Honoring the small struggles, embracing the Plan

I am exactly where I should be.

There is no mistake.

I keep questioning where I am, my location, my journeys, and the struggles I am placed within. The dysfunction of persons, organizations, and movements, the profound oppression and injustices by individuals and collectives, the heartache of disconnection.

God is manifested in beauty as well as majesty, terrible as well as compassionate. The Prophet instructs us to attribute ourselves with the attributes of Allah, and Allah’s Mercy and Love overcome God’s ghadab (hardness/wrath/displeasure).

But in our interactions with people, we encounter hardness, injustice, perversion. We encounter hardness and injustice in our own selves as well. For many of us, this generates a tumult of disorder. It feels wrong to be hard and unjust. It feels wrong to engage with it. It is an imbalance. Even the Beloved Prophet grieved over the oppression of the Quraysh, and even he went to war.

I’m placed in a Struggle, a series of small struggles, many of which involve engaging with injustice, oppression, selfishness, dysfunction, imbalance. They all feel wrong. But they are part of a larger plan. They are there to be fought. But on one level, they are not a surprise.

I try to find serene embrace of the larger Plan for us, while I honor the Struggle into which I have been placed. I still wrestle with my embrace of the Plan, and I still wrestle with putting the small struggles into their perspective.

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Stop working

I had a breakthrough on my birthday this month. I was extremely stressed about some things, and it became so unbearable, I took a moment to call a friend.

I realized that just talking to her made my worries seem relatively trivial. Not pointless. But less significant.

I realized that all my days are spent simply in work. I have no time for joy. So anxieties are all I have.

The academic work calendar – perpetual work on weekdays and weekends – has much to do with this. And then we have bad family habits of perpetual work. So I sat my husband down and said, “We need to change these habits. We must do things that are not work. We must allow ourselves joy.”

Anxieties are king in our hearts and minds when they have no rivals. When joy is not sought out and claimed, the only occupants of our hearts are worries and grief.

I know for many of you this is commonplace knowledge, but some of us have to re-discover this. Repeatedly. And rescue our hearts and souls from the soul-crushing monotony of the endless work cycle.

Teaching post: Watching ‘Shikoku’ in ‘Religion in Documentary Film’

Today, for my Religion in Documentary Film class, my students and I are watching one of the Bruce Feiler Sacred Journeys: Shikoku. We are using the film as a window to some Buddhist ideals and experiences, while examining how the film frames the Shikoku pilgrims.

I ask my students to compare the Shikoku pilgrims to people visiting a Sufi tomb/mazar. What are the purposes, experiences, and rituals, in this Buddhist pilgrimage? Is it similar or different from Hajj or umrah, or pilgrimages to the gravesites of revered Muslim persons? What is the role of hardship, nature, relics? How does the Shikoku pilgrimage shed light on the key pursuits and concepts of Buddhism? What appear to be features of the Shikoku pilgrims’ religious and spiritual lives? What questions about Shikoku pilgrims and Buddhist life does the film not answer?

But technically and politically, I ask them to compare the framing of this film to Life in Hidden Light, a film about Carmelite nuns which uses no voice-over narration. What purpose does the narration play? How does it frame the religious experience? How does the creator of the documentary portray the Shikoku pilgrimage and the pilgrims?

I miss you abbu

Around this time of the year, I was born half a century ago or so.

And because I can’t get time off work easily, I miss the woman who gave birth to me and who is devoted to me, as she ages swiftly.

Because he is dead, I miss the man who loved me fiercely. I cry in anguish for him and his fierce protective love. Loss and pain take out chunks of me.

His love was not cool and rational, his love kept him up nights suffering for me. His love for me knew no balance, no limit. Sometimes, often in fact, he passionately hated others who caused me the slightest pain. Sometimes, he was furious that he couldn’t just keep me in his home forever, and he lashed out in fury. Because his love was not temperate. I reach out to him. Why aren’t you here to protect me, to fight for me? I am unarmed in this world, and it has been so long, so long.

As I age, I find myself holding on to memories, struggling to keep those loves in my life. Demanding that he now reach out to me, – no, I don’t believe in life-death boundaries that chop us off from each others – to feel my heart ache and to hold me in his fierce bear-hug.

Loves and kindnesses in my life right now are too calm and too light, too infrequent. I miss you, abbu; stay with me.