On Being Awake

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By: Jenni Taylor

I want to be awake. Those neurons are firing in my brain, and I want to know the intricacy of each. I run and feel my heart pound and never want to forget how each beat is a gift. I breathe in that qi, that breath of life, that beautiful oxygen filling my belly and my back all the way down to my toes and I know my body is more amazing than I will ever be able to understand.

I want to feel amazed. I want to tell my students to draw pink trees or purple trees or green trees if they like but only if they want it to be green and not because they have to. I want to stop for that moment at night when I’m alone on the pavement looking at the sparkling city lights and feel that I am part of something so big and so beautiful and realize it’s not lonely at all, just quiet. It’s the quiet that comes before taking a leap of faith, and I wrap it around my heart like a promise.

I want to live bravely. I want to sing to the Chicago south side soulful church beat I grew up with, and stylize my oohs and ahhs with loud obnoxious ecstasy. I want to bravely learn to love myself on the days when all I see are flaws. I’d rather my heart be two sizes too big with enough room for tears instead of two sizes too small with no room for love.

I want to be wise. I want to embody Sophia, the wise woman, every day. I want to grow wrinkles that tell stories and laugh lines that show a life well lived. I want to ask the right questions, even if the right answers are hard to find.

I want so many things. It’s my time to get out of bed and live my life awake.

My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant, total amazement. -Meg Ryan as Patricia in Joe Versus the Volcano

Secular Spirituality: Is That a Thing?

Today’s post comes from Hailey Kaufman, who studies philosophy, biology, and religion at Webster University in St. Louis, MO.  Her post advocates for the possibility of  spiritual awakenings of atheistic communities, and she’s not talking conversion here folks! What Hailey offers us is a great deal of wisdom, and love, and intellect, on spirituality for everyone, regardless of their beliefs. You can find more of Hailey’s work on her Tumblr and her personal blog.

Coming from a community of a non-theistic persuasion, I notice a great deal of hostility toward the word “spiritual.” Most atheists with whom I spend my time never use this term, some making a strong attempt to avoid it. Even Tim Minchin, a fantastically intelligent musical comedian, whom I admire for his gift with words, has claimed he is not spiritual at all.

What bothers me is I can tell that he is. Look at his poem “Storm” in which he revels about the vastness and beauty of the corporeal world:

Isn’t this enough? Just this world? Just this beautiful, complex, wonderfully unfathomable, natural world? How does it so fail to hold our attention that we have to diminish it with the invention of cheap, manmade myths and monsters?…I am a tiny, insignificant, ignorant bit of carbon. I have one life, and it is short, and unimportant, but thanks to recent scientific advances, I get to live twice as long as my great, great, great, great uncleses and auntses. Twice as long to live this life of mine.

The last portion of “Storm” is a spirited piece of writing. Minchin obviously feels a deep connection with something larger than he is. Whether or not his worldview involves “spirits” certainly does not dilute that fact that he feels spirited about his existence.

I want to argue that the spiritual life is something every human deserves. It is a practice, a way of being, that should be pursued regardless of one’s belief in gods or the supernatural.

Writers and speakers like Pierre Hadot and Alain de Botton have argued the need for spiritual guidance and exercises even outside the realm of religion. Hadot writes that according to a  Stoic-Platonic view of therapy, the spiritual exercise can be one of an array of practices. Attention (presence in the current moment), meditation (putting information into context with the big picture), intellectual endeavors (reading, writing, listening, research), and self-improvement activities are all, according to Hadot, ways to embrace one’s own spirituality.

De Botton argues that an atheism that simply rejects supernatural claims and stops there is “too easy.” The rejection should be just the beginning on a path to a more fulfilling, spiritual life. He suggests ways the secular world can “steal” from religious traditions in order to make the secular world more welcoming to spirituality – that is, more welcoming to ideas and exercises that enliven us at our very core.

De Botton holds that secularism should not be synonymous with stolidity. I would go so far as to argue that a fulfilled secular life cannot be without its spiritual moments. Think of the feeling you get when you lie out on a moonless night and survey the Milky Way above you. Think of the last time you felt a sense of awe, a stirring feeling in your gut that you’ve just witnessed something deeply important. Mysterium tremendum: a profound terror of the large and mysterious; mysterium fascinosum: a profound fascination with the large and mysterious.

