Monday, March 26, 2012


Sitting on the porch eating lunch yesterday, I was startled by a robin flying into the bush near me. It sat there looking around. I'm never clear exactly how birds are looking with eyes on each side of their head but I'm fairly certain it considered me carefully at some point, maybe noticing I was eating lunch.

The next thing I knew it was on the ground, doing that stop and run thing robins do. It would stand for a few moments, absolutely straight, then stoop its head and run fifteen or twenty steps. After three or four minutes of this, all within several feet of where I sat eating, the robin had lunch.

It pulled a large earthworm out of the ground and begin to peck it into smaller pieces. This it did for a bit, taking smaller sections of worm in its beak. But being hungry, I guess, finally quit the small stuff and slipped about three inches of worm down like slithering spaghetti.

I couldn't remember watching this kind of meal play out before so I asked my wife if she had ever watched a robin eat a worm. She said she had. Of course, she sees things I don't. As we stood at the edge of the garden earlier in the day, she made some kind of surprised exclamation, took the rake and uncovered the daffodils trying to get out from under the heavy leaf quilt. She saw the small green shoots. I didn't.

Thinking about seeing things in nature took me back to a visit several of us made to the Cheyenne River bison herd. We were with the keeper of the herd and looking forward to hearing about bison. Someone asked him about his knowledge of bison, where he got his education and what kind of reading he had done.

Since he had lived with the white world all his life he probably wasn't surprised by the question. But I think the questioner was surprised by the answer. The keeper got his knowledge of bison by observing them; as simple as that. How do bison families interact? You need to watch them, consistently, over time. How do you know if a bison is angry, or happy, or sad? Do bison show emotion? You have to be able to see bison, beyond our stereotyped notions, and over many hours, days, even years. The keeper knew bison, like some farmers still know their cattle.

I've learned some other things about seeing from Lakota/Dakota people. One learning is, your eyes are likely to be more open when your mouth is closed, a difficult thing to practice in our mouthy culture.

Another learning is it can be nice to communicate standing side by side. There's a freshness in standing next to a person looking in the same direction, perhaps looking at the same thing. Sometimes you don't even have to talk, just watch the same landscape and really see it.

My experience is that some people are so good as observers, they see so clearly, that they can even peer into another dimension. We have a word for them, seers.

These folks have an uncanny ability to move from our normal experience of space/time into 4D, maybe even 5D.

C.S. Lewis, in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the first book in his "Chronicles of Narnia" series, has that wonderful wardrobe where the kids go in the front doors, past some clothing, and out into another dimension. Wonderful! And it's not surprising his main characters are children. They haven't become so distracted and blinded by human constructions, yet, that they miss seeing and experiencing another reality.

I know people, especially those who have seen death up close, who I have caught looking off into the distance, quietly, as if they are observing that other reality. If you interrupt their gaze, which I usually hesitate doing, they might describe the luminosity of a color or a simple object that has suddenly become numinous.

Everyone goes through the wardrobe into another reality in their dreams. It's no wonder the Bible is full of dreamers dreaming important and life changing stories. Sometimes we see more clearly in the dream than in waking.

And there are other ways of exiting the back of the wardrobe that loom large in many spiritual traditions. They range from the meditation of a Zen monk to the prayer and solitude of a Trappist; from the sweat lodge ceremony of a Native American to the discipline of Ramadan for the Muslim; from the diet of a Hindu to the Ahimsa of a Jain; from the Torah study of the Jew to the ecstatic dance of the Sufi.

There are rituals and avenues the human community has discovered over the centuries to see, with eyes wide open, how simple things like the robin and the worm can help us start thinking and contemplating a deeper reality. Perhaps using these aids we will even be encouraged to explore the back of the wardrobe.

Carl Kline

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Threads of Light Interwoven

I had occasion this week to be at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center for a meeting. As I was leaving the mosque, I stood at the door for a short time to finish a conversation. During the time that I was standing there, a teacher and her young students, perhaps six or seven years old, from the Islamic day school in the building came to the door on their way out to recess. Her playfully jostling students surrounding her, the teacher smiled and said to me and to the person I was speaking with, salaam aleikum. More than a greeting, I felt blessed by the warmth of her smile and the sincerity of her words, “peace be upon you.” As teacher and students continued on their way out into the sunshine, I heard a student ask, “why did you say salaam aleikum to them?” Still in earshot, I was deeply touched by the teacher’s response, “whenever we see someone, we say salaam aleikum.”

