Archive for the ‘Mission’ Category
The Board of Trustees of the Parliament are building new plans after meeting in the historic library of Morehouse College’s Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel during the soul-stirring 29th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. College of Ministers and Laity over April 2 and 3.
Surprise visitor Dr. Karen Armstrong stepped into the meeting and encouraged the Board to embrace an “uncomfortable” sense of Compassion – helping to frame the real, urgent, and measurable priorities at hand. Exciting happenings continued as Morehouse inducted the Board to the College’s Board of Preachers, Sponsors, and Colloquium of Scholars in a formal ceremony.
Dr. Karen Armstrong was keynote speaker and honoree of the prestigious Gandhi, King, Ikeda Community Builders Award, at the evening Interfaith “Celebration of Compassion” featuring presenters Chapel Dean Lawrence Carter (Parliament Trustee Emeritus), Martin Luther King III, a representative of the Gandhi family, and the special representative of Dr. Ikeda.
Celebrating the “glocal” Compassion movement turns the spotlight toward Chair Emeritus of the Parliament, Rev. Bob Thompson, who spearheaded the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta to recruit the Atlanta City Council to adopt a Compassionate City resolution. Thompson’s working approach to organizing grew out of the simple sentiment, “If you want to change a community, you have to change the conversation.”
The Parliament will build upon Atlanta’s achievements (thanks to Rev. Thompson) thrusting the Faiths Against Hate campaign into a new realm of possibility as the Parliament sustains its partnership with Compassionate Atlanta and the wider movement.
Seizing the moment, Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid co-conspiring with Charter for Compassion’s Executive Director Andrew Himes penned a joint agreement to strategically partner. The joint statement pledges to support action advancing the compassionate cities movement and was ceremoniously signed by Dr. Armstrong and Imam Mujahid in a conference reception.
The uncomfortable (and imperative) programming to be planned will keep the Board busy until its next retreat, but revitalized in its commitment to keep the Golden Rule central to the mission of the Parliament’s: a just, peaceful, and sustainable world.
Deepest appreciation to the Morehouse Martin Luther King Jr. Community and the Parliament’s partners in compassionate action worldwide is shared with all.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions and the Charter for Compassion announce their strategic partnering for collaboratively supporting the Compassionate Cities movement around the world. Charter founder Dr. Karen Armstrong Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid signed the strategic partnership announcement April 3 in Atlanta, affirming:
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and Charter for Compassion International today announce our strategic partnership aimed at supporting the emergence of the Compassionate Cities movement worldwide.
This Compassionate Cities movement is deeply aligned with the principles of the Parliament. The International Campaign for Compassionate Cities aims to affirm the principle of compassion in the behavior of hundreds of millions of people in thousands of communities around the globe. We believe compassion is a practical, measurable standard we can apply to specific outcomes, including the alleviation of poverty, hunger, and disease, the protection of human rights, the extension of democracy, the creation of a peaceful world, and dealing with the challenges of global climate change.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions is the mother of the global interfaith movement. Its mission is to achieve a peaceful, just and sustainable world, and at the heart of that mission is the convening of the world’s largest interfaith gathering, each time in a different host city.
The first Parliament was held in 1893 in Chicago and brought Hinduism, Buddhism, the Jains, Sikhs, and other Eastern faiths to the United States.
Council of the Parliament will encourage Ambassadors of the Parliament as well as its members and affiliates around the world to join the Compassionate Cities Initiative and to engage their local communities with the movement. The Charter for Compassion will highlight the Parliament’s efforts to bring the principles of the Charter to life in projects and programs in every community.
Signed April 3, 2014 by Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid , Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Parliament, and Dr. Karen Armstrong, Founder, Charter for Compassion International and the author of the Charter for Compassion.
Parliament Statement Reaffirms Nonviolence on Behalf of Dr. Arun Gandhi in Wake of Fort Hood Shooting
“The sad shooting incident in Fort Hood, Texas, is yet another example of how the culture of violence is destroying our humanity,” the Parliament of Religions said in a statement on behalf of Board Trustee Dr. Arun Manilal Gandhi.
Mahatma Gandhi warned the nations of the world to find civilized ways of resolving disputes or face extinction.
