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Liminal, Lofty, & Rare Days – I & Redux (a “missing” post for multiple days) March 4, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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[This post is related to Sunday, February 28th; Monday, March 1st; and Wednesday, March 2nd. You can request an audio recording of any of the practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

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“‘There are yet others whose way of worship is to offer up wealth and possessions. Still others offer up self-denial, suffering, and austerities (purifications). Others take clerical or monastic vows, offering up knowledge of the scriptures. Some others make their meditation itself an offering.

 

‘Some offer up prana, the mysterious vital energy force within them. They do this through control of the breath, literally stopping their inhaling and exhaling.

 

‘Yet others abstain from food and practice sacrifice by spiritualizing their vital energy – that is, by figuratively pouring their own vital life force into the Cosmic Life Force. The whole point of all these various methods of sacrifice (worship) is to develop a certain mental attitude. Those who live with a truly worshipful attitude, whose whole lives are offered up for improvement of the world, incur no sin (no karmic debt).’”

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.28 – 30) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

 

Much of this week has been devoted towards sacrifice and nourishment – specifically, nourishment that comes from sacrifice. I realize that, in the base case, most of us do not think of nourishment and sacrifice in the same heartbeat. Perhaps, if you are a parent without a lot of means, you have to sacrifice (go without) so that your child(ren) can eat and be nourished. But, in most other cases, “sacrifice” and “nourishment” seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum. And they are… if we are only talking about the body. If, however, we are talking about the mind-body and the spirit within, then sacrifice and nourishment can sometimes go hand-in-hand. As we give up something, let go of our attachment, we bring awareness to how we are using our time, energy, and resources. We also bring awareness to the difference between need and desire. Finally, we find ourselves facing our greatest need/desire: the longing for belonging.

The desire to be (and feel) connected to something more than our (individual) self crosses cultural, socio-economic, and geographical boundaries. It crosses the barrier that it sometimes erected by language and age, religion and philosophy. It is, it seems, as much a part of being human as breathing… or eating. So, it might seem ironic that one of the ways in which people “feed” that need/desire is to go without, to give something up. Yet, all of the major religions and philosophies have some ritualistic tradition that involves fasting and/or abstaining from certain behavior for a predetermined period of time. For certain Christians, that period is Lent (which is currently being observed by some within Western Christianity and will, in a couple of weeks, be observed by those within the Eastern/Orthodox communities). The Baha’i community started their own observation, the 19-Day Fast, at sunset on Sunday (February 28th).

I call these “liminal days;” because even though all days are transitional and threshold days on a certain level, these days are specifically designated by various traditions are in-between times. Not “regular” or “ordinary” days, but days when there is a heightened awareness of what’s to come and the need to be ready for what’s to come. While the customs and beliefs are different within these different traditions, people all over the world are actually preparing: Christians observe Lent to get ready for Easter; the Baha’i community observes the fast as they prepare for a new year.

“The second wisdom is this: Fasting is the cause of awakening man. The heart becomes tender and the spirituality of man increases. This is produced by the fact that man’s thoughts will be confined to the commemoration of God, and through this awakening and stimulation surely ideal advancements follow.

 

Third wisdom: Fasting is of two kinds, material and spiritual. The material fasting is abstaining from food and drink, that is, from the appetites of the body. But spiritual, ideal, fasting is this, that man abstain from selfish passions, from negligence and from satanic animal traits. Therefore is a token of the spiritual fast.”

 

– quoted from article entitled “The Divine Wisdom in Fasting – From Table Talks by Abdul-Baha” by Mrs. Corinne True, printed in Star of the West, Vol. IV (No. 18), dated Mulk 1, 69 (February 7, 1914)

 

For those who are not familiar: The Baha’i Faith is a monotheistic faith that believes in the oneness of God and religion, as well as the oneness and nobility of humanity. The community believes that, historically, there has been a “progressive revelation of religious truth” which has been shared with the world through the voices of the prophets or Divine Messengers, known as “Manifestations of God” (which include “Braham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, and, in more recent times, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh”). People within the faith are taught to honor the value of different religious and philosophical traditions as well as the value of education, especially in science (which is viewed by some faiths as being contrary to religion). The Baha’i calendar consists of 19 months, each with 19 days, and each month (and day) is named after an attribute of God. To maintain the integrity of the calendar, there are 4 – 5 intercalary days just before the final month.

The final month, which started on Sunday at sunset, is known as “‘Alá’” (“loftiness”). We often think of “lofty” as meaning something in a high or elevated position, a noble goal. When speaking of textiles, it is also something that is thick and resilient. Consider for a moment, that even those who are guided by a different calendar are spending this time focused on a higher, deeper, more resilient and lasting connection with the Divine (whatever that means to you at this moment).

