Posts Tagged ‘Healing’
He said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples…
There is a beautiful Japanese art called kintsugi. It is the art of fixing broken pottery with gold-imbued resin.
If you see a finished product, you will notice that no attempt was made to hide the crack. Rather, the crack became part of the design.
Twenty-six years ago, I gave up a soaring banking career to work full-time for the Lord.
Since then, my life has never been the same.
Sure, it is not a problem-free life. The road is paved with thorns of persecution, trials, and suffering that have scarred me. But God, in His goodness, has imbued me with His golden grace that heals me and forms me into a new person.
Indeed, I have been blessed.
I have been broken.
It is my prayer that He will continue to use me and my life for His greater glory.
He has turned my scars into stars.
Upon receiving the news from Paris, I did what I often do in moments of crisis. I turned off the TV — and sat with the grief. I turned, as I often do, to poetry, nature, scripture, and prayer. I retreated to solitude, leaving time for sorrow to sit with me before having to answer the inevitable crush of media speculation.
In those early hours there is no real analysis, only a parroting of ideological perspectives. I find it more fully human to welcome grief, and connect with the humanity of those for whom these tragedies are even more personal, more intimately destructive.
The poem that I turned to was yet again from the amazing Somali-British poet, Warsan Shire:
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
Everywhere, everywhere. Everybody hurts. It hurts everywhere.
I watched the outpouring of grief from all over the world, including most of my Muslim friends. I saw hundreds of Facebook profiles being changed to the French flag-themed profile pictures, and thousands of #prayerforParis and #Prayers4Paris tweets.
I also saw, as I knew would come, wounded cries of the heart from friends in Beirut wondering why their own atrocity (43 dead) just one day before — also at the hands of ISIS — had not received any such similar outpouring of grief; friends from Pakistan wondering why there was no option to “check in as safe” during their experiences with violent attacks; friends from Central African Republic wondering why their dead — in the thousands — are the subject of no one’s global solidarity.
Somewhere in the midst of grief and devastation, here was the cry that I also heard again and again: What about my pain?
In some of the news coverage, we get told that “bombings are nothing new” to Beirut. I cannot help but read this as implying not that some countries are witnessing more violence than others, but that some lives matter more than others. Some outposts have been even more forthright, talking about our selective outrage masking a two-tiered model of human life, and outright racism.
It is a subtle shift, but I think there is a difference in tone between recognizing someone else’s tragedy and saying, “But what about mine?” and saying, “Yes, I see your tragedy, and I offer you my condolences and sympathy. And I see your tragedy and mine as connected.” It is the second that strikes me as more spiritually and morally mature.
Having sat with grief for a day of silence, here are a few thoughts that come to my mind:
Need to Grieve, Need to Mourn.
When I got the news and had a chance to catch up with the grief, I then made a point of turning down media interview requests and actually took the time to mourn. I hope more of us do take this necessary time. How sad it is to see analysts on TV opining, when we have not yet buried the dead and mourned the loss of life. I am concerned when our response in times of crisis is to strike out, lash out, and express rage before we have had time to sit with, and process, sadness and grief. Unprocessed grief always lashes out in ignorant, unhelpful ways.
My heart and prayers go to the families of the deceased, and to all who have felt the impact of this horrific attack. I wish we could extend the time to sit in solitude, hold each other, wipe each others’ tears, and mourn together.
Yes, Paris Is a Dazzling, Beautiful (Global) City of Lights.
Paris is charming almost beyond what a heart can bear. But no, Paris is not unique. Today, Paris is a global city. The very same global process of colonialism has brought the children of the colonies, largely North Africans, into the metropole. Today, Muslims are the most visible minority population in France, and they are both racially and economically marginalized.
Today, Paris is part of the global narrative. New York, Madrid, London, Ankara, Bombay, Damascus have all witnessed grotesque acts of terrorism. The primary victims of terrorism by ISIS are Muslims in places like Iraq and Syria. Muslims have been killed on a magnitude hundreds of times the scale of the Paris atrocity. Remember that, according to a recent United Nations report, some 8,493 Iraqi civilians were killed and 15,782 Iraqis were injured by ISIS in the summer of 2014 alone. According to credible reports, approximately one million people have been killed in Iraq since the start of the U.S. occupation.
ISIS and Islam.
As has been the case with previous tragedies, national Muslim organizations extended their sympathies and their condemnations of the horrific acts of terrorism. But I wonder if now, almost 15 years after 9/11, if we should still have to. I don’t know how many times we have to keep saying that acts of violence on civilians can never be justified, no matter who is the victim and who is the perpetrator.
