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The Bliss Blog

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Last night brought with it the last candle of Hanukkah for 2017. As I kindled each one over the past 8 nights, using the menorah that I inherited from my parents when they passed,  I offered a prayer for peace, healing, reconciliation for the planet. More than any time in my own history, I have witnessed the downfall of decency, and an upswing in hatred. I grew up in a home in which love and understanding thrived. My parents taught us that no one is inferior and that equality is essential regardless of gender, socio-economic background, skin tone or religion. Why I wonder, should that be a rarity? Hard to imagine sitting at a dinner table at which racial epithets are strewn. In my teens when I called my dad on his use of the word ‘schvartze’  to refer to Black people, he initially replied that it was a figure of speech and he did not mean it disparagingly. I then asked him how he felt when throughout his life, I’m certain that he was called a ‘kike’. He looked down and admitted I was right. I never heard him use that word again.

Although Judaism was the religion practiced at home, my parents encouraged us to learn about other faith traditions. My sister and I were permitted to attend services at friend’s churches. In college, I took classes in Eastern religions, and in my 40’s attended The New Seminary and graduation in 1999 as an ordained Interfaith Minister. My practices now are eclectic. This past week, I participated in a Winter Solstice ritual with another ahead on Friday that includes a Yule Log ceremony and the reading of a poem I wrote many years ago.

The Birth of The Divine Child

As winter’s darkness descends, our hearts tremble. But is it of fear or celebration? Dread of the shadow or anticipation of the Light? Ask of the voice within that knows all things for what they are. And wait in silence for the answer to arise. Still your mind of the busy chatter that fills it to capacity with all that does not serve. Within the comfort of the shadow realms, take a moment to look about. Put aside your trepidation, for in truth, there is no cause to hide. We are of that soft shadow just we are of the Light that will soon replace it. In order for new life to spring forth, the seeds of that anticipated growth require the blanket of rich, moist soil to embrace them. The intelligence within those seeds knows that they must lie dormant for a bit. Think that they worry? Not likely, for they are one with nature. They know no separation. So why must we?

On December 21st, we welcome the birth of the New Solar year and the onset of winter. God and Goddess dance as one in the forms of the Great Mother and Sun Child. Swirling and soaring, melting the chill from our bones and souls. Enticing us to join in the ballet of Being. Crimson like the blood that flows through our veins, moss green that carpets the earth, feather white that gently blankets the reaching branches, stretching to the heavens, asking for a blessing from All That Is. The message from the One is of trust that all is well, despite appearances. It is of shifting our focus from darkness to light, from terror to safety, from condemnation to affirmation.

As the Light ascends, so too do we. Rising from the depths of self-doubt into certainty. Expanding from our limited view of what we can do into All that we Are. Surrendering with arms cast wide in the knowing that we will be safely carried into the next moment. Recognizing the sacred in each act of love, each word of support, each thought of kindness. Seeing the Highest in each soul. Embracing what is so. Cultivating wisdom. Creating from our hearts’ desires. Emboldening our passions. Singing a celestial song with words of Divine origin. Stretching our comfort zones.

And as we do this, we witness the Birth of the Divine Child within us. Blessed Be.

Edie Weinstein copyright 2004

Christmas Eve will find me at Pebble Hill Church, which is an interfaith community that has been a spiritual home for me since 1984. My favorite part is at the end when we light each other’s candles and sing Silent Night as the illumination reflects in the skylights as if the flickers are twinkling stars.

On Christmas Day, I will be with my son, daughter-in-law and her family; now part of mine. They got married in August and this young woman raised Catholic expressed interest in learning about Judaism and asked for a menorah. I brought one to them and sent her youtube videos which described the holiday that celebrates miracles. I also gave them Christmas tree ornaments from Adam’s childhood to create new traditions in their home.

In a time when darkness seems like it is gathering, keeping the glow going is essential.

