Engaging the World with Compassion with Roshi Joan Halifax
We Don't Trust Love Enough
ï»¿ï»How different our lives would be if just once we decided to trust love
Trust that out of faith hope and love the greatest of these is love
Trust that it is okay to love
That loving in the face of fear takes courage
Trust recklessly enough to experience one of the ï»¿ï»¿greatest joys in the world
Trust that allowing someone in will always outweigh the pain of leaving them out
Trust that in spite of all the finite things of this world
Love never gives up
Loves cares more for others than for self
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have
Love doesn’t strut
Doesn’t have a swelled head
Doesn’t force itself on others
Isn’t always, “me first”
Doesn’t fly off the hand
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others
Doesn’t revel when others grovel
Love takes pleasure in the flowering of the truth
Puts up with anything
Trusts God always
Always looks for the best
Never looks back but keeps going to the end
Love Never Fails
(Excerpt from We Don't Trust Love Enough by Hannah Drake)
It almost seemed fitting that after an afternoon rainstorm, in strolls Roshi Joan Halifax bringing in the quiet stillness that typically follows a raging storm. Roshi Halifax’s demeanor was calm, centered, and focused. The energy that radiated seemed to say, “Be calm in this space.” It reminded me of a sign that Oprah Winfrey said that she has hanging in her office that says, “Be responsible for the energy that you bring in this space.” She stated that she was 72 and I knew whatever lifestyle she was leading certainly did agree with her! I suppose that is the way you look when you have learned to lead a life that is centered, in the moment, in tune with self and focused on love and compassion. The audience was filled with just a few seats left empty. I made my way to the back row gazing over the crowd filled with men and women, old and young, and similar to my first experience in the Discovering the Self in Sacred Journey with the Other, there were just a few faces that looked like mine. It made me wonder why more minorities did not attend the Festival of Faiths. In truth, this was my first time attending the event so I posed the question to myself. Perhaps it is because my version of Christianity has been so indoctrinated in my life that I was closed off to hearing about other religions and faiths. Perhaps it was because I was taught that my way is the only way. Perhaps it was because I am used to being around people that look like me, that hold similar values as me, that think like me. Perhaps because I am too afraid to step out of my corner of the world and recognize that listening to a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist and pioneer in the field of end-of-life care, could be beneficial to my life. Whatever the reason, I quickly learned that stepping outside of my corner of comfort was well worth it!
They started the session by us taking 3 minutes to pause in silence. In a world that is always in a state of motion, a microwave society, in an, ‘I want it right now and do not want to wait’ era, three minutes of silence can seem like three years of silence. Deafening. Long. Pointless. Shouldn’t I be on Facebook? Tweeting? Snapping a picture to place on Instagram for likes? Shouldn’t something be buzzing, dinging, vibrating reminding me that I am connected to the world, that I am important, that people know I exist? Yet, as I stood, I discarded those thoughts and just stood in the moment, listened to my breath, felt my heartbeat, closed my eyes and let the calmness settle into my body. I was disconnected from my phone my so called lifeline and I got in touch with my lifeline and it felt good.
After the 3 minutes, Roshi Halifax opened up her conversation with us. I call it a conversation because her voice was calm, inviting. Her words came from her mouth slow, deliberate. You could tell that she was not a woman that enjoyed wasting words. She understood the power of words and was not one of those people that spoke simply because they liked the sound of their voice. It left me hanging on each word wondering what she would say next.
Roshi Halifax spoke about Thomas Merton and him leaving his place of comfort and going to Gethsemane. She explained that Gethsemane translated to the oil press. My goodness. Everyone loves the olive and indeed we value the olive oil but when you mention the oil press, we pause. I doubt many people walk into suffering joyfully. Especially knowing that you can lead a life of comfort, yet you deliberately lay down that comfort and take on a life, a mission, a stand that you know will not be comfortable. That is walking into Gethsemane. Walking into the oil press. In dealing with the topics we discussed at Festival of Faiths I believe most of the presenters and the audience had made a choice to walk into the oil press. Although we looked different, had different backgrounds, lived in different areas, we all had made a choice and one of those choices that Roshi Halifax wanted us to focus on was compassion. One way to have compassion is to embody it. When I heard her say that I thought of getting dressed. Compassion is something you put on each day. When you move, it moves, it as close to you as the air that you breathe. You do not take a stand for justice, for the least of these and leave compassion at home. You do not just empathize with someone and then go back to your place of comfort but you take their hand and as you are trying to get them out of the trenches you get in the trenches with them and say let’s get out of this together.” Justice”, as Roshi Halifax said, “without compassion is not enough.”
