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Wisdom Newsletter January 2021
 
Solidarity with Uyghur People - Messages for Holocaust Memorial Day

The suffering of the Uyghur People is one of the greatest sufferings in today's world. As all of humanity suffers the harsh reality brought about by the Corona virus, we must not forget the millions of people who are in camps, under conditions of forced labor, terrorized by the Chinese government. Holocaust Memorial Day brought together notable speakers from different religions and nationalities, including Archbishop Rowan Williams and Elijah Board Member, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, in a program dedicated to the suffering of the Uyghurs.

It is hard to stay neutral when one hears the impassioned plea of Rabbi Wittenberg who draws on his family experience, in Nazi Germany, as he expresses care and solidarity with the Uyghurs.

Listen to his speech here  (apologies for the video; the audio is very powerful)  
Watch the entire program, coordinated by René Cassin here.
Messages for 2021

2020 was a difficult year everywhere. In this edition, we offer blessings and wisdom to take us into 2021.
Imam Plemon El-Amin
 
Imam Plemon El-Amin, USA
Imam El-Amin offers his “Reflections from the United States”.
His message is to keep faith, even in the most dire circumstances. 2020 was a test of faith. With God’s help, 2021 can be a year of healing.

Qur’an 2:214 “Or do you think that you will enter the Garden (Heaven, Paradise) without such (tests) as came to those who passed away before you? They encountered  suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: ‘When comes the Help of Allah?’ Ah! Surely the Help of Allah is near!”

Here in the U.S., we thought that 2020 would be the year of ‘Clear Vision’, and it was - but just not how anyone expected or imagined. With the rest of the world, we were ambushed and assaulted by the scourge of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Yet, in spite of our technological, scientific, and medical acumen, our 4% of the world’s population experienced 25% of the global cases and 20% of the deaths.  

Much of this disproportion has to be contributed to the ignorance, arrogance, and ineptitude of too many leaders and their constituents, who rejected masks, testing, social distancing, and the closing of schools and businesses, while embracing and proclaiming myths and misinformation.

In the midst of the Pandemic, a plague of a different type re-surfaced in clear sight: Racism raised its ugly head in multiple abuses of police power that took the lives of African-American citizens. These aggressions were caught on video, prompting protests, demonstrations, and unrest in many major cities against injustices, abuse, inequity, discrimination, and inherent racism. The irony is scathing that a movement entitled “Black Lives Matter” was regarded as necessary by many, and yet seen as threatening  by so many others.

Resonating within and throughout both of these dreadful dynamics was the last year of an extremely divisive Presidency that culminated in an unsuccessful attempt to overturn the results of a free and democratic election. That deceptive and illegitimate pursuit incited a flagrant and tragic attempted insurrection upon the U.S. Capitol, while Congressional Senators and Representatives were engaged in the certification of those results during the first week of 2021. It was ugly, savage, and demeaning, but I see the rampage and unsuccessful coup as the pus that finally breaks from a deep, diseased-fused womb, signaling that healing can begin. Pus is usually a mixture of various forms of dead matter, bacteria, and fungus, which suggests that the body’s immune system has responded positively. Still, the infection can continue to spread and even become worse without a focused and appropriate effort towards healing.

And God reminds us in Qur’an that “With every difficulty there is relief, with every difficulty there is relief. Therefore, when you are free, still labor hard, and to your Lord turn your attention.” (Q.94;5-8)
Hopefully, 2021 will free us from the truly trying experiences of 2020, but not from  its lessons. It is my hope that each of us and all of us of faith and goodwill, commit and work together to cure and heal the societal and systemic ills that have been laid bare and open for all to clearly see and witness.

And may each of us be reminded, wherever we are in this world, that the Help of God is always near and ever-present, even within the worst of difficulties, and let us  pray:

“O God, guide us among those You have guided aright.
Preserve us among those You have preserved.
Befriend us among those You have befriended.
Blot out our sins.
Grant us forgiveness.
Have mercy on our individual and collective souls.
To You belongs the Sovereignty.
To You belongs the Praise, and You have Power over all things and circumstances.”