This gentle exchange illustrated the metaphoric understanding of the opening verses of the week’s Torah portion, T’tzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10). Instructions are given for kindling the lights of the menorah that are to illumine the sanctuary from evening until morning. With wicks set in pure olive oil pressed for the purpose, the Torah does not say “you shall kindle the lights,” as we do in lighting Sabbath or Chanukkah candles, l’hadlik ner…, but rather, “you shall cause light to go up,” l’ha’alot ner. The way the lights are to be raised up on the menorah is understood as expressing the relationship of teacher and student and the very nature of learning. Like the flame of the shammash, “the serving candle” that is used to light the other candles, as it is held up to a new wick there is a burst of increased light, two flames rising as one in the moment of transmission, and then the shammash is removed and the new flame continues to burn on its own. On that afternoon by the door to the mosque, a light of understanding was raised up among a group of children, the way of human connection illumined as the path of life.

Human connection is shattered in the reading from a special section of Torah that was added to the weekly portion on that Sabbath. It was the week of Shabbat Zachor/the Sabbath of Remembrance, the second of four special Sabbaths that help us to prepare for Passover. Always the Sabbath preceding Purim, on Shabbat Zachor we read of the warrior chieftain Amalek’s cruel attack on Israel’s weakest, the young and the old, the stragglers at the end of Israel’s line of journey as they left Egypt. We are told, Zachor et asher asah l’cha Amalek/Remember what Amalek did to you…; you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven/lo tishkach/do not forget. Amalek is an ancestor of the Purim villain Haman and comes to be synonymous with evil.

In a world of so much violence and cruelty, we are painfully aware of the reality of evil, that there are those who would do us harm. For all of its joy, that is part of the message of Purim. It often seems to be the part that is held on to, as though we are afraid to let it go, in part a survival response in the Jewish psyche. As we step back from the costumes and the fun of one day’s observance, we tend to forget the other part of Purim, the raising up of light through goodness and deeds of kindness. Carried to Havdalah, the ceremony that ends the Sabbath each week, are words that we sing from the Purim Scroll of Esther, for the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor – so may it be for us. Even as we remember Amalek, it is important to remember that all are not against us.

There is a raising up of light in the world in spite of the darkness, a weaving of light that joins people together. Not only at the mosque, I also felt at home this week, among friends in various houses of worship. On Sunday I gave the sermon at the Unitarian Church and last night I spoke at a Catholic church, at St. Anthony’s Shrine downtown, a Franciscan Center where I have spoken before. I was introduced and welcomed among them as “our rabbi.” Looking into our own hearts as well, to root out the seeds of Amalek, the potential for evil within each one of us, the challenge of Shabbat Zachor and of Purim is not to think it is enough to root out evil. The greater task is to replace evil with good, to increase light until there is no room for evil, to illumine the path of human connection.

In that moment of pure light at the door of the mosque, new understanding shining in the faces of children, I found myself stammering in response to the teacher’s greeting. Meaning to respond with the Arabic, aleikum salaam, offering back to her the same blessing of peace that she had offered me, there came from my lips a mixing of the Hebrew and the Arabic, aleichem salaam. In that, I realized, was its own message, its own hope, threads of light interwoven.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rethinking Lent and Living Nonviolence

For Christians, Lent is a season of repentance. We are summoned by our tradition to “walk with Jesus” and demonstrate to the world what the apostle Paul called “the more excellent way of love.”I think the early Christians, known as “people of the way” were able to reach a broad cross section of their society because they presented their contemporaries with a compelling example of an alternative community that was not defined by coercive power or ideological purity, but by a shared struggle to practice what they preached. No one would claim that they were unfailingly successful, but no one can doubt that history was reshaped by their effort.

Today we suffer from too much ideological zeal, and not enough exemplary living. Women have a right to be incensed by the scene of white men debating how invasive they can be. And all the rest of us should share their outrage. Trying to justify violating women’s bodies in the name of faux-morality is a reason for us all to rededicate ourselves to an ethic of respect for others.

In Congress and in statehouses white men, most if not all of whom I believe have professed to be Christian, are seen to be acting out of a sense of moral entitlement that is an affront to moral decency. Women are not the only ones who are experiencing marginalization in the name of morality. In his national newspaper, Rupert Murdock recently praised the governor of Kansas, where I live, for his “reasonable” tax policy which transfers more wealth to the rich, increases taxes on the poor, skews funding for public education away from places of greatest need to places of greatest wealth, and presents a multi-tiered attack on the rights of working men and women and their families.