One area that Roshi Halifax focused on was that she entered into the prison system to speak to individuals on death row. We are all aware that we will die, however to know you have been sentenced to die is a different concept. Something you have done has been deemed so horrific that the justice system and some in society feel your presence is no longer worthy of being on the earth. An eye for an eye. Seemingly someone on death row more than likely has taken someone else’s life and in such a horrific ways it calls for death. And this soft spoken women meets with them. She said some have said it was the first time someone treated them with respect and kindness. This part of the conversation resonated with me because last year I became obsessed with a trial that rocked the nation. The Jodi Arias Trial. I had never met Jodi Arias and I never will. I have never spoken with her yet the details of her crime were so evil that something in me hated her deeply. I wanted her on death row so badly that if the prison warden asked me to come prepare her cell I would have flown out that day and spit shined it clean! Watching her on trial caused such a physical reaction with me my blood pressure would rise. I even joined Facebook pages with people that hated her as much as I did so that we could talk about how much we hated her. I watched the trial daily. I just wanted her to face justice! When she was sentenced to life without parole and not death I felt defeated. How can you murder a man basically 3 times over and yet are not sentenced to die? How can I find love in my heart for her?! To me, she was the epitome of evil! Yet, Roshi Halifax said that somehow we must look at people, even those we deem as “evil” and find a way to see them and love them. There is no way! Doesn’t Roshi Halifax understand what this woman has done?! Yet somehow in her conversation I knew her answer would be to love anyway. That is what I am taught as a Christian to simply love. To find it somewhere in my heart to love and that is why it cannot be based on how you feel. Love is not a feel good emotion because there are days when you run smack dab into evil and you are going to have to defer to a source bigger than you that can show you how to have love and compassion. Love and compassion isn’t about loving those that make it easy because that is easy enough to do. Love is loving those that don’t look like you, that spew hate, that despitefully use you. Be it Buddhist teachings or any other teachings, the philosophy is the same-Love Never Fails! No doubt this would be a challenge for me because at times we feel justified in our hate, in our ways, in our opinions. However, I am learning to let go and to let God help me, heal me and allow me to love in spite of.
Roshi Halifax also spoke about the definition of compassion which is the capacity to attend, having a deep intention to serve, having a desire to alleviate the suffering and engaging in action. Excellent points especially the last one. Too often and I am guilty as well, we do not engage in action. It is easy to buy a Black Lives Matters shirt. It is easy to say, “I give to the Red Cross” or “I donate to the Salvation Army”. But can we get our hands dirty? Compassion often times is about getting your hands dirty, working through issues that may not be worked out in your lifetime. Are you willing to endure the marathon of justice or are you just in it for the quick sprint?
We are able to have compassion as Roshi Halifax so eloquently put it when we extend GRACE to others.
Gathering our attention. STOP what you are doing. Trust me you are NOT that important. The world will continue to turn if you pause and focus your attention on another human being.
Remember why you are here. Touch into your capacity for moral sensitivity. Care more about others than you do yourself for a moment.
Attune to yourself on a physical level both mind and heart. Have you ever been speaking to someone and you can tell they are no more interested in your issues than they are watching paint dry? Be a person whose entire being is focused on that particular issue at that time. Be in the moment.
Consider what will serve this person. How often have we wanted to do something for someone because it will make us feel good? We do not take the time to think how will this serve this person? Instead often we think how will this serve me?
Engage and End. Engage means call yourself to action and then end the exchange. When I heard end the exchange for me there was a sense of completion encouraging the person to go and be well.
