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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
Ethiopian Orthodox pilgrims pray by candlelight during a ceremony during the Timkat festival in Gondar. 
Beautiful.
Ethiopian Orthodox pilgrims pray by candlelight during a ceremony during the Timkat festival in Gondar. 
Beautiful.

Ethiopian Orthodox pilgrims pray by candlelight during a ceremony during the Timkat festival in Gondar.

Beautiful.

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I just love this image of collective prayer by Tibetan Buddhist monks in Bylekuppa, India.
(Photo by Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images)
I just love this image of collective prayer by Tibetan Buddhist monks in Bylekuppa, India.
(Photo by Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images)

I just love this image of collective prayer by Tibetan Buddhist monks in Bylekuppa, India.

(Photo by Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images)

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Stumbled upon this beautiful prayer from Elie Wiesel (from One Generation After) in our archive this week:

I no longer ask you for either happiness or paradise; all I ask of You is to listen and let me be aware of Your listening.
I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.
I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.
As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.
They are modest, my requests, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.
I ask you, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.
I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.
They are modest, my prayers, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.
I ask You, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me. God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.
I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only implore You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.

The kind of quote to scribble on scrap paper and carry around in your pocket.
(Photo by Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images)
Stumbled upon this beautiful prayer from Elie Wiesel (from One Generation After) in our archive this week:

I no longer ask you for either happiness or paradise; all I ask of You is to listen and let me be aware of Your listening.
I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.
I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.
As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.
They are modest, my requests, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.
I ask you, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.
I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.
They are modest, my prayers, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.
I ask You, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me. God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.
I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only implore You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.

The kind of quote to scribble on scrap paper and carry around in your pocket.
(Photo by Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images)

Stumbled upon this beautiful prayer from Elie Wiesel (from One Generation After) in our archive this week:

I no longer ask you for either happiness or paradise; all I ask of You is to listen and let me be aware of Your listening.

I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.

I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.

As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.

They are modest, my requests, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.

I ask you, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.

I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.

They are modest, my prayers, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.

I ask You, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me. God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.

I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only implore You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.

The kind of quote to scribble on scrap paper and carry around in your pocket.

(Photo by Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images)

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Oh, what an image. Iranian men perform the weekly Friday prayer at Tehran University. Reminded of this by a listener who asked about our show with Leila Ahmed today. 

Just beautiful.
Oh, what an image. Iranian men perform the weekly Friday prayer at Tehran University. Reminded of this by a listener who asked about our show with Leila Ahmed today. 

Just beautiful.

Oh, what an image. Iranian men perform the weekly Friday prayer at Tehran University. Reminded of this by a listener who asked about our show with Leila Ahmed today.

Just beautiful.

Comments
From our senior editor Trent Gilliss:

“A poet is the ‘Amen’ before the utterance of prayer.” ~Dominique Ashaheed from Denver, Colorado
What a magnificent, strong figure, and a lyrical voice to boot. I only wish I could’ve made it to the Women of the World Poetry Slam finals this past week!
(Big thanks to City Pages for the layout.)
From our senior editor Trent Gilliss:

“A poet is the ‘Amen’ before the utterance of prayer.” ~Dominique Ashaheed from Denver, Colorado
What a magnificent, strong figure, and a lyrical voice to boot. I only wish I could’ve made it to the Women of the World Poetry Slam finals this past week!
(Big thanks to City Pages for the layout.)

From our senior editor Trent Gilliss:

“A poet is the ‘Amen’ before the utterance of prayer.”
~Dominique Ashaheed from Denver, Colorado

What a magnificent, strong figure, and a lyrical voice to boot. I only wish I could’ve made it to the Women of the World Poetry Slam finals this past week!

(Big thanks to City Pages for the layout.)

Comments
O Allâh, place light in my heart, light in my tongue, light in my hearing, light in my sight, light behind me, light in front of me, light on my right, light on my left, light above me and light below me; place light in my sinew, in my flesh, in my blood, in my hair and in my skin; place light in my soul and make light abundant for me; make me light and grant me light.
- Hussein Rashid has posted several lovely prayers for the new year: two from the Prophet Muhammad and one by the author himself. The one above is especially lovely during the depths of winter here in North America. (via trentgilliss)
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The Russian punk band Pussy Riot have been found guilty of religious hatred for their protest inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior today. The Interfax news agency translates the Khamovnichesky Court verdict as such:

"The Pussy Riot singers colluded under unestablished circumstances, for the purpose of offensively violating public peace in a sign of flagrant disrespect for citizens.,” the court said in a verdict being pronounced on Friday.

