Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lee , rest in peace

Today I got the news that a former friend from Beliefnet bulletin boards, Lee Davenport, had committed suicide. I cannot second guess what drove him to it, nor should I try. We all have secret dark places that haunt us, some with soft voices, some with shrill. In Lee's case, the voices must have drowned out everything else, and he is gone. And we all look to ourselves wondering if there was something we could have done.

I know the truth is that we could not have. Lee was surrounded by people who loved him, cared for and about him; but when someone kills himself, it isn't about a shortage of people who love him. It is about a deep tear in the fabric of hope -- in the ability to imagine a better time. It is about being in such pain it has to stop.

Please pray for his children, B. a young girl and I. a little boy -- and for D. his wife. May they all find peace.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Queen Latifah is changing my spiritual life

I watched a movie a few weeks ago whose images haunt me. The movie was "The Secret Life of Bees". In it, Queen Latifah is one of three sisters. Her younger sister, May, is a fragile woman, one who has seen great sorrow, and one who bears the sorrow of others. May becomes very sad when he hears of any sad event. Her family builds her a "wailing wall", having been inspired by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It is their hope that May can find some peace by praying there and leaving her prayers behind her.

At the Jerusalem Wailing Wall, people write their prayers on bits of paper, and stuff the paper into chinks in the wall while they pray. May goes to her wall to pray out her sorrows. She, too, writes down names or prayers on bits of paper that she puts into her stone wall. This calms her, helps take away the sorrow of her grief.

As I watched the movie, I thought how much of a boon it would be if everyone had their own wall, their own place to "leave it behind". I thought how important it could be, how helpful to write down sorrow and physicalize the prayer.

For a while I thought about physicalized prayer -- about what it might be like to add a symbology set to prayer -- and I kept coming back to the wall.

Flash forward a few weeks. I am letting my dog romp in my backyard. We are both enjoying the first absence of snow in a long winter.

I bought this house a year or so ago, and have yet to do any real landscaping. One couple of friends have given me landscaping as a housewarming gift, so now I need to decide what to do. It is spring. Time to plant. And I do have a half-acre of fenced yard.

Off to one side is the old-fashioned clothes line, made from four pipes set upright into cement with crossbars of pipe connecting the short sides like two rectangular arches, blocking off a rectangle of approximately 18 x 8 feet.

What am I going to do with those?

As I ponder what it would take to dig up the concrete at the base of the pipes, and the mess it would make, my brain flashed around a picture of what they could look like, and the decision was made.

I will add crossbeams of wood to make a pergola, and will paint the poles and wood to match. I'll plant wisteria up the poles, which will hopefully cover the whole top as well.

Flagstones or cobblestones will make a floor, and running either through the middle or along the long side (or maybe 3 sides) will be a loosely formed low rock praying wall. The wall will be the height of a New England stone wall that might be used to mark out a border.

There will be one bench and some candles inside. And that is that ...oh, and some paper and pencils in a lovely weather-proof box. This will be a place for a person to come, sit, and pray or meditate in peace and silence.

One person at a time.

I'll open it to family and friends and anyone who needs the space. No questions asked. Need the space? Come on over and just use it.

I think we need more spaces like this in the world -- more places to just be with the tough thoughts. We need more places to offer the dark moments up and out to God and/or into a caring universe.

I am going to ask a priest, a minister, a rabbi, a Buddhist monk and an Muslim Imam to bless the space. I hope they do. There will be no overtly religious symbols there, because I would like all faiths to feel welcomed. There will just be candles, maybe some incense, maybe some plants.

The wall structure will only be used for prayer -- no gatherings, no reading books or sipping tea -- prayer and meditation only.

I've got a bunch of calls out for estimates, and am trying to be as cost-effective as possible, even though the expense is a gift to me. I can already "see" it in my mind.
As the young Dakota Fanning says in The Secret Life of Bees -- "It feels right to be here, but I don't know why yet."

This may be the strangest thing I have ever done. I'm building a wall from nowhere to nowhere. In 2009 I am constructing a place for public praying.

Yet the idea has me so on fire, flames should be shooting out from my hair. I've already gone out scouting stone walls, looking at what sort/style suits me -- and it isn't the fancy, perfect ones. I like the walls that combine boulders and hewn stone in a non-cemented dry wall construction.

I like to think of the wall eventually becoming saturated with prayer -- almost having the stones hum a faint buzz of whispered prayers left behind in their open places, playing them into the wind like music, or having the vague murmur of past prayers tumble across my yard like leaves set free to dance in the dark.

Tell me what you think of this. If such a space existed in the yard of a friend, where you could unobtrusively come to meditate or pray with no one asking you any questions -- would you use it?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Racist jokes -- hatred that laughs

I do not like racist jokes, or ethnic jokes, or Jewish jokes or Polish jokes or gay jokes -- or any jokes that are designed to make another group appear as naturally endowed with loathsome qualities. Let's take Polish jokes as an example. These are easy for me to speak to because I am of Polish ancestry.

My grandparents had crosses burned on their lawn when they came to America (by the KKK in Massachusetts) because they were "dumb Catholic immigrant Polacks". When I was a little girl, I was chased home by kids throwing rocks shortly after we moved to town calling me a "Stupid Polack".(1955) I had a teacher volunteer to tutor me in Latin because "your people have such trouble with languages -- your own is so ugly, and you have trouble learning."(1966,and I was an A student). The list goes on. But this will do for openers.

In the late 1960's, Polish jokes became popular. Every joke has the same theme...punchline: the Polish person is stupid. I started standing up to them, politely asking that people not tell me those kind of jokes.

Some people continued, despite my stopping them, saying, "It's OK, you'l see, it's FUNNY!" It never was.

Some said "OK, I'll tell the same joke, but we'll use the Irish, OK? (or the Italians, or whomever). No thanks.

Some stopped and told me I had no sense of humor, was stuck up, and didn't I know that some Polish people found these jokes amusing? Ugh.

And, to my amazement, some people said -- "Hey! I am Polish too..WE can tell them on ourselves." No, we cannot.

Eventually people stopped telling me those jokes. Sometimes I literally had to walk away. But they stopped. Some people said that my objection was like a wake up call. Some actually asked me why and entered into discussion.

But at least I didn't walk away feeling my dignity-container was a quart low.

And in so doing I realized I had to stop all forms of that kind of vile "humor" when I could. I couldn't just stop those that had to do with MY group.

Lately the racism toward Obama of the presidential campaign like this one have continued.

We have the chimp cartoon found here, and the cartoon about watermelons at the White House found here or the heinous series of cartoons sent by an education official from Staten Island which is here. In that last one,

The e-mail, which Ballarino forwarded on Jan. 4 to about 30 people -- including education advocates and school officials -- depicted a photo strip of a mock debate between then-candidates Barack Obama and John McCain that was rife with racist jokes about black people, including comparisons of African American babies to excrement.
The strip starts with McCain saying, "I have black people in my family tree," followed by Obama saying, "Really? That's great," and McCain responding with, "If I recall, they're still hanging there."

What sane person finds that funny?

Speak out, folks -- it doesn't matter what your race is, or your ethnic background -- speak out. Do not tolerate this kind of crap when it hits your mailbox. Send it back and tell the sender why.

This hateful speech does not belong in America.
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