Roshi Halifax let us know that we can make a difference and that difference may be made one person at a time but one person can make a difference. In order to make a difference we must center our lives on having a heart and mind for compassion. Justice cannot exist with compassion and compassion cannot exist without justice. We must not seek the easy road but similar to Merton, we are going to have to enter our own Gethsemane and take on the hard problems. No one ever promised that it would be easy and no one ever promised that it would always be roses and rainbows. Difficulty does not negate the fact that work still needs to be done. The only thing we can do is vow to get our hands dirty because someone has to be a voice for the voiceless and perhaps many of us were called for such a time as this…
(As an aside, if I could ask Roshi Halifax anything, one thing I was curious to know after her discussion, was in dealing with her end-of-life occupation, what do people say is the most important thing from life? What do they say they wished they had focused on more? What should those still living disregard and/or embrace? At the end of someone’s life they speak the truth. There is no more need to hide, to lie, to be concerned about what others may think and that is what I want to know. I feel I have wasted a lifetime over things that are unimportant and I want my life to matter. I want my relationships to matter. I want people to say, "Hannah was here and she made a difference". I do not want to focus on things that truly do not amount to a hill of beans. I want to live my life in color and squeeze all that I can out of it and when I think I am done squeezing, squeeze just a little bit more of it out for good measure and know that something I did in my lifetime made a difference to someone. Thank you Roshi Halifax for your teachings.)
Festival of Faiths –Sacred Journeys
Discovering the Self in Sacred Journey with the Other
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--
I, too, am America.
Two words as an African American woman I have always been made aware of. The other. Someone that does not fit into what society deems as the norm. It is us and you, you are part of them. Who are them? Those that do not fit into the majority. You are the other-Black, Latino, a woman, homosexual, etc. You are the other and every day you do not need to remind yourself that you are the other-each day that you wake up, you cannot out run your “otherness” because no matter where you go, there you are. These are weighty issues to cover and I was intrigued, wondering how the Festival of Faiths, an event, speaking in all truth and sincerity, is not typically occupied by “the others”, would cover these topics.
When I walked into the Festival of Faiths venue, my otherness was on full display. I am not just black. I am a rich chocolate, black. Not the pass the brown bag test black that at times squares well with those that are not others, but I am that reminder of a history that too often society wants to forget. I have a shirt that reads, “Descendent of a Field Negro…And Still I Rise", and I felt as if my full bloodline was on display. The vestibule area was very quiet with just a few people walking around, softly chatting, seemingly oblivious to the fact that “the other” had entered the space. Ironically, in dealing with this topic, out of all the chairs in the vestibule area, a White man chose to sit right next to me with his coffee and read through some literature. And I, I felt awkward. "Why sit next to me?" "Why not another seat? A million questions raced through my mind. “If I get up and leave will he be offended?” I certainly did not want to do that. We never spoke. Never said hello. Didn’t make small talk about the impending rainstorm. We were content in our silence although a million words were spoken between us. I am sure he was oblivious to the fact that I was having this internal struggle and most of it was centered on race. But that is what “the other” often does, question everything and then attempt to make the right choice after weighing all the options. I decided not to get up and move. We still never said one word to each other. After the enlightening session I questioned why two people just inches away from each other, were too afraid to remove the invisible barrier between them and say hello?
After my internal battle, the doors to the auditorium opened and I breathed a sigh of relief. I saw those that looked like me. If nothing else we had a few commonalities. I was relieved to see the familiar faces of Dr. François, Rev. Shull, and Rev. Harvey. Standing next to them were two women, Elizabeth Jones and Rev. Neichelle Guidry-Jones. In typical women fashion, it took me 3 seconds to size them up. They were beautiful, well put together, physically flawless and each had beautiful smiles. I was here to give a poem on gender equality and of course the first thing I noticed was their outer appearance. I was digging a bigger hole for my own issues. They say as a writer, most of the stuff you write is for you and clearly I needed the points of my poetry to seep somewhere deep into my subconscious. Before the session even started I already had an internal race battle and now as a woman, I did not ask either woman what they did for a living and their position on the panel but I did notice that Rev Guidry-Jones had on a stunning pair of tan pumps. (God help me.)
