Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Breaking the silence, beating the drum

March 25 is the Commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The transatlantic slave trade is a major element of global history, yet little is known about the 400 year long trade. Its lasting consequences - the contribution of slaves to the building of the societies of their enslavement - are felt throughout the world. The stories of lives of enslaved Africans in the Americas and the Caribbean display the capacity of human beings to develop even under dehumanizing conditions. They also represent diverse ways in which human beings confront and transcend oppression. Drums have historically played an important role in the lives of people of African descent who used drums in rituals and religious ceremonies as a way of expressing themselves through a series of drum beats.
From United Nations Television

For more information see the United Nations website dedicated to the Commemoration of the International day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Welcoming Spring Philadelphia Style

We enjoyed this first beautiful Sunday in Spring walking in Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River. Rowers were on the river enjoying the mild weather and sunshine. Later in the afternoon, we strolled through the Philadelphia Art Museum.

I always look forward to seeing this first harbinger of Spring.

I was surprised to see beautiful blossoming trees so early.

Pink flowers adorning this branch

Nandi, Shiva's faithful companion, from India

I loved these charming miniature deer from Japan.

Beautiful screen of a fox, from Japan

Avalokiteshvara from Southeast Asia

Madonna and Child, flanked by two saints

Madonna and Child. I love the colors on this painting.

The Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny by Claude Monet

Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, by Vincent van Gogh

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Happy Naw Ruz! The Beginning of Spring and the Baha'i New Year 166 B.E.

O peoples of the world! We have enjoined upon you fasting during a brief period, and its close have designated for you Naw-Ruz as a feast.

Naw-Ruz signifies the end of the Baha'i Fast and the beginning of the New Year. We had wonderful celebrations all weekend. Friday night was Feast at Hong and Sally's. We had a potluck dinner to break our Fast, and prayers and readings, a video of the chanting of the Naw Ruz tablet in Arabic, and beautiful singing by Denali, Hayden, and Chelan. Later we chatted over dessert and toured Hong's studio and looked at his magnificent paintings.

Saturday afternoon and evening was our Naw Ruz Holy Day celebration. Bettina decorated the room so beautifully with flowers, a Haft Sin table, and ornaments with Baha'i writings and prayers on them. Dinner was wonderful, and we had an inspiring devotional program. Later we celebrated with music and singing, dancing, and a bonfire!

As I left to go home, I paused in the darkness and looked up at the night sky and saw Orion shining low on the horizon, a sign of the end of Winter and the beginning of the New Year.

In addition to being a Baha'i Holy Day, Naw Ruz is also an Iranian cultural celebration. A Haft Sin table is a Persian tradition which includes seven items starting with the Farsi letter S, traditionally including sprouted wheat or lentils, flowers, garlic, apples, sumac, vinegar, a mirror, special books, fruit, and coins. Baha'is sometimes adopt variations of this Persian tradition to honor the cultural roots of our Faith.

Flowers symbolize Spring in many traditions.

Bettina decorated branches of a tree with beautiful ornaments with Baha'i writings on the back.

Butterflies and ribbons

These are just the appetizers! You should have seen the dinner!

The youth painted some posters of Unity, Love, and Hope.

Hanging out and chatting by the fire.

Jamila and Noor say a prayer.

During dinner we paused to read some devotional writings.

A prayer in English and Spanish

Denali and friend

After dinner Sally led some circle dancing. Some of us went outside by the fire and chatted and enjoyed the stars and the night air.

Chelan and Hayden sang several beautiful songs for us.

Henry sings for us.

Kenna plays the flute.

Denali, Hayden, and Chelan.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Uploaded on December 10, 2005by StrudelMonkey licensed under Creative Commons

A Gaelic translation of a favorite prayer about the beauty and sanctity of a sense of place:

Is beannaichte an ionad 's an taigh
Agus an t-àite 's am baile mòr
Agus an cruidhe 's a' bheinn
Agus an tèarmann agus an t-uamh
Agus a' gleann 's an tìr
Agus a 'mhuir 's t-eilean
Agus an lòn far an d'fhuaras luaidh Dhè
Agus a chliù agus glòir dha ainm
(Provisional translation by Iain G. Millington)

Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made and His praise glorified.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

French Impressionism and Post- Impressionism at the Allentown Art Museum

I spent some time on Saturday viewing the Allentown Art Museum's exhibit "Monet to Matisse: French Masterworks from the Dixon Gallery and Gardens". It was a beautiful exhibit with landscapes, seascapes, portraits, and still life studies from Monet, Degas, Pissarro, Renoir, Gauguin, Cezanne, Seurat, and several others. Many of these painters captured the beauty of nature with broad brushstrokes and striking use of color.

Later in the afternoon we had a Baha'i gathering to break our Fast together. Dr. Babak Etemad gave a talk on the relevance of religion in the modern age. He spoke of his experiences living in New Orleans after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. He said people searched for meaning and purpose and came together as a community unified around certain values despite being from a diversity of backgrounds. People who intended to stay and thrive after the hurricane created what they termed "the culture of yes" in order to stay positive during difficult times. We had a lively discussion and asked ourselves some very challenging questions about the role of religion in modernity. After the sun went down, we broke our Fast and chatted and ate and continued our discussions.

