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Callings, Commandments, & a Good “Ending” (a “renewed” Thursday/Friday post) April 12, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Shavuot, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag Sameach!” to everyone celebrating Passover and/or Counting the Omer! Blessings to anyone celebrating Great Week or Eastertide / the Octave of Easter! “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the holy month of Ramadān.

Depending on how you look at it, this is either a “missing” post for April 6th and 7th or an early post for April 13th and 14th. For Those Who Missed It: Elements of the following have been previously posted. Click here for last year’s compilation post, which includes links to the originals. Dates have been updated. NOTE: The change in the color of the quotes is intentional.

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.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“We talk of becoming one with God and many seekers are looking to reach higher spiritual levels, but first we must unify the different parts of ourselves. To see that we are complex beings, often with apparent internal contradictions, but this too is also a form of oneness. Understanding the Divine begins by first understanding ourselves.”

– from the introduction to The Kabbalah Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment, by Marcus J. Freed

During a Passover Seder, when Jewish people commemorate their ancestors’ exodus from slavery in Egypt, they wash their hands before and after the story of exodus is told through the lens of four questions. The first time, hands are washed without a blessing; the second time, hands are washed with a blessing. Like everything else in the Seder, even the name and the questions, the hand washing is crucial and symbolic.

The Hebrew word “Seder” means “order, procedure.” Just like in our yoga practice, everything happens in a very specific order that tells the story of the people, of their faith, and of their exodus. Symbols are used to engage not only the numerically young children at the table, but also those who are spiritually young and may not have studied the Torah. For example, the elements of the four questions (leavened vs. unleavened bread; all vegetables vs. bitter herbs; dipping the herbs in brine or vinegar and also in a sweet paste; eating in a variety of positions vs. eating in a reclining position) are symbolic of how quickly people fled when given the chance to escape Egypt; the bitterness of slavery; the sweat and tears of the enslaved people, as well as the bricks-and-mortar the enslaved were forced to build; and the luxury and privilege implied in eating in a reclining position – as if one has not a care in the world.  The symbolic nature of the different aspects of the observation means that the ritual is both a mental experience and a visceral experience. Still, it’s easy to overlook the hand washing, even though it’s in the Bible.

“For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat: Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the LORD, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.”

– Shemot – Exodus 30:19 – 30:21 (NIV)

In the Eastern philosophies (like Yoga) and religions (like Judaism) arms and hands are recognized as extensions of the heart. They are how we reach out to others, embrace others, embrace ourselves, and even embrace a moment. We use our hands and arms to build the world around us. We also use our hands and arms to love one another (or not) and to defend or support what we love (or not). Love (chesed) and strength (gevurah) are two of the aspects of the Divine (found on the Tree of Life). Furthermore, Jewish mysticism identifies these elements of the Divine as being embodied by the right and left arms, respectively. It is no accident then, nor is it only an element of good hygiene, that hands are washed before handling sacred food. In fact, in the Hasidic tradition, “Water represents the healing power of wisdom. Water flows downward, carrying its essential simplicity to each thing. It brings them together as a single living, growing whole. We pour water over our hands as an expression of wisdom pouring downward passing through our heart and from there to our interaction with the world around us.”

Of the 613 commandments within the Jewish tradition, at least 21 – 27 are directly related to the observation of Passover, the Seder, the Counting of the Omer (which begins on the second night of Passover), and Shavuot (which begins at the end of the Counting of the Omer). The Last Supper (or suppers, depending on who you ask) is acknowledged as Jesus’ last meal and the source of the Eucharist or Holy Communion in Christian faiths. While the one of the four canonical gospels (John) places Passover after Jesus’s death, the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) present The Last Supper as a Passover Seder. Therefore, it would make sense that Jesus – recognized as a rabbi, a teacher, long before he was considered by some to be the Messiah – would have made sure everyone washed their hands, twice during the Seder. It’s part of the Law, part of the Commandments.

“This makes perfect sense on reflection, as these are the organs that we can use to master ourselves and to complete the relationship with others, depending on the words we speak and the way we interact (e.g., Who we are giving to or walking towards and away from). In this sense, Malchut-mastery also comprises communication. It asks us: how are you using communication as a tool for giving and creating? Are you using your feet to walk towards situations where you can be more loving, and are your hands creating a kinder world?”

– quoted from “Day 7 / THE ROYAL PATH OF LOVE: MASTERY IN LOVINGKINDNESS מלכות שבחסד ” in The Kabbalah Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment by Marcus J. Freed

If you are familiar with the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and the Tree of Life, you might be thinking that my explanation is not completely accurate. It’s not completely accurate, because The Zohar only associates chesed and gevurah with the arms. Meanwhile, the hands, as well as the feet and mouth, are associated with malchut, which can be translated into English as sovereignty, stewardship, leadership, kinship, queenship, and mastery. These body parts are, as Marcus Freed points out, what we use to create (and move towards) new experiences, new realities, and new world orders.

So, it is interesting to note that an (often) unnamed woman washing Jesus’ feet is considered the catalyst for Judas betraying Jesus. Equally interesting is that before the Seder, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. That last bit of feet washing is one of the events commemorated by some Christians on Maundy Thursday.