Before we made our way to the stage, Dr. Christopher Pramuk gave a lecture on Merton and Race. Truthfully, I am open to listening to anyone speak on any topics, because I am a firm believer that you can learn from anyone. But I must admit, I pay double close attention when someone that is not of a particular race, speaks to me about race. It is easy to write a paper, a poem, a book on race relations, it is another to actually see those words on the page manifest themselves and you are living it. I was pleased that every word Dr. Pramuk spoke, was solid and based in an understanding that he realized while he is not classified as “the other” he identifies with the struggles of the other. Often times that is all that most people need to know. You may not be “the other” but can you get in the trenches with "the other" and truly help “the other” bring about change? Not because you are white and I am black, not because you are man and I am a woman, not because you are rich and I am poor, not because you live in the East End and I live in the West End but because doing right is the right thing to do. Because compassion sees no color, because love crosses all barriers, because true concern for “the other” can level the playing field.
Following Dr. Parmuk’s lecture, we started our panel discussion. I stood on the stage and looked out into the audience. I saw 3 faces that looked like I did. I was painfully aware once again that even in this setting where the staff of the Center for Interfaith Relations had been so welcoming, kind, pleasant and encouraging, I knew that similar to that song on Sesame Street, “One of these kids are doing their own thing”, I was the kid doing my own thing and the spotlight was truly on me. Here goes nothing I thought. They can love it, hate it, boo me off the stage, clap wildly but I knew every word I placed on those pages were the truth and although the truth can be painful to face, it is by facing the truth that we begin a dialogue for true, authentic, organic change. My first poem was 10 and 2, a piece I wrote for my daughter that depicts the trials of a young, black person driving. Too often in our society, driving while black has been deemed a crime. The crowd was silent as I read. I did not know if they understood what I was saying not intellectually, of course, but on a fundamental level that these are the talks that we have with our children because we live in fear for their lives. My daughter is in college, has a 3.5 GPA, and has never been in trouble one day of her life. She is not what society would call “a thug” yet I fear for her life in these days. Not because she has done anything wrong but simply because she was born black. While having “the black talk” may be difficult, it is one that is needed. The panel quickly responded after my poem and provided great insight about police brutality and the church’s role in helping to deal with this issue. And yes, Dr. Francois said, we do have a role. As I paraphrase Rev. Harvey, “the church is moving from the prosperity gospel and it has to because now we have black bodies in the street.” As a person that not only attends church but also one that works at the church, I wholeheartedly agree. We cannot continue to have this feel good “churchianity”. Jesus was a revolutionary! Jesus stood up for the poor, the weak, the marginalized, etc. We cannot just have church as usual or the church will no longer be effective. The church isn’t just a place you attend to get your “praise on”. The church is not a night club or a social club. It’s a place that needs to be used to activate change!
We followed that discussion with a topic on Mass Incarceration after a poem that I read entitled, “Dancing to the Beat”. While not a long piece of poetry, it paints a clear picture that the prison system is now prison for profit and attempts to show the cyclical nature of the prison system. The prison system does not come alive after a person is sentenced. Because it is a well-oiled machine, the gears are being greased long before the person even enters the criminal system. Louisville, Kentucky recently made national news when it appeared in a PBS documentary on Frontline called Prison State. No matter how you attempt to hide dirty laundry, eventually it will start to smell and Louisville, Kentucky had the covers removed in that documentary. It showed two sides to this coin. While I do agree we do AMAZING things in Louisville, there is another side to this coin and one of those sides is 9th Street and beyond but primarily Beecher Terrace a pocket of Louisville that is overcome with despair, death, heartache and agony. Where 1 in 3 people will be caught up in the prison system. ONE IN THREE! That is beyond staggering. So sadly, we too, are a part of this machine. With this dialogue and the recent changes in the city, I pray we can overcome this and not just displace people, but transform people! If you want change, you do not simply move a problem, you deal with the fundamental, base level, all in your business so we can get to the bottom of it, problem. Moving generations of people who have known nothing but plight and poverty is not change. If you have cancer in your kidneys, and the doctor comes in and says, “We made a committee, we have the money and we have made a decision that WE feel is best for you. What are going to do is cut out the cancer and then MOVE IT to your liver.” You would look at that doctor as if they were crazy because the doctor is not dealing with the fundamental problem. The doctor can say we are going to remove the cancer but you need to stop smoking, drinking, start exercising, eating better, take your medicine, etc. That is more feasible but the doctor is dealing the BASE issues. Also, it shows a partnership. The doctor is going to do the medical part but the patient HAS to do their part. This analogy is being used to depict the gentrification currently going on in the city. The city can do its part, provide good housing, better schools, etc. WE have to do our part! This is not a finger pointing session because nine times out of ten you can ALWAYS point at yourself when a problem arises. We need to be co-laborers together! It is one thing to say you do not want to be a part of the prison system, it is another for you to continue to break the law. I can’t take a stand for bad behavior that is truly just bad behavior but I can take a stand for injustice. Black Lives do matter and they should matter first to us! Work together for change!
