From the front door she calls, “He has risen!” Her children respond, “He has risen indeed. Let’s eat!”
I dodged church Easter Sunday this year. My mother Gbeme, however, worshipped at the Baptist church she’s been attending twice weekly for the past 20 years.
Raised Catholic in Nigeria, my mother’s Easter begins the seasonal swap from heavy wools to floral prints and pastels. She wears a beautifully vibrant gele — an intricately fashioned tie around the head worn by Yoruba women — and iro and buba — the matching outfit traditionally worn by Yoruba women — to church. She exchanges compliments with the other congregants about their upbeat clothes and steady health. For two hours the pews fill, the choir sings, and for the larger Easter crowd, the young new pastor delivers an especially rousing sermon. Soon thereafter, church dismisses. Time to eat.
For many Americans, Easter is synonymous with the egg. But in my bicultural household,
creamy frejon is the signature Easter week delicacy. The bean soup is made of smoothly blended brown beans called ewa ibeji and steeped coconut, then sweetened with cane sugar to taste.
In the mid-1980s, my mother left metropolitan Lagos to attend college in rural Wisconsin — and made necessary modifications to the original frejon recipe. Back then international foods weren’t as integrated. In lieu of traditional Nigerian dishes, my mother observed her first few Easters amid sweet friends, sweet rolls, egg salad, and hearty Midwestern casseroles. After she graduated, she moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota, reuniting her with city dwelling, a dense Nigerian immigrant community, specialty grocers, and Easter frejon.
An enchanting hour of poetry drawing on the ways family and religion shape our lives. Marie Howe, poet laureate of New York State, works and plays with her Catholic upbringing, the universal drama of family, and the ordinary time that sustains us. The moral life, she says, is lived out in what we say as much as what we do — and so words have a power to save us.
A spectral projection from a stained glass window near the interior entrance to the Sisters’ Chapel, the oldest part of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Gary Bridgman / Flickr)
To listen to Eckhart Tolle is to be reminded that anything is possible — for anyone.
I’m not talking about living a life of leisure filled with expensive cars, beach homes, and extravagant vacations, but an experience brimming with the kind of spiritual insights that not only make this life worth living but decidedly more fulfilling. The problem is, whenever you say “spiritual insight” there’s often the assumption that you’re talking about something too ethereal to be practical or too elusive to be achieved in this lifetime.
This is exactly the point that one of the world’s most well-known spiritual teachers and authors rebuffed during a talk he gave this past February at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education:
"Some people awaken spiritually without ever coming into contact with any meditation technique or any spiritual teaching," he said. "They may waken simply because they can’t stand the suffering anymore."
I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it. I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts, and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing, and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven’s favor, in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught so often laughing at funerals, that was because I knew the dead were already slipping away, preparing a comeback, and can I help it? And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not be resurrected by a piece of cake. ‘Dance,’ they told me, and I stood still, and while they stood quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced. ‘Pray,’ they said, and I laughed, covering myself in the earth’s brightnesses, and then stole off gray into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan. When they said, ‘I know my Redeemer liveth,’ I told them, ‘He’s dead.’ And when they told me ‘God is dead,’ I answered, ‘He goes fishing ever day in the Kentucky River. I see Him often.’ When they asked me would I like to contribute I said no, and when they had collected more than they needed, I gave them as much as I had. When they asked me to join them I wouldn’t, and then went off by myself and did more than they would have asked. ‘Well, then,’ they said ‘go and organize the International Brotherhood of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing everybody who was against peace?’ So be it. Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what I say I don’t know. It is not the only or the easiest way to come to the truth. It is one way.
"A Voice for the Animals" explores the thoughts and life of Alan Rabinowitz. A profound stutterer as a child left him virtually unable to communicate with people. When he’d get home, he’d hide in his closet and talk to his pet turtle. It was the animals that helped him reenter the world of humans.
And now he’s one of the world’s leading conservationists. He’s called the “the Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation” by The New York Times and fights for some of the world’s biggest cats in some of the world’s last wild places. He offers extraordinary insight into both animals and the human condition:
"I not only wanted to go out and challenge myself against the environment, against odds, and explore wild places, I also wanted to be a voice for the animals. I did want to save wildlife. I always appreciated science more than any other course I studied because to me science was its own language. Science was a language of truths that would be there apart from whether human beings were on this earth or not. Science presented certain facts and certain realities. It allowed me to delve into a world that didn’t have to do with speech or anything else like that, that was human-centric but had a life of its own."
