When I was a teenager, some thirty years ago I remember reading that Muhammad was caught in a scandal on the eve of the most dangerous battle of the prophet’s life. Most of the believers expected for themselves, total annihilation and trembled as they spiritually prepared to disappear from the world.
In this mood, and condition Muhamad’s wives were over-heard bickering with him in his tent in the evening. The men confronted him in the morning saying “what will you do about these wives of yours?”
“Nothing” was his serene reply. The Muslims were bewildered and angry. One of them said “If my wife had spoken with me in this haughty way I would not hesitate to kill her where she stood. Then how can you claim to be a prophet of God and do nothing about this outrage?” To this he answered only: “Remember the wombs from which you have come.” and turned and left them to their dismay. At this insult, half of the Muslims defected and joined their enemies at a time when they were already hopelessly outnumbered. Those who remained were terrified and desperate, but Muhammad reassured them, promising that those who remained steadfast would be strengthened and protected by the angels themselves. Muslims were now outnumbered, ten to one. But the ensuing battle the next day saw a decisive victory in favor of the Muslims. The Muslims in fact had almost no casualties.
As far as I am aware (correct me if I am wrong) Muhammad to this day is the only prophet of any of the great religions to have devoted an entire chapter of his holy book to the upliftment of women and to their legal protection, with arguments in support of their rights, their noble qualities and indispensability to the maintenance of community well-being and to life itself as mothers. In it – the Surah entitled “Alnisa” (the Women) he remarked ‘remember the wombs from which you came’ in the first paragraph just as he told the Muslims the fateful night before their most glorious battle on their perilous journey back home.
“Words must be supported by deeds, for deeds are the true test of words. Without the former, the latter can never quench the thirst of the yearning soul, nor unlock the portals of vision before the eyes of the blind.”
I was thinking this morning about how for 400 some years of US history, the institution of slavery went largely un-challenged. There was a small minority of the population that owned slaves- that is some among the wealthy, white and male, and only in the south. And yet the entire black race suffered – not only because of these slave owners, but due to the vast majority of other white people for hundreds of years, who were largely unwilling to take the kinds of risks Lincoln took on behalf of the vulnerable. It is through our deeds or lack there-of, that we stand to become worthy of the trust of others- and earn a good or poor reputation.
Yesterday afternoon 2021.03.22, I awoke from a nap in which I strongly remembered a scene/image from a dream. It was just a scene- no movement but the strong sense of the pushing away of the ground human flesh – by way of a hand pushing out of the mouth that was being offered the flesh. It was just like this – a disembodied head, upon a table, rejecting the offering. I only added the little sign or the viewer wouldn’t know it was human flesh. I’m sure this one is named “protest” and today – I drew it. I am so grateful to Sol and to Juliet whose own art, whose conversations and sharing’s have been so encouraging and inspiring to me to express myself in this way again – which I am finding so far, incredibly healing, a beautiful experience as well as therapeutic.
Today I just wanted to share a sort of audio-journal meditation on the beauty of the friendships formed over the past year among a group of some close community members affected by struggles we have experienced over the past year together seeing students in our community mistreated.
I remember loving Sinead O’Connor as a teenager. She is a beautiful soul. She cut her hair extremely short in order to reduce her attractiveness so people wouldn’t look at her as another pretty face. But it didn’t work. She was so pretty, cutting her hair didn’t change things.
The first thing that happened was she was vilified and lost her career. Saturday night live (the venue she chose for her notorious protest) showcased an actor threatening to beat Sinead who was herself an abuse survivor. The second thing that happened- is that after many years, the world realized that she was right and that the suffering of victims was continuing while the world ignored it. She was the first to stand up for abused children all over the Catholic world, before it was popular or even permissible to do so. She spoke up at a time when her actions really cost her something. But this made it easier for others to find their voice and to get help.
She named and shamed. She broke ranks. She broke rules. She broke hearts. People saw it as a mean-spirited attack against the church. She said the things no-one was prepared to hear – the problem the world had was, she was speaking the truth.
I want to encourage you to listen to a song she wrote which is like an unbelievably simple and heart-rending chant in which she says thank you for hearing me. It’s a song about the importance of listening to people, to your friends, to strangers, to victims. Hear them out – don’t silence them – don’t talk over them. Don’t reframe their experience for them. Give a down-trodden person your attention and let your heart be taken.
“Firstly yesterday 2020.08.09 I had a brief nap during which time I dreamed I was heading towards the office area at Townshend with a pallet knife that opens out like a pocket knife. [The school director] looked at it with alarm because it looked like a violent tool to him – superficially resembling a pocket knife as I opened it up. [the residential director] was behind him and appeared frightened and kind of hiding behind him.
I explained that the knife was not the cutting kind but was for paintings and that the painting we all were making had some old, dry paint and some dirt that needed scraping off and also that the pallet knife I had was also to be used as a brush in order to apply new paint and repair the image. In other words I wasn’t harming the image – I was actually coming to repair and clean it. He seemed skeptical but before anything further happened I awoke. There was the sense though that I was going to continue towards the office area.”