These are not emotions reserved for the religious, nor should they be, and perhaps we should encourage them more actively in the secular realm. As complexly thinking and feeling animals, we each need a way to become orientated to our inner and outer environments, and that is precisely what spirituality is. A pupil of Epicurus, quoted by Hadot, puts the sense of the spiritual potently:

The walls of the world open out, I see action going on throughout the whole world…Thereupon from all these things a sort of divine delight gets hold upon me and a shuddering, because nature thus by your power has been so manifestly laid open and unveiled in every part.

Awakening to War

Hope of Life

“We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.” ― D.H. Lawrence

Today’s post again focuses on the conflict in Syria. Shaza Askar’s perceptive put a human face on the tragedy with wisdom and grace. Hopefully, this post will wake us all up to the realities of war, and guide us to work for peace.

Syria’s turmoil began with protests against the regime back in March 2011. A year and a half later it was formally declared a civil war. Three years later, the war has affected the world, even the international community has stepped in after accusations of chemical weapons use in the suburbs of Damascus in August 2013.

The human cost is high and continues to climb as fighting rages. The death toll now exceeds 130,000 and more than eight million Syrians have fled their homes, seeking refuge either in neighboring countries or other parts of their troubled country.

I was living in my home city Homs during the outbreak of the war in 2011. The beginning of the war, or let us say revolution, was frightening because no one could guess where it might take us, or what my country’s future was going to be like.

Since my family house was near the Old City of Homs, a center of action, we had a greater share of tragedies. I can clearly remember how it all started, the protests, the first confrontations between the rebels and the government army, the deployments of tanks and soldiers down the streets, and the raids on the houses.

One June morning in 2011, I awoke to find seven tanks on my block. At that point I knew, a real war had started. There was one time that my sister and I were walking home and suddenly two groups were shooting all around us, we ran like crazy for almost 200 meters to reach to our relatives’ house. We stayed there until there was a break in the battle and we could finally go home.

The scary thing about Syria is that even if you are in an area that seems calm, there are still airstrikes. There isn’t a no-fly zone in place. And there are airstrikes all around the country. So at any moment the veneer of calm can be shattered with an airstrike or with an artillery round. Consequently, civilians were indiscriminately being killed, and who is the murderer? It is an unanswerable question since there are quite a number of armies, groups, and affiliations which are fighting in my country.

I awake every morning knowing war is ravaging my country, I awake every morning knowing people in Syria will die. I awake every morning knowing being alive is a blessing.

Awaken Your Spirit

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Welcome to Awakenings month!

In many parts of the world, plants are beginning to bloom, birds are chirping, everything is coming alive.

So in the spirit of this enlivening sense of the earth’s reawakening, we invite you to submit your posts on this month’s theme of Awakenings.

We would love to see your photos, lists of things that awaken your spirit, or posts about how your have been awakened on your spiritual journey!

Of course, we are also accepting posts for next month’s theme of strength too!

Hope to hear from you all soon!

With Wisdom, Love …and Lint,

Autumn and Jenni

P.S. A few days ago we marked the one year anniversary of Searching Sophia’s Pockets! Thanks for taking this journey with us!

 

Praying for Choices

12Today’s post is a reflection from our ongoing series of responses to Faith Aloud’s Forty Days for Prayer.  This post on the 21st prayer is from Karen, who is an intern for Faith Aloud through Eden Theological Seminary while concurrently pursuing a Master of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. Karen’s wise words about praying for everyone’s choices show thoughtfulness, kindness, and love in a conversation that is often fraught with anger. Karen shows us that being pro-choice involves so many shades of understanding.

 

I am pro-choice and I pray. People who identify as pro-choice are often people of nuance. Contrary to the polarizing images presented in the media or society’s tendency to put people in boxes, to be pro-choice is to recognize that everyone has different contexts: family structures, friends, support networks, economic resources, educational backgrounds, physical conditions, mental health issues, spiritualities… the list goes on. We who are pro-choice recognize that all of the factors that make up who we are affect the decisions we all make.

As one of many pro-choice voices, I aim to understand others with compassion, recognizing that others’ choices may not be my own.  Even when people make decisions that differ from what I would have chosen, I know everyone is just as worthy of compassion, dignity, and respect. I am confident that everyone is capable of making the choices that are best for them, within their situations.482235_10151534296663383_694611725_n

At Faith Aloud, where I work, we are devoted to ensuring that people integrate their faith traditions and spirituality into their reproductive decisions, rather than believing that in order to consider all of their reproductive options, they must leave their faith and spirituality at the door. We believe that no one should feel alone when seeking faith guidance on reproductive decisions, and everyone deserves to feel whole and loved.

Today, the prayer from Forty Days for Prayer is mindful of those in developing nations, whose choices and decisions might be different from my own. Today’s prayer recognizes that economic need and the lack of supportive political structures can press down upon a lack of employment and educational opportunities to make people feel trapped within their situations.

