If your black, indigenous, or another person of color (BIPOC) and are looking for a place to learn more about building a Beloved Community and/or the Plum Village Tradition of Zen Buddhism then check out ARISE at https://arisesangha.org.
If you’re not BIPOC but are interested in learning more about being an ally, like I am, then we can check out, join and support ARISE as well.
Dr. Larry Ward is a senior dharma teacher in the Thich Nhat Hanh Plum Village Tradition. He is a noted author and co-founder with his wife, Dr. Peggy Ward, of The Lotus Institute (http://www.thelotusinstitute.org).
A beautiful writer and poet, Dr. Ward has a strong physical and metaphysical voice which informs us of our opportunities for learning and sharing a deep, fierce love.
Meditation and poetry, meditators and poets, like two hands coming together in namaste.
One of the most famous poets of all time is Rumi (full name Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī). He wrote poetry in the 13th century in Persian, Turkish, Arabic and Greek. His poetry was influenced by his Sufi meditation.
“Rumi was a scholar and poet that lived in 13th century Persia (now modern-day Iran.) Like all extraordinary gifted and profound teachers, Rumi’s words have transcended time and place.
An Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic, Rumi wrote much of his thoughts down in the form of poems … it’s well-known that Rumi was a mystic, devoted to contemplation and self-surrender … Rumi certainly practiced Mur?qabah, an Arabic word that translates to observation in English. Mur?qabah is a form of Sufi meditation where the goal is to “watch over” their spiritual heart and to gain insight into the Ultimate truth.
Our teacher, Thay’, Thich Nhat Hanh, died one year ago. Below are two links for more information on this fierce and gentle Zen Master.
I especially appreciate his poem displayed below which includes the phrase: “birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek”
May you experience his continued presence of peace and joy.
Contemplation on No-Coming and No-Going
by Thich Nhat Hanh
This body is not me.
I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born,
and I have never died.
Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
manifestations from my wondrous true mind.
Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass,
sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek.
So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say good-bye,
say good-bye, to meet again soon.
We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.
Below is an article from Spirituality + Health magazine highlighting Sarah Bowen, Director of the Animal Chaplaincy Training Program offered through Compassion Consortium. I am a current student in this program and look forward to becoming a certified and ordained animal chaplain later this year. Please let me know if you have any questions and I will be happy to respond to you directly or in future blog posts.
May you and all sentient beings be happy, healthy and safe.
Sarah Bowen shares ways humans can rebalance their relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom.
“You were real to the boy,” the fairy said, “because he loved you. Now you shall be real to everyone.” —FROM THE VELVETEEN RABBIT
It’s possible the seeds for my call to animal chaplaincy were sown the first time I was read Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit. In this classic children’s story, a stuffed rabbit struggles with some of the life lessons we humans do: What does it mean to be real? How powerful is unconditional love? Are some lives valued over others?
As a result of the story, I formed rich relationships with my stuffed animals, concerned about their welfare, loving them as the boy in the story loved his rabbit. William’s tale deeply informed my beliefs about what might have a soul or spirit, causing me to treat seemingly inanimate objects with great compassion. One day, I was in the toy store checkout line with my mother, preparing to hand over my allowance in exchange for a fuzzy brown bear. Taking a long look at the bear and then at 7-year-old me, the cashier noted, “Hold on a minute, sweetie, I’ll get you a different one. This bear is missing an eye.”
I boldly announced, “I know he is. That’s why I want him.” The cashier suggested, “Well then let me call a manager so you can get a discount since he’s damaged.” I emphatically countered, “That is just the way he is, and I will pay full price. He’s worth it.”
Much to my mother’s dismay, my growing love of animals also included bringing home dead chipmunks. Raised as a preacher’s kid, I often visited funeral homes with my father. I deduced that these animals needed burial in our bushes, accompanied by a small service ending with “May the Force be with you, chipmunk.”