Amin


Rabbi David Rosen
Rabbi David Rosen, Israel
Rabbi David Rosen offers his Reflection for the New Year, 2021

“It seems impossible to look forward to the year ahead without looking back to the year past, which in terms of the pandemic, is still with us.

One of the silver linings to this terrible cloud has been the degree to which we have had to adapt to technological distance communications. Personally, I can testify that as a result I have been in contact with thousands of people I would not have interacted with at all, had my engagements all depended upon my actual physical presence. 
During the course of the last ten months, I have participated in dozens of webinar conferences, panels, and messages of religious representatives, that have involved reflections on the impact of the pandemic on their communities, on religious responses to it, and offering prayers for victims and for deliverance from this pestilence.”
 




In the most recent international interreligious prayer session on Zoom that I was part of, the religious figures who spoke had been asked to share an appropriate text from our respective traditions. One had immediately come to mind from the Jewish morning prayer service which I had used in a previous virtual prayer meeting, to which I will refer at the end of this reflection.
However, on consulting with my wife, she suggested that I read Psalm 23. I think that this was an inspired piece of advice. For Psalm 23 not only expresses profound religious faith and hope in the face of deadly threat, but also something that I think we need to dwell upon in the shadow of Covid-19 – namely, thanksgiving and appreciation.

The Psalms of course play a central role in Jewish liturgy, as in Christian liturgy, reflecting our common spiritual roots in the Hebrew Bible.
Psalm 23 has been one of the favorite texts used extensively in both Traditions, as a prayer of comfort, hope, and faith, in the face of adversity.

Let me share the text here, with what I presume to suggest are a few minor improvements on the King James version.

A psalm of David; the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not lack. 

He lays me down in grassy pastures, He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul; He guides me in righteous paths for His Name’s sake.

Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and loving kindness shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for evermore.


The shadow of death and the enemies we have confronted and continue to confront are not only the physical pandemic itself, but also those of ignorance, bigotry, marginalization, selfishness, and insensitivity.

But precisely because he walks through the valley of the shadow of death and confront real threats to his wellbeing; the Psalmist is profoundly aware of and grateful for God’s gifts, even the most obvious of these – nature itself, as he lies down in the grassy pastures and walks beside the streams of waters; and as he experiences the blessing of righteousness, mercy, lovingkindness, and goodness.  

Indeed, for all of us – even those who have recently encountered death, loss, and life-threatening situations – there is still so much to be grateful for, not least of all in the simple yet profound blessings of God’s natural world which we must never take for granted.

David concludes the Psalm declaring that he will dwell in the house of the Lord for evermore. But obviously he does not mean that he will live exclusively in the Temple or in any other specific building of worship. 
Indeed, he rejoices in the fact that he is out in the pastures, beside the streams, walking in the Divine paths of righteousness.
However, precisely when we do walk in the world in righteousness, behaving with goodness and lovingkindness towards all people; then we are in God’s house in the most profound way. Then we are in the Divine abode, both blessed and bringing blessing to our world.

This awareness fills us with joy and gratitude. And in the midst of the pandemic during which we must remain every wary of the dangers, we give particular thanks for all God’s servants/agencies who are so selflessly caring for the needy and afflicted.

On Monday and Thursday mornings, the Jewish liturgy expands on the daily confessional penitential prayer; and contains a passage with which it seems to me most apposite to conclude this reflection.   

“There is none more gracious and compassionate than You O Lord our God; Lord of tolerance, abundant in lovingkindness and truth. 
Deliver us O Lord in your abounding mercy from fierceness and rage…. and remove from us the deathly plague, for You are the Compassionate one; for such is Your Way, performing deeds of gratuitous lovingkindness in every generation. 
Spare Your people and deliver us from your wrath and remove from us the plague of pestilence and harsh decree… O Lord deliver us, O Lord send prosperity, O Lord answer us on this day when we call on You. For you Lord we wait, in You O Lord we hope.” 