“Sending young women and men into combat to kill and destroy men, women and children and then expect soldiers to assimilate peacefully in their own societies is to say the least insensitive,” according to the statement.
The Parliament of Religions, an international interfaith organization based in Chicago, works to bring peace, understanding and respect among the peoples of the world.
The first Parliament was held in Chicago in 1893. In modern times Parliaments were held in Chicago, Cape Town, Barcelona, and Melbourne.
The Parliament is wedded to the philosophy of nonviolence in thought, word, and deed.
The Parliament extends its sympathy to the bereaved families and hopes that the United States, the only super power, will eventually lead the world in civilized moral behavior.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions is dedicating a new task force to move forward since becoming a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) associated to the United Nations Department of Public Information (UN-DPI) in late 2013.
The newly-formed The United Nations Task Force of the Parliament is now meeting to explore ways that the Parliament can collaborate with other NGOs to carry forward its mission, and to more fully integrate the Millennium Development Goals into its work overall.
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Board of Trustees, is encouraged by the potential of this new Parliament initiative stating,
The Parliament has high expectation in developing a deeper relationship with the United Nations since it is one of the important guiding institutions for humanity. The Parliament’s UN Task Force is just a first step in the right direction. We are also looking forward to working with other interfaith organizations at the UN to enhance our desire to have better Intra-Interfaith cooperation.
Excited for the work ahead, the Parliament announces those comprising the United Nations Task Force of the Parliament of the World’s Religions are:
Dr. Kusumita Pedersen: Co-Chair of the Parliament UN Task Force, Board Trustee
Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti: Co-Chair of the Parliament UN Task Force, Parliament Representative to the United Nations, Board Trustee
Rev. Dr. John Pawlikowski: Parliament Representative to the United Nations, Board Trustee
Rev. Phyllis Curott: Parliament Representative to the United Nations, Board Trustee
Ms. Sara Rahim: Parliament Youth Representative to the United Nations, St. Louis University Student
Mr. Tahil Sharma: Parliament Youth Representative to the United Nations, University of LaVerne Student
Dr. Aisha al-Adawiya: Founder and Chair of Women in Islam
Mr. Naresh Jain, Parliament Trustee Emeritus, Founding Member of Educare
Ms. Kay Lindahl, Parliament Ambassador Advisory Council Member
Dr. Mary Nelson (Ex-Officio), Parliament Executive Director
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid (Ex-Officio), Chair of the Board of Trustees, Parliament of the World’s Religions
Dr. Kusumita Pedersen reflects that “between all its members, this task force has many years of varied experience of work in the NGO world connected to the UN.”
The Parliament supports the DPI in its aim of widening public knowledge of the UN, so watch this space for items about the UN and its multi-faceted work, and look forward to getting to know each of the Parliament Task Force members in the months ahead through profiles in our newsletter, features on Facebook, and activity reports.
Most recently, the Parliament Women’s Task Force was co-host of a parallel event to the 58th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women which was held March 3 – 15. On March 11,the gathering in New York City joined spirits world-wide for Remembering the Sacred Heart of Your Activism: An Evening of Prayer, Reflection and Inspiration convened by organizers Women of Spirit and Faith, Gather the Women Global Matrix, Millionth Circle, We Are Enough and United Religions Initiative, and more.
The Parliament as always shares a deep commitment to cooperation and commitment toward a just, peaceful, and sustainable world, and is gearing to offer many more opportunities to enhance work on these critical goals as 2014 continues.
By Kathe Schaaf and Kay Lindahl for The Interfaith Observer
We can’t help but notice that the world seems to have suddenly ‘discovered’ the value of women. After thousands of years living in the shadow of the masculine, after being pushed into the margins of power and leadership, after being silenced in every cultural institution – including most of the major world religions – the media today is full of messages that it is time to listen to women’s wisdom.
Women’s leadership styles are being acknowledged widely in diverse segments of the global media:
- Research articles from the field of neuroscience suggest that women’s brains do indeed work differently than men’s, giving us more capacity for the kind of functions required to address the complex issues facing our planet: multi-tasking, integration, cooperation, and contextual thinking.
- A headline during the recent budget impasse in the U.S. Congress declared “Women Lead While Men Bicker.”