“Our” Secretary of State is a leading proponent of voter suppression laws that are being considered and contested in many states. After a recent special election in the city where I live, the secretary declared that his plan is working, in spite of public testimony from people who said that they were not allowed to vote because of his law. His slogan seems to be “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” But today we need to heed the facts and learn from them.

I recently attended a workshop on the “Green Church” led by Reverend Rebekah Simon-Peter, the founder of Bridgeworks: Turning Barriers into Bridges of Understanding ( Her presentation focused on the environment and what it has to teach us about life. She talked about the “Sabbath-Effect” revealed in satellite images of the earth. These earth-pictures clearly show the effects of too much nitrous-oxide in the atmosphere. But they also reveal that on Friday, Saturday or Sunday there is a reduction in toxic emissions on those days in the areas where the Sabbath is observed. On the Sabbath day plants, animals and human beings are given a chance to breathe cleaner, less polluted, air. The whole earth comes up for a breath of fresh air.

Nonviolence is about giving ourselves, each other and the whole inhabited earth a chance to take a breath of fresh air. It is about renouncing the false ethic of entitlement that allows the few to think that they have the right to dominate the bodies of women, ignore the rights of workers, dismiss the needs of children and youth and discount the votes of people with whom they may disagree.

Today people of all faiths can find common ground in the Sabbath day. We can come together and celebrate the Sabbath Effect. Those faith traditions that do not recognize a single day as the Sabbath but rather respect each day as a sacred time may have the most to teach us about nonviolence. We will not be unfailingly successful in our efforts, but the present might be reshaped by our practice.

Rev. David P. Hansen, Ph.D.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


My dad and brother live in Bainbridge, NY. They are right in the middle of “fracking” country. “Fracking” - - it has seductive appeal in a depressed area where the promise of income for the use of farm land in order to obtain natural gas seems practical.

“Fracking” – it’s a process whereby millions of gallons of water and chemicals and sand are injected at high pressures into the earth’s surface in shale rock formations. Bainbridge is a tiny, depressed town - - built on shale rock. The “fracking” breaks open the rock and allows the release of natural gas.

“Fracking” fractures the earth. It depletes local water supplies. It produces hazardous waste that can contain radioactive substances. It produces toxic materials that can’t be treated by standard treatment plants. Most bizarre of all, it can cause the migration of natural gas into drinking water sources and has been known to cause homes to explode. When aquifers are contaminated, there is no possibility of cleaning them and reclaiming them. In the urgency to find alternate fuel sources, drillers are rushing to use the technique in new areas of the country without fully evaluating the effects on human health and the environment and without adequate government oversight.

When I drive through the beautiful hills in the Southern Tier of New York State, it is hard to imagine the violence envisioned for that mystical landscape in the quest for natural gas. It is a rape of cosmic proportions – not only of the earth, but of the people who live in the region. They are so vulnerable. There are not enough jobs. People have to travel long distances to find work. How simple it would be to sign on the dotted line with the drilling companies and enter into the prostitution of the earth just in order to survive.

The issue of drilling is fracturing communities as well. Every dilapidated barn has a huge sign, pro or con, emblazoned on its shabby walls. Front lawns are dotted with opinions on vinyl banners. Neighbors are in conflict and everyone is at risk.

This is what our fuel hunger does to us and to the earth – it fractures, breaks apart what is lovely and fragile – the earth herself, human relationships, human dignity.

I think about all of this as I drive around my beautiful island home and I see windmills here and there. They represent the island’s desire to move toward sustainable energy resources. They are tall –reaching into the upper wind currents – spinning out their renewable energy day by day. They, too, are a source of controversy –a blight on the landscape, some folks say. But, to me, they symbolize a non-violent movement toward energizing our community so that we don’t have to resort to fracturing this fragile planet.

Vicky Hanjian

Monday, March 5, 2012

"Something Inside So Strong"

The other day I was talking on the phone with my friend Ethel, separated from her by nearly 800 miles. She's no ordinary friend. I first met her and her husband Roy back in the 1980s, while I was participating under their leadership in a college study-service program in Belize. One day, early in the program, while we were high atop the ruins of a Mayan Indian temple, my feeble right knee popped out of joint and swelled up like a small melon. I couldn't walk. Ethel and Roy, both in their sixties at the time, got on either side of me and hoisted me up, and together we started a very long, very hot hobble though the jungle, back to the dirt road and our rickety tour bus. Hours, it took us, my arms around their necks the entire way. As we all acknowledged in later years, those difficult hours bonded us for life.

