Sunday, April 16, 2017

Shavuot. Pentecost. Counting our Way to Revelation

Starting on the second day of Passover, traditional practice requires Jews to begin counting 7 weeks -- 49 days -- which will lead us to the celebration of the festival of Shavuot (weeks). Our keeping track of this period of 49 days (actually 49 evenings) is called the counting of the omer. An omer is a biblical unit of measurement -- The word omer is sometimes translated as sheaf — specifically, an amount of grain large enough to require bundling.

As it happens, beginning with Easter Sunday, Christians also begin marking the days -- 50 in all -- which will lead to the festival of Pentecost (the fiftieth day).

My Franciscan compadre Brother Al and I decided that the timelines were a little too specific to be mere coincidence, so we started looking into the details of these parallel practices of marking time...

Passover, like all Jewish holidays, began as an agricultural festival and later became a point of reference with which we could tell the story of the development of our faith. Since the torah states that Passover -- as a festival of liberation -- could not start before Spring, the tradition in ancient Israel held that the first day of the month containing Passover would not start until the barley was ripe, that being the test for the onset of Spring. The seven weeks of the grain harvest began with the harvesting of the barley and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. The Torah’s commandment is to count forty-nine days beginning from the day on which the omer, a sacrifice containing an omer-measure of barley, was offered in the Temple (during Pasover), up until the day before an offering of wheat was brought to the Temple (on Shavuot.) This same 49 day period marked our journey from Egypt to Sinai -- from liberation to revelation as it were. The idea of counting each day eventually came to symbolically represent spiritual preparation and anticipation for the receiving of the Torah; just as we go from coarse barley flour to fine wheat flour, we refine ourselves spiritually to receive the word of God. There are intricate kabbalistic formulas -- each day, each week -- for this work of spiritual purification, which we won’t go into here.

Easter, meanwhile, is not a day, but a season which begins on Easter Sunday on concludes on Pentecost Sunday. In the Anglican tradition, this period is often called Eastertide. It is celebrated as a single joyful feast -- as a great Lord's Day. Each Sunday of the season is treated as a Sunday of Easter, and, after the Sunday of the Resurrection, they are named Second Sunday of Easter, Third Sunday of Easter, etc. up to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, and the whole fifty-day period concludes with Pentecost Sunday. It became common in Catholic practice for new converts to the faith to go through preparation during the season of Lent leading up to Holy Week, and then to be formally accepted into the faith and baptized on Easter Sunday. What followed was a period called mystagogy, from the Greek word meaning “to lead through the mysteries.” This is a period for new Catholics to discover what it means to fully participate in the sacramental mysteries of the Church. The newly baptized are called neophytes, from the Greek words meaning “new plant,” because the faith has been newly planted in them. In time, it became appropriate for all believers to engage in this 50-day period of introspection and spiritual purification, in solidarity with these new members of the faith. Similar to the Jewish 49 days, there have developed, over the centuries, intricate formulas and specific practices involved in this Christian mystagogic process, which we likewise will not go into here. This refinement culminates in the celebration of the receiving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

So, to summarize: Passover came to be seen as the occasion of liberation from servitude, from Egypt -- in Hebrew mitzrayim -- which means narrowness, constriction. This freedom from tightening, choking slavery (of body and spirit) was greeted with great joy and celebration and marked the beginning of a seven-week process of spiritual refinement which culminated in the receiving of direct revelation from the divine -- the Torah -- on Shavuot.

Easter came to be seen as the occasion of liberation from sin and death -- through the sacrifice of Jesus. This freedom was greeted with great joy and celebration and marked the beginning of a seven-week process of spiritual refinement which culminated in the receiving of direct revelation from the divine -- the Holy Spirit -- on Pentecost.

That’s the background. Here’s the part that really intrigued Brother Al and myself: 


There is a practice of staying up all night the evening of Shavuot to study Torah – known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot – and it has its source in a midrash -- a homiletic story -- which relates that the night before the Torah was given, the Israelites retired early to be well-rested for the momentous day ahead. But they overslept and Moses had to wake them up because God was already waiting on the mountaintop. To rectify this flaw in the national character, it was thought that Jews should stay up all night on Shavuot to learn Torah.

The actual custom of all-night Torah study goes back to 1533 when the kabbalists in northern Israel held all-night study vigils the evening of Shavuot. During one of those study sessions, an angel appeared and taught them mysteries of the law. This staying up all night, called Tikkun Leil Shavuot (repairing the evening of Shavuot), has since become a quasi-mystical practice that most every Jewish community and synagogue engages in (for at least part of the evening if not all night), a ritual that ordinary people practice in the hopes that -- even if something mystical doesn’t happen, at least they can tell the stories of when it did.

meanwhile...


Traditional interpretation holds that the Descent of the Holy Spirit took place on the eve of Pentecost in the Upper Room. This Upper Room was said to be the location of the Last Supper (the Passover seder) and the basis for holy communion. In the book of Acts, is written, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages...”

The apostle Peter states that this event -- this descent of holy spirit -- was the beginning of a continual outpouring that would be available to all believers from that point on, Jew and Gentile alike. “When the day was fully come” means the evening before. Days are reckoned from evening to evening, so the commencement of Pentecost (back then, called Shavuot) began with prayers (maybe the lighting of candles) welcoming the holiday at sunset of the prior evening. While the eve of Pentecost was for a long time traditionally a day of fasting for Catholics, today's canon law no longer requires it. Some Catholics and Protestants hold spiritual retreats, prayer vigils and litanies in the days leading up to Pentecost. In some places, vigils on the eve of Pentecost still last all night.

So Brother Al and I wondered... 


If the receiving of the Holy Spirit was an unexpected surprise -- if they didn’t know they were going to receive the gift that night -- then what indeed were those (Jewish) disciples doing in the upper room 50 days after their rabbi’s death (during Pesach)? Clearly they were praying some form of evening service -- maariv -- on the evening of Shavuot. Perhaps they were engaged in a prayerful re-creation of the receiving of the Torah.

And then we started to wonder -- these devout Jews experienced something on the first erev Shavuot, 50 days after the passing of their rebbe -- something that is expressed by Christians as the descent, or gift of the Holy Spirit. Translating holy spirit back into its original Hebrew, we get ruach hakodesh, which is the traditional biblical term for prophesy. What came upon them -- the voice of God? Now we want to know more about what they really experienced and how it relates to what the kabbalists in northern Israel experienced on the same night of Shavuot 1,500 years later, when an angel appeared to them as the voice of God -- i.e., how might the original Pentecost experience be a precursor to tikkun leil Shavuot -- the all night vigil that is still practiced today in Jewish communities throughout the world?

While they don’t mean exactly the same thing, and I don’t mean to suggest a perfect analogy, the Christian trinitarian Father-Son-Holy Spirit and the Jewish combination of God-Torah-Israel certainly demand as closer look as we seek to contrast and compare these two traditions -- for the benefit of both.

Hazzan Steve Klaper

yuchia@klaper.com

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!