Sound Listen…

What’s your favorite sound?  Seriously!  Think about that for a second…what is your favorite sound?   I have several…

  • the congregation saying the Lord’s Prayer in unison
  • different languages being spoken in an international airport
  • my brother laughing
  • the Adhan calling the people to prayer

These sounds fill my heart until my eyes almost overflow with tears.

In January, I spent five days at KAICIID, an international center for inter-religious dialogue in Vienna, Austria, as part of their International Interfaith Fellows program.  Twenty-two religious leaders, from 14 countries, representing 5+ religious traditions gathered for five days of training and community building.  Diverse only begins to describe this beloved community,  We reflect the breathtaking beauty of creation!

© Katharina Schiffl / KAICIID

From Myanmar and Serbia, from Nigeria and Argentina, from Saudi Arabia and the United States, we learned about inter-religious dialogue as a tool for conflict transformation and peace building. had five full days of training.  Sounds pretty complex.   The reality is, we reminded ourselves to LISTEN!   We all spoke with our own thick accents – forcing us to listen carefully whenever another spoke.  We learned to listen for fact, feelings, and values.  We learned to listen to body language and other non-verbal communication.  We were inspired to LISTEN – with our hearts!

KAICIID Review

We have this opportunity every day at Emory University!  We, too, are a beloved community reflecting the breathtaking beauty of creation!  We are bombarded with opportunities to listen, to learn, and to be transformed so that we can be agents of transformation in the world.

In 2018, let’s practice our listening!  Listen for your favorite sound! Discover sounds that fill your heart until tears flow from your eyes.  Listen to the world around you!  Listen to others!.  Listen to your heart!  Listen for the voice of God!

Be still….

Take a deep breath….

LISTEN….Listen….listen…

I invite you to  share your favorite sounds in the comment section.  Come back and share each time you discover a new one!

Rev. Lisa Garvin
Associate Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life
Emory University, Office of Spiritual and Religious Life

 

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Happy New Year!

happy new year

 

RECIPE FOR A HAPPY NEW YEAR

-author unknown

Take twelve whole months.

Clean them thoroughly of all bitterness, hate, and jealousy.

Make them just as fresh and clean as possible.

Now cut each month into twenty-eight, thirty, or thirty-one different parts, but don’t make up the whole batch at once.

Prepare it one day at a time out of these ingredients:

Mix well into each day one part of faith, one part of patience, one part of courage, and one part of work.

Add to each day one part of hope, faithfulness, generosity, and kindness.

Blend with one part prayer, one part meditation, and one good deed.

Season the whole with a dash of good spirits, a sprinkle of fun, a pinch of play, and a cupful of good humor.

Pour all of this into a vessel of love.

Cook thoroughly over radiant joy, garnish with a smile, and serve with quietness, unselfishness, and cheerfulness.

You’re bound to have a happy new year.

Reflections on Fall and Things Yet Unknown

I was driving home early on Friday morning a couple weeks ago. Stopping at a traffic light I leaned forward to look up at the moon, but only found myself staring at the black night sky between an intrusively bright street lamp and the pale glow of the moon. It was nice to look at nothing. There were no stars, no satellites, no anything. Just nothing. Like anyone with a ‘theological’ background I began to make something out of the nothing up there in the sky between the moon and the street lamp.

What I settled on was the value of the human; the inherent dignity of a person. It is found in the darkness between the streetlight and the light of the moon. It is in the liminality of no answers and seeking answers. It is suffering and celebration all at once in the lightless space that we find ourselves in communion with one another through difference and shared concerns and joys of life’s experiences. Without the space between the light of all that we are perceiving, where else do we have to explore things yet unseen and hidden by the darkness together?

It is nearing the end of the fall semester. Supposedly winter is coming, but there is little indication of its arrival. There is very little indication of anything certain that the future is bringing. Nothing known and yet all things being known are becoming known with each passing moment. The content of the next chapter in Chemistry before the exam is becoming known with each passing moment. The stories of race in America as told through the voice of poets throughout the ages is becoming known throughout each moment. And then there is everything in between the two, all becoming known in its own moment.

fall-autumn-red-season   There is a short story called the Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Bascaglia. Our college choir director, Dr. Albert Hughes, read it to us every autumn as the leaves were turning brilliant hues or red, orange, and yellow. You can read the story here https://achievebalance.com/spirit/theleaf.htm, but spoiler alert: There is a synopsis is below.

