Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Me, Niqabi

Written Tues., January 11, 2010

Justin brought up yesterday that I'd been nearly full-time niqaabi (wearing a face veil) for a while now - increasingly frequently since late September, I suppose - and asked how it was going for me. I was surprised to realize how often I wear it now. I'm returning to a mental place where I don't usually notice, or pay attention to, the looks and stares.  Well, except for one instance last month where I stared down a ten year old boy in Wal-Mart who, in a display of poor manners, insisted on following me around and staring rather aggessively, even after I greeted him AND despite the presence of both his parents, who acted as if I wasn't there at all!  I think I ended up scaring him, but sometimes enough is enough. It's kind of funny in retrospect.

In fact, today I ran into a classmate uptown whom I'd only met last week, and not only was I in niqab (which she's seen) but I also had the eyeveil down over my face because of the snow (keeps snow from smudging my glasses, though I can see out fine, though an observer can't see my eyes; it's like wearing sunglasses). She not only recognized me, but struck up a nice conversation right there on the sidewalk, and ended up promising to have me over for dinner.

Once again, I suggest that niqab is not a barrier to communication unless either party makes it one. In other words, I guess that the niqab is going well - and I'm finally adapting to being in a 'safe' environment, where I don't get the aggressive responses I dealt with in Indy.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"The World" vs. Religion

Eboo Patel, a Muslim author and scholar, wrote the preface to a book I picked up at the Governor's Conference on Service and Volunteerism last week, "Hearing the Call Across Traditions: Readings on Faith and Service." He begins by talking about how the Prophet Muhammad would make an annual retreat to a cave on Mount Hira to pray and contemplate. In the Muslim tradition, Muhammad was chosen to be the prophet to his people because (as Patel echoes) he regularly removed himself from the world in order to focus on worship. Patel continues,
"That felt difficult for me. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted nothing more than to know and love the world... To travel, to taste, to experiment, to see, to serve. And while I felt a longing for God throughout my adolescence, if connecting to the Divine meant removing myself from real life, I wasn't quite ready to make that commitment. I chose the world."

Nevertheless, he wasn't quite satisfied, and he eventually returned to a deeper study of Islam. There he found something that is obvious but completely overlooked by most: after his first encounter with the angel Gabriel and the revelation that the angel brought, Muhammad never returned to the cave in the mountain.

"Once he was touched by the Heavens of Faith, Muhammad lived the rest of his years in the Harlem of Life. He married and had children. He preached and counseled... He loved the world, and he lived his life in it, and he did it on the command of God. In fact, in the Holy Qur'an, God makes it clear that this was His intention for all human beings... One of our primary duties is to manifest His mercy here."

Not to chase after experiences of the Divine presence. Not even to worship God (though here I suspect Patel may disagree with my interpretation).

Again: Muhammad never returned to the mountain.

He lived. He engaged with the world, with life, with others.

Separating oneself from "the world" in order to be "more religious" is not only unnecessary, to do so is to forget what faith and religion are supposed to be about. What is important: Living one's life fully and enthusiastically. Involving oneself in the lives of other people. Serving other people. Loving other people.

This has been said by many, in many places, but I wrote it here because of how the passage affected me. And because it connects with my last post, on truth and Truth. While I still long to sense the presence of God, I no longer encounter the Divine in the same way that I used to. I have, in a sense, left that mountain years ago, and I ought to stop trying to climb it again.

Rather, I should take the prophet's example: live, and live, and help others, and live.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Truth - and Reality

In the last day or so, two encounters made me pause and consider what I think of as my reality, the one I live in day to day.

Yesterday morning as I was going in to the office, a woman approached me asking about the food pantry that's recently been opened in our same building. I wasn't sure how to find it, so I accompanied her and we eventually found the right place to go and got her signed in. She was very worried that she'd arrive too late to get any food, as it's open only certain days until the food is all distributed; she had no food in her house, nothing, "not even a stick of candy." From her tone, expression and body language, I don't think she was exaggerating. In any case, the urgency and depth of her need was written on her whole person. While we were talking and looking for the correct entrance, I asked her where she'd walked there from, and she told me she'd walked from a certain street, which I know is about a mile away, and asked if the food pantry also gave out bus passes or if our legal clinic had any, so she wouldn't have to walk the mile back with the bags. They didn't, and we don't, so I gave her the $2 bus fare myself.

