Saturday, May 24, 2008

Judaism and Islam: Dialectics of a Veiled Courtship

My friend, Easy Nash, informed me about an upcoming conference organized by The Joseph Interfaith Foundation in London, England.

Judging from the list of scholars presenting, this should be a very interesting and exciting event.

It would be wonderful to have such calibers of speakers in Calgary present on exciting topics such as "Development of liturgy and ritual as means of unification of religious communities":

The Joseph interfaith Foundation in association with
Dept. of Religions and Theology - The University of Manchester
Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies - The University of Exeter

Judaism and Islam: Dialectics of a Veiled Courtship
An Exploration of Jewish-Muslim Intellectual Interactions; 9th-13th Centuries
Tuesday 3rd June 2008, 9:00am-5:00pm
Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, London

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Community-Making and Peace

At a recent CCCJ event, a Jewish friend shared the following story that is a good example of building a community:

Community-Making and Peace
(From the preface of "A Different Drum" by Scott Peck, 1987.)

There is a story, perhaps a myth. Typical of mythic stories, it has many versions. Also typical, the source of the version I about to tell is obscure. I cannot remember whether I heard it or read it, or where or when. Furthermore, I do not even know the distortions I myself have made in it. All I know for certain is that this version came to me with a title. It is called "The Rabbi’s Gift."

The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Once a great order, as a result of waves of antimonastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.

In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. "The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again," they would whisper to each other. As he agonised over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. "I know how it is," he exclaimed. "The spirit has gone out of people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore." So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. "It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years," the abbot said, "but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?"

"No, I am sorry," the rabbi responded. "I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you."

When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, "Well, what did the rabbi say?"

"He couldn’t help," the abbot answered. "We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving--it was something cryptic--was that the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant."

In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the rabbi didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for You, could I?

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off, off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even no and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate our from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant centre of light and spirituality in the realm.

God's Time

Recently, a Christian friend shared thoughts on a very interesting concept of time. I share them here with you for some reflection.

The Greeks believe that there are two ways we experience time: Chronos & Chiros.

Chronos is the chronological time as we know it - measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries and millennia. It is considered as "man's time". It's the time that we most often measure our lives in. It all adds up, goes forward and not backward and we cannot avoid it.

Chiros time on the other hand is considered "God's time" or holy internal time, where time stops and we just live in the moment. It is special, distinct and holy. It is more about the meaning of the moment than about measuring the moments. It is therefore counted in value and quality. Chiros time has less to do with the tick-tock of our timepieces.

What is the practical difference between the two? Well, Chronos and Chiros are rooted in two different aspects of human experience. In the case of the former, it is social experience, and for the latter it is the life of the individual. If you have ever thought hard about individual versus social life, you have realized what a difficult balance we must maintain. If you let the worries of Chronos overtake your internal Chiros you’ll be a stress-ridden wreck. But if your Chiros time never gives way to the ways of the world and its Chronos, you will sacrifice your ability to succeed amongst other people, to be appreciated and well-liked.

It is important to recognize the difference between Chronos and Chiros in everyday life, and to live in each of them. Having an inner life (Chiros) will help you succeed in the tasks before you (Chronos).

In your own mind, your inner life, a moment can be stretched into almost an eternity, if you can bring that value to that moment. But if you relinquish your inner life to the relentless tick of the clock, the time will pass you by, and all the thoughts you might have thought will be lost.

Certain things have to be done – we need to work, to eat, to rest, and so on. Without those things, we die, quite simply. But being human comes with other needs, too. We need to think, to love, to experience beauty, to create beauty. Without those things, we might as well be dead. Why is that? Why do humans need these other things, above and beyond their basic survival? I am tempted to say the answer to that question does not matter. But it does. Answering that question is part of those things we humans need to do, to stay human.

So, are you living on Chronos or Chiros time?

We should all take some Chronos to ponder that question.

Adapted from

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Upcoming InterFaith Network of Calgary Event - Share In The Weekly Shabbat Services

The Jewish program for this year will be to share in the weekly Sabbath (Shabbat) Services.

Where: Beth Tzedec Synagogue (1325 Glenmore Trail SW)

When: Saturday , May 24th, 2008

Time: The service starts at 9:00 am but we will go in at 9:45am and finish about 11:30am.

There are many parts to the service, and many rituals involved.

The IFNC guests will be invited to join in the light refreshments (Kiddush) after the service, followed by a discussion session with Rabbi Jordan Ofseyer.

A brief explanation (15 minutes) of the parts of the service will be given to those who come early (9:30 am). This will be in the library at the end of the entrance hall, on the right.

PLEASE RSVP if you plan to attend this program.

InterFaith Network of Calgary (IFNC) is an informal and grassroots group of Calgarians, belonging to several faith traditions, who have come together to promote goodwill and mutual understanding.

We believe that this objective is best achieved by interaction and dialogue among the followers of different faiths. This belief is based on our conviction that while the general tendency is to highlight the differences among different faiths, a deeper study would reveal that we have more in common than is generally believed.

We hope that through these gatherings, we will encourage mutual respect and peace in our community.

We meet once a month to discuss questions related to our personal spirituality and religious practice. The venues of the gatherings rotate among the places of worship.

Our theme for this year is: “Sharing Each Other’s Festivals”