40 Days of Meditation

ascensionI had never thought of the day of Jesus’ Ascension as a holiday until this year.  I’m not all that familiar with Catholic holidays, but I don’t think very many Protestant churches in the United States celebrate the Ascension.  Oh, the minister preaches about it.  We know it happened between Easter and Pentecost, and we don’t deny its importance, but it just kind of gets lost somehow.

This year, probably because of my Religious Studies courses, I feel the need to spend some time meditating on our Christian rituals and holidays.  Several people of my acquaintance have annoyed me with their attitudes about Easter.  They have suddenly discovered that most major Christian holidays match up time wise with pagan festivals and also share many rituals.   Because of this fact, they think the Christian worship is being degraded.  They are re-enforced by the reaction of many conservative Christians who are horrified by this “news.”

Christians who delve more deeply into their faith than childhood Sunday School lessons already know this, have always known this and see it for the irrelevancy that it is.  We know that Easter has nothing to do with any pagan god or goddess anymore.  The word may have come from there originally, but that “god” died with its last believer.

As pagan people were converted to Christianity, they brought their traditional ways of celebration with them.  The people and the new focus of their worship were the important feature, not the origin of the activities.  Christians today, know they are not worshiping Ishtar and the timing of Easter is tied to the Jewish Passover season, not some pagan fertility rite.

As I dug into research to prove my thoughts on this, it occurred to me that we seem to be missing a very important day in our holiday lineup.  The day that Jesus ascended into heaven should be more important to us.  We should be paying more attention to it.  What it represents is a major part of our faith.  Without his Ascension, our hope of an afterlife would be a very different proposition.

There is no way for us to know for sure, at this point, what the actual date is, but tradition tells us it was 40 days after Resurrection Day.  So our Easter season should extend from Ash Wednesday, through the 40 days of Lent, to Easter and then another 40 days to Ascension Day, which is supposed to be on a Thursday.  This year that will be May the 29th.  Like Easter, it will move every year along with Passover.

During the 40 days between Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus did not go into the city or countryside to make new converts.  He spent his time in meetings with his Disciples instructing them on how they were to carry out His teachings.  On the 40th day, they watched Him ascend into Heaven.  Ten days later the Holy Spirit descended on them at Pentecost.

So, I am making a new commitment.  A promise to spend this time studying and meditating on my religion and what it means.  I recently bought a book by Bishop Spong titled The Sins of Scripture.  It seems like a good place to start.  I also have many other religious books that I and my mother before me have collected over the years.  I am sure I will have no problem finding material.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

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Digging Deeper

coexist-1_7aeaOne of the things I am getting from the classes I’m taking is a wider perspective on religion as a whole.  The book we are using for my current class is God is Not One by Stephen Prothero.  The text is broken into chapters that each cover a different major religion.  Most of them are the mainline organizations we are all familiar with, but it concludes with a strange outlook.

Prothero defines religion, itself, differently than I had ever perceived it.  He says religions aren’t, necessarily, about worshiping a god.  That, in fact, some religions deny there is a god.  I, personally, have trouble with that statement.  For me, if it doesn’t recognize a deity, even one I don’t believe in, we cannot call it a religion.

Prothero defines Atheism as a religion.   I am pretty sure most atheists would disagree, violently, with that definition.  According to this way of looking at religion, all that is required to make a religion is for there to exist four things:

  1. Creed – a statement of beliefs and values.
  2. Cultus – ritual activities.
  3. Codes – standards for ethical conduct.
  4. Community - a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

If we are going to accept these as all that is required to form a religion, then most corporations could be listed.  People who are employed by Apple, Microsoft, or Google would be members of those religions.  They share beliefs (that their company is better than its competitors), engage in ritual activities (attending work services on a daily basis), have a code of conduct, and share community with their fellow employees.

I think before we can define an organization as a religion, it must accept the concept of a “higher power,” a god.  It may not be the “all-powerful One” that Christians share with Jews and Muslims, but there must be some sort of supernatural deity involved.  Something that is worshiped, even if it is only Mother Nature or the Universal Mind.

A religion requires there to be something greater than the individual man or woman.  It may be closely defined in appearance with statues to represent it or as diffuse as the idea of a “higher power,” the Source, but without that Something, we do not have religion.  Without worship, there is only a political or social organization.

God is Not One is well written and provides interesting views on the various major religions.  I have enjoyed most of it, but I find the final solution problematic.  I understand that there are many ways of looking for god.  It is accepted that mankind has been searching for that “god” since history began.   That search is the purpose of all religions.  To define ‘religion’ as anything else is to lose sight of the search.