The story is one of life, love, curiosity, and knowing. Freddie the leaf lives a full life of growth, learning from a mentor, falling in love, growing old, and eventually he falls silently to the ground to give himself back to the tree and new leaves in the Spring. These are the things of life. These are the things the future holds in its grasp of uncertainty. How well will that exam really go? Will my roommate want to live with me next semester? What am I actually going to pick for my major? Is there a job out there for me? What is this thing they call college debt and how will it impact my ability to be happy? Will I fall in love? Will I find a mentor to confide in and from whom I can learn and grow? When will I see life change in dramatic ways?

In the dark space between the street light and the moon, I find these kinds of questions for myself. I can seek them out and begin to choose what some of those answers are going to be. That’s the beautiful thing about not knowing what the future has in store for us. We get the chance to make it what we want through our furious curiosity and absolute determination to pursue dreams and pursue them in each of their own moments that we create for them. Most purely and simply, the space between two lights, where only the empty darkness fills the expanse is the chance to dream. Before any of us know it, we will be making those dreams happen, making life come flowing from the darkness, to then begin to explore more expanses of darkness and what other unknowns we might create in our futures.

Rev. Kevin Crawford
Assistant Chaplain, Office of Spiritual & Religious Life

Journeys of Reconciliation

Reconciliation

Journeys of Reconciliation is a hallmark program of Emory’s Office of Spiritual & Religious Life!  For more than 30 years, we’ve offered students, faculty, staff and alumni a trans-formative experience of domestic and international travel to communities with a history of conflict.  In these communities, we explore the root causes of conflict, listen to the joyous and tragic stories of people and organizations that work for peace and justice, and learn how to be agents of justice and peace. In May, we will travel to South Africa and explore race, memorials and reconciliation.  Learn more and apply here: Journey to South Africa.

Reconciliation is a political term and a religious term – regularly debated and widely criticized.  Fundamentally, reconciliation is about “right relationship” – a relationship hoped for even when it is not fully realized.  Reconciliation cannot be realized alone.  It requires multiple parties, whole communities, and a commitment to mutuality.

Twenty-four hour news networks and our own social media feeds indicate that today’s polarized environment values strong opinions and powerful voices.  The cacophony of loud voices trying to be heard over others plays itself out in society – Charlottesville, police shootings, healthcare policy, and the list goes on.

Journeys of Reconciliation take us into communities to be transformed by stories of struggle, oppression, liberation, and healing.  Journeys is an opportunity to participate in the story of the world through listening.  Journeys is not a “mission trip” –  we do not seek to offer reconciliation to the communities we visit.  Rather, we enter communities with a spirit of courageous inquiry and respectful curiosity – to hear the stories of a difficult history, painful and life-giving truth telling, and visions of a hope-filled future.  In our listening, we offer opportunities for healing to those we meet as we learn about the world, humanity, and ourselves.  Having listened to the stories of South Africa, we imagine how we contribute to inclusive and justice communities at Emory and beyond.

Journey to South Africa Video

Rev. Lisa Garvin
Associate Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life

A Cry of Lament

On October 2, 2017, I woke up to the news that a single shooter opened fire during a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, killing 59 and injuring over 500 people. I was in shock.  It seems like there is a new tragedy every other day; how much more pain, death, or destruction are we expected to endure?  For most of the day I could not find words to describe what I was feeling.

Many people expressed feelings of anger, confusion, and sadness. Jimmy Kimmel, host of Jimmy Kimmel Live, bravely opened that night’s monologue in lament. Unsuccessfully fighting back tears, he acknowledged that this is the kind of event that makes you “wonder why,” “makes you want to give up” and is “too much to process”.  Jimmy Kimmel said the things so many of us were thinking, but haven’t been able to say. I have friends and colleagues that shared their concern and anger, but admitted they had not been able to cry. They are fearful that they have become numb to such tragedies. They pray, encourage others to pray, and mobilize relief efforts if appropriate, but they do not weep. In the wake of recent tragedies, one pastor friend admitted what he really wanted to do was crawl in his bed, pull the covers over his head and weep. He did not feel he had permission to fully lament the loss of life, the pain, or the state of the country.

For the past two months I have been writing, preaching, and talking about the need to lament. When I was able to find my voice yesterday, I told as many people as I could that it is okay and necessary to lament and to allow others to do the same. Our nation and the world has experienced so much pain that I am convinced if there is ever a time to lament, individually AND communally; it is NOW.

