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.