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Finding Grace In the Waiting, or vice versa (a “missing” and “renewed” Saturday/Sunday post) April 16, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Science, Shavuot, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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Blessings to anyone Counting the Omer or celebrating Easter and Eastertide / the Octave of Easter! “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the holy month of Ramadān. (Keep your eyes open!)

This is the “missing” and slightly revised post for Saturday, April 8th, which was the 2023 Saturday before Easter in Western Christian traditions and Lazarus Saturday in the Orthodox Christian traditions, as well as Passover and the holy month of Ramadān. This is also an Easter post. NOTE: There are references to death and dying. You can request an audio recording of this Saturday practice and/or the Easter practice from 2020 via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.
                         Prompt me, God;
But not yet. When I speak,
Though it be you who speak
Through me, something is lost.   
The meaning is in the waiting.”

– quoted from the poem “Kneeling” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

April marks the beginning of our Saturday exploration of the second of the four graces found in Indian philosophy, particularly in the Himalayan tradition of the Yoga Philosophy. We started with “Grace of God” (or Divine Grace) and we plan to end the year with Grace of Self. The second and third graces (Grace of Scripture and Grace of Guru) are often flipped and, in some ways, this practice connects the two. Mostly, however, this is about shastra kripa. In another practice (and post), I will get into why some traditions do not translate shastra as “scripture” and also why those tradition do not consider the scriptures I reference below as shastras. However, some do and, ultimately, the practice is about what we find inside the stories.

Pay close attention and you will find there is a lot of waiting – so much waiting – in the stories that people commemorate during Passover; the Saturday of Holy Week (which is the Saturday before Easter); Lazarus Saturday (which is the Saturday before Palm Sunday); and during the holy month of Ramadān. In 2023, all of those observations overlapped each other and overlapped some celebrations of the Buddha’s birthday – and there is significant waiting in the story of the Buddha. It is almost like there is something important about waiting. It is almost like there is something holy, something Divine, about waiting.

Waiting is something we all do at some point in our day-to-day lives – and it can be challenging. Whether we are waiting our turn or waiting for something for which we desire, we can get fidgety and impatient on the best days. We can be especially fidgety and impatient if we feel like nothing is happening or that something is not happening fast enough. But something is always happening; we just need to bring awareness to the moment.

This is where the waiting in yoga and meditation comes in handy: We can bring awareness to how we wait.

For instance, we may notice that we are so keen to do something that we start doing things that don’t actually serve us. We may even do things that are detrimental, because we don’t have the strength to wait. (And don’t doubt for a minute, that waiting, patiently, requires a certain kind of strength.) Additionally, we may notice that we are in the habit of saying, “I can’t wait,” when what we really mean is “I can hardly wait.” At first, the difference can seem like a matter of semantics, but then we notice that the mind-body is taking cues from our conscious awareness and that changing our inner dialogue (as well as what we verbalize to others) changes the way we show up in the moment. Over time, we may find that there can be kindness in waiting. We may notice that waiting sometimes gives us an opportunity to get ready for what’s ahead.

In fact, if you pay close attention, you will find that there is something important about what people do while they wait – especially in the sacred stories commemorated (this year) on April 8th.

“First and foremost, we believe creation of the world, G-d created a world in which he wanted the human being to actually be able to do something – that is to say, to exercise free will, to be like G-d, meaning to be a creator, not to be lab rats…. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. But to have a relationship with G-d requires that I have an exercise of my free will…. Free will means an environment in which not necessarily do I always have pleasure when I make the right decisions and not necessarily does someone always suffer when they make the wrong decision. Free will is having real power to create stuff. Free will is having real power to alleviate suffering.”

– Rabbi Mordechai Becher, in vlog explaining one of several reasons why suffering exists

While some people celebrate the birthday of the Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Gautama Buddha, on different days in May, some celebrate on April 8th. I have heard that Siddhartha Gautama sat under the Bodhi tree and was determined to wait there until he awakened to the nature of reality. In some suttas, it says that the Buddha (“the Awakened One”) sat there for an additional seven days. Eventually, he started teaching from this enlightened state. Some say that he only ever taught about two things: suffering and the end of suffering. His teachings were codified in the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and the Noble Eightfold Path. According to the former:

  • Suffering exists
  • Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  • There is an end to suffering
  • The Noble Eight-fold Path is the way to end suffering

Following the path includes some sitting… and waiting. What is promised at the end of the sitting and waiting is freedom from suffering.