“When I’m trying to explain to people what I think is grand and noble about movement, I say that the reason it is our most valuable connector as human beings is because that person onstage, who has a body similar to ours, is using that body in proxy for us. That kind of transference and connection is a very poetic way of saying something that I think the doctor’s given his life to understanding: how an idea about movement can actually be felt. This fact is the way that I’ve been able to deal with issues of identity. And the making of art, the sharing of it, is in some ways — healing sounds way too sentimental — but it bridges the gap between individuals. When I read some of Dr. Sacks’s meditations on how the brain works, in a way he demystifies these things that I have a feeling about. But in another way he encourages me to look with more courage at the physical world.”—
He’s an energetic, witty thinker in the New Atheist movement who takes aim — fairly or unfairly — at religious believers. But, more importantly, his way of thinking about science as an integral part of our cultural formation and how many of us are let off the hook all-too-easily when we don’t know basic scientific principles.
His latest book is A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing. And if you’re at all a sci-fi fan, then The Physics of Star Trek is a great read for you.
I fear the copious media coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court’s handling of same-sex marriage might drowned out a pivotal case the Court is hearing right now. At stake is who owns the stuff of which we are made.
“A patent isn’t a reward for effort. A patent is a reward for invention. And Myriad didn’t invent anything. The gene exists in the body. All Myriad did is find it.”
But, it may not be as simple as that. Research companies want to be compensated for their efforts. They want to ensure that their work is protected from other profiteers. But, to what extent? Can human genes themselves be patented, or the mechanisms behind them? What is the right of companies like Myriad Genetics to be rewarded for their efforts that contributes to better clinical care and our social good? What are the ethical and moral responsibilities of these companies to put patients first and not keep them from their own genetic information?
Big questions with huge decisions that will impact us and our children.
Aztlan, Anew: U.S. Latinos Leave Catholic Church to Seek Ancestral Heritage
Photo by Shweta Saraswat
"What we’re doing is praying with our feet, with our bodies."
Centzi Millia, a 31-year-old Aztec dance instructor prepares for an afternoon class, wrapping her long blonde dreads into a bun and gathering small children into a circle. “We honor the Mother Earth with our bare feet, and the vibrations we create — the Mother Earth as a living being feels those vibrations.”
The dance starts in a flurry of drum beats and the bass jangling of Ms. Millia’s chachayotl, the thick anklets of Aztec danzantes made of rattling seed pods.
"It was actually at Knott’s Berry Farm, of all places, that I discovered the danza,” Ms. Millia says after class, sitting in the sunlight of Kuruvunga Springs, a remnant site of the ancient Tongva people nestled between Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire. “My parents would say those were the dances our people used to do, but that’s as far as they would tell me.”
Eighteen years later, Ms. Millia is one of several Aztec dance teachers in Southern California. A child of Mexican immigrants, she represents part of a trend among Latinos in the U.S. who are shifting away from the Roman Catholic Church. Though the Church still holds sway among new immigrants from Latin America, the children of these immigrants have been turning toward forms of Protestantism or are choosing not to affiliate with any type of religion.
However, Ms. Millia and some of her second- and third-generation peers raised in traditional Catholic households have left the Church not to follow any alternate form of Christianity or atheism, but to pursue the spiritual paths of their pre-Christian ancestors. As she pursued dance, Ms. Millia’s elders taught her how it was reshaped and used as a tool by Spanish conquerors to lure the local people away from their native, or indigenous, beliefs and toward Catholicism.
Instead of dancing for Mother Earth, Ms. Millia says that dances became offerings to the Virgin Mary. The special days of celebration for the native people became Catholic holidays. These kinds of revelations pushed her away from the church.
A reframed, redemptive conversation about same-sex marriage with the subject before the Supreme Court. Coming to the gay marriage debate from two, predictable opposing directions, David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch both have an equal desire to strengthen the institution of marriage. They’re now showing all of us another way forward in grappling with the future of marriage.
This live event is part of On Being's continuing series, The Civil Conversations Project. Check it out. We are addressing all types of difficult topics, taking them head-on but from an angle.