Teaching religious diversity using “The Faith Project”

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.

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The Beckoning Bell: Resilience and hope in video games and life

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.

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Surrender: the upside-down beauty of the word “islam”

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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.

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Open call for stories: How do you pray?

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

Squishy Doctrines

From Adam Gopnik’s review of the book Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation by Elaine Pagels:

Don’t squishy doctrines of transformation through personal illumination always get marginalized in mass movements? As Stephen Batchelor has recently shown, the open-minded, non-authoritarian side of Buddhism, too, quickly succumbed to its theocratic side, gasping under the weight of those heavy statues. The histories of faiths are all essentially the same: a vague and ambiguous millennial doctrine preached by a charismatic founder, Marx or Jesus; mystical variants held by the first generations of followers; and a militant consensus put firmly in place by the power-achieving generation. Bakunin, like the Essenes, never really had a chance. The truth is that punitive, hysterical religions thrive, while soft, mystical ones must hide their scriptures somewhere in the hot sand.

How Silence Works: Emailed Conversations With Four Trappist Monks

An email interview with four monks about the world of silence they live in:

A human being is a social creature, and we find that, while maintaining silence alone is natural and a blessing, cultivating silence in a group is hard and a discipline we have to commit to over and over again. I would not speak of the “sacrifice of words” except in relatively rare instances when a passion moves me to speak and I struggle to hold my tongue. The silence which is my natural habitat is not created by forcibly sacrificing anything. When a man and woman meet and fall in love they begin to talk. They talk and talk and talk all day long and can’t wait to meet again to talk some more. They talk for hours together, and never tire of talking and so talk late into the night, until they become intimate—and then they don’t talk anymore. Neither would describe intimacy as “the sacrifice of words” and a monk is not inclined to speak about his intimacy with God in this way. Is silence beneficial for all people? I would say the cultivation of silence is indispensable to being human. People sometimes talk as if they were “looking for silence,” as if silence had gone away or they had misplaced it somewhere. But it is hardly something they could have misplaced. Silence is the infinite horizon against which is set every word they have ever spoken, and they can’t find it? Not to worry—it will find them.

Plug into your hard-wired happiness

Via TED, this is like my mindfulness class in a nutshell (less the meditation practice):

Srikumar Rao says we spend most of our lives learning to be unhappy, even as we strive for happiness. At Arbejdsglaede Live! 2009, he teaches us how to break free of the “I’d be happy if…” mental model, and embrace our hard-wired happiness.”

A guide to meditation for the rest of us

I finally signed up for a mindfulness meditation course to begin later this fall. Read more

Wade Davis

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. Read more

Overpowering brilliance

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