Decades later, I found myself explaining to my new husband why we could not allow the cats to catch any mice in our house, teaching him how to capture the mouse in Tupperware and return it outside. In the event the cats won the scramble, a backyard burial would ensue, ending in the blessing, “May you have a most auspicious next lifetime, mouse.”
In my 40s, I enrolled in a seminary program to learn about the world’s spiritual traditions—but with no desire to be a pulpit preacher like my father. About a year in, students were asked to share about what each might do for their ministry. I blurted out, “I’m going to have a roadkill ministry.” Silence and wide-eyed stares followed. I continued (as if I was in a pulpit), “Each year, human motorists kill nearly 400 million animals, leaving them to die on the road. It’s just one of the ways we have become careless, callous, and cruel to the other beings we share the planet with.”
Perhaps impressed by my homiletics, my academic advisor suggested, “Have you ever thought about animal chaplaincy?” Now it was my turn for wide eyes, paired with a gaping jaw, as I queried incredulously, “Wait … that’s a real thing?”
A Day in the Life of an Animal Chaplain
No, I do not have a church that animals attend. However, you might be surprised how many people ask me if I do. Instead, my ministry takes place where animals are.
First, there are the needs of the cats we share our home with, and myriad critters who occupy the land on which our house sits. From our cleaning products to the type of ice melt we use on the driveway, each choice is informed by the needs of all the beings we live with, not just the two-legged ones paying the mortgage.
Next, there are the 8 million dogs and cats surrendered to animal shelters each year in the US—more than 913 each hour. Each week, I spend time sitting, playing, or talking with some of these animals. I’m especially drawn to those who are hardest to place in new homes, the so-called special needs animals. Many needs are simply symptoms of being scared, lonely, or confused as the result of being abandoned.
Humans can also be scared and downright perplexed when it comes to decisions around medical care and end-of-life decisions regarding their companion animals. As a chaplain, I help people deal with these issues and the grief and loss that often follow.
Finally, animal advocacy takes an increasing amount of my time, as I sign petitions and educate people on animal-welfare issues and rights. For example, as our society continues to expand into what was once wild, we traumatize and displace millions of other creatures. In the book Ethics on the Ark, William Conway notes, “It is a paradox that so many humans agonize over the well-being of an individual animal yet ignore the millions daily brutalized by the destruction of their environments. … We are touched with sadness at the plight of vanishing species but much more readily brought to tears by the difficulties of E.T., Dumbo, or Mickey Mouse. … Poorly equipped to discern data from deceit, we populate our concepts with caricatures.”
Further, we seem oblivious to what is happening in our food, entertainment, and consumer-goods systems, which are clearly out of alignment with what our spiritual and religious traditions espouse. Dr. Richard Schwartz, president Emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, outlines the horror we face today. “The insanity of current policies towards animals can be summarized as follows: Firstly, millions of animals are killed to protect our livestock. Then billions of animals are slaughtered for your food. As a result of our flesh-centered diets, millions of additional animals are tortured and killed seeking cures for … diseases, which people generally wouldn’t get in the first places if we had more sensible diets.”
I profess, working to decrease the atrocities of our systems is hard some days. Our society’s collective denial, endless excuses, and senseless rationalizations abound as people tell me, “Stop. I don’t want to know. Leave me be.”
Luckily, two rebellious black cats named Deacon and Buba-ji, Picasso the rescued goldfish, Max the squirrel, a backyard full of yet-to-be-named critters, and my incredibly supportive husband await me at home. All greet me with unconditional love, reminding me what is real and inspiring me to continue working towards a world in which all lives matter.
Why It Matters
It turns out that what many of us were told as children is no longer real. Scientists continue to uncover plentiful evidence that many animals can empathize, communicate over long distances, complete complex tasks, and do all sorts of amazing things for which we historically have not given them credit.