Similar to Passover and Yom Kippur (in the Jewish tradition) and the month of Ramadan (in the Muslim tradition), the Lenten season and the 19-Day Fast contain elements of the Yoga Philosophy’s niyamās or “internal observations” and also fall under the rubric that Patanjali calls kriyā yoga (“union in action”), which is a combination of the final three: tapas (“heat, discipline, austerity” and the practices that cultivate them), svādhyāya (“self-study”), and īśvarapraņidhāna (“trustful surrender to higher reality”).

“For this material fast is an outer token of the spiritual fast; it is a symbol of self-restraint, the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God.”

 

– quoted from Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahā (page 70)

 

On a purely physical level, fasting and/or abstaining from certain indulgences provide physical detoxification. When the elimination is done in order to achieve a higher, loftier, goal (than just physical detoxification), one can also experience mental (and sometimes emotional) detoxification. Mind-body purification is the practice of śaucāt (“cleanliness”), which is the first niyamā. A pure mind-body begins to cultivate non-attachment and a sense of peace, ease, and “contentment” – which is santoşā, the second niyamā.

In Chapter 17 of the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord), which focuses on “The Path of Threefold Faith,” Krishna defines tapas (the third niyamā) as “to melt” and states, “‘The purpose of purification is no pain and penance, but to deliberately refine one’s life, to melt it down and recast in it into a higher order of purity and spirituality.’” Practices that cultivate this melting/refining experience are not easy. In fact, in most cases they can be detrimental when engaged without community, for the wrong purpose(s), and/or under the guidance of someone who is more focused on pain, punishment, and penance than on transcendence. In fact, the Gita specifically (and emphatically) reinforces the fact that these practices are not intended to be a form of self-punishment. They are not abusive – which is why every major religion has exclusions based on age and physical-mental conditions.

The fact that the practices/rituals is not intended to be abusive does not mean that they are not hard. In fact, they can be brutal challenging – which is part of the reason why (when practiced in community) people feel bonded by the experience. These challenging situations are also a great opportunity for self-study, which is the fourth niyamā. Svādhyāya is not only observing your reactions and responses to challenging situations, but also taking note of your reactions and responses to sacred text or – in the physical practice – how your body is moving (or not moving) through the poses.

Another element of self-study involves contemplating how one would react if they were in certain historical and/or biblical situations. For instance, the 40 days of Lent are meant to mirror the 40 days of prayer and fasting that Jesus experienced in preparation of the final betrayal, temptation, crucifixion, and resurrection. In sharing the wisdom of fasting, the Baha’i teach about Moses and Jesus fasting for 40 days (and how those practices became Passover, Lent, and the month of Ramadan) and how “the Blessed Beauty [Bahá’u’lláh]” fasted when focused on receiving the teachings. To receive the teachings, each of the divine messengers or prophets had to completely and trustfully surrender to the Divine, which is īśvarapraņidhāna, the final niyamā.

“The word ‘lent’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lenten meaning ‘spring.’ In the spring people prepare the soil and plant seeds. In Lent, Christians do something similar, but in a spiritual way. Through fasting we clear the soil of our hearts, asking God to purify them and rid them of the weeds of sin. We prepare our hearts to receive the seeds of God’s Word, both scripture and the words God speaks to our hearts during prayer. We spend more time in prayer as we prepare for Easter, Christianity’s greatest feast.

 

The word ‘lent’ is also the past tense of the verb ‘to loan.’ During Lent we have the opportunity to realize that our lives are not our own. They are on loan to us from God. Saint Paul writes, ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body’ (1 Cor 6:19 – 20).”

 

– quoted from “March 1” in 2016 edition of A Year of Daily Offerings by James Kubicki S. J.

 

It would be nice if, once committed to the path, there was no hesitation or doubt and no attachments/aversions that lead to suffering. However, even when we look at the lives of people who have who whole-heartedly committed to a spiritual path, we find that the challenges of the path can try even the souls of saints, prophets, and mystics. Consider, for instance, the story of Saint David, whose feast day was Monday (March 1st), and how his adherence to the path he chose wasn’t well-received by some of his followers.

Saint David was a 6th century Welsh archbishop whose recorded death date is March 1, 589. As he is the patron saint of Wales, as well as of vegetarians and poets, Saint David’s Day (March 1st) is a big deal in Wales. People dress up in traditional clothing; wear leeks and daffodils; and (traditionally) children participate in concerts and festivals.

