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

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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.

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

Just Because You Disagree With Me Doesn’t Give Me The Right To Think You’re Stupid

I may not agree with what you believe, but I will fight for your right to believe it.

This past weekend, I attended the Islamic Society of North America convention along with 30 other emerging religious leaders. Our group convened as part of the Shoulder to Shoulder campaign, an interfaith organization dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment. While I’ve always maintained a commitment to religious diversity in my work and education, this was the first time I was the religious minority. But ideologically, I still found myself comfortable in the majority as session after session confronted social justice issues important to the Muslim community.

Throughout the weekend as I listened to stories about what it means to be a Muslim-American, I thought harder about what it means to fight for someone else’s right to believe. In our interreligious circles we talk about going beyond tolerance to embrace and engage those who are different, and ultimately to respect and understand their belief system or worldview.

But what happens when someone’s belief system and worldview is so fundamentally different than my own? What if it contradicts my Truth, my understanding of justice, or my understanding of God’s will? Am I still called to embrace and engage them, respect and learn from them?

I say yes. Engagement doesn’t mean endorsement.

On a campus like Emory, we live in a progressive, forward-thinking bubble. I’ve seen it amongst many of my classmates in the Candler School of Theology. The classrooms we inhabit and our educational circles become safe places to be liberal, idealistic, and sometimes even a little radical. When we do so, our conversations become “us,” the enlightened ones, against “them,” the unenlightened.

But what happens when we go back out into the world, beyond our bubble, only to be confronted with the harsh reality of hate, or worse – ambivalence? Our socially engaged selves look upon our opponents as less enlightened than we are, more biased, less open minded. less capable of accepting others. They aren’t worth engaging, they aren’t worthy of our understanding, and we can barely even tolerate them on our Facebook feeds.

“We think our enemies are idiots, and that’s a problem,” writes Adam Waytz of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business. In his Washington Post article, Waytz writes about the “lesser minds problem.” In short, Waytz argues that “The greatest journey that no amount of technology can ever overcome is one of psychological distance—the distance between two minds.” The problem is that when we see others as mindless, we dehumanize them.

Ultimately, we love diversity that agrees with us. Though my non-Christian friends might have a different name for God or different ideas about the significance of Jesus or pray differently, we largely agree ideologically because we are bred in the same liberal academic environment. It’s okay that you don’t look like me, dress like me, pray like me, or think about God like me…but once you start to disagree with me on same-sex marriage, immigration, Israel/Palestine, or other social justice issues, I no longer find you worthy of my time.

We lose out on true ideological diversity if we try to quiet the voices that don’t believe the “right way.” Doing so violates the ethics of a diverse community. I suggest that at Emory we create safe spaces where we can meet each other across the most extreme lines: beyond religious identity, beyond race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. I suggest that we meet in a place where we put humanity above ideology.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

-Rumi

 

So, where can we meet?

~~Allison Purves

Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi, or Vinayaka Chaturthi, is a Hindu festival celebrating the birthday of the god, Ganesh. Ganesh is believed by followers to be the elephant-headed son of Lord Shiva, the god of destruction. This year, Ganesh Chaturthi will be observed on September 17th, when Hindus worldwide will celebrate by worshipping Lord Ganesha. Specifically, many participate in creating elaborate, life-size clay models of the elephant-headed god a few months prior to the festival. These clay models of Ganesha are then involved in prayer rituals during the celebration, as they are believed to embody the deity himself. On the eleventh day of the festival, the clay models are carried through the streets and dropped into a river to send Ganesh back to his home in the mountains of Kailash. This act is done to rid devotees of bad omens. Other aspects of the celebration involve preparing feasts and decorating the home. Hindus often pray to Ganesha at the beginning of an activity, as he is believed to be the remover of obstacles. For example, followers pray to Ganesha at the start of their prayer, in the mornings, and at the start of the school year. Wishing everyone a happy Ganesh Chaturthi this week!

– Snehaja Yadlapati

Shubh Krishna Janmashtami at Emory

Shubh Krishna Janmashtami (Happy Janmashtami)! Krishna Janmashtami, also known as Gokulashtami, is the celebration of the birth of Krishna. Krishna is the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and is also known as Murali, Govinda, Gopala, and one hundred other names. Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated on the eighth day of the sixth month of the Hindu calendar. This year, that day will be Saturday, September 5. Hindus all across the world (and especially in India) celebrate Krishna Janmashtami by visiting temples and performing a wide range of rituals that vary depending on the region. In addition, many Hindus also fast on Krishna Janmashtami until midnight, when it is believed that Krishna was born. Two rituals unique to Krishna Janmashtami are Rasa lila and Dahi Handi. Rasa lila is a dance that depicts life of Krishna and is performed primarily in the cities of Mathura and Vrindavan, and in parts of the state of Manipur (in India). Dahi Handi is a ritual in which teams of men create human towers and pyramids in order to break a high-hanging pot of dahi (yogurt). The Dahi Handi ritual is performed across India, but is primarily performed in the state of Maharashtra and its capital city of Bombay. In the state of Tamil Nadu, floors are decorated with kolams, patterns made with rice batter, and footprints are drawn from the thresholds of houses to the temple. Shubh Krishna Janmashtami!

Vivek Sawhney