 

 

Wonderposter

I’m a sucker for heart-tugging movies, especially those that highlight characters who overcome seemingly unfathomable obstacles. From the moment I saw the trailer for Wonder (based on the best selling book by the same name, written by graphic designer and author R. J. Palacio (Raquel Jaramillo), I was certain that I would watch it and be moved by it. My premonition played out as I sat in a darkened theater on a Saturday afternoon surrounded by others I heard sniffling and clapping along with me at various times throughout the 113-minute portrayal of the life of a child whose physical appearance shocked some, delighted others (his loving family), disgusted some and inspired others. The main character is August (Auggie) Pullman (played by Jacob Tremblay) who had a congenital condition called mandibulofacial dysostosis, which is also known as Treacher Collins Syndrome. Multiple surgeries left his face scarred and his social scope limited since he was homeschooled by his mother Isabelle (Julia Roberts) so he would not face the penetrating stares of children and adults. His father, Nate is portrayed by Owen Wilson and his older sister Olivia; called ‘Via’ is rendered by Izabela Vidovic. The principal, Mr. Tushman. played by veteran stage, screen and television actor Mandy Patinkin provides comic relief, as well as solid wisdom. Mr. Browne (played by Davveed Diggs) is the homeroom teacher and another voice of conscience who guides the children to understand that kindness matters more than nearly anything and that character is based on what we do each day; the ways we comport ourselves.

The family rallied around Auggie as he stepped out of the protective cocoon with which they surrounded him and out into the world of a prep school to which they were now launching him. An apt metaphor, since Auggie’s rich inner life includes imagining himself as an intrepid space traveler, ensconced in astronaut gear. In his day to day life, he would only walk outside wearing a space helmet. When his parents and sister accompanied him to the courtyard that was bustling with other children, he might as well have been an alien since they viewed him as an oddity. A few weeks prior to the start of school, three students were handpicked to be his guides into this new world. One, a stage kid who talked all about her glories and performances initially, one a spoiled, entitled bully who tormented Auggie and gathered other students to join him, (the viewer discovers what seeds were planted that had him becoming Auggie’s nemesis) and lastly, one who was guilted at first to befriend Auggie, but eventually became a genuine ally. Auggie rode unpredictable waves of acceptance and harassment, drinking in the support when it showed up and expressing intense and understandable emotion when it didn’t.

Another common dynamic is what happens within the mind and heart of the ‘well child,’ who is called on, either intentionally or by choice to subsume their role in the service of supporting their sibling who receives the lion’s share of attention.

The movie is dappled with quotable lines:

“When given the choice between being right or being kind choose kind.”

“I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.”

“Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”“The best way to measure how much you’ve grown isn’t by inches or the number of laps you can now run around the track, or even your grade point average– though those things are important, to be sure. It’s what you’ve done with your time, how you’ve chosen to spend your days, and whom you’ve touched this year. That, to me, is the greatest measure of success.”

This film should be shown in every school, in faith communities, in scout troop meetings, in community gatherings, at the White House, to adults and children alike. Kids don’t come into the world hardwired for bullying behaviors; they are inculcated by the adults around them.

Remember, “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.”

 

I am beginning this blog with a  few rhetorical questions that may ruffle feathers, but like the man about whom I am writing, I am not averse to controversy and mind opening.

How can those who claim to honor the birth, life, and death of One who came in the name of love, espouse hatred? Do they realize that as they promote anti-semitism, they are taking a major swing at One who lived as a ‘nice Jewish boy’ who was called Rabbi?  If I could come face to face with people who support racism, homo/transphobia. sexism, Islamaphobia, xenophobia, I would ask, “Who would Jesus hate?” Asking for a whole buncha friends.