Saint David was known for his pilgrimages, his strict adherence to disciplined discipleship, and his miracles. He was a descendent Welsh (Celtic) royalty and, some say, that his mother was King Arthur’s niece. He founded at least 13 monasteries and was known to enforce a strict code of conduct among his brethren that included hard physical labor, regular prayers, a minimalist vegetarian diet, and great charitable works. Furthermore, the monks were required to practice such a severe form of non-attachment that they could not even refer to the Bible as “my book.”

Saint David is known, in Welsh as “Dewi Ddyfrwr” (“David the Water Drinker”), because of stories that he mostly consumed water and the occasional bits of bread, vegetables, leeks, and herbs – sometimes even standing in a cold lake and reciting Scripture. One of the miracles attributed to Saint David is that he survived his bread being poisoned by his brethren (who were tired of his challenging regime). Legend has it that the bread was split between the bishop, a dog, and a raven – the latter two dying wretchedly and almost instantaneously.

It is said that springs of water often appeared during important moments in Saint David’s life and that he was followed by a dove. It is also said that he raised a youth from the dead and cured the blindness of his teacher, Paulinus. However, the most well-known miracle associated with Saint David is that while he was giving a sermon at Synod of Llanddwei Brefi, people complained that they could not see or hear him. Instantly, the story goes, the ground rose up – so that all could see and hear him – and that a dove landed on his shoulder. I’m not sure what he said during that sermon “on the mount”, but some of the words from his final Sunday sermon (in 589) are well-known and a portion have become a well-utilized saying in Welsh, a reminder of what is important: Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd.” “Do the little things in life.”

“Brothers and sisters, Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed, and do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I on the third day of the week on the first of March shall go the way of my fathers. Farewell in the Lord.”

 

– based on “62. The Assembly of Mourners” in Rhygyvarch’s Life of St. David (circa later 11th century)

 

On the other side of the coin there is Saint Katherine (Drexel) whose feast day is (Wednesday) March 3rd. Saint Katherine was an heiress who, along with her two sisters, inherited several millions when her father and step-mother died. That’s several million USD, even after $1.5 million USD was subtracted for charitable donations stipulated in their father’s will (which also ensured that the sisters maintained control of their own finances. In 1887, several years after they became multi-millionaires, the sisters received a private audience with Pope Leo XIII, who suggested that Katherine become a missionary. She ultimately decided to take holy vows (which she did in 1891) and, joined by 13 other women, she founded Blessed Sacrament, a religious congregation for women and specifically serving Indigenous and African-American people. She died March 3, 1955 – after dedicating her time, energy, and all of her considerable resources to the Church – and eventually became the second U S. citizen to be canonized, and the first saint actually born a United States citizen.

“At her canonization in 2000, Saint John Paul II said, ‘From her parents [Blessed Katherine Drexel] learned that her family’s possessions were not for them alone but were meant to be shared with the less fortunate. She began to devote her fortune to missionary and educational work among the poorest members of society. Later, she understood that more was needed. With great courage and confidence in God’s grace, she chose to give not just her fortune but her whole life totally to the Lord.’”

 

– quoted from “March 3” in 2016 edition of A Year of Daily Offerings by James Kubicki S. J.

 

The playlist for Sunday and Wednesday is available on YouTube and Spotify.

There is no playlist for the (Monday) Common Ground practice.

 

A Little Serendipitous Footnote, or Rabbit Hole: I mentioned above that one of Saint David’s miracles was to heal the sight of his blind teacher. I recently learned that Saint Katherine (a native of Philadelphia, PA) died in 1955 and was beatified in 1988 after the Vatican concluded that her intercession resulted in a boy (Robert Gutherman of Bensalem, PA) being cured of deafness in 1974. She was canonized in 2000 after the Vatican announced that a young girl (Amy Wall of Bucks County, PA) had been cured of her deafness after her 7-year old brother (Jack, who believed in miracles) insisted that the family prayer to “Mother Drexel.”

Remember, Saint Katherine’s Feast Day is March 3rd – which is also the anniversary of the birth of Alexander Graham Bell (b. 1847), whose interest in hearing and speech and all things acoustic stemmed from his mother’s deafness. “Aleck” (as friends and family called him) co-founded the American Telephone and Telegraph Company on his birthday in 1885. Within a couple of years, he would suggest that a couple contact the Perkins Institution to find a teacher for their young daughter, who had lost her hearing and sight after a severe illness when she was a baby. The couple did as suggested… and the teacher, Anne Sullivan (the “Miracle Worker”), started working with the young girl, Helen Keller, on March 3, 1887!

“Doubtless the work of the past few months does seem like a triumphal march to him; but then people seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved.”

 

– quoted from a letter written by Anne Sullivan, dated October 30, 1887

 

 

### BELIEVE IN THE LITTLE THINGS ###