Thursday, December 3, 2015

Journeys of Faith

People sometimes ask me at what age does Song and Spirit start teaching the importance of interfaith relations. Well, thanks to our participation in a wonderful program called Religious Diversity Journeys we start with school age children!

The port of entry, if you will, is where all religious traditions meet: compassionate action. Having first been exposed to faiths other than their own and given a whole lot of information to reflect on, we then ask them to put some of what they've learned into practice. My job is ordinarily to lead the children through a simple yet very important exercise of decorating brown paper lunch bags to be turned into SnackPax, which we will then fill with food and distribute to other children experiencing food insecurity. We teach about how important it is to both nourish the body and the spirit and we tell them how much it means to the kids receiving the SnackPax that other children took the time to share some beauty with them!

Once all of the bags have been decorated with colorful and diverse and, many times, extremely beautiful art work, we conclude the exercise with a very special ritual. One by one the student participants in the Religious Diversity Day come forward to place their works of art and compassion into a basket next to a candle on a simple wooden table.

As they come forward to do so, we ask each child to think about and even silently pray for the child who will be receiving what they have helped create. That's my favorite part of the whole experience and normally when it's hard to hold back the tears.

Pace e bene. Peace and all good.

Br. Al

Friday, April 24, 2015

Thích Nhat Hanh

The long front hallway at Song and Spirit is lined with our gallery of saints, sages and peacemakers of all faiths. Here is another one:
Thích Nhat Hanh (1926 – ) is a Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. His approach has been to combine a variety of traditional Zen teachings with methods from Theravada Buddhism, insights from Mahayana Buddhism, and ideas from Western psychology — to offer a modern light on meditation practice.

Nhat Hanh created the Order of Inter-Being in 1966. He heads this monastic and lay group, teaching Mindfulness Training.








Song & Spirit Needs YOU! 
What's so important about having an interfaith institute for peace? We allow everyday people the opportunity to see with eyes of enchantment, to see that we are all on this planet and within this mystery together - so that we can all become people who make a difference in the world!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I Am Here!



April 12, 2014 my daughter got married.

April 13, 2014 my husband turned 60.

April 14, 2014 my family hosted a Passover Seder for nearly 40 people.

And on that same night, nearly 300 high school-aged girls were evacuated from their boarding school in Nigeria - not by by the military as in a true emergency, but by men intent on their physical and emotional destruction.

Dozens of girls escaped in the first few hours. 219 have never been seen or heard from again.

Frankly, on the surface - as a white, middle class woman from metro Detroit, I'm not sure I'm the demographic to feel so emotionally connected to a story that is taking place over 6,000 miles from my home. But, as a mother, a sister, a daughter, an artist, a peacemaker - I remain... devastated.

About two weeks after the kidnappings, that, for a short time, had people taking selfies holding signs that read #BringBackOurGirls - I had the opportunity to visit a well-to-do parochial girls high school in a lovely Detroit suburb. As the student body gathered for an assembly I couldn't help think that here I was looking at what 300 girls really looks like. There was laughter (a LOT!) and chattering and spirit and love and silliness and caring and possibility and joy and a sense of purpose. There was a future for the girls in front of me.

Could THIS really be what the Nigerian girls had looked like the day before their kidnapping? So alive! So full of life and promise - the love of parents and hope of families sacrificing for them to be the very best they could be - just like the beautiful girls in front of me.

A week later I was to attend a mosaic portrait workshop in Lansing, MI hosted by a well-known mosaic artist, Carol Shelkin. In the prep email she'd sent out that week we were told she would provide the imagery for the class. She felt it was important to focus on the techniques of creating these portraits - it would be less distracting if we didn't actually know the person we were working on.

I did not hesitate, but immediately wrote and asked permission to create a portrait of an African school girl.

I was shaking when I arrived to the 2-day workshop - imagery in hand. By now, we had seen pictures on the news of the kidnapped girls - not in the brightly colored dresses and headscarves of their school and family pictures, but huddled together in dark grey fabric - covered from head to toe. Their faces were flat, dark - a sick-sad combination of terror and resignation.