Our food does not come from idyllic farms where the Farmer and his Wife treat animals well in the Dell. It’s heartbreaking to realize our species, which once had a deep reverence for life and consisted on a diet primarily of grains, now supports a system that abuses and kills six million animals each hour for food alone. Even for people unconcerned with animal welfare, there is a case for alarm: Animal farming is a major contributor to global warming. In fact, it’s the No. 1 cause of climate change.
Contrary to what many of us learned in Sunday School, religion does not unequivocally state that we can use animals as we please. Today’s theologians, including Andrew Linzey, Ken Stone, and Sarah Withrow King, have dug deeply into Jewish and Christian texts to expose solid academic cases that dominion was not intended to mean taking anything (or anyone) from the earth to satisfy our out-of-control desires.
Finally, sociologists who have begun to study the effects of speciesism suggest that as we privilege some animals over others, and humans over all animals, there is a relation- ship to other types of prejudice. A 2018 study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology notes, “speciesism is psychologically related to human-human types of prejudice such as racism, sexism, and homophobia.” In addition, people with speciesist views tend towards lower levels of empathy and prosociality.
The foundation of our inherited values about other sentient beings is cracking. In field after field, people are redefining what we now know as true. And they need your help.
The Lookout, Mary Alayne Thomas, maryalaynethomas.com
What You Can Do
• Reflect. Take a few minutes to consider your relationships with beings other than humans. What feels in balance? What doesn’t?
• WatchSpeciesism: The Movie.
• Listen to the audiobook A Plea for the Animals: The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative to Treat All Beings with Compassion by Matthieu Ricard.
• Grow. Cultivate a humane backyard using animal- friendly landscaping methods from Nancy Lawson (humanegardener.com).
• Reduce. Pledge to eat fewer animal products for 30 days at reducetarian.org.
• Download. Check out the Happy Cow app to find cruelty-free food worldwide and the Bunny Free app to find out if a company tests on animals.
• Volunteer. Visit your local animal shelter. Pet a cat. Play with a dog. Chill with a rabbit.
• Advocate. Get involved with an organization such as World Animal Protection, Animal Equality, or Mercy for Animals.
• Love. Save a mouse. Bury a chipmunk. Meditate with squirrels.
• Read. Dust off The Velveteen Rabbit.
• Become real.
Family Heirloom, Mary Alayne Thomas, maryalaynethomas.com
About the Author
Sarah Bowen is an animal chaplain, multifaith spiritual educator, and award-winning author of Spiritual Rebel: A Positively Addictive Guide to Finding Deeper Perspective & Higher Purpose. Her latest book is Sacred Sendoffs: An…
Truth-telling can be a very difficult journey on the way to freedom. —Jacqui Lewis, Fierce Love
CAC friend Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis writes about the ways both prophetic and personal truth-telling challenge us and the systems to which we belong:
In my faith tradition we call that speaking the truth—in love. As a clergyperson, I have many truth-telling strategies. Sometimes I’m gentle, needing to take good care of the one who is listening. Sometimes I’ve got my fists in the air while marching for the truth, for justice and liberation. Always my intention is to free up the energy that’s caught in the story, to liberate myself and the other with whom I’m in relationship to find a way forward. Can we win this action? Will the politician change policy or give in to demands? Will the congregant or colleague hear my point of view, and can I hear theirs? Can I change the story in the public square in a compelling way and open eyes, hearts, and minds to new worldviews? Will [my husband] John and I become stronger because of this difficult talk? Telling the truth is an act of love, an act of resistance, an act of courage. Its end is liberation, freedom, and, if possible, reconciliation. But there can be no reconciliation without truth.…
The historian Howard Zinn wrote, “The most revolutionary act one can engage in is […] to tell the truth.”  Indeed! I think the revolutionary part of truth is that it can free us and those around us to live with greater certainty about what is real, even when it hurts, because we are no longer shackled to the energy lying requires of us. Lying demands the continuation of the lie and the amplification of the lie to keep the truth hidden.… Telling the truth creates ripples of authenticity that change the world.…
I believe truth is revolutionary; it’s part of the work of fierce love. Truth makes a personal, spiritual, ethical, and moral demand upon us. It wants to be said, known, told. It hurts and it’s inconvenient, but it’s essential to our well-being. It cleanses our spiritual palate and restores our souls. Truth is a drink of water to a parched traveler. It lubricates relationships. It liberates us from bondage. It builds trust and connections. It’s the beginning of authentic living and joy. Truth eludes us at times, and we have to pursue it. Truth invites us to be honest about who we are, about our flawed-but-beautiful, broken-but-healing selves. Truth leads to reconciliation and peace; without truth, there is no peace. In the light of truth, we are able to honor our journey and love ourselves. Truth-telling is a spiritual discipline that requires practice. We must not lie to others and, as Fyodor Dostoevsky suggested, we mustn’t lie to ourselves. Being honest with ourselves about ourselves is to love ourselves unconditionally, to love ourselves fiercely.