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints.
Psalm 77: 1-3

Let’s be honest, since the events of Charlottesville there has been plenty about which to lament: DACA changes, the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, flooding in parts of Africa, earthquakes in Mexico, and threats of nuclear bombing. That is just in the last two months! Additionally, there are the events that are happening in people’s personal lives and communities: lack of employment, failing relationships, depression, police brutality, injustice against LGBTQ individuals, health battles… just to name a few. People are broken and have questions for God. And rightfully so, but somewhere along the line, we have been told that we should not cry out and we certainly should not express our anger toward or question God. When tragedy strikes, we are told to pray and praise through the situation. But what about when something like Charlottesville or Las Vegas happens? Or a loved one dies? Or there is a devastating health report and you just don’t have a prayer or a praise? People in the church do their best to maintain the expectation of the church being a source of hope and encouragement by advising people to accept these events as God’s will.  In doing so they discourage anger and questioning, often indicating that expressions of lament demonstrate a lack of faith.

But is that healthy? No.

Is that what the Bible teaches? No.

The Bible certainly points to hope and praise, but the book of Lamentations and the lament Psalms remind us that we do indeed have permission to lament, crying out to God, questioning God, and even yelling at God. For example, in Psalm 77 the Psalmist expresses feelings of abandonment by God. Verses seven through nine is a list of questions posed to God during his pain: “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has God’s steadfast love ceased forever? Are God’s promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has God in anger shut up his compassion?” Have you ever felt like this? Have you felt like everything that could go wrong in life is going wrong and you have prayed and praised and it does not seem God hears you?

‘Will the Lord spurn for ever, and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love ceased for ever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?’

Psalm 77: 7-9

I have certainly felt that way. 18 years ago, I experienced a devastating loss; my daughter died during childbirth. I was broken, angry with God, and had questions: “How could God let this happen? Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” I did not know how to move forward, and because I am a “good Christian woman,” I continued going to church, I continued to serve on church committees, attend Bible study, and praise God.  But my praise was not genuine and I felt empty inside. It was not until my pastor gave me permission to truly lament that healing began. She assured me that God was big enough to handle my pain and anger. I cried, I yelled, and said all the things I was afraid to say to God before.  And guess what? I didn’t get thrown into the flames of hell and God didn’t stop loving or blessing me! In fact, amid my lament I realized God was present in my darkness. God was there the entire time waiting for me to be my honest and authentic self so I could feel God’s love for me. Like the ending of many of the lament Psalms, I could remember God’s signs of favor from the past; light broke through darkness and hope entered.

I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples. 

Psalm 77: 11-14

Acknowledging pain and hurt does not indicate a lack of faith; being able to engage God honestly and authentically shows profound faith in God’s love for you. During our darkest hour, during the time when we have questions about why a whole island can be destroyed by a hurricane or how a young woman can be run over in Charlottesville while defending the voiceless, God wants us to bring our pain and grief to God.  In doing so our hearts will be opened, light will break through the darkness, and hope will reside.

This blog was initially posted in http://www.rethinkchurch.org/articles/recent-posts/a-cry-of-lament.

Angela Johnson, M.Div.
Interim Communications Coordinator
Emory Office of Spiritual & Religious Life

The Meaning of Life?

September always feels like the beginning of a new year, even more so than January 1st.  Although we mark that day with resolutions and retail sales, it’s still just the middle of winter with a long wait for spring.  But in September, the weather starts to change and so do we.  We anticipate (sometimes with a bit of anxiety) new academic opportunities and meeting new people.  We can also feel disoriented.  Both new and returning students will learn, in some areas, that the old rules no longer apply.  Yet, they will also be affirmed that previous lessons are the foundation for new learning.

When I began seminary many Septembers ago, a recent graduate said to me, “In the midst of all you will encounter here, remember two things.  Be and do.  Be and do.”  Over the years it has become an expanded mantra to me: “In being all I am created to be, I can do all I am called to do.”  Whether you profess to be a person of faith or not, you are on this planet for a reason.  Seeking meaning and purpose is a human instinct.  Is your purpose merely self serving, or connected to something greater than yourself?

Emory students are well known for their commitment to service and volunteerism.  In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, we are planning service trips for fall, winter and spring breaks.  We are writing checks and sending donations for relief.  In addition to this important work, this September, I am encouraging another type of reaching out within the Emory campus.  What would it look like if moved a few steps beyond our regular circle of friends?  When did you last take time to learn about someone with whom you have little in common?  We were created to be in community.  Humans thrive on connection.  One of Emory’s core values is to be a collaborative community that works for positive change. It’s how we were created to be.  What will YOU do to embody that vision and value?

Rev. Bridgette Young Ross
Dean of the Chapel and Spiritual Life

Welcome Home

Welcome back students! We are excited some of you are here and the rest of you are coming soon! This has been a very fast summer and for many a challenging one as well. This year we welcome you all back, and for many for the first time with a heart of embrace and a place to call home. As you arrive take note of the people around you. They are your family. They have come, just like you, with hopes and dreams of a bright future. They have also arrived with anxieties about being accepted for who they are. Maybe this is also you.