The final topic was on Gender. I read, "Ain’t I A Woman 2015", a play on Sojourner Truth’s famous poem, "Ain’t I A Woman". The poem covered women simply wanting gender equality. One thing that I loved that Rev. Guidry-Jones said was that as women we often speak of the trials of being a woman and do not celebrate our womanhood in all its glory. AMEN SISTER!!! Being a woman is hard, we often have to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders but I wouldn’t trade being a woman for anything in this world! I love everything about it and while we do need our struggle told, Rev. Guidry-Jones was correct that we also need to flip the coin over and like Paul Harvey used to say, “and now for the rest of the story.” She also spoke about the church assuming automatically that God is a man. When she said that I recalled a shirt that I read that said, “I met God. She’s black.” Talk about a double whammy! However, it did make me think, “Why haven’t I ever thought of God as woman?” Never once did that enter my mind. I suppose after all these years I have been conditioned to believe that God is a man and truthfully who is to say God even has a gender? Perhaps God just is and that is why God declares, “I am that I am!” Perhaps we need to take God out of the convenient box we place God in and just allow God to be. I am firm believer that I see God everywhere, in the trees, in the sunset, in the laughter of a child, in the tears of a mother, everywhere I turn I see God because God simply IS!
We finished the discussion with a question and answer session from the audience and I was thankful for that because I wondered if the audience received what was being said on the stage. From the questions and the discussions after the session ended I knew everything was well received. One woman stood up and asked, in regards to my poem 10 & 2, “Do people have conversations with their children that not all white people are bad people?” I believe these are two separate conversations because as a human being that is raising another human being, I also start from a place of love. No one is inherently bad or evil. I would be a part of the problem if I subscribed to that way of thinking. I do not need to have a conversation with my daughter about the goodness in people however, I do need to have a conversation with her about the reality of the world that she lives in. That she is the other and although we inherently know things should be equal and fair, as long as we are in this world, there are things we have to deal with. I have even had the “gender talk” with her before she headed off to college. Yes, it is true, that a woman’s clothes never ask for rape. Yes it is true, she should be able to go out and walk into her dorm room late at night without fear. Yes, she is woman hear her roar! However in the world we live in, we know the system so I have to teach her to be strong, proud of being a woman, proud of being a black woman but work within the system. Because the system is what is reality. So while she can burn her bras and wear a mini skirt as short as she desires, the moment something happens to her, God forbid, they do not see her, they see the skirt, they ask how many drinks she had, how many previous sexual partners, etc. The real question is, “Why do we still need to have these conversations in 2015 if this is a so called post racial world?” Ask Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Yvette Smith, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner and countless others, if we have overcome our race issues in America? Another great question is, “Do those in the majority have these conversations with their kids about “the others”?” This is how you bring about change. Start the conversation! Open the dialogue. Trust that we truly have more in common than we will ever know and we will never know unless we start talking to one another, lay down our preconceived notions and do what I should have done when the white man sat down next to me before the session started. Simply say, “Hello. I am Hannah. Nice to meet you.” What a world of difference that could have made…
The evening was perfection. From the reception of food & drinks beforehand, to the set up on the stage & the dim lighting that dictated the mood. It was mentioned that the events of the Festival of Faiths this year were an attempt to weave Merton's own words, to give them a voice. Well, the 7pm show on Thursday May 14th, led by Dick Sisto & executed by the "ensemble" did just that, it indeed embodied Merton's love, passion & appreciation for Jazz music.