- Micro-lending programs in Africa and Asia frequently identify women as key to their success; not only are women more marginalized in poor countries but they are also more likely to make decisions that will benefit both family and community.
- Even the world of religion has begun to acknowledge the importance of women’s voices and leadership. Pope Francis recently called for a “more incisive female presence” and a broader application of “feminine genius” in the life of the Church.
- Sojourners recently launched a Campaign for Women and Girls that supports the equality of women in ways that are both practical and theological. The cover of their January 2014 Sojourners magazine boldly states, “Twisted Theology: Churches that still treat women as inferior are distorting the image of God.”
The Divine Feminine Rising
While all of this sudden attention on women, leadership, and feminine spirituality is exciting, it is important to pause a moment and listen deeply for the heartbeat of the Divine Feminine guiding, informing, and inspiring this complex global movement. The Divine Feminine is indeed rising, despite all the jagged history which repressed Her and despite the reality that women have been offered little legitimate space in which to practice feminine ways of being and doing. She rises in individual women and in the thousands of organizations they have created around the world. She rises as women struggle to bring a different style of leadership – and a new matrix of assumptions and values – to the institutions, initiatives, and corporations which shape our culture. And many believe She rises now on behalf of this troubled planet.
Kathe Schaaf is a Trustee Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and Co-Founder of Women of Spirit and Faith. Kay Lindahl is on the Ambassador Advisory Committee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and Co-Founder of Women and Spirit and Faith
Heshima Kenya Showcasing Somalian Women Humanitarians at Chicago Premiere Screening (Parliament Sponsored Event)
Via Heshima Kenya:
The acclaimed documentary, Through the Fire, will premiere at the Lake Street Screening Room in Chicago on Monday April 7th. Hosted by the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation and Heshima Kenya, the screening will be followed by a Q&A session with Dr. Deqo Mohamed, CEO of the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation and daughter of Dr. Hawa Abdi.
After over two decades of war, Somalia has been portrayed internationally as a lawless state marred by piracy, conflict, and famine. However, Through the Fire presents a different side of Somalia, telling the stories of three courageous Somali women who never gave up on their country. The three women, Dr. Hawa Abdi, Dr. Edna Adan, and Ilwad Elman, are icons of strength and resiliency.
- Monday, April 7, 2014
- 7 :00 p.m.- 9:00 p.m.
- 70 E. Lake Street Suite 1604
General admission is $20.00 and $15.00 for students. Tickets will be sold at $25.00 at the door. Only 40 tickets are available for this exclusive screening, so buy now as they are anticipated to sell out quickly.
Funds raised from the screening will go directly towards supporting Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation’s work in Somalia. Additional donations are welcomed at the event.
About the Speaker
Dr. Deqo Aden Mohamed is the daughter of Dr. Hawa Abdi. She was born in Mogadishu, grew up feeding the refugees her mother was harboring, and earned an MD in Moscow in 2000. She was an OB-GYN resident in Russia up to 2003. She continued to go back to the internally displaced camp, which hosted up to more than 90,000 people at one point, to work during her holidays. She came to America as a refugee in 2003 and gained extensive experience working in healthcare. She became a naturalized American in 2008.
Today, she works full time on the ground in Somalia. She leads all operations in the Hawa Abdi Village in Lower Shabelle, while ensuring the safety of the 300 families who have found permanent shelter in the community. She leads the 400-bed Dr. Hawa Abdi General Hospital, the Waqaf-Diblawe Primary School, a women’s education centre, and a smart farming agriculture project. She simultaneously manages the administrative aspects of DHAF as CEO of the organization in the United States.
Besides her work, Dr. Mohamed regularly attends conferences and speaks on behalf of DHAF, her mother’s lifework, and on Somalia. Recently, she was invited as a guest speaker at the World Forum on Human Rights in Brasilia, Brazil, and participated in a ceremony on kidney diseases in Chennai, India. Dr. Mohamed has been featured on media outlets such as TED, the Leonard Lopate Show, and the Daily Beast.