My friend Ethel (left), at 87 years.
What Ethel did for me that day, she's been doing ever since: she helps keep me going. She's now 90 years old (Roy, bless him, is no longer with us), but you'd never guess her age. Her fingers are still sure on the piano keys, her feet still nimble on the organ pedals of her church. Everywhere in her modest apartment are stacks of books, being carefully digested. She has filled the years since Belize with various peace and justice efforts--laboring for right relations in Israel/Palestine; promoting intercultural understanding while teaching English in China; mentoring women who are in prison, and assisting them once released; working with Seniors for Peace; publicly reciting each week the names of Iraqis and Americans killed since the first days of "Shock and Awe"; demonstrating outside armament factories, and protesting the use of depleted uranium in American weaponry.... The list of her activities is endless, and despite the more frequent illnesses and debilitating falls that come with advanced age, they have scarcely slowed.

Every conversation I have with Ethel, every rare chance we have to visit in person, becomes, in my experience, a spiritual pep rally. We rally around our shared work of trying to make this world a little less insane, a little more humane. She picks me up. She urges me on. It's not that Ethel fills the air with rhetoric--she's actually a very quiet soul. But there's something inside her so strong. So determined. So full of conviction. That "something" fills her words. It fills her misshapen 90-year-old feet, which are still willing to march for what she believes in. It fills her eyes, eyes that take in every part of the world, not just the easy and the pretty parts. It fills her heart, which is big enough to love those members of her family who openly disparage her commitment to nonviolence, to social change, to the sacred worth of every person and of the planet. Something fills her. But--

This past week, Ethel sounded tired, and despairing, for the first time I could remember. "Do you think," she asked me in a weary voice, "that we can really make a difference? That people are ever really going to stand up and say, `Enough!'?"

I felt it, then and there--our roles had shifted. Suddenly, after decades of friendship, it was my turn to step up and give the pep talk. To tell you the truth, I didn't want to. I didn't feel ready. And I didn't want to have to be ready. I didn't want to admit that Ethel, my friend and mentor, was finally slowing down, and needing to lean on me as I've always leaned on her. I wanted to think that this was just a passing moment of frailty.

But here's the fact of it: Whether you're 90 years old like Ethel, or nearly 50 like I am, or generations younger, like so many of the Occupiers with whom I demonstrated last weekend in Wichita, KS, at Occupy Koch Town, we're all gonna get tired. We're gonna get frustrated. We're even gonna get fed up sometimes, and maybe even feel like packing it in. The work of changing the world is hard work, and endless. Every success is precious, soon beset by new challenges. No matter who we are, or how old, or how long we've been fighting the good fight, we're gonna feel sometimes that the world might be beyond anybody's saving. But when we're feeling that way, that's exactly when we need one another most. That's when we need people like Ethel. And people like Odetta.

Maybe you remember Odetta. I was just a little kid during the Civil Rights movement, of which she became (in the estimation of Martin Luther King, Jr.) "the Voice." When she was most prominent, this singer-songwriter-activist, I didn't even know that she was alive. Now, sadly, she's gone, having died a few years ago. But during the last two years of her life, when she was so weakened by heart disease that she was confined to a wheelchair, she performed 60 concerts. Nearing 80 years of age, her presence was still powerful, her spirit indomitable. She had inside of her what Ethel has always had--that something strong that helps all of us keep going.

In the video below, Odetta performs during a concert in Italy, just a few months before her death. As she sings "Something Inside So Strong" (by Labi Siffre), you don't even need to understand the lyrics to get their meaning. All you have to do is look at her. She's a lioness. Look at her eyes. Look at her hands. Listen to her voice. Go with her to that place of soul, deep down, where her voice is issuing from. That voice is full of years, but it's also ageless. It's full of sickness, but it's also full of incredible strength. It's full of Odetta, but it's also full of Martin, and everybody in the Civil Rights movement, and Ethel, and the Occupiers, and you, and me--all of us who sometimes need to be sung to, and sung for, and sung with, that we might remember who we are, and why we're doing what we're doing.

Then, at the end of it all, my friends, look at her smile. Just look at Odessa smile.

Note: If for some reason you can't see the viewer above, click here to watch the video.

Deep peace,
Phyllis Cole-Dai