Very few people talk about what happened to Judas and the money after the betrayal, even though the Gospel According to Matthew (27:1 – 10) and The Acts of the Apostles (1:16 – 18) give explicit, albeit slightly different, details. Additionally, there is some difference in notation about when Judas left the last supper or if he even attended. Either way, it was at the Last Supper – which some accounts depict as the Passover Seder – that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. When Simon Peter objected, Jesus told him three particularly noteworthy things; things that remind us that none of this is about the money.

“‘Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.’”

– The Gospel According to John (13:12 – 15, KJV)

“‘If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.’”

– The Gospel According to John (13:8, KJV)

“‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’”

– The Gospel According to John (13:34 – 35, KJV)

The word “Maundy” comes to us, by way of Middle English and Old French, from a Latin word that means “command, order.” While it may be associated with the ritual of washing the feet of a saint, showing hospitality, or preparing a body for burial, the command or order associated with the Thursday before Easter is that “new command.” It is a command repeatedly reiterated in the Gospel According to John (15:12 and 15:17). It is also a sentiment that is echoed in one of the last things Jesus said on the cross, when he connected his own mother with one of his disciples as if they are mother and son. It is a lesson Jesus taught again and again. Yet, it is a lesson all too often forgotten; even though it is the whole point of the story.

“‘A second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”’”

– The Gospel According to Matthew (22:39, NLT)

Sunset on Thursday night (April 6th) marked the beginning of the Counting of the Omer in Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah). The Counting of the Omer is a 49-day observation which reflects the days the newly freed Jews were in the desert and segues into the commemoration of the people receiving the Torah. When people observe the Counting of the Omer there is an extra element of prayer, of offering, and also contemplation on two connected elements of the Divine (from the Tree of Life). One the first night, the connect elements are Chesed She b’Chesed (Lovingkindness in Lovingkindness). In the Western Christian traditions, that same night (this year) is connected to the beginning of the events associated with Good Friday.

But, why is the Friday before Easter good? And why are there so many holy observations going on around the world at the same time?

Let’s start with the second question first, because that will lay the foundation for answering the first question.

“People ask me how I find hope. I answer that I don’t believe in hope, and I don’t believe in hopelessness. I believe in compassion and pragmatism, in doing what is right for its own sake. Hope can be lethal when you are fighting an autocracy because hope is inextricable from time. An enduring strategy of autocrats is to simply run out the clock.”

– quoted from Hiding in Plain Sight by Sarah Kendzior

Serendipitously, I received two texts from the same Austin suburb (on April 11, 2020). One was from a friend, sharing the Sarah Kendzior quote (above). The other was from my brother, asking why people were celebrating the same thing at different times. The quote sharpened my focus. The question brings me to you.

Even though he didn’t ask the question in an all encompassing way, I am going to answer his question here in a broader sense, and in a pretty basic way.

On Friday, April 7, 2023, people all over the the world celebrated the second day (and then the third night) of Passover; started (or were in the middle of) the third week of the holy month of Ramadān; celebrated Good Friday (in the Western Christian traditions); got ready for Lazarus Saturday (which was April 8th, in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions); and, after sunset, counted “two days of the Omer” (in some Jewish traditions). All of that was followed by, Easter Sunday (in the Western Christian traditions) and Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions. Oh, and some people observe/celebrate more than one of those traditions at the same time. When you add in the (Wednesday/Thursday) celebrations of Hanuman Jayanti (in the Hindu traditions) and consider that these observations and celebrations are occurring all over the world – and keeping in mind different time zone – it can get really confusing. Hence my brothers question.

If we just stick with the Abrahamic religions for a moment, remember that Passover is a commemoration of the Exodus story, which is the story of the Jewish people being freed from slavery in Egypt. The Jewish liturgical calendar is lunar-based and, therefore, Passover happens at a slightly different time each year on the Gregorian (i.e., secular) calendar. According to all four canonical gospels of the New Testament, Jesus spent the last week of his life preparing for Passover (and what he knew was coming in terms of the Crucifixion and Resurrection). Three of the four gospels indicate that what Christians (and artists) refer to as the “Last Supper” was actually a Passover Seder – so we are back to a lunar calendar, although it’s a different lunar calendar. Keep in mind that the initial switch to the Gregorian calendar (in the fall of 1582) was partially motivated by the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to have consistency in the timing of liturgical observations and that Orthodox Christians operate under the old-school Julian calendar, which brings us to a third timeline.

While most modern Christians focus exclusively on the New Testament and observe holy times accordingly, some Christians also follow the observations commanded in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Finally, the holy month of Ramadān is based on yet another calendar, giving us a fourth timeline. Islām, Christianity, and Judaism share historical roots and some of the same beliefs (e.g., a belief in the oneness of God, a belief in angels, a belief in revealed book, etc.); however, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar does not always fall in March or April and is not directly connected to Passover. So, just for this moment, I’m going to tighten my focus.

Are you still with me? Be honest. If you need a scorecard, I’m happy to provide one – especially since I’m about to go down the (metaphorical) rabbit hole.

“And God saw that it was good.”