Sunday was a day for some yardwork in preparation for the new growth in Spring. I already am eyeing up my garden and dreaming of what goodies I will grow this year.

Here are some selections from the Monet to Matisse show. I have noticed that reproductions can not even come close to the striking beauty of the original; the exact colors, the texture of the brushstrokes, the difference in perspective when viewed from close up vs. further away, cannot be captured in a photograph. So if you have a chance, go see it in person yourself, the show is displayed until May 3 at the Allentown Art Museum.

Georges Braque, Pot d’Anemones , 1925

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Dancer Seated on a Pink Divan, 1884

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Wave

Claude Monet, Port De Dieppe, Le Soir, 1882

Henri Fantin-Latour, Nature Morte, 1869(Still Life With Flowers)

Paul Gaugin, Bathing in Front of the Port of Pont-Aven, 1886

Jean-Louis Forain

Marc Chagall, Bouquet de Fleurs Avec Amoureux, 1927

Edgar Degas, Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe

Paul Cézanne, Trees and Rocks, Near the Château Noir, 1900-1906

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Spring Cleaning for the Soul: The Baha'i Fast

From March 2nd to 20th Baha'is observe the Fast by refraining from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. It is also a time for increased spiritual reflection and meditation, a sort of Spring cleaning for the soul.

Baha'u'llah writes in one of the prayers for the Fast: Thou hast endowed every hour of these days with a special virtue, inscrutable to all except Thee, Whose knowledge embraceth all created things.

Now that we have completed the first week of the Fast, I thought I would take some time to think about what some of these special virtues might be. During the Fast I learn once again to take pleasure in the simple things of life. A delicious meal and the company of friends is one of the greatest sources of happiness during this time of year. I no longer take for granted the bounty of having a well prepared meal and a full stomach.

During the rest of the year, I usually make a quick variety of simple meals, a veggie burger, a bean burrito, a bowl of rice and beans with greens. But during the Fast I want to make sure I have a nice meal, so I actually pour through my pile of cookbooks once again and spend a little more time in the kitchen. Last week I made some aloo gobi (Indian potatoes and cauliflower), and Cuban rice and beans. This week I'm making Hungarian eggplant, and barbequed tofu with sweet potatoes and greens. Surprisingly, this time of restraint becomes a time for creativity and celebration.

But, I suppose the pleasure one feels at the end of the Fast day is not the whole point. During this time, unlike other times of year, I allow myself to feel genuine hunger. I cannot pretend to know how debilitating poverty and hunger must be, because I know at the end of the day all my needs will be satisfied and there will be plenty to eat. But I can begin to understand at least a little bit what hunger does to vitality, and motivation, and even mood. To add uncertainty on top of that must be devastating. The Fast begins to awaken one's compassion for those who suffer, even though we are only experiencing just a tiny measure of this.

The Fast also helps me to realize that conditions of life are transient. I find that my mood certainly varies depending on the state of my stomach. I also discover that emotions come and go, and that if I simply wait out the times of low energy and vitality that happen around lunchtime, in the afternoon I'll feel differently, and after the evening meal my outlook changes yet again! Isn't that true of our lives as well, a temporary condition can change our entire viewpoint? In the larger scope of our lives Baha'u'llah tells us: Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more.

During the Fast I am also profoundly aware of the cycles of nature. These three weeks are a time of great transition. Sunrise is earlier and earlier each day, and the hours of daylight are increasing each day. The reawakening of Spring is beginning.

The Fast also helps us feel a sense of community. We all are partaking of the same experience. Sometimes we have gatherings and dinners in the evening. I even read blogs by fellow Baha'is who speak of their Fasting experience. Amy and Leila over at Nineteen Days share photographs every evening. Rainn Wilson has "twittered" about the Fast. And, on a more serious note, word has come from Iran that the Baha'is unjustly imprisoned in Iran are still managing to observe the Fast.

Most significantly, the Fast is a spiritual time, a time for spending a little more time reflecting and meditating, a time for a renewed emphasis on refining one's character. The Fast is "essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character." (Shoghi Effendi).

Path leading to the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi, India. Reprinted with permission of the Bahá’í International Community from Baha'i Media Bank

Tonight our community had a guest speaker followed by a potluck dinner. Dr. Kendal Williams spoke about evolution and the Baha'i Faith, which is a favorite topic of mine. I was especially interested to hear him speak about Charles Darwin, since I have been reading about him lately.

Baha'i teachings state that the potential reality of man was always present in Creation, but the physical form developed through various stages. All of Creation is always evolving, life is never static. The appearance of mankind meant that for the first time, nature could reflect upon itself! Consciousness itself evolves, and society and civilization grow and change and progress through ages and centuries. Naturally, even religion itself evolves. The next phase in our religious evolution must be an acknowledgment of the unity of mankind and the interconnectedness of all peoples.

After this illuminating conversation, the sun had finally set, and we had a wonderful meal and enjoyed each other's companionship. Another Fast day has come to an end.

(p.s. I saw a shooting star on my way home this evening. I made a wish of course!)


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