This dream really reflects the two different approaches concerning what harms or helps the school - especially it's reputation. The efforts I made were to towards creating a space where victims could have a voice and be visible. My primary concern was for the students, not for the school's reputation- however I felt (as I expressed in the dream) that the only way to protect the school's reputation was to "cut the crap" (the old, corrosion and paint- maybe symbolic of harmful BS) off of the image we are creating together as a community so that a new, healing and truthful image could be produced. Unfortunately this was viewed as harmful to the schools reputation and seen as a threat to the school.
This scene happened on my last day at Townshend. A student and I said good-bye to a bird that perished by flying into a window of the boy’s dorm. The memory for me represents a beautiful good-bye to this student, to the student community as well as to this beautiful bird. This memory carries a lot of cherished emotions and sadness. I finished drawing it this morning and offer it to honor and to morn. At the same time – I sense these beautiful friendships will continue and grow in wonderful ways. In a way then- we are only saying “see you later” and what has died is something about the heart of the school – not the community. I feel like it’s the best community in the world. Of course it’s not literally OK to say that but just – that’s the feeling for me.
“.. Interesting that tree leaves- particularly those from maples make excellent compost on their own. I read that when planting a sapling you want to use poor quality soil. This causes the roots to burrow deep in order to find what they need which serves two purposes. Firstly, it permits their root systems to grow deep which will secure them in storms. Secondly, it permits them to provide their ecological benefits- namely to find mineral wealth deep beneath where it is buried beyond the reach of lesser flora, convert it into organic material, and then deposit this in the form of leaves to mingle with the topsoil. The tree then is as a grandfather to all lower vegetation. It spends it’s lifetime harvesting wealth from deep, deep within the earth, pulling it up into its leaves, and then shedding this wealth on the ground to renew burned, scorched and depleted earth. Eventually we see grass and flowers growing out of this natural compost. Without recourse to fertilizers, herbicides, or any other enhancement, we see nature producing the likes of the great planes- the most beautiful and large lawn we know of. ..”
My Aunt Maxcia called me yesterday morning as the sun was rising (2021.03.16). She read this one part from Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh (emphasis mine): “O Thou Whose remembrance is the delight of the souls of all them that yearn after Thee, Whose name is the exultation of the hearts of all who are wholly devoted to Thy will, Whose praise is cherished by such as have drawn nigh unto Thy court, Whose face is the ardent desire of all them that have recognized Thy truth, Whose trial is the healer of the sicknesses of them who have embraced Thy Cause, Whose calamity is the highest aspiration of such as are rid of all attachment to any one but Thyself!”
This all reminds me of how when we suffer and go through things, – like the tree that had bad soil and was forced to dig deeper – we are given far stronger roots when we are forced to mature in a deep way through that hardship- don’t you feel that? I think of how Abraham Lincoln was so depressed as a young man that he was always thinking of killing himself. But then when he started to work towards liberating the slaves in the South – the tone of his letters changed. He was no-longer unhappy. I feel like his extreme sensitivity and difficulty when he was young gave him tremendous compassion and courage as he grew older. I figure it was because he knew what suffering felt like and wouldn’t sit on his hands.
I see some of that nature in some of these young people at Townshend. I admire them so much already for the qualities they posses and am excited by what wonderous forces for justice and goodness they are likely to become as they soar out into the world. They already are this way! Brave and articulate. We may remember perhaps – that sometimes an affliction or an injustice is something that in a deep way establishes the course of our life and destiny in beautiful ways. Doesn’t mean at all that when injustice happens- that it’s OK – it’s not- but the struggle may also really strengthen who we are one day.
One morning as I came down stairs and was getting my routine, I found myself talking with the cat- an orange tabby named Bill. I don’t remember about what – you know – stuff you talk to your cat about which could be absolutely anything. Whatever it was – I started to realize something. He was sitting at attention, rapt as he gazed dauntless into my eyes with lips as silent, as serene as granite. His predator ears – tiny, stereo satellite dishes tilted to me; his body directed forward in respectful repose, his eyes bright, wide, glistening. I was Socrates in the agora. I was Buddha on the mount, I was – the center of his universe at that moment.
What I said didn’t matter. There were no todo items in it, no potential criticisms for him to digest or fend off, no ideas for him to dismiss, argue against or wait to the completion of so that he could insert his own. He was listening without a concern for himself. After all, he didn’t understand the content of my speech. He was listening to my voice. Looking into my face. Taking in my presence – and giving me every morsel of his own.
I felt warm and soft. I thought – I’d like to learn how to do that for others. This is really something to learn from him. This caused me to stop speaking at which- he waited in stillness until he was completely sure I was finished. Then was heard, the gentlest purr and a soft “meow”, and he walks up to me gently and moves to my ankle for a rub. It’s a certain kind of listening. People say that cats are indifferent and self-absorbed. That is true many times – but when it is your turn, they are available in every sinew of their little beings – in those moments they show a listening power which, over the course of over a million years of evolution has been honed while listening to the beating of the hearts of field-mice beneath blankets of foliage or snow.
And they give those wonderful ears to you, with their softness, their affection and their beautiful gaze. I thought – I’d like to learn from them. I am still not a good listener most times. Every once in a while I notice I am able to find and to stay with “the cat within”, and become perfectly still and present in the midst of another’s softly beating heart.