Parliament Women’s Task Force Announces Tibet House Partnership Presenting Multi-Religious Speaker Series
The Parliament of the World’s Religions Women’s Task Force is excited to announce its participation in the Multi-Religious Speakers Series on the Sacred Feminine and the Vital Nexus of Religion and Women’s Issues organized in partnership with the highly esteemed Tibet House in New York City.
Program speakers featured in the series will be accessible to women around the world through the Parliament Webinar Series later in 2014.
The series will premiere with Ukranian spiritual teacher Nadia Reznikov hosting an advanced Tantric and Shamanic workshop for women at Tibet House April 4 and 11.
Nadiia Reznikova or Nabhasvati (“Shining”) is an extraordinary spiritual practitioner and teacher from the Ukraine who is making her first appearance in the United States at Tibet House. She has developed a system of tantric, shamanic, and psychotherapeutic practices for women which can produce immediate and dramatic improvements in emotional balance, joy, relationships, physical health, and inner and outer beauty. The practices are designed to naturally and powerfully elevate mood and energy state, enabling even new students to manifest desired changes within, as well as in their relationships and environment. These simple, daily practices have been proven effective tools of spiritual transformation for women of all walks of life and in all areas of life. Her shakti energy has been found to be directly transformative by many, and at the same time Nadiia teaches daily practices which may be done by students on their own.
The following is a synopsis of the Greeley lecture on peace and justice given by Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana at the Center for the Study of World Religions of Harvard University on February 3, 2014. This lecture is a precursor to SCUPE’s Congress on Urban Ministry (June 23-26, DePaul University, Chicago) which will address the theme: Together, Building a Just Economy. Rev. Dr. Premawardhana is President of the Seminary Consortium of Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) , and a Board Trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
The unimaginable level of income inequality has become a serious public conversation and scholarly inquiry. President Obama has addressed it several times over the past couple of months, including in the recent State of the Union speech. The week before that, when some 2,500 participants from business, government, academia and civil society convened in Davos, they considered the Global Risks 2014 report which points out that this massive income gap is the risk that is most likely to cause serious damage to the global economy in the coming decade.
Immediately prior to the Davos meeting, Oxfam, the international organization that addresses issues of hunger, poverty and economic justice around the world, in its report said that the world’s richest 85 people control the same amount of wealth as half the world’s population, over 3.5 billion people. In other words, each of the wealthiest 85 has access to the same resources as do about 42 million people. These are incredible numbers. In his message, Pope Francis urged those who gathered at Davos to promote inclusive prosperity. “I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it,” he said.
Last November Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, or the Joy of the Gospel, where he connects evangelization with a strong critique of consumerism. In a section entitled “No to the new idolatry of money,” he points to its causality: one cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, he says, “we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The worship of the ancient golden calf,” he goes on, “has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.” Human beings are reduced to one of their needs alone, he says, and that is “consumption.”
The rise of plutocracy, where the super-rich increasingly control the political and economic processes that leave everyone else out is already a serious global problem. My concern is that in the United States we may be reaching a tipping point where laws such as Citizens United and the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, both driven by big corporate interests, will tilt the playing field in favor of the super-rich for a long time to come. I believe that this is caused by greed, which – in both its individual and structural manifestations — is a spiritual problem.
This position was affirmed by an advisory body of the World Council of Churches, the Churches’ Commission on International Affairs (CCIA) when it met in March 2009, in Matanzas, Cuba, about six months after the global financial crisis hit. Its working group on Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation made three important affirmations.
First, they identified the cause of the crisis as unbridled greed, and declared it as a form of violence. “[T]he accumulation of wealth and the presence of poverty are not simply accidents but are often part of a strategy for some people to accumulate power and wealth at the expense of others. As such, greed is a form of violence which, on personal, community, national, regional and international levels isolates and injures us.”
In offering the provocative comment “greed is a form of violence,” the CCIA is connecting a word—violence— which it knows evokes a sense of strong condemnation, with a word that it believes is equally condemnable –greed, and advocating as robust a reflection on greed as the churches have had on violence. Indeed, churches, like other institutions caught up in systems of structural greed, find its reflection on greed muted, and its advocacy on behalf of economic justice compromised. A “greed is good” doctrine, popularized by the fictional character Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie Wall Street, and daily and forcefully asserted by some Fox News and CNBC commentators, as well as proponents of prosperity theologies, therefore goes largely unchallenged.