The photos the kidnappers released were drained of all ...life.

"We begin with the eyes," Carol said, "And work our way out."

I am often emotionally connected to the art I create - the serious pieces that connect me to a group of special kids or a faith community. It helps me in the creative process to feel a spiritual bond with the eventual "home" of a given piece of art that I may spend days or weeks bringing to life. But, I tell you now, the moment I finished the first eye on this portrait I have never felt so drawn in. I've heard writers speak of characters who "demand" to be heard in their novels - characters who take them in directions they'd never expected when they began. And, now, she was speaking to me - those eyes were all I could see when I went to sleep that first night - and they continued speaking - outraged, demanding, pleading and wistful....

Don't forget me. I am here.

Like much of the art I make - she is mine - yet... not mine. At the moment, she lives in the art room at the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace where I work. She presides over a room that bustles with creativity and joy, camaraderie and support, learning and love and care for all. Perhaps a place like her school was - on April 13, 2014.

Emem means "Peace" in the Efik language of Nigeria. I put the word in glass on the corner of her portrait and I send a breath of peace to these girls I can not forget. I send one to their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters whose loss is more than I can imagine.

I won't forget you. I am here.

-----------------------------------------------------------

In recent weeks, activists marking the anniversary of the mass 
abduction in Chibok, Nigeria have changed their slogan from 
"Bring back our Girls - Now and Alive" 
to "Never to be Forgotten."

Please share.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Morihei Ueshiba

The long front hallway at Song and Spirit is lined with our gallery of saints, sages and peacemakers of all faiths. Here is another one:
Morihei Ueshiba (1883–1969) was a famous martial artist and founder of the Japanese martial art of Aikido. He re-interpreted budo -- The Way of the Warrior -- in a radically new light.

“The source of budo is God’s love,” says Ueshiba, “It is the spirit of loving protection for all beings… Budo is not the felling of an opponent by force; nor is it a tool to lead the world to destruction with arms. True Budo is to accept the spirit of the universe, keep the peace of the world, correctly produce, protect and cultivate all beings in nature.” 






Song & Spirit Needs YOU! 
What's so important about having an interfaith institute for peace? We allow everyday people the opportunity to see with eyes of enchantment, to see that we are all on this planet and within this mystery together - so that we can all become people who make a difference in the world!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Hazrat Inayat Khan

The long front hallway at Song and Spirit is lined with our gallery of saints, sages and peacemakers of all faiths. Here is another one:
Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882–1927) was an exemplar of Universal Sufism and founder of the “Sufi Order in the West” in 1914. His universal message of divine unity (Tawhid) focused on the themes of love, harmony and beauty. He taught that blind adherence to any book rendered any religion void of spirit.

Hazrat Khan worked to spread the knowledge of unity, the religion of love and wisdom, so that the bias of faiths and beliefs may of itself fall away, the human heart may overflow with love, and all hatred caused by distinctions and differences may be rooted out, and to help to bring the world’s two opposite poles, East and West, closer together by the interchange of thought and ideals, that the Universal Brotherhood may form of itself, and man may see with man beyond the narrow national and racial boundaries.


Song & Spirit Needs YOU! 
What's so important about having an interfaith institute for peace? We allow everyday people the opportunity to see with eyes of enchantment, to see that we are all on this planet and within this mystery together - so that we can all become people who make a difference in the world!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Dalai Lama