 Howard Zinn, “Marx in Soho: A Play on History,” in Three Plays: The Political Theater of Howard Zinn (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010), 115.
“James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1901 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. One of the earliest innovators of the literary art form called jazz poetry, Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance.
Like many African-Americans, Hughes had a complex ancestry. Both of Hughes’ paternal great-grandmothers were enslaved Africans, and both of his paternal great-grandfathers were white slave owners in Kentucky. According to Hughes, one of these men was Sam Clay, a Scottish-American whiskey distiller of Henry County, said to be a relative of statesman Henry Clay. The other putative paternal ancestor whom Hughes named was Silas Cushenberry, a slave trader of Clark County.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langston_Hughes
Some critics thought he was a communist homosexual who spent time in Europe, Russia, China, Japan and Korea before returning to the United States. One biographer, Arnold Rampersad, saw him as a passive, asexual man who showed love and respect for black men and women. In addition to poetry, Hughes wrote plays, short stories, several nonfiction works and served as a weekly newspaper columnist for twenty years.
Here is one of his poems, reprinted from this month’s Monastic Way, along with a couple of follow-up discussion questions:
The Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes, wrote about dreams, how important it was to have them and what happens to dreams suppressed or deferred:
What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore–– And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over–– like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?
Below is today’s Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr‘s Center for Action and Contemplation. It highlights a teaching from Brian McLaren on the positive gift and use of anger. See https://cac.org/daily-meditations/ for more information on this valuable resource.
Anger Does Its Work
Prophets are often known for their anger against injustice. CAC teacher Brian McLaren makes a connection between anger and love:
I think about things I love … birds, trees, wetlands, forested mountains, coral reefs, my grandchildren … and I see the bulldozers and smokestacks and tanks on the horizon.
And so, because I love, I am angry. Really angry.
And if you’re not angry, I think you should check your pulse, because if your heart beats in love for something, someone, anything … you’ll be angry when it’s harmed or threatened.
To paraphrase René Descartes (1596–1650): I love; therefore, I’m angry. […]
Anger makes most sense to me through an analogy of pain. What pain is to my body, anger is to my soul, psyche, or inner self. When I put my hand on a hot stove, physical pain reflexes make me react quickly, to address with all due urgency whatever is damaging my fragile tissues. Physical pain must be strong enough to prompt me to action, immediate action, or I will be harmed, even killed.
Similarly, when I or someone I love is in the company of insult, injustice, injury, degradation, or threat, anger awakens. It tells me to change my posture or position; it demands I address the threat.
McClaren shares scriptural passages that urge us not to react in anger, and describes how contemplative practice can direct our anger into loving action:
Don’t be overcome with evil. Overcome evil with good. (See Romans 12:21).
When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek. (See Luke 6:29).
Do not return evil for evil to anyone. (See Romans 12:17).
Bless those who persecute you. Bless, and do not curse. (See Romans 12:14).