While many religions address greed, it is important to recognize that today’s structural greed is almost unprecedented. A new robust and self-critical reflection that pertains to today’s realities, by all religious authorities, I suggest, is therefore urgent.
The WCC has engaged such a process over the past several years. Its program Poverty, Wealth and Ecology has engaged economists and theologians in dialogues that have now resulted in a proposal for a new financial architecture released in Sao Paulo, in October 2012. One interesting feature of this is the inclusion of a “Greed Line.” If there’s a poverty line below which a person can be said to be in poverty, there must be greed line, above which a person can be said to be greedy!
Second, they recognized greed as a spiritual problem requiring spiritual interventions. Christianity alone does not have the resources to address this problem, they said, and affirmed that religions over centuries have deeply reflected on the question of greed and have significant wisdom to offer. They specifically identified Buddhism as having a sophisticated reflection on greed and its disastrous consequences, about the value of simplicity for the lay community of disciples, and renunciation and voluntary poverty for the monastic community.
Affirming the value of having its internal reflections lead to interreligious engagement, the WCC together with the Lutheran World Federation convened a Buddhist-Christian consultation in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2010. Buddhists from several countries and a variety of traditions engaged with Christians from a variety of traditions in a consultation entitled “Buddhists and Christians engaging structural greed.” The resulting statement, “A Buddhist-Christian Common Word on Structural Greed” has helped to move Christian and Buddhist communities to deeper common reflection and action.
Third, it identifies the need to listen to the voices of the poor. “We acknowledge that in our various positions of leadership we are not always well-placed to hear the voice of the oppressed, of indigenous people, of women, of the disabled, of refugees and displaced people, of the poor and of the most silenced among us.” We who gather around theological tables, religious leaders and scholars, because of our social standing as educated, middle class elite, do not have access to the conversations that are going on among those who are poor in our communities.
This is a difficult but critical question. Prof. Harvey Cox of Harvard University, in a 1980 Christian Century article entitled “Theology: What Is It? Who Does It? How Is It Done?” addressed this question. The elitism is understandable, says Cox, given that the minimal conditions for doing theology include the ability to read and write, familiarity with the received tradition of concepts and categories, sufficient leisure to reflect on these, and the power to get one’s ideas published or otherwise heard. Are theologians prepared to take the next step, he asks, beyond the self-critical awareness we now have, for example, of how the rhetorical conventions and cultural symbols of any period shape even its most original theology, to a recognition of how the pervasive ideology of the dominant class influences the theology it produces?
So, how do you dialogue with those who are poor? One of my mentors, Aloysius Pieris, offers us an insight from his Sri Lankan context. In Asian Theology of Liberation  he insists that an authentic Sri Lankan theology must undergo a double baptism, in the Jordan of its religious diversity, and the cross of its grinding poverty. These two axes of religious diversity and poverty are basic facts of the Sri Lankan context. Dialogue, he says, is more than an academic exercise done in religious seminars organized and financed by western agencies, by people who do not have their feet on the ground. It is not an abstract concern, but a daily existential experience; never merely an intellectual exercise, it is a moral commitment. Pieris’ analysis suggests that if we want to engage in dialogue we need to incarnate ourselves in the context. Not only does it require a double baptism of immersion, it requires us to engage core-to-core with the other religious partners.
The question, however, is even more complex. There is plenty of dialogue that goes on in poor communities. Poor Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and those of other religions often live in the same communities, share each other’s concerns and needs, and reflect with each other about their fortunes and misfortunes and the ultimate meanings of day to day events. The difficulty for us middle class theologians and dialogicians is that we have no access to that conversation. Many difficulties, including those of communication and building trust become serious obstacles when we try to listen to that dialogue.
So, is there any hope for theology or interreligious dialogue? According to Pieris, there is no alternative but to engage in voluntary poverty, which for religious people, he reminds us, is a positive value. We must struggle against forced poverty, but voluntary poverty is a spiritual calling we must embrace. Some of the greatest saints and revered gurus in religious traditions, he reminds us, were people who renounced worldly comforts and pleasures. Some entered the monastic life, others such as Gandhi, became engaged in issues of social justice.
