ARC Forum on Faith - 2016
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FORUM ON FAITH
Christian Science helps instill religious belief.
by Polly Castor
Published: February 6, 2016
Danbury News Times
I was an atheist until I learned about Christian Science. There were many versions of God I could not accept.
For instance, not only was the whole patriarch-in-the-clouds concept unacceptable to me, but I also rejected a theology that says innocent babies are sinners in need of saving. Why would a God create us able to do something and then condemn us for it? Capriciousness was not a quality of an exalted being that I could worship.
It was early February many years ago when I had a change of heart. I was challenged by friends not to focus just on what I didn't believe, but instead to dig deep and try to see what I actually could accept as God.
So I started probing, and asking myself questions: What was supreme? What was the creator of the universe? What was there before "all this?"
Since "this" seemed to be material, I reasoned that what came before had to be nonmaterial. And in order to be ultimate, it had to be infinite or we would have to define what came before that. From physics, I knew that something can't come from nothing. So what did I know that was infinite and nonmaterial?
Thinking about it, I realized that love is nonmaterial, and I could imagine a love that was bigger and purer than a limited Valentine's Day variety of human love. I started cherishing the idea of divine love as a concept of God that might actually be right and true.
I decided to peruse the works of comparative religions, gleaning bits that resonated with me, like threads of a tapestry that I could eventually weave into a whole. I read the Quran, the Bible, Buddhist teachings, and everything else I could get my hands on.
I found wonderfully helpful threads everywhere. It was a very different experience, humbly looking for what I could love and resonate with in these texts, instead of identifying things to disagree with and be condescending about.
But it was Christian Science that blew me away. I was gob-smacked, really. Instead of beautiful threads, I had found what seemed to me like whole cloth.
Christian Science explains God through seven synonyms or names for God (signified in the Christian Science tradition by capital letters): Life, Truth, Love, Mind, Soul, Spirit, Principle. Further, God is described as intelligent, infinite, all-powerful, ever-present, and good.
This expanded my feeble perception of an infinite and nonmaterial God. This I could accept. I was thrilled and wanted to learn more. I gobbled up the Christian Science textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy, pondering as I went, playing with interchanging those synonyms for God.
I loved thinking of God as my actual Life, as close as my next breath. Or of God as the all-powerfully intelligent divine Mind that was the creator of the universe, sustaining and maintaining all good. And who doesn't value truth?
As much as the word "God" had made me want to run from it based on all the baggage it carried, I could definitely embrace Truth, Life and Love, as my ultimate hope.
I was in Love. Literally. I lived, moved, and had my being in divine Love. I couldn't get away from it. It was always there for me and everyone. I realized divine Love had not only made me, but approved of me. I was supported and upheld, provided for and adored.
More than that, divine Love triumphs over hate, and ever-present Truth overcomes every error. Just as light banishes darkness, and darkness is just a claim of the absence of light, God - infinite good - can eliminate every contrary supposition. I can trust this God, who safeguards all good.
I learned to start my thought process with God instead of myself. Otherwise, it's all too easy to end up with fallible, manlike concepts of God. And I was learning that the best idea of God leads to a much better view of myself. I have found this very liberating and encouraging.
I'm so glad I asked myself those hard questions, and started looking for what I could accept instead of defending against what I didn't believe. I'm so glad I became a seeker, for I found the God who is Love itself.
Polly Castor is a Christian Science Practitioner and member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Ridgefield, CT. She can be reached at pollyCastor@gmail.com.
Rabbi Rachel Bearman
FORUM ON FAITH
Tu BiSh'vat celebrates world's beauty.
by Rabbi Rachel Bearman
Published: January 2, 2016
Danbury News Times
Did you know that the Hebrew calendar includes four Jewish new years?
According to the Mishnah, a rabbinic law code from the first centuries of the Common Era, the following days marked the beginning of specific "new years" and were celebrated or observed according to their purpose:
1. The 1st of the Hebrew month of Tishrei was the agricultural new year (this is the late summer-early fall date known as Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year).
2. The 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat was the New Year of Trees.
3. The 1st of the Hebrew month of Nisan was the New Year of Kings, the date used to count the number of years a king had reigned.
4. The 1st of the Hebrew month of Elul was the new year for tithing cattle and marked the beginning of the time when one of every ten cattle was offered as a sacrifice to God.
In ancient times, these special days established a yearly rhythm that governed the lives of the Jewish people. For contemporary Jews, many of the holidays and customs that revolved around agriculture or worship in the Temple have to be reinterpreted in order to feel relevant.
The ability of each generation to reinterpret (while remaining faithful to) ancient traditions has always been one of the great strengths of the Jewish tradition. It is because of this ability that contemporary Jewish communities can still find meaning in the rhythm of the Hebrew calendar. The schedule of our holidays allows us to both remember the lives of our ancestors as well as establish our own understandings of holy time.
The Hebrew calendar is primarily based on the lunar cycle, and each "day" begins at sundown and lasts until the following sundown. So it is that from sundown on January 24th to sundown on the 25th, Jewish communities will celebrate the holiday of Tu BiSh'vat, the New Year of the Trees. While it may seem odd to celebrate the New Year of the Trees in the middle of winter, in Israel, the holiday actually falls at the beginning of the spring season.