What else is there to do? - the universe put her directly in my path (or me in her path) and what is nothing to me made a significant difference to her, even just the very small act of helping her find the correct entrance so she could pick up a couple of bags of food. She wasn't angling for pity, or 'playing up' her situation, she was just telling me as it was. And that's what affected me so much.

I might not be enjoying the poverty-level-income aspect of my current situation, but my reality is that I am still in a position to help others whose situations are both truly ugly and not necessarily by their own choosing. And that the Universe expects me to remember that and act on it, that it is indeed foundational for being a decent human being.

The second encounter was quite brief. I was listening to two of my co-workers talking about church, and their faith, and one asked the other about how she came to be a Christian. It wasn't a dramatic Conversion Story, it was more about curiosity and inquiry and personal study. And then she said that the more she read about Christianity, the more truth (Truth) she found in it.

I left the room at that point to think about that statement.

In what book, or religion, or set of beliefs/concepts do *I* find 'more and more Truth?' IS there anything that fits that description?

I can list many places I do not find it. And I find pieces of Truth all over the place (or rather, what might be Truth: how can I tell except to ask my self whether I can deeply and honestly accept the offered concept, or not, and even then it's still subjective truth, not transcendent Truth). But I do not find that as I read the Qur'an nor the books of Muslim jurists and theologians that I find 'more and more Truth' there as my friend has with her Scripture.

Sometimes - but not often, and not for a while - I feel what I interpret as the presence of God in prayer or supplication. But I'm no closer to finding Truth - or really, all that much in the way of subjective truth - than I was at the beginning of my spiritual journeying. I 'knew' more when I started out than I do now, and I've been steadily losing what sense of certainty I had, for a couple of years. (It may be that Islam was an attempt at a spiritual stopgap, a way to try to recover what I'd already lost. I'll have to think about that.)

So, other than a heretic from two religions now, what does that make me?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Too much happening since I last posted...

I'm staying in Indy. I still miss southeastern Ohio. Sometimes I just miss Ohio. But this is where I need to be, and what I need to do. This is what I am being asked to do. So, I stay; and as soon as I assented to that decision, things began to fall into place, and I understood that this next year will be good, not only 'good for me' like a vegetable you don't like but GOOD.

Other things are changing, too... I'm in transition once again, unmoored, but unafraid, because I know the path is charted, and even if I don't know where I'm heading the one who loosed me from the slip does. Navigation isn't my part of my duties.

Rather, it's like the first boat trip Amelia and I took in Indonesia, from the main island port to Balobaloang, twelve hours by sailboat, setting off just after sunset. The crew navigated by the stars; we lay on the deck and wondered at the multitude of them and at how the Bugis crew could so easily find their way through the endless sea, until we fell asleep. And the next morning woke to the see the suggestion of land, still several hours away, but there.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Yeah Zen!

Yesterday I discovered that the Zen Center is Five. Blocks. From. Where. I. Work. Walking distance. I've driven down that road multiple times and never ever noticed the house with the discreet 'Indianapolis Zen Center' sign. Apparently it's time.

When I walked into the Dharma Room for the class, the first thing I noticed was that there wasn't a Buddha on the altar. It was Avalokitesvara, aka Kwan Yin. Avalokitesvara isn't a 'deity' in the usual sense - Zen Buddhism doesn't work that way - rather, he/she symbolizes compassion for all life. So the statue on the altar isn't holy, the altar isn't holy, and worship isn't part of it. It's a symbol to remind the practitioner.

Oh, and the particular school of Zen that this center is part of is the Kwan Um School, a Korean lineage - so I didn't get it at first. Kwan Um: a Korean name for Kwan Yin. The school emphasizes...wait for it... the path of compassion. I feel like I've been smacked repeatedly with a really big Dharma Stick. (In nonBuddhistspeak, God had to make my clue signs REALLY BIG before I noticed.) I happen to have a certain affinity for the Compassionate aspect of the divine; in Islam, these are the central 'names' (aspects) of God, repeated frequently in the formal prayer (Al-Rahman, Al-Rahmim). There's also many, many hadith (and Qur'an passages) that emphasize God's mercy and compassion over strict justice.

This tradition also is practice-based rather than text-based, so it's all about the meditation, about training the mind. Perfect.