Sunday, March 12, 2017

Building Bridges with Spiritual Fiction

     It looks like I've discovered a new favorite author this year. In January I read Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo, a humorous novel that builds bridges between people of different faiths. The guru, Rinpoche, who answers questions about the meaning of life while sharing breakfast with the protagonist, Otto Ringling, is not actually Buddhist, and encourages his students to embrace a more inclusive, universal spirituality. 

     The second book I have read by Merullo is Vatican Waltz, which I like even better than Breakfast. In this novel the protagonist is a young Catholic woman, Cynthia Piantedosi, whose deep spiritual life leads her to the understanding that one does not need to adhere to any particular religion in order to know God. As she says at the outset of her story: "The God I imagine and worship, the Being I give thanks to for every breath and pulse, doesn't care as much about labels as about love; and my style of prayer isn't so much about asking for things (though I sometimes ask) as it is about searching, in an interior silence, for my truest self, my reason for being here, in this place, in this body, at this particular point in the endless sweep of time.  I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, and to this day I hold a good deal of reverence for those rituals and beliefs, but my story is really about what happened as that label fell away, as I found the courage to un-name God, as I came, so slowly, to understand who I really am."

     From there, the story of Cynthia's life unfolds. Most of the novels I read involve romance, but there is no romance in this young woman's life. Her deep love is for God, with whom she spends hours of devotion every day. For her adoration she receives the visions that send her on a journey of danger, intrigue, and discovery. I won't give away the plot, which will keep you turning the pages, but for the purpose of our building bridges theme, I will say that Cynthias' story testifies to the common bond of truly spiritual people who see beyond the rules of particular churches and religions. She echos my feelings about leaving the Christian Church when she thinks: "Why be a Catholic or Protestant or Jew or anything else with a label and rules? Why not . . . just lead a simple life of prayer and work, try to love, try to give, and not do anything at all that separated me from other people?"

     I used to have a deep longing to find the one church or spiritual organization where I would feel completely at home and totally in sync with its teachings and practices. After a lifetime of exploring different paths, I came to the realization that there is no system of belief that I can claim as the ONE I want to follow. And I have decided that I prefer it this way, because I agree with Cynthia that labels separate us from one another, and separation creates misunderstanding and discord. Of course I realize that it's not Cynthia, but her creator, Roland Merullo, with whom I feel a deep connection. I highly recommend his books for bridge building inspiration.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Building Bridges to Mexico

     There's a lot of talk these days about building a wall between the United States and Mexico. I'd like to suggest a better idea would be to build bridges with our neighbor, in order to improve relations between our two countries. 

    One way to build bridges is for Americans to visit Mexico and meet some of the people who live there. Last year Mark and I had the opportunity to do just that, when we rented a gulf-front house from my cousin, Bob Lissandrello, who lives in Mexico with his wife, Cristy. Bob and Cristy met on the internet about 15 years ago. Bob lived in Albany at the time, so when Cristy told him she lived in Mexico, he thought she meant Mexico, New York. He soon learned the truth, but that didn't prevent him from falling in love, getting married, and moving to another country to be with his beloved. Now Bob and Cristy run a real estate business together: Homes for Sale in Yucatan

Bob and Cristy with their dogs at the
Gulf of Mexico.
Peter and me at the Mayan Ruins
     So last February, Mark and I flew into Mérida, Mexico, where we met our son, Peter, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. We were met at the airport by Bob and Cristy who took us to our rental house in the gulf-side village of Chuburna. During our week there we met many friendly Mexicans who welcomed us to their country with helpful service everywhere we ate or shopped. One day we visited the Dzibilchaltún Mayan Ruins where our Mayan guide, Juan, taught us much about his ancestors. He was passionate about his subject and obviously loved to share it with visitors. I was especially fascinated with the fact that the ancient Mayans started a "new world" every 52 years by destroying their belongings and making new ones. Juan explained this when he showed us a pit full of broken bits of pottery. 
Juan at the Mayan Ruins

     During our time in Mexico we met quite a few Americans and Canadians who have moved to Mexico permanently and seem to be well-accepted in their communities. I can't help but wonder if North American immigrants and visitors will be quite so welcome If our government builds a wall between us and them. I understand the reasoning some give for building such a wall, as an attempt to cut down on illegal immigration and drug-trafficking. Nevertheless, I feel certain that a wall would damage relations between our two countries, and I have to agree with the Mexicans who have good reasons for hating the wall proposal: Four Reasons Mexico Hates the Border Wall