These are years you have to explore what it means to grow maybe one way and then maybe another. These are times you have to wonder about who you can be and how to live fully into who you already are. Emory is a place we as a community have committed to explore together the uniqueness of everyone’s discoveries and transitions. Our office is directed towards the religious and spiritual dimensions of your whole self, but does not neglect any one part of you. You are fully accepted and acknowledged by each of us. With the collaboration of campus ministers, rabbis, and religious life advisors from the five major world religions we seek to foster a practice of embrace across and for difference. We do this without requiring anyone to give up on his, her, or their own identities. You are encouraged to be yourself and flourish in doing so by being in relationships with those who are different from you.

Your differences are what make this community beautiful. They become part of the DNA of the college and the very thing that opens up opportunity for practicing authenticity and growth. As you arrive with all of your uniqueness and difference, arrive together. Arrive with hope that roommates and classmates, custodians and faculty, and everyone in between are all here to grow alongside you. Come with a prayer that because you have inherent value already, that you may be someone who can recognize and teach others how to see that value within themselves.

Be encouraged that you are not the only one encouraging others. Take heart that you are not alone and there are many others who are seeking to grow alongside you. Find practices early on that keep you connected to the people around you as well as grounded in your own self. Don’t become lost in the milieu of grandeur and excellence, but remember where you come from and share that deep meaning with your family. Make this your home.

Where the Green and Blue Meet in the Ocean

Vacation. It takes us away from everything that swells up in us and around us. Vacation draws our minds out of our regular selves and into a little bit of nothingness. That is until the community you care for publicly speaks out, in one voice. In loss.

I sat for a while feeling and thinking. It was early morning, raining, and quiet. I did not know Abinta or Faraaz, but my heart was touched and continues to hold fast to those who did. It isn’t our jobs to internalize the pain of students, faculty, and staff. It is our obligation, our foundation, and the meaning of our being to embrace those who are feeling loss. 

That is where we dwell. In an embrace of both solace and suffering. In where the green ocean meets the blue. Where comfort and fear mingle together. The safety of the shore so close

Christianity likes to use the word tension to describe the difference between our green and blue oceans. I’m not sure they have it right. It’s less tension and more mingling. 
When we touch grief, we leave a fingerprint of ourselves on someone’s loss and we in turn receieve a mark of someone on ourselves. 

It is our job as humans to not be afraid of someone’s grief. It is our job to not forsake someone to their despair. In fact, to do so is to deny the humanness and worth of someone’s existence. It precedes violence as a passive violent act in itself. 

Let us seek to live in the creativity of the green and blue as they mix in oceans. Let’s dwell in fear when we see it in others. Explore the depth of pain because in it we will discover things scare us and hurt us because we care and find meaning in the life we have and the dependency we have on each other. 

Weddings Across Faith

Weddings across different religions share certain ceremonies despite their sometimes dramatic ideological differences. While that may seem surprising at first, upon researching the history of different wedding traditions, there are many more similarities in their spiritual significance than one might realize. I decided to research the wedding ceremonies of Christianity and Hinduism, two religions that on the surface do not seem to have a lot in common at all, and what I found surprised me.

Kanyadaan and Giving Away of the Bride: In both Hinduism and Christianity the bride is given away to the groom as a sign of good faith and as a way for the family to show their support of the union. Just as a father walks his daughter down the aisle in a Christian wedding, in a Hindu wedding, the father (or maybe both parents of the bride) place their hands between their daughter and son-in-law to symbolize the “giving away of the bride”.

Mangal Sutra/Sindoor and Exchanging of the Rings: In both traditions the bride and groom trade physical objects meant to represent emotional and spiritual connections. For Christianity the bride and groom exchange rings, chosen due to their cyclical shape representing the infinite bond the two share. There is also a scriptural reference to the ring shape because God chose a rainbow, whose complete form is a ring, as a sign of his covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:12-16). In the Hindu tradition the groom gives the bride a gold necklace with small beads and places vermillion on her forehead to signify his eternal commitment to her and the new color and dimension in her life respectively.

Red and White Dresses: The whiteness of the bride’s wedding dress in the Christian faith represents the bride’s purity and innocence in her life and her reverence to God. It also references a passage from Revelation 19:7-8 where Christ clothes his bride, the church, in his own righteousness as a garment of “fine linen, bright and clean.” Although in Hinduism the bride wears much brighter colors, usually red, it is meant to represent the same innocence and purity. The only difference here is that the red also adds an element of passion and romance.