The long front hallway at Song and Spirit is lined with our gallery of saints, sages and peacemakers of all faiths. Here is another one:
Tenzin Gyatso (1935 - ) is the 14th and current Dalai Lama. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and is also well known for his lifelong advocacy for Tibetans inside and outside Tibet. The Dalai Lama has met with Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and with a delegation of Jewish teachers for extensive interfaith dialogue. He has met privately with Pope Benedict XVI,  with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other leaders of the Anglican Church, with Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), as well as senior Eastern Orthodox Church, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Sikh officials. The Dalai Lama is currently a member of the Board of World Religious Leaders as part of The Elijah Interfaith Institute and participated in the Third Meeting of the Board of World Religious Leaders in Amritsar, India,in November 2007 to discuss the topic of Love and Forgiveness. Tibetans traditionally believe him to be the reincarnation of his predecessors and a manifestation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Song & Spirit Needs YOU! 
What's so important about having an interfaith institute for peace? We allow everyday people the opportunity to see with eyes of enchantment, to see that we are all on this planet and within this mystery together - so that we can all become people who make a difference in the world!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Baal Shem Tov

The long front hallway at Song and Spirit is lined with our gallery of saints, sages and peacemakers of all faiths. Here is another one:
Rabbi Yisroel (Israel) ben Eliezer (1698–1760), often called Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name) or Besht, was a Jewish mystical rabbi and the founder of Hasidic Judaism. He declared the whole universe, mind and matter, to be a manifestation of the Divine Being. The point of prayer is d’vekut (cleaving) — the glorious feeling of Oneness with God Almighty, the state of the soul wherein a man or woman gives up their consciousness of separate existence, and join their own selves to the Eternal Being of God Supreme.

The Baal Shem Tov’s teachings were largely based upon the Kabalistic teachings of the AriZal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534-72) but his approach made the benefits of these teachings accessible even to the simplest Jew. He emphasized the profound importance and significance of prayer, love of God, and love of one’s fellows. He taught that even if one was not blessed with the ability or opportunity to be a scholar, one could still reach great spiritual heights through these channels.


Song & Spirit Needs YOU! 
What's so important about having an interfaith institute for peace? We allow everyday people the opportunity to see with eyes of enchantment, to see that we are all on this planet and within this mystery together - so that we can all become people who make a difference in the world!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Francis of Assisi

The long front hallway at Song and Spirit is lined with our gallery of saints, sages and peacemakers of all faiths. Here is another one:

Saint Francis of Assisi (1181–1226), born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. While going off to war in 1204, Francis had a vision that directed him back to Assisi, where he lost his taste for his worldly life. On a pilgrimage to Rome, Francis begged with the beggars at St. Peter’s; the experience moved him to live in poverty. During the Crusades in 1219, Francis achieved personal rapprochement with the Muslim sultan who declared he would convert if possible. Francis died in 1226 while singing Psalm 141. He is one of the most venerated religious figures in history, and is known as the patron saint of animals; it is customary for Catholic and Anglican churches to hold ceremonies blessing animals on his feast day of October 4.




Song & Spirit Needs YOU! 
What's so important about having an interfaith institute for peace? We allow everyday people the opportunity to see with eyes of enchantment, to see that we are all on this planet and within this mystery together - so that we can all become people who make a difference in the world!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Mazel Tov Nostra Aetate!

Song and Spirit began as a sharing of music, a sharing of intention and tradition. It has blossomed because of the many, many friends and supporters who have chosen to join this grand interfaith adventure, who share a willingness to take a spiritual walk on the “wild” side. 

In many ways, we are the heirs of a daring and dramatic process begun 50 years ago, an anniversary we celebrate this year.

In 1965, the Second Vatican Council made historic changes to church policy and theology. Among them was Nostra Aetate – Latin for “In Our Time” – a document that revolutionized the Catholic Church's approach to Jews and Judaism after nearly 2,000 years of pain and sorrow. Section four of Nostra Aetate repudiates the centuries-old "deicide" charge against all Jews, stresses the religious bond shared by Jews and Catholics, reaffirms the eternal covenant between God and the People of Israel, and dismisses church interest in trying to baptize Jews.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) submitted a paper to the Vatican on the relationship between Christianity and the Jews — titled “On Improving Catholic-Jewish Relations” — which proved instrumental in the development of this groundbreaking document. For the first time in history, Catholics and Jews were encouraged to engage in friendly dialogue and biblical and theological discussions to better understand one another’s faith. 