It soothed my soul, & after a long day of work in the "real world" it was more than appreciated, & I know the woman sitting in front of me shared the same sentiments, as she all but melted into the warmth of her significant other with only socks on her feet, yep, she had kicked off her shoes, lol. It made me want to do the opposite though, I wanted to put on a pair of uncomfortable stilettos, get all dressed up, sit at the bar & have way too many glasses of wine as the pianist played his heart out. I wanted to get to know Merton personally, the photos displayed on the screen behind the band, & the dialogue used to express the man's raw emotion toward the art, made me want to sit across from him & simply watch him, as he listened.....so I did. Lol, the advantages of being a creative being with the ability to write poetry. My imagination is vivid indeed, but the sounds of the evening definitely enhanced it.
"My Jazz Date with Thomas Merton"
"....We'd meet one another,
because picking me up
was just too traditional,
too predictive &
besides, he'd already be there.
So, I'd catch a cab,
to 118 Washington Street,
an old warehouse building
that would have
the average girl leary
if she hadn't known any better,
but I did.
I knew that my date with Thomas Merton would be different.
I had stood in my kitchen,
in between perfume applications
to contemplate the evening
The thought of him,
shushing me as I would attempt
to lean into him &
within a whisper,
to express my
gratitude for his hospitality
& for the lack
would certainly annoy him
& I'd adore him
as he intently listened to every key,
closing his eyes to the notion
that it would make
in the room disappear
& once he'd have a few beers,
he'd tease me,
for dancing off beat
& we'd laugh
& he'd teach me
the meaning behind every set,
the extent of pain
that the saxophone displayed
& we'd composite
of pieces of poetry
& as the effects
from the Sherry set in,
we'd become silent again,
ending the evening
just as it had began,
with the mere appreciation
of all that it is art, poetic & jazz,
intrigued by what it all means
& what it doesn't,
old warehouse building on
118 Washington street...." -Robin G.
I'm seriously going to Google map that address just to be in the presence of this building.
By: Vay Davis
I have to say, in the words of Dr. Christopher today's panel focusing on contemplation was " a f****** miracle!!" Choosing Dr. Christopher to speak first on the panel was a great choice. Simply because he was a familiar face and I as well as others heard him speak Wednesday evening. It was refreshing feeling like I already knew who he and his background based off of his testimony he presented yesterday about finding God through music and Merton's teachings.
Dr. Christopher chose to open his teaching with a piece by Eugene and Paul. Before playing the piece he had the audience meditate. Then afterwards he asked us to say the first words that came to mind while listening to the piece. I loved that he included the audience and allowed us to answer and share our emotions aloud. I think that for next year, Festival of Faiths should continue to keep that as an ongoing thing- audience inclusion. It makes the setting feel more personalized and audience feel more connected. I loved the fact that you all continuously touched on things that were relevant. For instance, violence, division, and protesting. Not only did Dr. Christopher focus on protesting but he focused on pursuing the spiritual roots of protesting. I think that it's always important to remember the root of everything and to do everything with purpose. So that was incredible.
Bishop Mark spoke on moving from contemplation to Justice. He started with two fairly important icons and contrasted them. Following the contrasts he made vivid points on how they made a great team with their differences. Those icons were Claire and Dr. MLK. Claire was the definition of contemplation and MLK represented action. Bishop Mark made a point to share with the audience that both icons together represented wholeness. Together they were the seeds of community. He brought to the audiences attention the importance of interconnection. He explained how Thich Nhat Hahn, Martin Luther King Jr. and Merton were all interconnected. It made me wonder in that instant how many of us in the audience were connected to each other and didn't even recognize or care to notice it. Interconnection is powerful and beautiful. "All of life is interconnected."
The last speaker was my absolute favorite. Before Ambassador Shabazz spoke, I have to admit, I was thinking, " All of these speakers are amazing but finally there's someone in this theatre that I can relate to. Finally, I'm not the only minority in the room. " Horrible right? That was instantly the direction my mind geared in. But then Ambassador said something so strong and meaningful. It was almost as if she was speaking directly to me. She said she isn't a minority if everyone under the same roof is somewhere with the same purpose for the same reasons. If everyone is somewhere to receive the same thing, no one is the minority. I then instantly made color not an an issue. I realized that although some of us in the room were different religions and races, that we were all at that program with purpose and reason.