Click here and scroll down to “So Much Suffering,” if you are interested in the ways the Buddha and Moses had parallel life experiences and journeys to freedom. 

Towards the end of the holy month of Ramadān, people in the Muslim community seek the holiest of nights, Laylat al-Qadr (translated as “Night of Power,” “Night of Destiny,” “Night of Value,” Night of Measure,” Night of Decree” or “Night of Honour”), which is commemorated as the anniversary of the revelations of the Qur’ān. As they seek (and wait) they pray. This pattern of people waiting for revelations (and freedom) shows up again and again in the other Abrahamic traditions.

For example, the story of Passover (which is summarized below), is the story of the Jewish people waiting to be free. Part of the story is also about waiting to be passed over during the 10th and final plague. Remember, that during most of the waiting, the Jewish people had to continue living their lives as enslaved people in Egypt. They had to suffer the indignities and hardships of slaver – and, also, the first nine plagues. They had to wait, with faith. Then, on that final night they had to wait and believe. They had to believe enough to celebrate freedom that had not been given. One the second night of Passover, some people begin  Counting the Omer.

The sacred ritual of Counting the Omer is a period of 49 days, a total of 7 weeks, leading up to Shavuot or Shavuos (also known as the “Festival of Weeks”) – which itself is a commemoration of the Jewish people receiving the Torah. Commonly associated with Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah), the practice of Counting the Omer involves 7 of the 10 attributes of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life. Each day is associated with a different attribute, as is each week – which means that for 49 days people are focusing-concentrating-meditating on the interrelation of two attributes. Since each attribute is associated with a different part of the body, and some people combine a physical component, it’s a ritual exercise wrapped in a mystical meditation  disguised as a 49-day perspective changing challenge.

In some ways, Counting the Omer is a period of waiting. However, it is not the only time, in Jewish tradition, when people are praying and reflecting while they wait. Nor is it the only time when 7 is a factor. In fact, one of the notably periods of waiting occurs after someone dies and their loved ones are “sitting shiva.” The Hebrew word shiva ( שִׁבְעָה ) comes from shiv’ah ( שבעה ), which means “seven,” and it is a seven-day period of mourning. The rituals, traditions, and prayers associated with Shiva formalize the grieving process and also provide a container for people to express compassion. It can also be a way to express hope.

“As spring is nature’s season of hope, so Easter is the Church’s season of hope. Hope is an active virtue. It’s more than wishful thinking….. My hope in the Resurrection is not an idle hope like wishing for good weather but an active hope. It requires something on my part – work. Salvation is a gift from God for which I hope, but Saint Paul told the Philippians to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ (2:12). My hope in the resurrection and eternal life in heaven requires work on my part.”

– quoted from A Year of Daily Offerings by Rev. James Kubicki

In the Gospel According to John (11:1 – 45), Jesus received the news that Lazarus was sick, but then waited (until he died) before traveling to Bethany. The text is very clear that Lazarus had been dead (or dead and buried) for four days. Historically speaking, and given that there are seven-day periods of mourning depicted in the Torah, Mary and Martha (and all of their friends) would have been “sitting shiva” when Jesus and the disciples arrived in Bethany. To be clear, they were waiting for Jesus and then they were waiting for the end of the mourning period.

While Lazarus Saturday is not always highlighted in Western Christian traditions the way it is in Orthodox Christian traditions, there are several parts of the story that are critical. First, Jesus waited (and knew when Lazarus died). Second, the description of how Lazarus was buried – in a cave with a stone in front – matches the descriptions of how Jesus was buried. Third, Jesus asks the sisters if they believe in him (and ask for verbal confirmation) – which was the whole reason he waited. Finally, it is notable that news of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead reached Jerusalem before Jesus arrived home for Passover.

Why did the news travel faster than Jesus? According to the Gospel, it is because he waited… in the desert – and that period of waiting in the desert is commemorated by people who observe Lent and Great Lent. However, those are not the only periods of waiting in the Christian liturgy. Remember, after his crucifixion and death, Jesus was buried, much like Lazarus – and his mother, Mary, and his followers waited.

“This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.  We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day.  They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly.  They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.  Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master?  Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.  A painful memory, a hope cut short.  For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed.  They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality. They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.  Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope.  She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord.  Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history.  Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower.  How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope!  With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.”

– Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020

The following was originally posted in April 2020 and revised in April 2022 (in the “Down the Rabbit Hole” section). Some information was posted during Passover and holy week this year, but I am posting it here, For Those Who Missed It. This version has been slightly revised.