The women were motivated by religious enmity and hatred, and acted provocatively and in an insulting manner inside a religious building in the presence of a large number of believers,” the court said.

The court also has found that the Pussy Riot activists realized that their actions during the “punk prayer” in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior were insulting and intended to communicate information on the stunt to a broad range of believers.

"Intending to make the planned actions public and ensure that they drew public response, to draw the attention of the public to their illegal actions, and to communicate the expressed disrespect not only to the clergy and people in the church, but also to other citizens who were not present in the church at the time [of the punk prayer], but shared Orthodox traditions, Samutsevich, Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina, and their unidentified accomplice informed various media assistants and active bloggers on their action," the sentence read in the Khamovnichesky Court on Friday says.

Up top is the video of the Pussy Riot "protest-as-prayer" performance for which three members of the band have found guilty.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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A Tight Focus on the Spiritual Side of Transitioning

MOVIE REVIEW
The documentary Rites of Passage by Jeff Roy follows a 42-year-old practicing Muslim and Indian transgender to Bangkok for gender reassignment surgery and puts her Islamic faith and ethnic identity at the center of the journey.

by Emily Frost, guest contributor

Maya Jafer

When Jeff Roy first met Maya Jafer in Los Angeles, he had prepared a long list of questions. But he barely got in one; Jafer had finally found someone with whom she could share her story.

Ms. Jafer, a 42-year-old transgender woman and a practicing Muslim from India, spent the next hours detailing a cultural and religious background that never accepted her and describes a personal journey full of upheaval. Mr. Roy, who had never made a film, decided Jafer’s story needed to be told.

Rites of Passage is all about the journey. The metaphor is central to the documentary. Before the film begins, Ms. Jafer has been on an internal voyage during two years of hormonal and psychological therapy. In the opening scene, she is moving again.

Without any explanation, the viewer is thrust into an airport in Thailand, the only place where she can afford gender reassignment surgery. The harsh lighting and close-up shots make it feel as though we, too, have been on the impossibly long flight from Los Angeles. The director favors immediacy and honesty above all else, shooting with a cinéma vérité style.

Ms. Jafer rarely needs prodding to open up. She views the camera as a chance to share wry and self-deprecating commentary. As she and a friend of the director’s, whom she just met, taxi to a nighttime shopping area, she discusses a sexual massage. There’s lightness in how she addresses this stranger as she tells him “she hasn’t had sex in two years,” but, after the surgery, men will be all over her. She’s basking in the liberation of her decision. There’s no turning back.

The film benefits from its tight focus on Ms. Jafer. These opening confessions hook the viewer. And lest the audience think the trip will be all light-hearted quips and high jinx, Mr. Roy cuts to the heart of the matter, inserting a climatic scene early in the film.

Maya Jafer in a Bangkok Taxi

Riding in a taxi through congested streets, Ms. Jafer speaks directly to the camera: “I have no one to talk to at all,” she cries, “all I have is God.” This may be the most intense period of her life, a turbulent mix of dread and anticipation. Though Mr. Roy is filming, he’s beyond her reach. Jafer is alone.

Here’s where Mr. Roy’s film strikes out on an independent path. Other American documentaries have focused on the enormity of transitioning from male to female or vice versa. They delve deep into the physical and social side of the transition. But what about the spiritual side? The tendency is to think of transgender or transsexual people as progressive and, by extension, secular. But Mr. Roy puts religion and ethnic identity at the heart of Ms. Jafer’s journey.

In the taxi, she begins to pray. The prayer has a soothing power, but Ms. Jafer’s trembling voice bespeaks the fear and anxiety washing over her.

Prayer and her faith are the only connections she still shares with her Indian and ultra-orthodox Muslim family. Her father is devout, and was also abusive. As a child she was awoken early in the morning, beaten, and ordered to pray. “How would you find love for God in that way?” she asks, sweeping tears from her face, trying to preserve her black eyeliner and mascara. It took Ms. Jafer many years to create her own relationship with God, separate from what she knew as a child. Here, again, the director lets the camera roll, and the uninterrupted scenes of Ms. Jafer struggling to regain composure don’t seem out of place with the “along for the ride” quality of the film.