As someone who grew up watching shows like Say Yes to the Dress on TLC, it was always difficult for me to reconcile the reality of my Hindu tradition with the Christian environment I lived in. However, after doing this research and outlining the characteristics of the ceremonies I realized that although cultures can be different on the surface, their motivations are intrinsically very human and share similar beliefs.

~Kavya Sundaram

Eid Al-Adha— The Sequel

Eid Al-Adha is the second Eid, or religious holiday, that Muslims celebrate each year. This Eid is during the Islamic month Dul-Hijjah. During this month, Muslims from all of the world go to Mecca to complete the pilgrimage: Hajj. Eid celebrates the completion of Hajj. However, the true purpose of Eid is to honor and remember the Prophet Abraham and his son’s complete submission to God. Muslims believe that Abraham (pbuh: peace be upon him) received divine revelation from God instructing him to sacrifice his son, Ismael (pbuh). This was an immensely difficult test for Prophet Abraham (pbuh) because he loved his son dearly, but ultimately God came first. Prophet Abraham (pbuh) informed his son Ismael (pbuh) of the omen and Ismael (pbuh) did not hesitate and expressed to his father that if this was the will of God, then he is completely compliant. The wholehearted compliance of both Abraham (pbuh) and his son Ismael (pbuh) made evident the magnitude of their faith and trust in God. This concept of unconditional and devoted faith is defined in Islam as Iman, and this immense strength of Iman that Abraham (pbuh) and Ismael (pbuh)is what embodies the holiday and what Muslims every year remember and strive for. But the story doesn’t end there: Abraham (pbuh) and Ismael (pbuh) made their Iman completely evident in this test from God, and thus at the moment of sacrifice, God sent two lambs in the place of Ismael. Allah could have allowed Ismael to be sacrificed; a practice common in many different faiths, but His ultimate purpose was not to hurt the Prophet Abraham (pbuh) or his son, rather to test their devotion. This is so beautiful because it reminds us of God’s mercy and demonstrates that all that truly matters is that you fully spiritually submit to God. Iman is a fundamental basis of Islam and we are reminded of that on Eid.

Adorned in their best and brightest, Muslims attend Eid prayer. Eid day is started with a special prayer only performed on the two Eids and takes place a few hours after Fajr prayer. Muslims congregate in the mosque repeating the takbir which is a part of the special Eid prayer. They repeat the words, “Takbeer, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, La ilaaha il-lal-lahu, Allah Akbar Allahu Akbar, Wa lilAllahil hamd ” which translates to “ God is the greatest, God is the greatest, There is no one worthy of worship except God, God is the greatest, God is the greatest and to God belongs all praise. After the conclusion of the Eid prayer, Muslims usually enjoy a feast. Typically, mosques will host a potluck brunch in which families and friends gather with an array of various delicious dishes. After all our appetites are happily satisfied, the Muslims disperse to go partake in their own individual celebrations. My family visits other family and friends, sharing gifts and good wishes with everyone. The homes are filled with gleeful children who patiently wait for their Eidya: money given to teens and under on Eid. Delighted and youthful cheers accompany the chaotic exchange of small envelopes filled with dollar bills. Adolescents, toddlers, babies all receive goody bags filled with a colorful assortment of candies. Uncles, aunts, cousins and neighbors snack on homemade cookies while waiting for lunch to be prepared. Traditionally on Eid, Muslims will slaughter a lamb in memory of the Prophet Ismael and his devotion to Allah. The meat from the lamb is divided into thirds: one third for the family, another to be shared with the neighbors and the final third is to be given to the needy. In addition to giving a third of the meat to the needy, Muslims also must give Zakat, a tax which requires all Muslims to donate a specific amount of their income to the poor. Recently Muslims have performed the perfunctory tasks of slaughtering the lamb and giving Zakat virtually. Lambs can be purchased online and their meat can be sent to needy families across the globe. To still connect with the tradition, my family always serves lamb as the main dish. The remainder of the day is spent with family and friends rejoicing. Eid is a three-day long holiday, and for the remaining holiday days people attend dinners, parties, etc. It is embodied by the spirit of giving, sharing, helping and believing.

Eid translates to “celebration” in Arabic; thus the three day long period in which it lasts is full of celebratory events. During this three day period, Muslims of all cultural backgrounds are able to reconnect with Allah and remember what it means to be Muslim, to have complete faith in God. This time of spiritual reconnection and joyful celebration resonates with all Muslims. The commemoration of peaceful submission serves as an annual lesson for all Muslims, on the importance of peaceful surrender to God. Inshallah we will continue to peacefully interact and learn about Islam, during and after this holiday season! Salam and Eid Mubarak!

~Nora Elmubarak