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Friday, June 29, 2012

Brother David Steindl-Rast

Brother David is a living saint. He is one of the people I most admire. I was privileged to meet him at a Spiritual Directors' conference a couple of years ago. The Gratefulness website he instigated is well worth a regular visit. Recently it gave a link to a series of videos where Brother David talks about his 85 years of life. It is an oral autobiography - something I have never encountered before - but what a treat. He recalls life in Austria during the second world war, poverty, hunger and the death of loved ones. He recounts his peak (mystical) experiences from a very early age; how he came to enter a Benedictine monastery; his surprise at being encouraged to do training in Zen; his gradual calling out to be a speaker and world traveller even though he was supremely happy in the silence of the monastery... and so much more. The videos are beautifully presented with an excellent interviewer guiding the four one hour sessions. I was struck by Brother David's joy and humor - and his excellent memory! I know four hours is a long stretch but if you can make the time it will be well worth the effort. The most direct link to the videos is here.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

With Passion

I very much enjoy and value the writings of Rumi the 13th century Sufi poet and mystic. He was born and lived in Afghanistan. In the book Love Poems from God translator Daniel Ladinsky expresses some of Rumi's poems in a delightful way. Here's one I read yesterday:

passion pray. With
passion work. With passion make love.
With passion eat and drink and dance and play.
Why look like a dead fish
in this ocean

Friday, June 15, 2012

Charter for Compassion

If you haven't yet heard about the Charter for Compassion I've copied it below. It was initiated by Karen Armstrong after she presented a TED talk in 2008 and won the TED prize. She is an amazing woman and a wonderful writer. Her recent book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life is a very accessible (and very challenging) read. I hope you will sign the charter here and pass it on to others.

Charter for Compassion

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Three good books!

I've been in recuperation mode for a while now and reading is always one of my mainstays (even when I'm not recuperating!) So here are three books I've enjoyed for quite different reasons over that time.

I heard a Radio NZ interview with Russ Harris some time ago and requested The Reality Slap from the library at the time. In that synchronistic way life has - it arrived as I was coping with less health, energy and confidence than usual.

It is an excellent book that covers many things other authors  have said  e.g. re living in the present moment, mindfulness, dealing with anxiety, illness or personal loss. But what I specially liked was its down to earth, very practical and applicable strategies. Russ is living with his own "reality slap" as his child at age two was diagnosed as autistic. He talks very personally about how he coped (and didn't cope) at various points. This is book I will buy to re-read and have on hand to lend. Click here for more about the book and here for a link for the Radio NZ interview.

Zeitoun is the true story of a Muslim family in the aftermath of Cyclone Katrina. It is a gripping and disturbing story. Dave Eggers is an author committed to telling true stories that need to be heard. This one reveals the growing horror as the enormity of Katrina's effects became apparent. It covers the inadequate responses of so many government and supposed relief agencies. But the most revealing thing for me as I read was how prejudice against Muslims impacted Zeitoun himself  - a well known and loyal Syrian immigrant who had served his community faithfully for many years. While everyone in this immediate family survived, the long term effects continue. It is a sobering reminder of how easily prejudice and fear combine to create terrible, and unnecessary suffering.

I have mentioned Psalms for Praying previously. I am still reading and praying a Psalm each day. (Up to Psalm 90 today!) I find Nan Merrill's way of making each Psalm relevant to the internal journey as much as to any external circumstances very helpful. Here are some quotes from Psalm 90 that would be lovely to read at a funeral:

When our days on earth are ended,
You welcome us home to your Heart,
to the City of Light,
where time is eternal
and days are not numbered.

You gather those who love you as
friends returning from a long
giving rest to their souls.
You anoint them with the balm of understanding,
healing the woulds of the past.