– Words that appear 7 times in the Creation Story found in Bereish’t – Genesis

Tov is a Hebrew word that means “good.” If we only think of the word “good” in a modern context – as something desired, approved, right, pleasing, and welcome – we can find ourselves in a bit of a quandary; because, we’ve lost part of the meaning. I often say that there was a time when everything people did had meaning. Over time, as people got further away from the meaning, rituals became traditions – things people did just because their ancestors did them. Over more time, traditions lose their meaning and just become things people say. Even though, there are some rituals and traditions that have their meanings baked into the practice (i.e., Passover and Good Friday), people don’t always understand that meaning.

Things can get even more confusing when cultures overlap and people are suddenly witnessing multiple practices they don’t understand – because they don’t know the meaning. These kinds of perplexing situations happen a lot in the Spring, when all the major religions and philosophies have significant observations and celebrations that overlap. This can get even more confusing when, for instance, people outside of Judaism wonder why there’s a celebration associated with a time of so much suffering and non-Christians wonder how the Friday of Holy Week / Passion Week can be simultaneously associated with the trial, persecution, crucifixion, and death of Jesus and also good. It’s a bit of a conundrum… until you go a little deeper.

Going deeper means we don’t look at the events of Good Friday using the modern understanding of “good.” Instead, we go back to the beginning of the Torah (also the Christian Old Testament), where God defined something as “good” when it was useful and serving its purpose. In the Christian tradition, Jesus is recognized as the Messiah, the Christ, the one who heralds and ushers in an era of peace and salvation. He served his purpose, because he lived, suffered, was crucified, died, was buried, and was risen – in order for sins to be forgiven. Thus, the events commemorated on the Friday before Easter are considered “good,” because they were meaningful and served a purpose. And, just as there is a meaningful “order” to a Passover Seder, there is a particular path which tells the story of Good Friday.

“And God said, ‘There will be light,’ and there was light.

And God saw the light that it was good, and God separated between the light and between the darkness.”

– Beresh’t / Genesis 1:3-4

For Good Friday, many Christians move through the Stations of the Cross, a visual pilgrimage of Jesus’ last moments. The earliest “Way of the Cross” or “Way of Sorrows” artwork and the Scriptural Way of the Cross (introduced by Pope John Paul II on Good Friday 1991 and approved by Pope Benedict in 2007) depict 14 scenes or “steps,” ending with Jesus being laid in the tomb. The Resurrection is often considered to be the 15th Station of the Cross. (NOTE: The Resurrection is the 14th Station according to the “New Way of the Cross” in the Philippines; however, this version is different from the previous mentioned versions.) The art is meant to mirror Via Dolorosa (the “Way of Sorrow/Pain”) in Jerusalem, the actual path Jesus would have taken to Mount Calvary.

When people “move through the Stations of the Cross,” it is a ritual pilgrimage wrapped in a walking tour wrapped in a children’s picture book disguised as traditional art. That is not unlike our physical practice of yoga, which can sometimes be a history lesson wrapped up in philosophical discourse disguised as physical exercise.

The layers are baked in; however, we can sometimes be too far away from the meaning to understand the rituals of the practice. We can find ourselves facing that aforementioned quandary: We’re doing poses without understanding how they serve or benefit us – and then doing them in a way that means we’re not getting all the benefits. We might also do poses and sequences for the “wrong” reasons. Sometimes we forget that, regardless of the style or tradition, we want every yoga practice to be “good” in the Old Testament way. We want poses to have meaning and purpose.

So, again, we have to go deeper.

Going deeper to me means highlighting the physical-mental purposes and benefits of poses and sequences – and, also, digging into the symbolic aspects of the practice. Even doing a little svādhyāya (“self-study”) to notice what comes up (physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically, and even spiritually) in certain situations. So, for 11 years, I taught a Good Friday yoga practice that essentially mirrored the Via Dolorosa and the way people walk through the Stations of the Cross. I didn’t lead any prayers; but, I did hold a little space for people that wanted to pray.

I know it was a little much for some folks. I also know that some people really appreciated a yoga practice. Every year, someone asked me if I was going to do the Good Friday theme and, every year, someone thanked me and said that it was meaningful, which was good.

“You ain’t got no kind of feeling inside
I got something that will sho’ ’nuff set your stuff on fire
You refuse to put anything before your pride
What I got will knock all your pride aside”

– quoted from the song “Tell Me Something Good” by Chaka Khan and Rufus

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

NOTE: This is a mostly Good Friday playlist for a “First Friday Night Special” and it is very similar to what I have used in the past for a the vinyasa practice referenced above.

METTA MEDITATION (with relationships):

Prior to the quarantine, Metta Meditation was part of my daily commute. Part I gives you a little background and a partially guided meditation. Part II includes guided meditation for the cardinal and intercardinal directions. These meditations were recorded in the Spring of 2019.

May you be safe and protected

May you be peaceful and happy

May you be healthy and strong

May you have ease and well-being, today and always.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

NOTE: As much as I am able, I like to highlight the quotes with a good color, i.e., a meaningful color. That is why some of these quotes are black, for those who know.

### “et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt” (John 1:5) ###


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