In each case, we’re given alternatives to our natural reactions, alternatives that break us out of fight/flight/freeze, mirroring, and judging. In the split second when we take that long, deep breath, we might breathe out a prayer: “Guide me, Spirit of God!” We might pause to hear if the Spirit inspires us with some non-reactive, non-reflexive response. […]
Anger does its work. It prompts us to action, for better or worse. With time and practice, we can let the reflexive reactions of fight/flight/freeze, mirroring, and judging pass by like unwanted items on a conveyor belt. Also, with practice, we can make space for creative actions to be prompted by our anger … actions that are in tune with the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22) … actions that overcome evil with good and bring healing instead of hate.
So, yes, you bet I’m angry. It’s a source of my creativity. It’s a vaccination against apathy and complacency. It’s a gift that can be abused—or wisely used. Yes, it’s a temptation, but it’s also a resource and an opportunity, as unavoidable and necessary as pain. It’s part of the gift of being human and being alive.
Today we honor the American prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy dedicated to building and maintaining a Beloved Community.
Today’s senryu: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
The highest honor
is continuation of
the wisdom received.
A big part of MLK’s legacy are his children, especially his daughter, Dr. Bernice A. King who serves as CEO of The King Center. As her mother Coretta Scott King has said, “if you receive a blessing, you have a duty to share it with others.”
Change is difficult, for us and for the collective. Unfortunately, when we make progress, it’s easy to assume that it will continue without our continued effort. No, we must not give up. Our efforts to sustain the progress is needed today and everyday going forward. It takes all of us to make a Beloved Community.
Today’s senryu: Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Richard Rohr describes how speaking truth to power is an essential part of the prophet’s mission:
One of the gifts of the prophets is that they evoke a crisis where one did not appear to exist before their truth-telling. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr.was blamed for creating violence—but those who had eyes to see and were ready to hear recognized, “My God, the violence was already there!” Structural violence was inherent in the system, but it was denied and disguised. No one was willing to talk about it. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and others said, “We’re going to talk about it.”
Prophets always talk about the untalkable and open a huge new area of “talkability.” For those who are willing to go there, it helps us see what we didn’t know how to see until they helped us to see it. That’s how we begin to recognize a prophet—there is this widening of seeing, this deepening of a truth that was always there.
Prophets generate a crisis, so it’s almost understandable why they’re usually called troublemakers and so often killed. They generate the crisis because while everybody else is saying the emperor is beautifully clothed, they are willing to say, “No, he’s naked.” We’re not supposed to say that the emperor has no clothes!
It’s the nature of culture to have its agreed-upon lies. Culture holds itself together by projecting its shadow side elsewhere. That’s called the “scapegoat mechanism.” René Girard, Gil Bailie, and others have pointed out that the scapegoat mechanism is the subtext of the entire biblical revelation. It’s the tendency to export our evil elsewhere and to hate it there, and therefore to remain in splendid delusion. If there isn’t a willingness to be critical of our country, our institution, and ourselves, we certainly can’t be prophets. 
When the prophet is missing from the story, the shadow side of things is always out of control, as in much of the world today, where we do not honor wisdom or truth.
It seems the prophet’s job is first to deconstruct current illusions, which is the status quo, and then reconstruct on a new and honest foundation. That is why the prophet is never popular with the comfortable or with those in power. Only a holy few have any patience with the deconstruction of egos and institutions.
The prophets are “radical” teachers in the truest sense of the word. The Latin radix means root, and the prophets go to the root causes and root vices and “root” them out! Their educational method is to expose and accuse with no holds barred. Ministers and religion in general tend to concentrate on effects and symptoms, usually a mopping up exercise after the fact. As someone once put it, we throw life preservers to people drowning in the swollen stream, which is all well and good—but prophets work far upstream to find out why the stream is swollen in the first place. 
 Adapted from Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2006). Available as MP3 download.