Simply put, when Muslims condemn acts of violence from extremists, and they get asked again and again why don’t they condemn terrorism, I wonder if is because some of us are not listening. And perhaps that we don’t want to listen. There is a sad place deep in my soul that has to admit this: there are some in our midst who do not want to believe that faithful, pious Muslims could find and do find acts of violence morally repugnant. That attitude, as common as it is, tells me nothing about the humanity of Muslims that I know, or about Islam. It does tell me a lot about a xenophobic spirit of ignorance that is rampant in our society.
Ultimately, this spirit of ignorance and racism is a common enemy, just as much as state-sponsored violence and violence committed by groups like ISIS is an enemy. All of these stand in opposition to the dignity of all of us.
I don’t know how to say it more directly than this: Yes, the members of ISIS come from Muslim backgrounds. No, their actions cannot be justified on the basis of the 1400 years of Islamic tradition. Every serious scholar of Islam has confirmed this clearly, and unambiguously. ISIS is about as Muslim as the KKK is Christian. If you don’t look to the KKK to tell you about God’s message of love as expressed through Jesus, don’t look to ISIS to tell you about God’s mercy as expressed through Muhammad.
Avoiding the Trap of Divisiveness.
The ISIS terrorist attacks are precisely intended to create a divide, a false divide between Muslims and the West. Acts of terrorism are not only about the violence and mayhem created. They are also anticipating, and bringing about, a backlash from the societies that have experienced violence. This goes back to the days preceding 9/11, where al-Qaeda hoped to bring about a U.S. attack on Afghanistan. It succeeded.
ISIS, as well, is hoping to create a culture of backlash against Muslims in Europe, to foster a situation of persecution of Muslims there that will bolster future recruitment of extremists. And, Western attacks on Iraq/Syria will, in turn, lead to further extremism. To put it simply, we can’t bomb our way out of the ISIS mess. Military campaigns are part of the solution, but they cannot be the whole solution. Diplomacy, including with parties that we have political differences of opinion with, have to be part of the answer.
If we are to confront ISIS, we have to confront the sources of their funding as well as their ideology, which will force us to ask difficult and challenging questions from many of their Wahhabi and Gulf area supporters — who are also American allies.
The Mythic “Attack on Universal Values.”
President Obama released a statement regarding the terrorist attacks:
Once again we’ve seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians. This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.
As a humanist and a person of color, and as a person critical of both Western colonial conceit and violent extremism, I can only half-applaud the President’s statement. On one hand, both the Qur’an (5:32) and the Mishnah [Sanhedrin 4:5] tell us that to take one human life is as if to take the life of whole humanity, and to save one human life is as if to save the life of all humanity. True, from that perspective the attack on Paris is an attack on all humanity.
What I question is the selectivity of the “universal values” part in President Obama’s statement. I don’t know what that means. Liberté, égalité, fraternité were not, ever, universal values. The Europeans never intended for the values of the Enlightenment to be applied to the whole of humanity. The Enlightenment — which gave birth to both the French and the American revolutions — was also a profoundly exclusionary principle that never applied to the victims of the empire: not to native Americans, not to the humans stolen from West Africa and brought to the Americas as slaves, not to women, and not to the French colonies. The “universal” values were never universal.
I would love for compassion, dignity, and the sanctity of each and every human life to be a universal human value. If it is to be, that day is in our future. I will believe that we have arrived when the atrocities in Syria, in Palestine/Israel, in Central African Republic, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Myanmar, in inner-city America are all treated as attacks on “universal values.” When these atrocities are treated as global and universal human atrocities on par with attacks on Paris and New York, I will believe the declarations. When we see politicians marching for African lives, Afghan lives, Palestinian lives, and Black lives, I will believe their statements.
Watch Out for Trolls.
No sooner had the atrocity in Paris happened, before the bodies were buried, out came the trolls. There was Richard Dawkins, who came out against Islam yet again:
There was Donald Trump, who somehow managed to turn the Paris tragedy into a stump speech for the NRA, stating,“Nobody had guns but the bad guys.” As if the solution to violence is somehow more guns.
Franklin Graham was at it again, stating that “Islam” was at war with the West:
He spent just as much time on Twitter bashing Islam as he did offering prayers for the victims. In collapsing ISIS and Islam, Graham is actually granting ISIS the very Islamic legitimacy that it so craves — and does not deserve.