As this relationship continues to evolve and the understanding of the meaning of Nostra Aetate continues to unfold, the distinct imprint of Rabbi Heschel can still be felt.

Every month at the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, we hold a unique service we call “From Sabbath to Sabbath – an Interfaith Havdalah." Hazzan Steve leads the assembly in closing the Jewish Sabbath and then Bro. Al ushers in a Christian observance of the Lord’s Day. This March, those in attendance marked the 50th anniversary of this historic event with conversation… and a little cake!
Although the actual anniversary date of this document is not until later this Fall, we chose to celebrate the anniversary now, at the beginning of Spring, so close to Holy Week and Passover, as a reminder of the historical pain and prejudice associated with this time of year, and with the hope that, as others have begun, so may we continue.

Today, we carry on the work begun 50 years ago, even more convinced that there will be no peace in this world until there is peace among the world’s religions. We wish all of you, your friends and families -- Chag Sameach, a sweet, joyous Passover, and a blessed Easter.


What's so important about having an interfaith institute for peace? We allow everyday people the opportunity to see with eyes of enchantment, to see that we are all on this planet and within this mystery together - so that we can all become people who make a difference in the world!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

CarePax -- Creative Service at its Finest

What do a small, Catholic bookstore, an inner city Episcopal church, a suburban Buddhist temple, a reform Jewish synagogue and a Muslim community center have in common?

Care for their neighbors - that's what.

Each of these institutions has agreed to host a CarePax barrel created at the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace in Berkley, MI. Each barrel contains at least 35 individually-packaged CarePax, which include a warm hat, gloves, hand and toe warmers, a pair of new socks, a snack and a list of metro Detroit area resources for the needy and homeless in the region. Those who visit any of the places above can pick up a CarePax to have in the back seat of their car when they come across someone standing roadside with a sign for help.

Items that fill the CarePax are donated by diverse individuals and groups throughout the tri-county area. Many of the warm items - including hats and scarves - have been made by hand. HatPax is one such item. This pattern for a simple, sewn fleece hat has been picked up by creative sewers all over town. Some people work on their own with scraps of fleece they have lying around. Others gather in groups, pool resources and make dozens of hats in one sitting!

A group from Troy, MI has gotten together twice to make HatPax. The first time they had a group of about ten friends, scissors, patterns, multiple sewing machines and a mound of bright-colored fleece. That first session provided more than 40 hats in one evening and everyone had a grand time. When one of the group members brought the hats over to the Outreach room at Song and Spirit, they noticed that there were big gaps on the shelves that held the dark colored hats and asked Bro. Al what that meant.

“Well,” he replied, “A lot of people who live on the street - or even just spend a lot of time walking around the streets at all hours - don't want to call attention to themselves. When we go to a shelter or do outreach directly to folks on the streets, we've discovered that - when given a choice - the majority choose darker colors like grey, black, brown, navy, or camouflage patterns. They seem to want to blend into their surroundings. It's a safety issue.”

Hmmmm….

The next time the group got together they had the same great time - making over 50 hats in the dark colors they now KNEW were most needed by the people they would serve! It was as if - somehow - knowing a little more about what the recipient really would like or would choose for themselves, was a great motivator for these creative volunteers.

Thanks to those who are acting as “the hands of God” among us, including Faith at Work Catholic Books & Gifts, Troy; Christ Church Detroit Episcopal; Midwest Meditation Center, Warren; Temple Emanu-El, Oak Park; Islamic Organization of North America (IONA), Warren; Wayne State University, Detroit; the Archdiocese of Detroit central office - and all those generous donors who make creating and caring for those in need such a rewarding occupation.

As we transition to “warm-weather” CarePax, the contents will change, but the need for creative compassion continues.

What's so important about having an Outreach program at the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace? We allow everyday people the opportunity to act as the hands of God - and they become people who make a difference in the world.