Bishop June Osborne
Bishop June Osborne, UK
In this video, Bishop Osborne asks whether 1st January has any more significance for us than any other day of the year. She suggests that it has – particularly this year. As we in the Northern Hemisphere move from short days towards longer ones, we appreciate that we have emerged from a very dark year and there is some greater light ahead. We have learnt many things this year and we can become better people as a result.
Karma Lekshe Tsomo
Karma Lekshe Tsomo, USA
“In the world’s Buddhist traditions, there are many prayers for the welfare of the world. Everyday, both monastics and laypeople make sincerely aspirations that all living beings be well and happy. These prayers are generated from a heart of compassion to all beings equally, whether they are friends, enemies, or strangers.” 
 


For example, Shantideva, a Buddhist monk, scholar, and poet who lived in the eighth century, wrote this prayer in his book, A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, It is the favorite prayer of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

May there be timely rains
And bountiful harvests.
May all medicines be effective
And wholesome prayers bear fruit.

May all who are sick or ill
Quickly be freed from their ailments.
Whatever diseases there are in the world
May they never occur again.

May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed.
May the powerless find power
And may people think of benefitting each other.

For as long as space remains,
For as long as sentient beings remain,
Until then may I too remain
To dispel the miseries of the world.


In this critical time, human beings face great uncertainty. It is not certain whether we and our loved ones will survive from one day to the next. Rather than live in fear, however, we can use this critical moment as a spur to spiritual practice. Death is a great teacher. As we face the very real possibility of death, we can feel very grateful for this opportunity to fearlessly move forward in our practice. This is no time to procrastinate. Now is the time to purify our minds of greed, hatred, self-centeredness, and all petty thoughts.

A Tibetan prayer says:

Should I stay in good health, 
I will use my strength to dedicate myself 
to spiritual practice.
                            
Should I fall ill,
 I will use my troubles to increase the compassion 
I feel for those who are suffering.

Should I live long, 
I will use each moment to accomplish 
my own and others’ benefit.    

Should my life come to its end, 
I will make the best use of the moment of death
to obtain the right rebirth for pursuing enlightenment. 
                                        
As we generate loving kindness to all living beings, our heart become gentle. As we generate compassion for the sufferings of others, we forget our own misery. As we reflect on the qualities and good fortune of others, all our jealousy disappears. As we recall that all phenomena are impermanent, our anxiety and stress wash away. These four blessed states of mind are divine: loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. May we cultivate them wholeheartedly!

May I be free from enmity.
May I be free from danger.
May I be free from disease.
May I be happy.
May I be free from suffering.

May you be free from enmity.
May you be free from danger.
May you be free from disease.
May you be happy.
May you be free from suffering.

May all beings be free from enmity.
May all beings be free from danger.
May all beings be free from disease.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be free from suffering.


Friendship and Prayers from Jerusalem

PTIJ meets on the first Thursday of every month. Currently, our gatherings are on Zoom and this means that wherever you are in the world, you are able to pray with and for Jerusalem. Our gatherings begin with teaching, before we pray.

We meet on February 4th, 11 am EST
4 pm UK time

5 pm Central European time
6 pm Israel time
9:30 pm India time

Save your spot by signing up here.

We are privileged to have three teachers from the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders, offering teachings on Friendship Across:

The Very Reverend June Osborne, England
June Osborne is the Bishop of Llandaff in Wales. She represents the Church of England on the Board of World Religious Leaders. Rev Osborne has previously worked in parishes in some of the poorest urban areas of London and Birmingham and spent many years in different roles in the Church of England’s General Synod. She currently takes a particular interest in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan where she has responsibility for training their deans. 
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Israel
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow is head of the Chesder Yeshiva of Petach Tikvah. He is a graduate of Yeshivat Har Etzion and was ordained as a Rabbi by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Rabbi Cherlow is one of the founders and leaders of the Tzohar Institute, set up after the assasination of Yitzchak Rabin to bridge the secular and religious sectors of Israeli society.  He currently serves as the head of the Religious and Ethics Center in Jerusalem.
Jan Chozen Bays, USA
Jan Chozen Bays, MD, has studied and practiced Zen Buddhism since 1973. An ordained Soto Zen priest, she finished formal koan study in 1983 and she was given Dharma transmission, authorization to teach, the same year. In 1985 Chozen she became the teacher for the Zen Community of Oregon. In 2002 she helped to found Great Vow Zen Monastery, a residential center for intensive Zen training in Clatskanie, Oregon, where she currently is the co-abbot. 
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