No, the answer to ISIS’s violence and hatred cannot be more hatred and more ignorance. We have to transcend this hatred through something more beautiful and loftier: a call for universal love, and a holistic sense of justice.
We cannot curse our way out of this darkness. This fragile and broken world needs more light, more light.
Protect the Refugees.
The news out of Paris indicates that one of the assailants has been identified as a Syrian. The fear on many people’s part is that this will lead to a backlash against all Syrian refugees. That would be a humanitarian catastrophe of immense scale. Let us remember this: the Syrian refugees are fleeing the brutality of the very same ISIS that has now unleashed its savagery on Paris (and Beirut). In short, the millions of Syrian refugees are themselves the primary victims of ISIS. Let us not doubly punish these desperate people by associating them with the atrocity of their own tormentors.
In the afternoon I took my children out for a long, slow walk in the woods. We took time to reflect on the trees, the light, the fallen leaves. In the midst of grief, there is still time to hold a friend’s hand, to hold a beloved in the heart, and go for a gentle stroll.
I don’t have the answers to ISIS, or how to defeat them. But I do know this: at the end of the day, love and unity will have the victory. If we are to get there, we have to remain fully human.
If we close our hearts to love, to each other, to nature, to God, we have already lost. If we close our hearts to one another, we have already lost.
There is grief in the city of light, and in so many cities of light. In the midst of the grief, in the late hour of a Fall, a beauty lingers. Love shall have the victory at the end of days.
Let there be light inside our hearts.
Let there be light around us.
Let the light permeate us.
Let’s rebuild the City of Lights, one illuminated heart after another.
The City of Light needs no more darkness. Let us welcome light into our hearts, and be agents of healing.
The author, Omid Safi, is Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.
FOR three years after the death of her adored eldest sister, Anne-Marie, Nina Sankovitch mourned by staying relentlessly busy. She felt a guilt-strafed survivor’s obligation to live life enough for two.
The mother of four sons, she signed up for PTA committees, coached soccer and a Lego robotics team, taught art appreciation classes to elementary school students, took Pilates classes and parenting classes, joined a book group and a tennis group, began kayaking, started a theater group for children in her basement and a Web site for trading books, gardened ferociously and wrote a novel (unpublished).
But in her increasingly frantic efforts to taste joy for herself and her sister, she tasted only ashes. She would still wake in the night, sobbing.
Finally, she jettisoned almost all her commitments in favor of the one pursuit that had always given her special pleasure. She committed herself to reading a book a day for an entire year.
“After years of chasing after joy, I finally sat down and let it come to me,” Ms. Sankovitch, 48, a tall, tennis-vibrant woman, said over coffee at her kitchen table in Westport, Conn. A photo triptych of Anne-Marie in thick reading glasses, posing in merry solidarity with Ms. Sankovitch’s son Peter, wearing his first pair, gleams from a rosewood frame nearby.
On Oct. 28, 2008, her 46th birthday, Ms. Sankovitch began the project, dedicating it to Anne-Marie, who died four months after receiving a diagnosis of bile-duct cancer, a week shy of turning 47. That last day, driving home from an encouraging visit with her sister in the hospital, Ms. Sankovitch got the phone call, pulled her car to the side of the road and screamed.
In the resulting memoir, “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair” (Harper Collins), whose title alludes to her reading armchair of cat-clawed, faded purple brocade, Ms. Sankovitch writes about that redemptive year of contemplation. The book is also an account of her family traumas: not only the death of Anne-Marie but also the World War II murders of three of her father’s siblings. It is a meditation on grief and healing, on values held sacred by her family and the life well lived. It is, of course, a paean to reading.
“I was looking to books for more than just escape and pleasure,” said Ms. Sankovitch, an accomplished environmental lawyer who gradually gave up practicing after she had children. Now she was seeking answers about “how to live with sorrow and how to find my place in the world.”
While the mechanics of the project could occasionally be daunting, Ms. Sankovitch found the solace she yearned for. Books like “The Laws of Evening,” the short story collection by Mary Yukari Waters, taught her about addressing loss. “The characters were past the denial stage, past anger,” she said. “They were figuring out how to go on living with loss. Everyone’s solution was different, but many used memory to cope, as proof that good things will come again.”
Diana Athill reinforced that lesson. “Somewhere Towards the End” is a memoir she published at 91. “Every day is still a new day for her,” Ms. Sankovitch said.
Sitting in Ms. Sankovitch’s sunny kitchen, as her sons, ages 10 through 17, tromp in and out of the house, and talking books with her can be just plain fun. As she trades ideas about characters, her blue eyes sparkle. She opens a worn notepad to jot down unfamiliar titles.