Whenever I think about Easter, the waiting that happened on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, and the moment when the rock was rolled away to reveal the empty tomb, I think of one thing: Wigner’s friend taking care of that quantum mechanics Cat.

For those of you not familiar with physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiment (or paradox), it goes like this: The (imaginary) cat is closed up in a box with an unstable radioactive element that has a 50-50 chance of killing the cat before the box is opened. According to quantum mechanics, there is a moment when the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. This is called superposition and it could be considered the scientific equivalent of non-duality. When the box is opened, revealing the state of the cat, the superposition collapses into a single reality. (There is also the possibility that opening the box changes the percentage, but that’s a whole different tunnel.)

Physicist Eugene Wigner took things a bit farther by adding a friend. According to the Wigner’s thought experiment, instead of doing the experiment, the scientist leaves it all in the hands of a friend and waits for a report. Now, there is the superposition inside of the box and there is a separate superposition inside the lab, which means the wave (or superposition) collapses into a single reality when the box is opened (creating reality as the friend knows it) and collapses again when the (imaginary) friend reports to the scientist (establishing the original scientist’s reality). Let’s not even get into what happens if the friend opens the box and leaves the lab without reporting back to the original scientist, but has a certain expectation – i.e., understanding of reality – about what the scientist will find in the lab. Through it all, the cat exists (and ceases to exist) within its own reality. It never experiences the superposition others experience. It just is.

That state of being, existing, takes us back to Passover, and eventually to the Resurrection of Jesus.

“And He said, ‘For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’”

– quoted from Shemot – Exodus (3:12)

“God said to Moses, ‘Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be),’ and He said, ‘So shall you say to the children of Israel, “Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you.’””

– quoted from Shemot – Exodus (3:14)

In the Exodus story, while the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt, G-d commanded Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand the Jews be released. Moses had an interesting backstory and was, in some ways, the perfect person to be the (human) hero of the story. However, he was humble to the point of lacking confidence and ended up asking his brother Aaron to come along on the mission. When their show of power didn’t convince Pharaoh of the authority of G-d, everyone was subject to nine plagues: blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts in the streets, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, and day(s) of darkness. Remember it was not only Pharaoh and the Egyptians who suffered. The Jews, who were already suffering the hardship of slavery, also had to endure the additional hardships. On the evening of the tenth plague, the death of the first born male child, the Jewish families were told to smear lambs blood on their doors – so their households will be passed over. They were also commanded to celebrate and give thanks for their freedom – even though they are still slaves.

Yes, it is a little mind boggling, but what passes as the first Passover Seder happened in Egypt and during a time of slavery. Considering Pharaoh had changed his mind before, they had no way of knowing (with any certainty) that they would be freed immediately after the tenth plague. See where this is going? In that moment, the Jewish people are simultaneously free and not free.

Furthermore, Rabbi David Fohrman, quoting Shlomo Yitzchaki, the medieval French rabbi known as Rashi, points out that when G­-d initial spoke to Moses and Moses asked for G-d’s identity, Moses was told three times that the One who spoke was the One who would always be with Moses and the Jewish people. Regardless of what they experience, Rashi explained, G-d will be with them. This is the very definition of compassion, which literally means “to suffer with.”

“‘Whenever goodness and “dharma” (right action) weaken and evil grows stronger, I make Myself a body. I do this to uplift and transform society, reestablish the balance of goodness over wickedness, explain the sublime plan and purpose of life, and serve as the model for others to follow. I come age after age in times of spiritual and moral crisis for this purpose.’”

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.7 – 8) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Jesus was (during his time), and future Christians are, kind of in the same boat. In the last week of his life, he was betrayed, crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected – and he simultaneously was not. However, most of that is semantics. What is critical is the dead/buried, and resurrected part. In those moments, even right after the tomb was opened and there was some confusion about what had happened, Jesus was essentially the quantum physics Cat – and Christians, as well as non-believers, were either the original scientist or the friend.

Yet, when everything is said and done (stay with me here), this is all head stuff. What people observe, commemorate, and/or celebrate in modern times, isn’t really about the head. Faith never is. It’s all about the heart. It’s all about love. Specifically, in these examples, it all comes back to G-d’s love expressed as compassion.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

– quoted from The Gospel According to John (3:16, NIV)

The playlist for Saturday (4/8/2023) is available on YouTube and Spotify.



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