Maya Jafer at Holi

Early on, the film establishes the stakes are high. “If it were not for God and spirituality, I would not be alive today,” Ms. Jafer says, pressing the palm of her hand to her forehead, her yellow headscarf slipping slightly. There was a time when she realized her choice was transitioning or suicide.

God plays a huge part in her decision to live — and to transition. Ms. Jafer pushes aside the temptation to curse God for giving her the wrong physical body. As the taxi pushes forward, she works through her distress, the camera tight on her face, knotted with tension.

The film is intentionally short. Mr. Roy trimmed the fat so moments like those in the taxi stand out, but it’s hard not to wish to see more of Ms. Jafer getting from point A to point B in Bangkok. In a later scene, she sits with a group of Thai men, sipping her first ever glass of wine and eating a bowl of long, steamy noodles. How did she get there and who are these men? They barely seem to know each other.

Back at the hotel, the film shows Ms. Jafer dancing in the dark, losing herself to trance music. She drapes herself across the couch, rises, and spins around her long, black wavy hair. Mr. Roy illustrates her moment of release — a respite from her direct confessional approach to the camera.

After the wine and the dancing, the film moves back to reality. Ms. Jafer, brow furrowed, consults graphic anatomical photos as a Thai doctor describes how the surgery works. The filmmaker’s choice not to interview doctors or nurses helps capture Ms. Jafer’s disorientation, as does his quick and choppy editing style.

Mr. Roy stays in raw mode in the next montage. Ms. Jafer has her photo taken and is shown nude from the waist up, her new breasts exposed. Her red toenail polish is removed, her genitals are shaved, and her playfulness is gone. She’s wearing a blue hospital shower cap and murmuring prayers, prone on a gurney and quietly weeping.

The film closes as it began, with movement — and with the audience thrown into the middle of things. It feels like a suspense movie. Kudos to Jeff Roy for transforming what could have been a very talky documentary into a film full of action. In the final shots, the camera angle is low, the world seen through Ms. Jafer’s eyes — the neon lights glaring down, the anonymous Thai nurses moving efficiently — and then the doors of the operating room swing shut.

Rites of Passage promo image"Rites of Passage" screens at the Palm Beach International Film Festival on April 15 and at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival on April 21 and 26. The full version, “Mohammed to Maya,” will connect with Jafer after the operation and will premiere in Mumbai at the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival from May 23–27. A special preview screening of “Mohammed to Maya” will be held on May 1st at Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles, with a question and answer session with Jeff Roy and Maya Jafer.


Emily FrostEmily Frost is a radio reporter and online journalist. She is an Annenberg Fellow at USC’s Annenberg Graduate School for Journalism and an executive producer and host at Annenberg Radio News.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through ourFirst Person Outreach page.

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Apatheists, Spirituality, and Health

by Eric Nelson, guest contributor

Graphic: Percentage of Fewer Reported Mental Health Issues for Those Who Strongly Believe That:Source: Baylor University Department of Sociology

Although we’ve known each other for over 30 years, I can count on half-a-hand the number of times my best friend and I have discussed religion. Ask me to describe his interest in spiritual matters on a scale of 1 to 10 and I’d have to say I don’t really know.

Maybe the best word to describe him is “apatheist,” a term coined by blogger Hemant Mehta, better known as “The Friendly Atheist.”

Apatheists or “So Whats,” to borrow a phrase from USA Today religion writer, Cathy Lynn Grossman, aren’t necessarily people who don’t believe in God. They’re just not particularly interested in exploring the subject further.

Many reasons are given as to why, but the bottom line is that a lot folks are simply giving up on the search for ultimate meaning. Forty-four percent of those who participated in a recent Baylor University Religion Survey said they spend no time seeking “eternal wisdom.” Nineteen percent said, “It’s useless to search for meaning.”

That’s too bad, especially since there’s so much evidence to the contrary from people who have found that meaning and purpose and spiritual inspiration actually animates and empowers their life. But acknowledging this spiritual dimension does even more. It has a positive effect on health.

Just ask medical researcher, Gail Ironson.

Dr. Ironson conducted a study to determine the relationship between spiritual consciousness and the progression of AIDS. She looked at two key factors: viral load, which lets you know how much of the virus is in your body, and immune cells, which work to fend off the AIDS virus. Over a four-year period she noticed that those who were actively cultivating a spiritual outlook had a much lower viral load and maintained immune cells at a noticeably higher rate than those who consciously disavowed such activity.