As nuanced voices for choice, we are attentive to the ways in which lack of access to birth control and safe abortion procedures may occur on economic, political, and personal levels. Nonetheless, we believe that all people have the power of self-determination, to make choices of their own, even when those choices may be limited by external forces or by internal struggle.

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When I pray for self-determination, through the prayers of Faith Aloud, I pray for all people to be empowered to find the best way to make life better for themselves, their families, and their communities. This is a prayer for people to courageously and creatively make decisions that bring peace to their souls and well-being to their lives. This prayer is based on hope, the hope that things can and will be better. I pray that all people will remember that even when their circumstances press down around them, they are not defined by their circumstances, and they are not alone. I pray that they have choices.

 

 

Choosing to Let Go

By: Autumn Elizabeth

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You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

― Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

Being an immigrant can be frustrating, so can being a Christian, and being a traveling Christian feminist…that can definitely get frustrating. Most of my frustration comes from concentrating too much on the results of my life. I want things to go my way, want my prayers to be answered the way I want, want everything to go as I have planned. Once I choose a path, I want it to be the right one. I want to be the one in control of all the outcomes.

But that’s the thing, I am not in control, not of my life as an immigrant, and not as my life as a Christian. I have to give up that illusion.  Now, I am not one to say “let go and let God”. I don’t believe that if I sit at home and do nothing God will make everything perfect.  I am pretty sure God wants us all to strive, to work, to hustle for a better world.

However, sometimes, when we are doing the best we can, when we are working to change the world with thought and action, we can give our frustration to God. We can choose to let go of the result, if and when we have given our best to the process.

So this is what I am choosing. I am choosing to let go of those things that are out of my control, like the result of a job application, or a visa application. I am deciding that my hard work will eventually pay off, even if I can’t see it.

Isn’t that the whole mystery of the universe, of God anyway? None of us, not a one, can know the ultimate effect of our actions. Yet we are called, as humans of a hurting earth, to act, to create, to work, even if the end result goes unseen by our eyes.

I choose to continue to support organizations like Faith Aloud, even when it seems like we fight the same battles every day. I choose to continue to pray for the people of Syria, of Ukraine,and  for all people who live in the mists of this world’s conflicts, even when it seems my prayers go unanswered. I choose to continue on this life path as immigrant, even when I don’t know if it is the right one.

I choose to believe that my work and my life are important for this world, even if I never see the good they do.  I am constantly, forever, choosing to believe that I am a child of the universe, a child of a loving God, and, that with my help, the universe is unfolding as it should.

If you want to tell us what you believe, what you choose, and how you are making a difference, you can submit your words, photos, and prayers.

The Choice of Leaving Syria

Today’s post comes from Shaza Askar, a young Syrian woman. Shaza’s brave words shed a new light on the theme of choices. Above all, Shaza’s post gives us a glimpse into the reality of war, and we here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets are exceedingly glad she is able and willing to share her story.  

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“A part of me is still there…” says Shaza of her room in Homs, Syria

From the outside, Syria looks like Armageddon. It just looks like full-on combat around every corner, but war-zones are never what they appear from the outside. There are always pockets of calm and neighborhoods where life goes on.

Around the end of the year 2011, I chose to move to the capital city of Damascus to pursue a Master’s degree there. You can never guess that life was almost normal in the neighborhoods inside Damascus. However, in the distance you could always hear artillery rounds landing, but it seemed like there were areas and pockets that were nearly calm except for some mortars and Grad Rockets falling every now and then, in addition to explosions taking place once in two or three weeks.

Despite choosing to move somewhere safer, I almost lost my sister in an explosion in summer 2013. More than twenty people were burned to death while they were riding a bus after it passed over planted explosives. People around the explosion were injured too. My sister was one of those injured by the explosion, of course but thankfully she survived it. The violence continued to escalate. Battles were surrounding the capital city; some of them even took place within the neighborhoods of Damascus. We had to make a choice.

Living in a situation like that, fleeing the country was the only choice for me. After the choice of leaving Syria was made, I, along with my sister, began the long and exhausting process of preparations. After a few months of working on our papers in such a complicated situation, and having to fly to Jordan or Lebanon whenever we had an appointment with the German Embassy, risking our lives with snipers who were readily placed on the way to the airport, my sister and I were finally accepted to study at German universities that were exceptionally supportive to us with regard to our special case.  I can’t be thankful enough for every person that showed real compassion during that time because it meant a lot.