For those of us in religious leadership or theological academia, who assumed that theology can be done in the comfort of the seminary and its library, this is a problem. Indeed, for most of us, whose perceptions are colored by the dominant economic ethos, and where the desire to reach higher in the economic ladder is the positive value, voluntary poverty does not make sense. Therefore, Pieris asserts that it is simply not possible for people with such a middle class mindset to really understand and appreciate those who are poor, and recommends that those who engage in the disciplines of theology and of interreligious dialogue undergo a conversion, and undertake the baptism of voluntary poverty themselves.
This is what SCUPE does. We put our students into the streets of the city, to its local communities, to areas of concentrated poverty, where we teach our students to listen to the questions, struggles and stories of pain and laughter. We bring those questions together, subject them to deeper analysis, and then ask what scripture and tradition have to say about these questions. Indeed, in the margins our students have seen dialogue burst into argument, controversy and creativity. There, it never stays a mere dialogue, but moves quickly to action. At the margins people are conscientized, they strategize, organize and move in to light a fire under their leaders. Indeed, when religious or political leaders do not have the courage to do the right thing, it is the organized people at the grassroots who are able to hold them accountable.
A useful hermeneutical key to this conundrum was offered in November 2013, at the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches. It’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism issued a new statement on mission entitled Together Towards Life, which turned all previous understandings of mission on its head. “Mission from the margins invites the church to reimagine mission as a vocation from God’s Spirit who works for a world where fullness of life is available to all,” it declared. In other words, mission is not to those who are a poor as we always thought, rather, mission is from those who are poor and marginalized to those at the
This is a profound statement. Those of us at the privileged center, the theologians, the religious leaders, the pastors and teachers, the middle class elite, are the very ones that need to be missionized. It says to us powerfully that those who are hungry today have something important to teach us about economic justice, about life and its meaning, and about the importance of sharing and community. Those who are working two or three jobs at minimum wage and have kids to take care of at home also have something important to teach us about faith, because at the end of the day they still have strength left to say their evening prayers with the kids. Those who are suffering climate catastrophes, such as the recent one in the Philippines have something important to teach us about climate justice and about life’s fragility and resilience. When we are able to deeply comprehend that, we will discover that our questions are different, our answers are different, and more than anything else, our attitude towards life and our lifestyle will be different.
What happened in 2008 was a result of unbridled structural greed. It was violence that was perpetrated against massive numbers of people around the world. But the religious communities’ voice was muted. We were conflicted because we too participate in that structural greed. Given today’s context it is critical that the religious communities’ voices be powerful and resilient. But in order for that to be so, we must allow those in the margins to teach us, missionize us, and indeed, convert us.
The Rev. Dr. Shanta D. Premawardhana is President of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education in Chicago. Originally from Sri Lanka, he was most recently the director for the Program Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches (WCC), a worldwide fellowship of 349 Protestant and Orthodox churches based in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to moving to Geneva, Premawardhana served as the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches of Christ, based in New York.
 Martin Sinaga (ed.) A Common Word: Buddhists and Christians Engage Structural Greed (Lutheran University Press, 2012)
 Aloysius Pieris, Asian Theology of Liberation (T&T Clark, 1988, 86)
It is Winter; the wind howls and Mother Nature lies sleeping, deep under a blanket of snow. Bare branches, stark against the slate gray sky, crack against each other like knucklebones, and when the winds really howl they snap, hitting the snow covered ground with a hushed thump.
On the Great Wheel of the Year, this is the time of Imbolc. In the Celtic seasonal calendar, Imbolc marked the beginning of the lambing season. The ewes came into their milk and the first stirrings of Spring began.
This is the ‘quickening of the year’; there is a spark hidden below the surface, like a new pregnancy, barely perceptible and yet urgently anticipated and holding great promise. The seed stirs in the belly of the Earth.
Traditionally, Imbolc was the great festival in honor of Brigid (Brighid, Brigit, Bride), so beloved as a Pagan Goddess that her worship was woven into the Christian church and she became St. Bridget. Brigid is a Triple Goddess, of poetry, smithing, and healing arts. She is also a Goddess of fire, and of the hearth; she brings fertility to the land and its people.