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Plotting a Path

This is my oldest website.  I say website instead of blog because it wasn’t a blog in the beginning.  It was a place for our family to post photos and keep in touch with far-flung members.  As time passed, we all grew more busy and the grandchildren grew up.  Posting here became sporadic.  Then it became nonexistent.  In the meantime, we had set up a company website for the part-time business my brother Jim and I engage in.  I finished my Creative Writing/Journalism degree and set up a writing blog.  Jim set up a website for his photography and, finally, we started a travel blog to allow family and friends to follow us on our journeys.   I had pretty much forgotten about this one.

Then something called me back to it.  At first, it made me sad.  It seemed that our family had drifted apart.  But, I realized that wasn’t true.  We were just using other methods of communication.  Hardly a day passes without texts being sent from one state to another.  Cell phone calls for support, instruction, or planning purposes are common.  Facebook pulls us all into its starving maw.  It warms my soul when I find something shared by one of my loved ones and my comment leads to someone else joining in.  We frequently engage in multi-state conversations that may include friends as well as family members.

So, it seemed time to re-purpose Mamaw’s Homeplace.  Instead of a family visiting center, that “something” urged me to make it a personal thing.  It began as a kind of memoir effort.  Talking about my life past and present.  As time passed, Something said it should have a more focused purpose.  That it should be inspirational.  The posts should be essays.  A place to publish non-fiction writing.  I argued that I already had Reading to Write for that.  That inner voice said, “But that’s mostly fiction.  This one should be about your faith journey.”  My immediate response was, “No, that’s too personal.”  The second excuse was, “I’m not qualified to discuss religion in a public forum.”

38.0201_449That “Something” then led me to the Religious Studies program at Western Kentucky University.   So, it’s been more than a year now.  I feel as though I have barely scratched the surface of what I need to know.  Still, Something is telling me it is time to begin.  I still feel that it is too personal and I am not qualified to tell anyone else what to think about religion.  So, I am trying to figure out where to begin and what direction to go in.  It feels like the most dangerous endeavor I have ever embarked upon.  I am not ready.   I may never be ready.

As I am re-visioning my school plans and trying to jump-start my stalled writing engine, I have filled out my editorial calendar once again.  I have scheduled a post on each of my four blogs once a week.  I have even chosen topics for the remainder of the month.  Mondays are for this one.  This week’s topic is supposed to be Disciples beliefs.  I was raised in the Disciples church, specifically the First Christian Church of Madisonville, KY.  I specify because Disciples churches are eclectic.  Our basic tenet is “Where the Bible speaks, we speak.  Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.”  The problem starts when we try to define what the Bible says and what it means for today’s world.  So, I must first state that my opinions, my view of things, do not, necessarily, represent the Disciples Church Per Se.

It’s kind of like the disclaimer we are familiar with on TV.  The opinions of this speaker do not represent the station that she comes from.  Because our church professes to be “a servant church welcoming all persons to the journey of knowing and experiencing God’s love and grace” it does not tell us what we must believe, but expects us to study the Bible, pray for guidance, and explore the writings of a variety of religious leaders from all corners of the world.  My church gave me my foundation.    I have used that foundation to build my own inner place of worship and prayer.  It may not always be comfortable for my fellow travelers.  It’s not always comfortable for me either.  Still, I hope to be part of the “movement for wholeness in a fragmented world,” that most Disciples churches endeavor to create.

Some weeks, this may still be more about memoir than religion.  Sometimes it may descend into a rant against things in our  society that frustrate, irritate, or infuriate me.  If so, please have patience and I promise to recover my self control.  But, woven into the mix, there will be a thread of Faith.  I may not succeed.  I don’t promise to please.  I can’t swear to always be correct or even consistent.  I do swear to try and be as honest as I can.  This is as much a journey for me as for anyone else.  I still feel uncomfortable when I consider exposing my inner thoughts about my faith to a world that can be cruel and judgmental.

In spite of that trepidation, I plead for your comments.  Because I come from a Christian background, my attitude and opinions will be colored by that.  However, as I study all forms of religion, I am interested in other viewpoints and discussions as well.  I promise to listen to any reasonable disagreements and respond in a like manner.  I am still learning.  I hope to learn from others as I attempt to impart my own thoughts and meditations.  I am looking to engage in conversation, not preach sermons.  Let us seek a peaceful way of coming together.

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Lenten Commitments

One of the reasons I decided to take the Religious Studies course at Western was to learn more about other religions.  I felt I had a pretty good handle on Christianity, but I knew little about Judaism and almost nothing about Islam.  I had been exposed to a smattering of Buddhism and The Dao, but nothing of Hinduism.  I saw great gaps in my background that left me feeling like my foundation of belief was “built on sand.”  As I come toward the end of my  third semester, I still feel like I’m on shaky ground at times.  I am currently well into my fifth class and I am realizing I’ve barely scratched the surface.