For Jewish communities, Tu BiSh'vat is the day to celebrate the beauty of our world and the renewal that comes with each new season. In Israel, Tu BiSh'vat is a tree-planting festival, a celebration that allows each person to participate in the creation of new agricultural life. All around the world, Jewish communities will celebrate this holiday by taking time to remember the sacred commitment that we have to care for and protect God's creation.
Another popular Tu BiSh'vat custom comes from the Jewish mystics of the 16th and 17th centuries who created a special ritual to help Jewish men and women celebrate the themes of the holiday. Because of its structural similarities to the Passover ritual, it has come to be known as a Tu BiSh'vat Seder.
Modern Jewish communities will often host a creative Tu BiSh'vat Seder, which could include up to 15 types of food associated with the land of Israel - for example: barley, dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, olives, and wheat. The many delicious courses are often framed by passages from Jewish texts like the Torah, Talmud, and mystical writings.
No matter how we celebrate, for contemporary Jewish communities, the holiday of Tu BiSh'vat is an important reminder of both our responsibility to protect and cherish the world as well as the joy and gratitude that comes from taking the time to appreciate the change of the seasons.
Rabbi Rachel Bearman, Temple B'nai Chaim, 82 Portland Avenue, P.O. Box 305, Georgetown, CT 06829. 203-544-8695 RabbiBearman@TempleBnaiChaim.org.
Rev. Leo McIlrath
FORUM ON FAITH
Secular holidays, religious celebrations come together.
by Rev. Leo McIlrath
Published: January 16, 2016
Danbury News Times
Each year, while celebrating significant days of faith, hope, love and joy, people of different religious persuasions take part in a vast array of reverent acts that can include prayer, fasting, atonement and/or reflective meditation experiences.
Some religious holidays focus on the sacred, others lean more to the secular, while a host of such days appear to comingle the two of them. For instance, "Fat Tuesday" (better known to most by its New Orleans French name, Mardi Gras), is the celebration day preceding Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the great Christian season of repentance, Lent.
Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Bahai and a number of other faith communities have a variety of feast and fasting days - some with their sights set on the heavens or "Heaven" while others are quite down-to-earth. Some are based on the cycles of the moon, others on the sun, and still others on the movement of both the sun and the moon in their seasonal changes.
Each faith community (Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian) has its own calendar of events for the beginning of their own "new year" through the seasonal passages of time up to the very end of their respective years. There are also days that call for the lighting of candles - for instance, Hanukkah (Jews), Christmas/Epiphany (Christians), Diwali (Hindus) and Vesak Pujah (Buddhists).
Music is central to many religious communities, and it is provided in many styles, using many instruments - such as an organ, piano, harp, guitar, drums or flute, and sometimes even the sound of a full orchestra. In contrast, some faiths will limit their music to chanting or "a capella" arrangements, featuring the human voice without instrumental accompaniment.
With all these customs, people often wonder to how to greet one another, especially during the December holiday season. I greeted people in the recently passed, eight-day celebration of Hanukkah, with "Happy Hanukkah!" and those of the Christian tradition, I wished a hearty "Merry Christmas!" while to others, I simply said "Happy Holiday!"
While such greetings are appropriate for holidays of celebration, all of us need to be better aware of the purpose of specific holy days within specific communities. For example, one wouldn't want to wish a Christian a "Happy Lent!" or a Jew a "Happy Yom Kippur!" or a Muslim a :Happy Ramadan!" as those are all intended to be somber seasons of introspection and repentance.
When in doubt, I consider it fitting to simply ask the person you are addressing what kind of holiday greeting they prefer. In my experience, most people, in a spirit of good will and gratitude for your interest, will tell you.
While some traditions celebrate a variety of seasonal feasts like Passover, Easter and Pentecost, for example, other faith communities believe it better to celebrate God's spirit on each and every day. Of course, there's no conflict for anyone who chooses to celebrate every day in a spirit of goodness and compassion and still highlight these gifts and fruits on specific designated dates within their faith community.
Hindus give us Durga Puja, which over several nights marks the victory of good over evil. The Bahai will focus on a special virtue (such as kindness, peace or fortitude) on each day of the year. Still, other religions honor certain holy people or saints on each day. For example, Butler's "Lives of the Saints" lists more than 1,200 Roman Catholics who are said to have lived exemplary lives and who are worthy of being revered.
When visiting another person's sacred space - a synagogue, church, mosque or temple - it is appropriate to enter into the spirit of that unique assembly. Some may be kneeling, bowing, genuflecting or lying prostrate on the floor. They may be blessing themselves, holding their faces in the palms of their hands, lighting candles or burning incense.
In some places of worship, you may witness the male members of a congregation placing a small circular cap over their heads, and in others, women may wear hats while the men remove theirs. Some sacred spaces are totally open, while others have chairs, pews and kneelers. Still, other peoples of the world choose to celebrate their spirituality out among the trees, the rivers and the mountains.
The message I would offer as we begin this new calendar year of 2016 is to choose your place and time to practice your faith, and respect all others. "Happy Every Moment!" to each and all of you and your loved ones.
Reverend Leo McIlrath, Ecumenical Chaplain, The Lutheran Home of Southbury.   (203) 270-0581, email@example.com