In a spectacular TED talk, explorer Wade Davis reflected on the world’s cultures saying, “These myriad voices of humanity are not failed attempts at being modern. They’re unique facets of the human imagination. They’re unique answers to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive?” We’ve captured just a few of those myriad voices and unique answers in The Faith Project, an interactive documentary exploring the religious diversity of Canada.
After I walk across the stone bridge, there’s a small cobblestoned plaza that forks into winding streets. I turn left, walking in the cramped alleys between old buildings. There are stairs, and an archway, and beyond, the buildings open up to a cemetery. It’s the only way to the old church, where they say there’s a cure for my illness.
I place my prayer rug on the floor in the direction of Mecca. It came from my grandparents, I think, from the old country. It has been a part of my life since I was a child, a fixture in our home, and now it is threadbare from wear. It’s limp like fresh chapati. The burgundy, velvet fibres fray on the parts of this rug that have cushioned our heels and knees for decades. I smooth out its wrinkles and bumps and imperfections with the brush of a flat, tender palm, like I’m tending a bed of soil in a garden. I sit beside it or on the edge of my bed for a minute or two. I breathe.
I admit it: I struggle with prayer. The month of Ramadan is coming up in the Islamic calendar, which means I’ll be fasting from sunrise to sunset everyday for 30 days. (If you’re counting, that’s no food or drink from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
It’s a time of introspection and prayer. Yet when I’m deprived of a good night’s sleep and regular food, I tend to space out. A few years ago, after my pre-dawn meal and morning prayers, I returned to bed for a few more hours of sleep before the start of the day. In a state of half-sleep during this holy month, I imagined I was in the Emperor’s throne room in a musical version of Return of the Jedi. The old guy can dance, let me tell you.
Yet despite the difficulty (and the show tunes), Ramadan is an essential part of my spiritual life. So is daily prayer; there are times in my life where prayer actually helped me survive. These practices help me cultivate a sense of gratitude and even optimism about my life. So, creating a space for that practice is important to me. Read more
Anthropologist Wade Davis of National Geographic in an absolutely mind-blowing TED talk from 2003. I’m floored. I caught a bit of this guy today on the radio while driving back from the garage and wanted to find out more. He’s giving this year’s Massey Lecture.
The whole TED talk is fantastic, but the ending pushes it over the top for me to something transcendent:
“It’s pretty obvious, at least to all of us who have traveled in these remote reaches of the planet, to realize that they’re not remote at all. They’re homelands of somebody. They represent branches of the human imagination that go back to the dawn of time. And for all of us, the dreams of these children, like the dreams of our own children, become part of the naked geography of hope. So what we’re trying to do at the National Geographic, finally, is, we believe that politicians will never accomplish anything. We think that polemics are not persuasive, but we think that storytelling can change the world. So we are probably the best storytelling institution in the world: we have 35 million hits on our website every month, 156 nations carry our television channel, our magazines are read by millions. What we’re doing is a series of journeys to the ethnosphere where we’re gonna take our audience to places of such cultural wonder that they cannot help but come away dazzled by what they have seen, and hopefully, therefore, embrace gradually, one by one, this central revelation of anthropology: that this world deserves to exist in a diverse way, that we can find a way to live in a truly multicultural, pluralistic world, where all of the wisdom of all of all peoples can contribute to our collective well-being.”
His summary of the craft of storytelling takes the career longings and yearnings I’ve been having to a higher place, to a truer place. It transcends mere journalism and enters the realm of something almost holy. It seems to unify the spiritual searching I’ve had all these years and expressed in my exploration of religion, along with the need for relevance through journalism, my own persistent desire to write, and the urge of humans 10,000 years ago to sacralize the hunt by painting it on cave walls. Really. His vision is celebratory of the human adventure, cherishes it, and is in love with it in all its forms and manifestations.
Too many thoughts are springing forth from this. I see connections in the career I’ve sought, in what I’m writing now, in what I wrote years ago, in values and ideals I shape and form and hold dear. I, I, I need to think this through more. Not enough tags for this post! Not enough! Ahh, this is so going in my personal manifesto box. “The naked geography of hope.” Argh! And I marvel once more at the poetic capabilities of the human spirit. (Falls over)
We’re working on a show about Abraham Joshua Heschel, a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s, an ally of his in the civil rights movement, an anti-Vietnam activist, a profound religious thinker of the 20th Century. In our interview with our guest, the chancellor of New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary (where Heschel taught during his life), our guest shared some unnervingly beautiful writing of the late Rabbi Heschel that I myself would like to share. Read more
One person we’re pursuing for an interview is Ed Husain, British Muslim and author of the controversial book The Islamist. We have a copy of his book at the office, and I picked it up and read it voraciously over the past few days. This upcoming show is one I desperately want us to get right.
Let’s talk a bit about the book first. I’m going to drop a few spoilers, so if you’re planning to read it, I suggest you skip ahead a bit (or even wait until you’ve read the book). Read more
During an all-hours-of-the-night conversation with one of my best friends, I was asked by him, strictly from a place of genuine curiosity, how someone as educated and intelligent as I appear to be could “fall for” or “buy into” religion (“fairy tales, wizards and magic” as he put it). It’s a valid question, one I’ve been asked before in some form. I’ve always found it difficult to deliver the kind of succinct answer that would satisfy such a question. To be honest, I myself ask myself regularly how or why I believe what I do. Not because I think I’m in danger of losing my faith or anything like that, but because I am genuinely curious about the path I’ve taken, and about the mechanics of this device that operates in my soul. Read more
Remember when I said, a while back, that I wanted to try my best to alternate the content of my posts between the usual complaining, bitching and caustic deprecation, and something that’s actual positive? You know, try to not be so “clever” and angst-ridden and try to be more open and joyful? Well, today is one of those positive posts.
It’s not often that we actually get to meet our heroes. Heck, it’s not often that our heroes are even alive while we are. Actually, no, that’s not true. We all have people we look up to from out there in the world, people who inspire us, people we aspire to be. Call them heroes, call them idols, call them role models, but they are there, and it’s rare that we are graced with the opportunity of meeting them. Read more