All of the speakers were incredible. If there was any constructive criticism I'd have, it would be to accommodate everyone as far as people who may have had hearing impairments or may be deaf etc.
Today was truly a blessing.
Thank you all.
By: Kiara A. Watts
The atmosphere is simple. There is talking among row mates and anticipation is high. Anticipation is in the air and I have all intent to follow every word stated in the room. This sessions relevance is centered around my unanswered questions. I wonder what we are to contemplate, and how are we to take action?
In actors theatre I felt welcomed by the smiling faces, but out of place because of physical observations. Before the session started there was a 3 minute moment of silence that sent my mind in a trance. Though I was on a personal mission to get my question answered I was distracted. It's so easy to recognize no one you have ever crossed paths with is attending the festival. I wondered about so many friends of mine who live for these discussions. I wondered what kept them from attending. Many of them protestors in our current race issues. Many scholars trying to make change in our community. Many seeking God or religion to direct their moral compass. I see so many of "Kiara's"(Me) outside of those theatre doors that don't know what they are missing.
Ambassador Shabazz made a great point when she stated, "even in or variety we have the right to be united." So many people I know need to hear statements like that. So many are set in their prejudice because when they were younger some one defined a "unanimous enemy," and ever since they've been harboring ill thoughts against others.
The moderator made a statement saying, "out of great evil can come great good." I take this statement as something based on hope. It sounds like a great triumph. It reminds me when things get bad something good can come of it. This session gave me hope. I hope that someone follows this call to action to open a channel for religious groups to openly share with each other and the world. If there was a news source created by them more would be brought to light. If the religious groups depend on the news channels to tell their story, it will be edited to be something different. I'm inspired to read, "Theory of moral sentiment."
Below is a poem written following the beginning moment of silence.
I was inspired by Dr. Primo, he first started off by sharing an audio by Eugene & Paul Winters concert..the story behind the remarkable song was breath taking.. I had closed my eyes and visualized the two musicians improve to one another so well, the team work that was portrayed was brilliant..
He also talked about " Solitude & Communion..staying to oneself and analyzing oneself is important.. how structure is key..
The question that was asked was "How do we protest fact for Justice rightly?"
The answer was..the dangers of protest/Revolution are action without spiritual roots..humility, maturity etc..
Presence is what counts..community s presence, not an institution..
I learned a lot from The "True Self" session.. " Ego is a part of major growth of self reflecting self."..
The session was amazing I felt welcomed..
I can also say that it wasn't as diverse as I would have liked it.. but over all it was very eye opening.. and informative..
The True Self session was relevant to me because I'm constantly trying to improve myself and how I think..
I was inspired to continue my journey of discovering oneself.. and that I'm on the right path..
By: Vay Davis
Tonight was absolutely magnificant. As a musician I had a deep appreciation for Dick Sisto and the ensembles music. I love how in between the songs played were quotes and Thomas Merton's exact words spoken to compliment the different pieces. I was very inspired and wanted to do something totally different from my last blog. Instead of thoroughly criticizing the entire program, I decided to write a piece of poetry for each song I felt connected to whether it derived from Merton's exact words or the song itself . Every piece I wrote was written in its entirety during the song the emotions I had aroused. If possible , I'd love to get a list of the songs played tonight because I was not able to catch a title of every song. Tonight was beautiful.
*My interpretation of their blues....
Feel rhythm of the beat
Feel the rhythm in my feet
Do you feel it?
Each sound more vibrant than the next
I feel the keys as the sounds progress
The sound of art
The sound of pain
The sound of love
Do you hear it?