As promising as this sounds, it may not be enough to get the spiritually apathetic to change course. For some, perhaps even most, it’s going to take a fundamentally different perspective on the underlying concepts of God and religion — a sort of cost-benefit analysis, if you will.

What might inspire such a shift in perspective depends, of course, on the individual involved. Regardless, it’s likely that more could be done on the part of those already engaged in spiritual pursuits in terms of sharing with others the benefits of their quest.

Not the least of which is better health.


Eric NelsonEric Nelson is the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. He also works as a Christian Science practitioner, helping those interested in relying solely on the power of prayer for healing.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Do Nothing for Lent and Be Grateful

by Amy Ruth Schacht, guest contributor

Contemplating"Contemplation" (photo: Kasia/Flickr cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

Ash Wednesday is today, inaugurating this year’s season of Lent. Cultural customs dictate “giving something up” for Lent. Without any meaningful or theological reflection, it becomes “giving up for the sake of giving up,” as though the mere act is enough. Is there more to it than just giving us something to talk about and a way to feel good about ourselves?

Perhaps a more faithful practice is to connect an act, or the abstinence from an act, with our longing for God. Give up Facebook, and all that may happen is that other chores fill in that time the way the ocean fills our sandcastle moats; the castle eventually falls, and there’s no trace of our intention left. Give up chocolate, and all that may happen is that we fill our mouths with Skittles or our minds with obsessing about chocolate. Neither connects us with the grace of God, present every moment.

If our intention is to remember our efforts and our strivings cannot save us, it would be better for us to do nothing, and do it often, these six weeks. Stare out the window at creation. Hold a warm cup of tea and sit. Waste an hour doing absolutely nothing. God fills the emptiness that comes. In a culture that measures our worth by the length of our daily accomplishments or the volume of our inbox or how scheduled our days, how countercultural would it be?

To commit to doing nothing. It takes practice to build up the tolerance for non-productivity. Who are we if we are not working? What are we here for if we do nothing? Where is God, and what does the Divine expect for us and from us? What about this invitation for Lent: for a set number of minutes every day, do nothing. It’s more of a sacrifice than we realize, for we are sacrificing what defines us and what gives us life. Perhaps then we will discover the power of grace that comes in every breath.


Amy Ruth SchachtAmy Ruth Schacht is a pastor at Laurel Presbyterian Church in Maryland.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through ourFirst Person Outreach page.

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Happiness Is the Last Recourse

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Krista Tippett Receives a Ceremonial Scarf from the Dalai LamaThe Dalai Lama presents Krista Tippett with a khata after their conversation at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. (photo: Cindy Brown)

We receive quite a few responses from people who are spurred to create or make something, to act or make a decision after listening to one of our shows. Renee Yates, a woman with multiple degrees in advertising, marketing, and theology living in Evanston, Illinois, wrote this poem “after listening to Ms. Tippett’s interview with the Dalai Lama”:

When pleasure no longer buries the pain
And worry does not pay the bills,
When depression ceases to shield the rage
And anger does not repair the rift,
When hope no longer blunts the fear
And sadness does not bring the dead back to life,
When all feelings have finally quenched
And frustration has yielded to peace,
Happiness is the last recourse.

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The Wrappings of Love in Enveloping Arms: An Advent Reflection

by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor

The Nicest Place on the Internet (screen grab)

There’s an internet site called The Nicest Place on the Internet that I came across the other day. I’m not sure how I saw it — a link from a tweet, or something somebody wrote.

When you open the site, an acoustic version of “I Have Never Loved Someone” by My Brightest Diamond begins playing. While it’s playing, short videos of people hugging a camera are played. There seems to be an unending slew of people who have sent in these YouTube videos of themselves approaching the camera. That’s all it is: the song on repeat and these videos of people hugging the camera that’s filming them.

My first time meeting Protestants from the north was at a church camp in August 1987. I was eleven years old. I spent my camp asking the poor Protestants if they were Irish or English, with a curiosity I usually reserved for asking whether certain characters in Wonder Woman were goodies or baddies. At the end of the church camp, one of the Protestant women, a woman with blonde hair called Annette, said “Give me a hug.”

I didn’t know what she meant. I didn’t know what hugs were to give her one. I didn’t know that I had one to give.

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