A second reason for this endeavor is to find links between the major religions of the world.  I firmly believe that there is A God.  Only one, not a different one for each religion.  Only One, who has been given different names in different languages and is seen from various viewpoints, but still is the same being.  I hope to find substantiation for this opinion in my studies.  Some of what I’ve learned about Islam backs up that opinion and has been useful to my quest.

One thing is the injunction to stay mindful of God.  Muslims pray five times a day to remind them to always be mindful of God.  As a Christian, Lent is my mindful time.  I’m not saying that I only practice my faith at this time of year, but it is during Lent that I make a commitment to do, or not do, something that will remind me every day of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Traditionally, this meant giving up some form of food or drink and I still do that.  This year, I am eliminating potatoes from my menus.  Sometimes, it’s easy.  Just filling my plate at dinner without them.  At other times, I must restrain myself from grabbing, just one, french fry from someone else’s fast food meal.  In either case, it is a reminder that I am only asked to make small sacrifices for my faith, not the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made.

A less traditional commitment is to make a promise to do something.  What thing isn’t as important as the reason for doing it.  It’s just another, more positive, way to stay mindful on our road to Easter.  The commitment “to do” is more difficult for me that the don’t.  I am reminded of the don’t every time I plan a meal.  Remembering the “to do” takes more effort.  We are on the fourth week of Lent.  Every day, I consider the fact that I did not make a real “to do” promise this year.  I thought about several possibilities and dismissed them.  So, my Lenten “to do” has been meditating on Lent.  What it means and why we celebrate it.  I am in belief mode, not action.

In the past, I’ve tried several “practices.”  Reading scripture everyday, praying at a certain time every day, dedicating more time to service, but none of those seemed fitting this year.  This year, I feel more like a Buddhist.  I search within for meaning.  I listen for that “still small voice.”  This year, I reach for God, not somewhere in the “great beyond,” but inside my own heart and mind.

The weather hasn’t been encouraging enough to tempt me to sit under a tree all day as Gautama did on his search for enlightenment.  Just finding a few quiet moments in the nursery school I currently inhabit is a challenge all by itself.  I must admit, that there have been days when I failed.  On those days, I tell myself that I am only human and begin again.

Easter is almost upon us.  It comes, bringing hope and the promise of God’s blessings on us.  I am not sure that Jesus’ death was payment for our sins.  I am afraid we still pay for those ourselves.  But I do think He died to bring us a message of Hope and Forgiveness.  The scripture that says “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life,” (NAS Bible. John 3:16)  Jesus came knowing He would die for His teachings.  He made that sacrifice so that we could know His message of love and hope.  It is our responsibility to pass it along.

 

 

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Winding Down the Year

Xavier

Xavier

Damion

Damion

Lexie

Lexie

Elaina

Elaina

Emily

Emily

Adrianna

Adrianna

Wow, no posts since Mother’s Day….obviously it is more than a time crunch problem.  I think I’ve had a writer’s block kind of thing going on too.  Anyhow, the year is almost gone and it has been an eventful one.  Three new great-granddaughters have doubled that generational population.  Their siblings are growing up way too fast and I’m sure the new babies will do the same.  The fact that they are the topic of my first paragraph shows where my priorities have been this year.

I finished the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures course with an ‘A,’ but it was a bear with assignments every day.  I opted out of the second summer course.  I never took on campus summer courses because they required you to attend class daily.  Apparently, online courses are just as time consuming, so no more of those either.

This past fall I took Islam, Western Civilization to 1648 (a history course), and added photojournalism to my agenda with an introductory course.  Finals are over and grades are posted: a ‘B’ in Islam, an ‘A’ in history, and a ‘C’ in the photography course.  I started out with a Religious Studies major and found the photojournalism program while looking for a minor.  I added it as a second major instead.  I really want to improve my photography skills, but it was difficult to find the time to concentrate on the assignments.  I’m giving it one more semester.  If my grade doesn’t improve, I may decide to drop it and look for a different minor.

In the spring, I’ll be taking the Christianity course I dropped last summer plus the Intro to Religious Studies course I had skipped over and Buddhism on the Religious Studies side along with Intro to Multimedia and Intro to Media Writing on the photojournalism side.  This will be my make or break semester.  If all goes well, I’ll continue the double major.  If not, I’ll be plotting a new path once again.

Somehow, I need to find a way to make room for my writing to interweave itself into babies and school.  That is still my main goal.  I hope the Religious Studies will provide stones for building the foundation of my writing.  The photography is more of a hobby, but an important one.  I think my problem with making it a priority this past semester was the fact that the assignments were topics that didn’t interest me.  I am never going to be an actual photojournalist.  Other than possible illustrations for freelance writing projects, my photographic interests lie mostly with landscape and nature photography.  The only people I would normally photograph intentionally would be my babies or other family members.  Otherwise, people just happen to inhabit the background I am focusing on.GardenOfTheGods

 

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