     Mexico has much to offer Americans in the way of people who are willing to work hard at jobs Americans won't perform, fruits and vegetables that we can't grow in the winter, and a beautiful country to visit when we need to escape to a warmer climate and explore a rich and fascinating culture that's just beyond our borders. I hope that Mark and I will be able to return there one day, and that the people will still be as warm and welcoming as they were last year. I think this is more likely to happen if we treat them as the friends and neighbors they are. 
Mark and me near an old cathedral in Mérida


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Building Bridges with Healing Prayer


     Today I am especially grateful for my health, because I am in the final days of recuperation from a bout with pneumonia that began a month ago. I have never been so sick for such a long time, and the experience gave me a little insight into what it's like to live with a chronic illness. I also found out what it's like to be the recipient of many prayers and lots of love and healing energy. My husband took care of me for three weeks, making sure I drank enough liquids and ate when I had no appetite, taking me to the doctor, listening to my lungs, taking my pulse, reassuring me that I wasn't going to die, as well as managing all the chores that are usually mine, shoveling snow, and taking care of the grandchildren. My children sent me a beautiful bouquet of flowers and messages of love. And then there were the dozens of Facebook friends who sent me good wishes for healing, and promised to pray for me. 

     Among my Facebook friends are friends, acquaintances, and relatives, some who share my political and world views, and some who do not. Some of them like to argue with me on issues we disagree about. But ALL of them sent me love and wishes for healing when I was sick. This made me think how prayers for healing and well-being can serve as a bridge between people of differing opinions and values. No matter what your political or religious persuasion may be, you probably realize that humanity and the earth itself, are in great need of healing. 

     I like to think that many of my readers participate in prayers for the healing of our world and our race. If we pray that God's will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, we can trust that the results will be good. Whether you are of a particular religion or no religion, you can add your thoughts and energy to help bring about the healing that is so sorely needed. 

     Here are a few samples to use for guidance as we seek healing for our planet and its people:

Sacred one,
Teach us love, compassion,
and honor.
That we may heal the earth
And heal each other.
 - Ojibway Prayer

We gently caress you, the Earth, our planet and our home. 
Our vision has brought us closer to you, making us aware of the harm we have done to the life-network upon which we ourselves depend. 
We are reminded that we have poisoned your waters, your lands, your air.  
We have filled you with the bones of our dead from war and greed.  
Your pain is our pain. 
Touching you gently, we pray that we may become peace-bringers and life-bringers so that our home in its journey around the Sun not become a sterile and lonely place.  
May this prayer and its power last forever.   
 - Sensei Ulrich, Manitoba Buddhist Temple

O Lord, you love justice and you establish peace on earth.
We bring before you the disunity of today’s world;
the absurd violence, and the many wars,
which are breaking the courage of the peoples of the world;
human greed and injustice,
which breed hatred and strife.
Send your spirit and renew the face of the earth;
teach us to be compassionate towards the whole human family;
strengthen the will of all those
who fight for justice and for peace,
and give us that peace which the world cannot give.
 - Ecumenical Centre Prayer

May the winds, the oceans, the herbs, and night and days, the mother earth, 
the father heaven, all vegetation, the sun, be all sweet to us. 
Let us follow the path of goodness for all times, 
like the sun and the moon moving eternally in the sky. 
Let us be charitable to one another. 
Let us not kill or be violent with one another. 
Let us know and appreciate the points of view of others. And let us unite. 
 - Hindu Prayer

Send Thy peace, O Lord, which is perfect and everlasting,
that our souls may radiate peace.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that we may think, act,
and speak harmoniously.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that we may be contented
and thankful for Thy bountiful gifts.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that amidst our worldly strife
we may enjoy thy bliss.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that we may endure all,
tolerate all in the thought of thy grace and mercy.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that our lives may become a
divine vision, and in Thy light all darkness may vanish. 
Send Thy peace, O Lord, our Father and Mother, that we
Thy children on earth may all unite in one family.
 - Sufi Prayer

We pray for all who come here this evening. 
Although differences in thought and belief divide us, 
let the desire to serve you, 
the love of truth 
and the pursuit of holiness unite us.
Strengthen the spirit of friendship 
among people of various faiths 
and increase mutual understanding between us.
We look to a time 
when greater knowledge of you and your word 
shall bind all who serve you 
into one holy fellowship. 
 - Liberal Jewish Prayer Book

These prayers and many more can be found on the World Healing Prayers page.

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