I was raised in a Jewish home, having attended Hebrew School until I  was 16, became a Bat Mitzvah and later, was ordained as an Interfaith Minister via The New Seminary in New York City. My relationship with Jesus was a meandering one over the years. In my early years, my parents allowed me to attend church with Christian friends, even as they told me to remember who I was and not stray from the faith tradition we practiced. My father was first generation American born of Russian immigrant parents who fled their homeland during the pogrom. He experienced anti-Semitism as he grew up, even in the Navy in which he served during the Korean War and WWII. A fellow sailor even looked in his hair for horns, since he was taught that Jews sported them. As a result, there was an element of fear for him and those of his generation since Jews were persecuted in Jesus’ name throughout the ages. Tales of the Holocaust loomed large throughout my childhood. I had not experienced overt anti-Semitism, except the bizarre statement, “You don’t look Jewish.” which I never understood, since there are Jews all over the world, whose appearance varies.

In my young adulthood, I began studying A Course in Miracles which is said to be the channeled messages of Jesus, via a secular Jewish Psychologist named Helen Schucman. As much as I was drawn to the ideas, I experienced headaches each time I immersed in the teachings since they flew in the face of my upbringing. It was then that I called on my friend Alan Cohen who taught the work and lived it in his life. He was raised in Orthodox Judaism at one point and was close to his mother, who I imagined wouldn’t have been happier than my parents would have been had they known. He uttered these words that I can hear as if he is saying them now, “A mystic meets on the point of agreement.” Since I was an adult, he reinforced the idea that I had the right to my own spiritual beliefs and if my parents wouldn’t have been comfortable with it, I need not tell them until I was ready. As I breathed in the thought, the headaches faded and I could turn the pages of the books and drink in the solace without pain.

Now my relationship with Jesus is companionable. We chat. He reminds me of my own ability to tap into Divinity and healing and love.

When I posted those questions that began this article on my Facebook page, I received a variety of responses:

“Religion from the beginning of time has produced groups of people who perceive themselves to be the only way. Once we know that every religion has the same truth at the core we drop the judgment and feel compassion for those who feel anything but love.”

“I am a Christian. As a church pastor, I have drawn the ire of many folks in churches and communities when I have rocked their world with the shocking news (to them) that Jesus was a Jew. If you were to ask most of them, and many others, “Who would Jesus hate?”, they would, without hesitation or the slightest sense of irony, provide you with a very long list.”

“Pastor Tony’s Sermon-Writing 101: Ready? “Thank you, God, that we’re cool . . . And we’re really clear that everyone else sucks.” That’s a big chunk of sermons.”

“Have you ever read The Shack? There was a line in the book that I found pivotal, it was when Jesus was talking about love of all things “So, Jesus is that what it means to be Christian?” Jesus’s reply “I don’t know I am Jewish”. The line was removed from the movie as to not offend evangelicals or hard-line Christians.”

“Edie, not being well versed in the Bible, a verse from it came to me just as I read your post. Luke 23:34 New Living Translation
“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.”He spoke these words while still on the cross— Ultimate forgiveness and Unconditional Love. He came to show us Unconditional Love — what that is, how that feels in our everyday lives. At this point of my awareness, it feels like a lot of “religious” rules which were interpreted/created by man, separates this group from that one. If we were to ask ourselves simply “Is this the most loving response I can make” before any thought or action, this world/universe would be amazing. I just said out loud to my family the other day, “If Jesus was physically here on this earth today, I believe He would weep.” It is up to all of us to keep the Light of Unconditional Love burning brightly inside each of our hearts. Keep our vibration up and be wayshowers not just with words, but with action. This is especially true now in these times.”

“Well said. As a child and young man, I studied the history of the oppression of the Jews by Christians, the persistent murder, defamation and lying shaming. They all wanted to be Jews by replacing Jews. Their failure to understand that murdering Jews while worshipping a murdered Jew did not make any sense. Christianity does not make sense.”

“Fundamentalist Christians have come to believe that forgiveness of sins means they can do whatever the f**k they like.”

” I often say that if Jesus came back today he would be horrified at what has been and is being done in his name. From the Inquisition and probably before that. Very sad.”