“I do read a Kindle on the exercise bike, but I love a real book, especially from the library or a used one,” she said. “I like knowing that other people have held it. I like reading what others have scribbled in the margins. I’ve even seen people make little grammar-correcting marks.”
Seeking safe haven in reading was natural for a woman who grew up in a family of book worshippers. Her middle sister, Natasha, had been a comparative literature professor (later a lawyer); her Belgian mother, Tilde, taught French literature at Northwestern. The year her Belarusian father, Anatole, now a retired surgeon, spent in a sanatorium for tuberculosis, he and another patient read novels aloud to each other. The books Ms. Sankovitch read to her young sons, all passionate readers, include volumes of poetry she had written for them.
Reading was a means of communication for her close-knit family, with its European formality. “My parents are private people,” Ms. Sankovitch said. “Americans are raised to ask personal questions. But I feel that if something isn’t my business, I won’t pry. Books are a shield and a way to get closer to those questions, so you can talk about taboo subjects. You can have those intimate conversations without prying.”
Anne-Marie was an art historian who loved the written word, and the sisters, unlike in many ways, often found common ground through books. “She was smarter than me and more beautiful,” Ms. Sankovitch said sadly, recalling her sister. “But I was more fearless and socially adept. She didn’t suffer fools. I’d been at dinner parties where she would up and leave if she was bored. But she was a saint to me.”
In “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair,” she describes how she and other family members would bring books to Anne-Marie’s sickbed. The visits often included book chats. After her death, the family dedicated a bench in her memory in the Conservatory Garden in Central Park, where passers-by can sit, contemplate the surrounding blooming beauty and read.
During her reading year, Ms. Sankovitch received recommendations for books from readers of a blog she had started (readallday.org), where she posted short reviews of each book. She also drew inspiration from the deep, eclectic collection in the Westport Public Library.
“My year would have been different with a different library, in a different town,” she said. She discovered new stacks, exploring genres outside her comfort zone of novels: essays, plays, science fiction, travel.
Typically reading 70 pages an hour, she’d try to finish each book in about four hours. She still did the laundry and carpooling, reading while the boys were in school, percolating at night, posting in the morning.
She described her reviews as “a public diary.”
“They’re not intellectual dismemberment,” she continued, “but more of my emotional response to the book.”
About “Little Bee,” the devastating novel by Chris Cleave, she wrote: “We connect to those we can see and touch; we protect the ones we can. But even then, a sister can die, and you won’t even know it until you get the phone call driving home over the Henry Hudson Bridge after what you thought was a very good day.”
The quixotic intensity of the project did not surprise those who know Ms. Sankovitch: she seems hard-wired for the full-bore experience. When tennis elbow threatened to forfeit her daily match with her husband, Jack Menz, a Manhattan lawyer (their home sits on two acres, including a clay court), she switched to her left hand, playing poorly but gamely. As a young associate at a Manhattan firm, a position demanding 16-hour days, she was focused and efficient, largely because other priorities called, including books. She would skip lunch and close her door to read for pleasure.
Once, while biking, recalled Stephanie Young, a friend from Harvard Law School, Ms. Sankovitch mentioned that her father advised “everything in moderation.”
At that, Ms. Young laughed. “Nina doesn’t do anything in moderation,” she said. “While she was telling us this, she was eating her sixth FrozFruit bar.”
As Ms. Sankovitch began to emerge from grief during her year of reading, her husband said the impact on the entire family was salutary.
“Nina had such a serenity,” Mr. Menz said. “And part of it was that the pace of her life was just slower than everyone else’s. We had fun dinners, because you’d not only hear about what our guys did during the day, but Nina would talk about the new characters she had just read. I’d watch Giants games with our son Michael, and she’d be there, but reading. We just gave her that space.”
Now, Ms. Sankovitch’s own readers have written her, saying that her memoir has become their handbook about how to read through grief.
“I am so happy that what I found in books, someone else might have found in mine,” Ms. Sankovitch said. “It’s all back to Anne-Marie, what a tribute to her.” She is thinking of writing a new book, based on letters from the late 19th century that she found in the family’s former Upper West Side brownstone.
And she is still reading. Last November, she proposed that she and her husband tackle “War and Peace” together. He somehow set it aside.
Naturally, Ms. Sankovitch finished. But not until January.
Some books are just not meant to be read in a day.