Things ain't what they use to be
I used to be happy
I used to smile
I used to dance in the rain
Now the rain consumes me
Drowns my constant thoughts to where they are no more
Things ain't what they use to be
I remember singing so loudly so that everyone could hear me
Now I struggle hearing myself
I'm lonely and things ain't what they use to be
"The Shadow of Your Smile"
I still see the shadow of your smile even after you leave
It reminds me of joy, life, love, and God
Oh, the shadow of your smile
Is like joyous kids on Christmas day
Is like a rainbow after a storm
and a cold day suddenly turned warm
The shadow of your smile colors my dreams
The shadow of your smile makes me love
YOU are the shadow of MY smile
These thoughts are not mine
These thoughts do not fit me
These thoughts are not me
Yet these thoughts continously consume me
I'll leave them
I'll leave them where they were before they found me
Tried to attack me and leave me broken
See, these thoughts are not mine
These thoughts are not me
These thoughts are my false self trying to ruin me
So I'll leave them
Leave them where they were before they found me
....the more I am able to affirm others, to say "yes" to them in myself, by discovering them in myself, and myself in them, the more real I am."
I see you in me
and I in you
We are whole
Seeds of the same
We are one
Thank you for inspiring me.
By: Vay Davis
Today was powerful and exceeded my expectations. I did not know what to expect going into the 10:00 AM session about Thomas Merton. Honestly, I had no idea who he was and purposely did no research on him before attending the event. Before leaving the session I had a clear understanding and a profound appreciation for Thomas and his work.
Paul Pearson had an amazing overview of Merton's life. After hearing him speak and viewing his presentation it was made clear the impact Merton has over others and their spiritual lives as a poet, monk, and prophet. One quote that really hit home with me that Pearson used says, " ....the more I am able to affirm others, to say "yes" to them in myself, by discovering them in myself, and myself in them, the more real I am." From that very quote, I was inspired to make my art based off of it. As a musician one of my biggest fears is not coming off as relatable. I want to make music that is relatable while still staying true to myself and beliefs. The easiest way to do so is by discovering myself in the audience and them doing the same with me. That quote in itself was super powerful.
One of my absolute favorite speakers throughout the session was Brother David. As an audience member I felt special to be able to hear and see what he had to say even though he couldn't be there physically. Having him virtually spoke volumes. It showed the audience that he was passionate about Merton and his work as well as their friendship. The video felt personal as if he had a connection with us and I loved it. (Kudos to whomever added the video to the session. It was a very necessary asset.)
Christopher also did a very great job sharing his spiritual walk with us and how Merton affected it. I thought it was great how he mentioned music and how he found the presence of God through his piano in the basement. But also mentioning that there was darkness too in the basement teaching him of careful attention and discernment. Having a speaker speak on the arts aspect of Merton was a good asset as well especially since Merton was a poet. Poetry is art.
The last speaker was the most relatable to the younger generation. Morgan Atkinson spoke of his prayer life not being the best in his earlier life and him struggling with drinking. But what was even more relatable than that was that he found God by "being still" and being "open to wonder." He also mentioned how Merton helped him realize that in struggle there is life. When he said that I was instantly inspired to create a piece to go along with those very words. Check it out below!
Listen to the quiet in the midst of the noise
Maybe then you'll feel the presence or receive the answers you've been waiting for
See, sometimes we drown or lives with senseless words and wonders
We have so many questions
but can't be still enough to receive the answers
It's not always the voices in your head
or you choosing what your next move is going to be
But almost always it's about waiting and receiving
Being receptive and listening
- Vay Davis
In closing, I loved the session. I learned so much and left inspired. The only constructive criticism I would leave you all with is presenting the information in a way that would bring about a more diverse audience. Maybe instead of making the entire session more informative, adding a little live music and poetry in between the transitions to capture the arts aspect of Merton's life would be relevant. It would then lead to more artists, musicians and people of different races all under one roof to learn about Merton and spirituality. I feel like the messages and everything everyone had to say is something that the masses should hear, not one specific type of person. In church I often hear pastors say, "We want the people that are saved to reach the people that are not. We want those who we can help lead others to Christ and teach the word of God. We want those that are lost." So with that in mind, I think it is important to reach those people and allow them to participate in this powerful experience that I was able to experience. Maybe even a day of outreach for Festival of Faiths could be an added tradition like the 3 minues of silence. Other than that, awesome session and I can't wait to attend my third one!!!