Other archetypes and characters that might be honored at this time are the Cailleach, the old woman in the stone; Lucia with her crown of candles, and of course the Ground Hog, whose story bears surprising similarities to the Pagan mythologies of Kore or Persephone.
Most Pagans, the People of the Earth, are (naturally or through training) consciously attuned to and aware of the differences in the energies of the land as we move through the seasons. We find certainty in the concept of mirroring — “as above so below; as without so within.” The light, which is mature and at its full height at the Summer Solstice, is now in the belly of Mother Earth at the time of Imbolc.
The original word ‘Imbolc’ means ‘in the belly’, which aptly identifies the underlying energy of this time of year. We do not feel the same vibrant vitality and enthusiasm that we feel in June, at the time of Imbolc.
We use this Imbolc time to finish the season of spiraling inward, of reflection, and dreaming. We hold tightly to the promise of renewal, and awakening, and with the returning light we have hope.
With Imbolc we also begin to experience some sense of relief in another way. The lengthening daylight, which began at the Winter Solstice, can alleviate the struggle so many of us may have with Seasonal Affective Disorder. (S.A.D.)
Denmark, given its geographical location endures particularly long, dark winters. One would think there would be a high number of people affected with seasonal depression in that country. Interestingly, Denmark lays claim to being the happiest place on Earth.
According to Mother Nature Network, the Danish word that embodies this particular kind of happiness is ‘hygge’ (pronounced hYOOgah). Blogger Russell McLenden says, “ ‘Hygge’ may sound alien outside Denmark, but its general ethos of enduring wintry gloom with coziness and camaraderie could help raise spirits almost anywhere.”
My community embraces this concept. Through the Winter months while Persephone reigns in the Underworld, and her mother, Demeter expresses her grief through a barren landscape, we make a point of gathering together in each other’s homes, sharing food and stories, and small comforts that sooth worried hearts.
At Imbolc, we acknowledge and feel gratitude for the good fortune of having made it through the cold dark Winter — something our ancestors may not have so easily taken for granted. We feel the first stirrings and anticipate the return of Persephone, the maiden of Spring.
We weave solar wheels (Brighid’s crosses), which pre-date Christianity, and which are said to protect the house from fire. We bake; we braid bread and churn butter. We dip candles, to remind us of the fire that burns in the belly, and the spark that ignites deep in the Earth. With each dip of our new candles we are reminded that just as the snow hides the Earth, the layers of wax hide the promise of light within — within the candle and within ourselves.
We gather in a circle on a quiet hillside. Standing together on the hard packed snow we feel the quickening beneath our feet. Hand to hand, we allow the rhythm of our breath and the drumbeat of our hearts to synchronize with Her rhythm and with each other. As our flames burn bravely in their little glass jars, we experience the connection to the Earth. We are blessed by the fullness of heart and Spirit that comes from spending time on the land with loved ones, as we contemplate our own hidden fires and await the return of Spring.
We are the People of the Earth and these are the Earth Traditions.
Rev. Angie Buchanan
Rev. Angie Buchanan is a Family Tradition Pagan. She is a founder and director of Gaia’s Womb, an interfaith spirituality group for women, and Earth Traditions, a Pagan Church that also offers a Training Program for Pagan Ministry. Angie has a background in law enforcement and politics. She consults with multiple religious and interreligious groups, encouraging dialogue and understanding. She is a former instructor at Cherry Hill Seminary, having taught Introduction to Interfaith there for four years. Angie travels, speaking to groups at churches and schools about Paganism, religious freedom, the Global Ethic, the separation of church and state, and the First Amendment. She has been a presenter at a number of interfaith events, including the 2004 Parliament and the Buddhist Council of the Midwest Women’s Conference. She has worked with CPWR as a Board Member since 2002.
A unique experience for social entrepreneurs and leaders is opportune in the announcement of the fifth edition of the Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship to be held this August at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom (UK). This initiative is sponsored by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation in New York.
Those from a Jewish and/or Muslim cultural background are encouraged to apply, though the fellowship is open to qualified candidates interested in cross-cultural dialogue from all backgrounds. Deadline for completing applications is February 9, 2014 (midnight, CET).
To apply, click here.