Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

just for fun ~

Johannes Eisele / AFP - Getty Images

You owe it yourself to go the link for photos of Baby-Girl Rhino. She’ll make you smile, I promise. We all deserve that :) ~

a love letter to Portland ~

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love the city of Portland, Oregon. But this trip — #5? #6? — was especially lovely. Of course much of that has to do w/ my son’s wedding :). And vacation always offers rose-coloured sunglasses to the tourist.

But Portland really is a special place. One night, walking home from a very long  and full day of wedding festivities, my husband and I stood at a street corner, trying to make our dying cell phones speak a few last words of GPS. A nice young man offered to give us a number to a cab company, stopping to help us figure out which way to go. A few moments later, as we walked down Broadway, another tall, tattooed & pierced young man shouted reassuringly (as he ran up on us and past), “I”m not stalking you — just in a hurry. I can’t wait to start laughing at the Comedy Club!” (just up ahead)

Portland is full of small stories like this — the waitress in the hotel restaurant who talked about her Maori necklace w/ me, the doorman at the wedding venue, the cab driver who told me about his young daughter. The woman on the bus who gave me two perfect roses (and this in the City of Roses) when I admired them. My beginner’s heart is wondering if I need to treat Oklahoma more like a vacation destination — trying to make time to listen more, let people offer up their stories. Perhaps there are as many nice people (although certainly not as many tattooed ones!) at home, as here in Portland.

But Portland still seems magic to me — stitched together w/ 10  bridges over the Willamette River alone, and countless other smaller ones here and there. Water and greenery are everywhere: parks peek from every street turn, and there are food carts readily available with that great Portland commodity — amazing food — to turn a working lunch into a picnic. You can walk out of class on a Saturday morning, smack dab into one of the country’s largest (and best) farmer’s markets. Yes, you also can spend beaucoup $$ for food (& micro-brewed rootbeer :)) in Portland, but you don’t HAVE to.

All of  this is by way of saying it’s not just my son’s wedding, or the cooler temps, or the fact that it was vacation. Portland really is its own reason for visiting :). Well, that and the best coffee in the universe…

Here’s to you, city of bridges and beer and public transport and tiny bakeries and classically trained street musicians and parks hidden behind a turn. Live long & prosper :).

the founding fathers, Islam, and enlighten(ed)ment ~

Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an ~ photo by Aasil Ahmad

History has fallen out of fashion. Real history, I mean. The kind that requires reading more than one source. The kind of research that my students hate. Vectoring sources, looking things up in more than one place, viewing all sources skeptically. That kind of history…:)

And yet people are always saying, “The Founding Fathers did X.” Or, “The Constitution says Y.”  We  want our own opinions and beliefs somehow affirmed by the very forces we question: authorities, the government, science and religion :).

But I confess to a warm rush of affection when I saw the cover of a magazine I receive bi-monthly. It’s a souvenir of my years spent living in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Aramco World, and this month’s cover features Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an.

Another digression. I never expected to become an advocate for Islam, Muslims, or even diversity. I grew up thinking everyone valued variety — like trying new things to eat, or learning a new song, or reading a new book. It took years of hard evidence to the contrary to convince me that there are people who fear the unknown, hate the stranger, and will work long & hard to make sure difference is at best not encountered, and at worst destroyed :(.

But here I am, years later, trying hard to show the world how much I’ve learned from other belief systems, from people very different than I am, from parts of history and the world as unfamiliar to me as the Periodic Table :).

You may not have known that Thomas Jefferson had a Qur’an (spelled ‘Koran’ on his edition). And you may not have heard of his unusual Bible, which cuts to the heart of the teachings of Jesus, eliding any question of divinity, resurrection, or anything else that might interfere with the actual words, as he saw it, of Jesus. Jefferson was, by today’s standards, hopelessly Enlightenment :). I like to think of him as fallibly enlightened. He saw the human condition as perfectable; he was at heart an optimist. It’s one of his most endearing qualities, to me.

And he was a seeker, as many of us are, looking wherever there was light. I wish that attitude were more common in the Capitol today :). With all his warts (and he had plenty), I believe Jefferson would be willing to talk about things, and learn from others. Not that common a stance today ~

"Jefferson...shelved religious books, including his English version of the Qur'an, with other works under "Jurisprudence," which fell under "Moral Philosophy.""

Instead, we work to re-shape what makes us uncomfortable. Refuse, as some of my students in a class once did, to read those things that don’t agree with our own beliefs. And that’s a shame. I wonder how much the Declaration of Independence, the  Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution, for instance, would have lost had Jefferson not been familiar with the Qur’an, or Benjamin Franklin with the confederation of the six Iroquois tribes

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to learn from the past. It can open windows into new worlds. But you have to be willing to turn that first page. Like Jefferson :).

It’s a lesson I need to remember, as I try to open up this beginner’s heart. Listen to the different voices, respect the different cultures, look for commonalities and not differences. Meeting the world in its good intentions ~

Ramadan ~

It’s Ramadan, and I’m remembering last year’s Ramadan, working in an office w/ a dear friend who is an observant Muslim. Trying to juggle my own need for lunch (I am sooo cranky when I don’t eat!) and my respect for her spiritual commitment. Eating an apple quietly :)

I had hoped this year to observe  Ramadan, as I try to observe many religious rituals from other faiths. Ramadan is one of my favourites.

What a lovely commitment, if you think about it: to choose to go hungry, thirsty, without… so that you can know what it’s like to be without food, as so many are. To pay more attention to things of the spirit — for Muslims, of course, this means studying the Qur’an, being even more mindful of the teachings of Islam — to be more mindful of our many daily gifts… I love this.

And for Buddhists, it’s a gentle reminder of what it is to be mindful. That it’s hard, a constant challenge, so hard that Islam requires it (as does Christianity) for only one month of the year — a renewal of vows, in a way : ).

I’ve thought many times of trying to keep Ramadan. In Muslim cultures, children start ‘practicing’ quite young — they’re not required to keep Ramadan until puberty, but many begin as pre-teens or younger. I think of myself as a kind of pre-teen when it comes to this month of reflection and practiced empathy. I’m not a Muslim, but years of living in Muslim countries and my many dear Muslim friends have shown me what a wonderful exercise in disciplined reflection Ramadan can be.

American Muslim soldiers celebrating the end of Ramadan at the Fort Jackson, S.C., Joe E. Mann Center last year. (Fort Jackson Leader/Wikimedia Commons)

Because Ramadan isn’t simply about going hungry from dawn to dusk. Or even abstaining from temptations, an admirable goal. It’s about the knowledge, manifested much like Christian Lent (only even more so) that many in the world go without daily necessities. And that we are fortunate in this country (indeed, blessed :)) to be able to eat and practice our own faiths. Not the case in many places in the world…

And as the picture reminds us, there are many American Muslims. My friend Soha’s husband has his American citizenship, and is proud of it, working at the university as a professor in sustainable energies. Soha and Khaled’s two children are as American as any multicultural children in America. They’re also Muslim, and working at keeping Ramadan, even the youngest.

It’s hard being mindful. Especially when there are no paths marked for you. So I celebrate the usefulness for this beginner’s heart of remembering that throughout the world, many are at risk for their religious and spiritual beliefs.  Many go hungry, thirsty, w/out the bare necessities because of who and where they are. And I count my own blessings :).

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