I was going through a really difficult time around the autumn of 1968. It was late in the Beatles’ career and we had begun making a new album, a follow-up to the “White Album.” As a group we were starting to have problems. I think I was sensing the Beatles were breaking up, so I was staying up late at night, drinking, doing drugs, clubbing, the way a lot of people were at the time. I was really living and playing hard.
The other guys were all living out in the country with their partners, but I was still a bachelor in London with my own house in St. John’s Wood. And that was kind of at the back of my mind also, that maybe it was about time I found someone, because it was before I got together with Linda.
So, I was exhausted! Some nights I’d go to bed and my head would just flop on the pillow; and when I’d wake up I’d have difficulty pulling it off, thinking, “Good job I woke up just then or I might have suffocated.”
Then one night, somewhere between deep sleep and insomnia, I had the most comforting dream about my mother, who died when I was only 14. She had been a nurse, my mum, and very hardworking, because she wanted the best for us. We weren’t a well-off family- we didn’t have a car, we just about had a television – so both of my parents went out to work, and Mum contributed a good half to the family income. At night when she came home, she would cook, so we didn’t have a lot of time with each other. But she was just a very comforting presence in my life. And when she died, one of the difficulties I had, as the years went by, was that I couldn’t recall her face so easily. That’s how it is for everyone, I think. As each day goes by, you just can’t bring their face into your mind, you have to use photographs and reminders like that.
So in this dream twelve years later, my mother appeared, and there was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly: “Let it be.”
It was lovely. I woke up with a great feeling. It was really like she had visited me at this very difficult point in my life and gave me this message: Be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow and it will all work out.
So, being a musician, I went right over to the piano and started writing a song: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me”… Mary was my mother’s name… “Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” There will be an answer, let it be.” It didn’t take long. I wrote the main body of it in one go, and then the subsequent verses developed from there: “When all the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be.”
I thought it was special, so I played it to the guys and ’round a lot of people, and later it also became the title of the album, because it had so much value to me, and because it just seemed definitive, those three little syllables. Plus, when something happens like that, as if by magic, I think it has a resonance that other people notice too.
Not very long after the dream, I got together with Linda, which was the saving of me. And it was as if my mum had sent her, you could say.
The song is also one of the first things Linda and I ever did together musically. We went over to Abbey Road Studios one day, where the recording sessions were in place. I lived nearby and often used to just drop in when I knew an engineer would be there and do little bits on my own. And I just thought, “Oh it would be good to try harmony in mind, and although Linda wasn’t a professional singer, I’d heard her sing around the house, and knew she could hold a note and sing that high.
So she tried it, and it worked and it stayed on the record. You can hear it to this day.
These days, the song has become almost like a hymn. We sang it at Linda’s memorial service. And after September 11 the radio played it a lot, which made it the obvious choice for me to sing when I did the benefit concert in New York City. Even before September 11th, people used to lean out of cars and trucks and say, “Yo, Paul, let it be.”
So those words are really very special to me, because not only did my mum come to me in a dream and reassure me with them at a very difficult time in my life – and sure enough, things did get better after that – but also, in putting them into a song, and recording it with the Beatles, it became a comforting, healing statement for other people too.
– Paul McCartney
Among the species in our planet only human beings have the ability to ask questions.
We question when we suffer.
We question when we lose our jobs. We question when our businesses go bankrupt. We question when our relationships are broken. We question when we become critically ill. We question when we mourn the death of a loved one.
We question and ask God: “Lord, why do we suffer?” And there seems no forthcoming answer. God seems to be distant. God seems to be silent.
But the truth of the matter is: God answers us. His answer- Jesus hanging on the cross.
When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush he asked God: “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘ The God of your ancestors has sent me to you, ‘ and they ask me,’ What is his name? ‘ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses: “Ehye Asher Ehye” – later translated as Yahweh – which means: “I am who I am.”
Yes, he is the Great “I am” who promised us: “I am with you always.” Yet he is not only the God who promised us to accompany us through the twists and turns of the journey of life; but he is also the God who took upon himself our pains and sorrows – to teach us that faith does not mean mean believing “because of” but faith means believing “inspite of.”
Faith does not mean believing because things turn out well in our life. Faith means believing inspite of the fact that things do not turn out well in our lives. Faith means believing inspite of the fact that we experience pain, sorrows, and even tragedy in life.
“It is finished.” As God completes his work of redemption through the sufferings and death of Jesus, we contemplate the limp, lifeless, and bruised body of Jesus remembering that he suffered to give meaning to our sufferings.
As the prophet Isaiah says: “With his stripes we are healed.”