“Ongoing problem that was probably worse back in Jesus’s time, and one that he often addressed—the Gentiles, Pharisees, Sadducees, Jews, Romans…all of them hated and were the recipients of hate. Then there were those who pretty much were only on the receiving end—Samaritans and tax collectors (they may have hated, too), the disabled, the ill, the mentally ill, prostitutes, and slaves, and a tiny bit even Jesus’s mother for having a surprise baby. (There is only one small biblical reference on that one). Compared to back then, we’ve made a lot of progress actually —well, in some areas, I guess. We certainly have more protections and avenues of recourse in place, depending on where you live. Even so, people who claim to follow Jesus should not be promoting prejudice against Jews or anyone. They should be working on eliminating prejudice within themselves. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done, as history has shown us. As humans, even the best of us have prejudice, hate, and judgment within us. Now and then, the latent societal prejudices bubble to the surface for all to see and correct.”

One of the tenets to which I hold true is that Christianity was not the religion of Jesus, but the religion about Jesus. And his religion (and mine) is Love.

 

 

 

 

 

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Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes…the opening words to the epic song Seasons of Love from the musical Rent. Each time I hear the song, I get goosebumps since it reminds me that life is both infinite and impermanent. Love lives on long after the corporeal existence ends. At 59, I am abundantly aware that each moment we share with others is precious.  Nineteen years ago at this time, I was having what I call Godversations while my husband lay dying in a hospital bed, I insisted, “He’s mine and you can’t have him,” to which the Divine lovingly but firmly responded, “He’s mine and he’s on loan to you, like everyone else in your life.” I have always appreciated the people in my life, but this sealed the deal for me.  It took awhile for the true message to sink in since there were a few more weeks yet to go in Michael’s end of life process. As I am typing these words, I am remembering sleepless nights, staring out his ICU room window into the darkened sky, wondering what the next day would bring….life or death? I walked the corridors mechanically, talked incessantly with family members and friends of others who shared the waiting room willing their loved ones to life. Ultimately, most of them left with their wishes unfulfilled. My last day there was 12/21/98 when Michael took his final artificially assisted breath.

Hard to imagine that I have moved through nearly two decades since he crossed over. Each year, as the winter holidays approached, I had a visceral sense of the passing of time. The first few years, my body reacted as it had during those tumultuous five and half weeks that took us through Thanksgiving, Chanukkah and the Winter Solstice. I was on high alert and still not sleeping well. I had moments of anxiety and like I was Major Tom in the David Bowie song Space Oddity….” here am I floating round my tin can, far above the moon.” I felt disconnected from others, still in my own little world that I entered each anniversary period that began on November 11th when he was wheeled into the hospital in a coma and December 21st when he left it. It took numerous turns of the calendar pages for the sensations to fade and now they are a minor blip on the radar screen. I can actually listen to holiday music without being brought back to that time.

I am not the same woman I was back then. I have become far more assertive, self-directed, confident and accomplished. I welcome opportunities that I had only dared to dream about when I had just turned 40.

As the last page is before me, I look back at the previous 12 months with a profound sense of gratitude at how my life has unfolded. I lost count of the number of people who have shown up as I am aware of the impact their arrival has had. The past year has brought joys and challenges, fraught with fear and lavished with love. I have engaged in both; wishing for more of the second than the first. The state of world affairs has called on every ounce of fortitude I have to remain afloat. I have used my determination and spiritual strength to attempt to make sense of the senseless. My writing skills have served me well as I have penned many articles on that topic.

My work world has expanded as I have continued to counsel and teach and minister. Part of that has included Free Hugs which literally has put me in touch with thousands of people since 2014.

I am taking emotional bungee jumping risks to defy limiting thoughts and expand my comfort zones. I am allowing myself to be guided by Spirit, trusting in the Highest Good outcome even when it feels quite antithetical to do so.

I am measuring my own seasons of love.