us apart from the rest of Creation.  We have only one body and one soul.  It therefore makes perfect intelligence to take meticulous care of our bodies as we do our souls.  There is only but one way to manifest a healthful God and that is through the agency of a healthy body.

THESE, I BELIEVE.

I believe that even if we had to choose and were not born into our religions that all religions are chiral isomers of each other.  Everything that is native to one's self is not of one's choosing, is it not?  The country where we are born and the time when we are born.  What events in history have a claim to fame and memory at the time of our arrival into this world.  We do not choose our parents and their religion, nor if they are atheists or pagans.  We do not choose our gender.  We have no control over our baby, toddler and latent formative years.

I believe that we live at a time in human history that is potent with creative and constructive possibilities at the same time that we live in such turbulent times with all its destructive tendencies.  The classic tension between good and evil has been with human history since when we cannot remember because it is that long, long ago.

We mortals are no more than a breath (Psalm 39).  The mortal body is made of simple elements not unlike those that make up the ocean, the dunes, the ferns, the gazelles, the mice...but each of us is made unique by the Divine Breath that animated us.  Whether we are believers or not, there is no going around the existence of God.  Even the atheists have to negate Something for one cannot negate something that does not exist.   There is no such thing as secular -  everyone and everything, sentient and non-sentient, is imbued with the Divine.  Material things can be sacred in that they are designed by human mind and crafted by human hands both of which are fashioned by a Creative God. Why then can we not everlastingly potentiate our breaths with all that is godly - instead we easily indulge ourselves in an anarchy of breaths.  We conduct our lives impersonally to numb us to the pain that we know our action has the potential to inflict - we create non-negotiable mechanisms to get this done with dispatch instead of opening ourselves to goodwill.  The caste system is alive and well everywhere.  Subtle though it might be in certain societies like the United States for example, but if not held in check will unravel the very fabric that made America great.   Every day there are power struggles, inner and outward battles, and one and all is oblivious to the untold hurts of such pebbles in our shoes.  Life has to continue - dawns and dusks come and go as if nothing extraordinary is happening in the hearts of mortals.  This is why some of us refuse to believe in God because if we did, we will struggle endlessly with what is right and what is wrong.  It is inconvenient and burdensome and annoying to daily examine our actions and the sequelae of those actions.  Doing what is right does not spare one from the struggles inherent in the the doing of the good.  We will then have to act in honorable ways and will have to confer respect to each other - irrespective of where we came from, who we are, the color of our skin, how we praise our God, what lifestyle we choose - and nothing is binary with that approach, i.e. it will behoove us to think outside the box, stretch our souls to accommodate another's and probably jeopardize ourselves in the doing which is our greatest fear (understandable if we subscribe to the simplistic cause and effect axiom).  We cannot just plug in people like figures in an equation and if it does not balance then, instead of working out the formula, we abandon the equation.  Delete people like we delete things in our computers.  Righteousness is even frowned upon in our larger world, isn't it?  Closeted piety is more common than we realize in our time, sad but true.  I do believe that deep in the foundation of our being is the desire for God, the Absolute Goodness, Order, Beauty and Truth who will put an end to our tiresome need to explain the mysterious raison d'ĂȘtre  of all that is and simply bask in the joy of it.  We also have the deepest desires for rituals and festivals, for family and community, for observances and practices.  Hence I arrive at understanding with clarity why those who commit to living out these essential truths come together in tight-knit communities in order to be free in worshiping God as they see fit.  I also believe that all religions can co-exist harmoniously if we know our God as we ought to.









Monday, February 18, 2013

A Bowl of Mitzvot

When I first heard the word mitzvah I was utterly intrigued. What is a mitzvah?  It means "a good deed".   Many, many sunrises  later  I learned that it strictly meant "a commandment".  In my sentimental ruminations,  I imagined I had a physical bowl of mitzvot, then I asked my self:  "What would be in it?".

As time passed, I came to understand that a mitzvah is the singular mechanism by which I can actualize my self - the only venue by which I can completely trans-substantiate the Divine Breath that had animated me in the first place.  I become fully my self by giving of myself.  I only own that which I give away.  I cannot exist out of context of my present world and of my present time and of my present neighbors.  I cannot live only for my self if I wanted to live meaningfully and purposefully.  It is by emptying me that I become whole.  For every good deed that issues from me could be the response to a prayer, could inspire someone who needs uplifting, could lighten the yoke of someone with a heavy burden, could warm someone who is dreadfully cold, could countenance a smile or a chuckle, could be anything simply optimistic and healthy.  Hence anything I do or do not do is a manifestation of the stance of my spirit.  My beliefs are translated in my demeanor.  My actions are aligned with my creed.  By doing so I maintain a symmetrical relationship between my God vertically and my neighbor horizontally.  I am in balance and I become integral.  As I use up my self, I become more useful.  I am replenished as I give away.  By emptying my self I am never truly empty because I become a useful vessel to contain and then to transmit, convey, transport - with the end in view of making life lighter for another and the world gentler for everyone, and delighting all souls in these wondrous graces.  This is a manifest of the belief in a God who is benevolent, providential and graceful - hence I approach my world and all that is in it in the same benevolent, providential and graceful generosity.  My behaviors cannot be diametrically opposed to my God.

The God of the Old Testament kept the Jewish people occupied with feasts and rituals in accord with 613 mitzvot - I believe the idea is to focus attention on God, exult, adore and thank Him through these  busy chores.  These keep the soul away from the harmful snares and lures of the devil.  In the Christian tradition, especially in our home which was headed by my Dad who was Protestant, we manifested our love of God through what is referred to as tithing although we went over, above, beyond and in-depth of the narrow definition of the word.   Amongst Buddhists practitioners who made compassion a trendy concept, in its purest form, compassion has no limits in time, space and resources.  In all religions, every one thing one does to advance the good of all in the world is a mitzvah.  It is compassion incarnate.  It is a tithe that represents all the best of one's harvest.  Therefore living life in all its sacred nuances is itself a prayer, a good deed, a tithe or can be if one commits to living life to its fullest wonder.  In monastic terms, such a way of life is considered contemplative, i.e. prayer, meditation, activity are inseparable.  Everything is adoration of God - there is no defined edge where one begins and the other ends.  This way of life is a tranquil and gentle life, generous and prosperous beyond one's comprehension.  This is heaven on earth.