Escaping Syria was my choice, but what of the people who are still there without the option to leave? What is their choice?

Without a Choice

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Today we continue our series of responses to Faith Aloud‘s Forty Days for Prayer. Today, Jenni Taylor  is responding to a prayer about domestic abuse, and looking at those who feel they have no choice. So, Here’s Jenni with her wise words about violence, prayer, choices, and hope. 

For the women in my life who have experienced fear:

who have felt their ears burning in shame, burning more than the bruises and the cuts, the shame of walking away and then walking back, knowing your lips will remain sealed, knowing you will continue to stay out of love for him, love for your family, love for your children-

Do not be ashamed. Do not think you are alone.

There was a woman in the bible that knelt down to wash Jesus’ feet with her hair. I dream about my grandmother sometimes, a woman who raised eight children in the shadow of an abusive husband and father, and I hope someday I

can kneel next to her and pour oil on her wounds and say:

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I love you.

I love you so much my heart aches. You never were, never are, and never will be shameful.

I will never blame you for making the wrong choice, for staying, for sacrificing yourself.

Instead, I will love and honor you for your strength of spirit. I will celebrate your life and know the man you loved broke your heart but never broke your will to survive. I can feel your spirit around me, grandmom, and I know you make me strong.

There are so many other women I know who have been abused physically, emotionally, and sexually. For those who have chosen to leave, I pray that you find loving support wherever you go, the strength to tell your story, and healing for all the hurt and pain.

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For those who stay because the other choice is worse, or those who feel they have no choice at all, I pray for protection over you and your loved ones, I pray for friends and advocates to come to your aid, I pray that you may find choice and freedom from a situation that seems impossible to escape. And I pray again,

Do not be ashamed.

You are never, never alone.

We are here for you.

Honoring the Choices of Others

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Today, we start a series of responses to Faith Aloud’s multi-faith Forty Days for Prayer. After looking at the prayers, which are currently being prayed during the Christian season of Lent, we invite you to send us your responses. Today’s post comes for our very own  Autumn Elizabeth.

I have made a lot of choices in my life. I’ve chosen which church to attend as an adult. I’ve chosen which birth control method to use, which people I want as romantic partners, and even which countries to live in. I’ve chosen to make a lot of decisions that other people may not understand. But in every decision, I know that God understands.

The God I know, the Jesus I follow, does not require me to justify my choices to those who do not know me. I am called only to make my choices with my God, and to let the choices of others remain between them and their God.

We can never know the real reasons for the choices of others. Yet, the universe calls us to love, not hostility.

I have chosen to protect the very women today’s prayer honors. I have stood in front of anger, hatred, and violence at abortion clinics and tried my best to project the love of God. That was my choice–to protect the choices of those who I do not know.

So today, I choose again to use my voice, my faith, and my love to shield people from harm.  I pray for the women who must walk through crowds of hostility and anger. I pray that more people will choose to protect everyone’s right to make their own choices with their own God. I pray that we all choose to honor choice with love, respect, and care. 

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What You Choose to Believe Can Save the World

By: Jenni Taylor

When we were young, we were told we could be anything. Ballerinas, fire fighters, dragon killers and ostrich riders. We were unbeatable- until a scratch, cut, or broken limb sent us running back to the adult world to fix the things we couldn’t fix on our own.

I belong to the adult world now, but my feelings are the same. I am unbeatable- until an unkind word, work disaster, or soul crasher send me running to the hills looking for someone, anyone, who is bigger and more capable than me. Adult suffering is child suffering, except with large walls to hide the wounds.

The monsters I fight are sneakier now. They come in the guise of whispers, of shiny success, of matchstick “love” that puffs into smoke. I find myself swinging my sword at Goliaths- racism, sexism, hate, injustice- and not making a dent.

That’s when I have a choice.

Faith is believing in what you can’t see. I will never prove Gods existence to any of you, and that has never been my goal. But I can choose to believe that:

If I seek wisdom, I will find it.
If I am broken, I will not be broken forever.
If I am weak, I can be made strong.
If I need comfort, I will be comforted.
If I believe I have a purpose, I have a purpose.

If I choose to believe I am loved by the creator of the universe, I will have the courage to love others. If I make the choice and believe that love is bigger than the monsters, then I know that love will change the world. Like a little girl running to her mom for a bandage for a bleeding knee, I choose to run to my faith and know it will heal my broken heart.

So here I am, in all my adult glory, choosing to be small, choosing to be brave, and choosing to believe I am never alone.

I stand here knowing that what I choose to believe in could save the world..