Showing posts with label Good Friday. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Good Friday. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  (The Gospel of Luke 23:34)

In “The Lord’s Prayer,” Christians beseech God daily to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  How difficult, for any human being, is the second part of this petition, especially when the trespass is betrayal, when hurt turns so naturally into anger and perhaps even desire for revenge.  On Good Friday of this Holy Week in Christianity, I will be compelled to gaze upon the Mystery of humility in the face of humiliation and the redemptive Grace of sacrificial love. Many Christians will speak of “Atonement” in the sacrifice of Jesus’ life for love of all humanity; I will meditate on the “at ONE ment” that I believe happens when persons of all faiths humble themselves before God in the midst of heinous crimes, horrid persecutions, and hideous curses, to pray through the heartbreaking agony that only God’s love can heal: “Father, forgive.”

Before I read your reflection, Grace, my mind wandered from the verse in Luke to events unfolding around the country.  The words, “for they know not what they do,” while spoken genuinely and recorded in this passage, can seem like an attempt to excuse the many wrongs we commit.  Claiming the consequences of our behavior to be unintended, we humans hurt each other in unforgiveable ways.  I think that one reason human beings struggle with forgiveness is that we often hurt each other wittingly and willfully.  While God’s forgiveness extends to our unintentional sins—because only God knows what true repentance lies within our hearts—our intentional trespasses against one another must be acknowledged, and we must reconcile with each other before we can find forgiveness.  In Jewish tradition, we pray for God’s forgiveness on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we are “at one” with God.  But we are only able to atone if we are already at one with each other.

Like Christians, Muslims seek God’s forgiveness for their faults and weaknesses every day, during and after prayer, and strive to reach a complete state of purification during the month of Ramadan and the period of the Hajj. A Muslim also seeks to emulate the example of the Prophet Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon Him], who embodied the teachings of the Quran. In the following verses, the Quran describes forgiveness as an honorable response to hurtful actions, while allowing for the uniqueness of people and recognizing that not every individual is actually capable of reaching this status:
And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend. But none is granted it except those who are patient, and none is granted it except one having a great portion [of good]. And if there comes to you from Satan an evil suggestion, then seek refuge in God. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Knowing.”(al Fussilat 41:34-36)
To me, although adopting this attitude of forgiveness can be challenging, it helps me focus on overcoming tests as a way of purifying my own heart and soul.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

When We Don't Eat

"And when you fast, do not look dismal...anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
(The Gospel of Matthew 6:16-18)
Fasting, specifically as an act of piety, is not commanded in Christian scriptures. However, Christians who observe periods of fasting do so because they find that fasting, together with prayer, is a private and deeply spiritual practice that draws one’s heart closer to God. The liturgical season of Lent[1] is a time when many Christians observe a partial fast, abstaining from certain foods, such as sweets and/or meat. Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday often involves abstinence from both food and drink for a period of 24 hours. Any time of spiritual struggle is an occasion for fasting; Christians are reminded that fasting is not simply about self-denial, but about heightened awareness of all who suffer.

I am moved by your spiritual practice of fasting, Grace, and intrigued by the text you have chosen from The Gospel of Matthew.  I had always understood these verses as part of a Jesus’ teachings about practical piety which emphasize private rituals.  Since the Torah[2] doesn’t specify how we are to “afflict our souls” on the tenth day of the seventh month, the rabbis[3] instituted rituals for Yom Kippur, including prohibitions against eating, drinking, wearing leather shoes, bathing and anointing with oil, and sexual relations.  In this context, I had understood Jesus’ teachings—particularly the instructions “anoint your head and wash your face”—to be a reaction against the rabbis’ public piety. Incidentally, the rabbis themselves often railed against overt piousness, which they viewed as arrogance.  They considered fasting to be a form of repentance and added numerous public fasts to the calendar to commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. They also prescribed communal fasts during times of drought to petition God, in His mercy, to send rain in its appropriate season.

Fasting is a central part of the Islamic tradition and one that I hold dear. One of the five pillars of Islam, fasting is prescribed during the month of Ramadan, the 9th lunar month.[4]  Similar to the Christian and Jewish traditions, the abstinence from food, drink, smoking and marital relations has many purposes in Islam. Fasting is one way to attain a heightened sense of God consciousness, by giving the “self” an opportunity to rise above its desires and allowing the soul to attain the virtues that adorn the righteous.  Some common practices that are encouraged during this month are giving to charity, strengthening family and friendship ties, intense reflection and repentance, and nightly prayers and reading of the Quran. Ramadan elevates my awareness of the mind’s power to fight temptation and helps me establish good habits.  I feel a profound sense of spiritual revitalization, as my gratitude, compassion and, most of all, humility are heightened when I fast.

[1] Lent is a 40-day period of reflection and penance, which begins with Ash Wednesday and concludes with Easter. Good Friday, the Friday prior to Easter when Christians commemorate the death of Jesus, is a day of atonement.
[2] Leviticus 16:29-31, Leviticus 23:27-32 and Numbers 29:7
[3] Mishnah Yoma, Chapter 10
[4] Quran, al-Baqarah 2:183-185