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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.

An Easter Sunday. A Sacred Echo. Solidarity in a Small Hell of Our Own

by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor

Boys in silenceA sign hangs on the wall of a Taizé community in Burgundy, France. (photo: forteller/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

It is Easter week. This week, we remember the events from Thursday’s meal to Friday’s torture to Saturday’s silence and Sunday’s mystery.

Years ago, 13 years ago in fact, I fell apart. I was 22 and I had already been sick for a year. It had started with a bad flu that had never gone away. After 12 months, I was bewildered and dizzy and achy, confused with a fatigue and an illness that would take a further five years to diagnose and a total of nine years to recover from.

Up until that point, I hadn’t spent much time contemplating chronic illness. However, after a year of being ill, hearing doctors’ opinions, berating myself with my own opinions, I was firmly contemplating chronic illness. When you are chronically ill, there are some things to learn — you must learn to relate to your sickness, and you must learn to relate to your feelings about being sick. In the face of these two lessons, I was gutted with a raw fear in the face of the unknown.

For Lent that year, I read a chapter of Job every day. It was less a religious exercise and more an exercise of survival. I needed some kind of echo of the bewilderment, loneliness, and confusion. Job became a friend. I heard his grief, and I heard his sadness.

Cristo è risortoTaizé community celebrate the ascension of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. (photo: Damien Mathieu/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

And, for the last two weeks of Easter in 1998, I went to a monastery in eastern France for two weeks of silence. Looking back on it, it might seem unwise — responding to a hollowness inside me by going to a place of silence. I don’t know what prompted me to go, but I went. I was welcomed by a gentle monk who showed me to my small room and told me that it might not be a good idea to read all the time.

Il faut écouter, avec les oreilles de tendresse, à ton propre silence,” he said. “You must listen, with ears of tenderness, to your own silence.”

Ha! I was petrified of that silence. I read The Lord of the Rings in five days flat.

It took 11 days before I began to relax. By that time, it was Holy Thursday, and the time when the Last Supper is remembered. That morning, the brother spoke to the pilgrims gathered for a few minutes after breakfast to set a tone of inspiration for the day. He noted how Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke, “I have earnestly desired this meal.”

He didn’t paint a picture of a Nazarene who ran to the arms of Roman torture willingly, but he depicted a character who believed enough in a way of life to take that way of life to the death. The monk spoke about how Jesus lived the last days of his life in a way that was faithful to the life he’d always lived — calling enemies and dispossessed ones “friends,” having concern for his mother, accepting help from a Cyrenian stranger, looking for moments of life while life itself was draining away.

I don’t know what happened, but somehow, I began to breathe. I remember I was sitting in a chapel, listening to a German nun tune an eclectic zoo of musicians into some kind of harmony. Nothing cataclysmic occurred — it was just that I began to fear my own darkness a little less. I began to feel where I had only known numb and lonely survival. I began to feel that if I am here, then perhaps I am here with a companion. There were few words of prayer; there was a deep sense of accompaniment. I began to recognise that I didn’t need the words to describe the chronic illness that was indescribable.

That Easter Sunday I cried. Not because of some miraculous resurrection. I had eight long years to wait before my health began to improve. I cried because, in the words of an old monk, I heard an echo of an understanding that went beyond words, and, in that echo there was companionship.

Taize, BurgundyTree at Taizé community in France. (photo: etch indelibly in the mind/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

Years later, when studying theology, I came across Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Von Balthasar is noted for many things, one of which is his poetic retelling of Christ’s descent into hell. He said, “Jesus descended into hell. He is dead with us, and disturbs our loneliness. … God, in the weakness of love enters into solidarity with us who find ourselves damning ourselves, in the form of the crucified brother abandoned by God…and in such a way that is clear to the sinner that God-the-Forsaken is so for my sake.”

Each year on Easter Sunday I find myself moved. Not because there is a happy ever after ending to all of our stories. It is quite clear that there is not. I am moved because of a sacred echo of a hope that there is solidarity for those who feel like we inhabit a small hell of our own experience. The hope of Easter doesn’t damn this hell with a bleaching light. Rather this hope enters and squats with us. The celebrations of Holy Week for me are not about cataclysmic resurrections, but about being moved to follow in the life of the Nazarene, bravely entering into loneliness with a small spring of consoling company.


Padraig O TuamaPádraig Ó Tuama, a native of Cork, works in Belfast, Northern Ireland as a faith & peace worker of the Irish Peace Centres. His poetry and writing can be found at Hold Your Self Together.

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

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When Doctrine Isn’t Enough: A Former Nun Awakens to the Responsibility of Her Own Spirituality

by Jan Phillips, guest contributor

The Feast Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Young girls dressed in white symbolizing purity shower flowers and rose petals before the passing of the Holy Host carried in solemnity by the parish priest. (photo: Peter Grima/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

At an early age, I learned that God was a being who dwelled in a place far from where I ever stood. I learned to commune with the transcendent God of the above, not the immanent divine within. But over the years, as I let go of childish thinking and took responsibility for my spiritual life, my perception of God changed dramatically. I am guided now not so much by teachings that were handed down to me, but by ideas that have risen up from within — a shift that began 30 years ago when I was a young postulant nun in a religious order taking my first theology class.

The Jesuit priest stood in front of the room and asked us what we believed about God. One postulant raised her hand, stood up, and said, “God made me to show His goodness and to share His everlasting life with me in heaven.” I nodded my head in agreement, having memorized this years ago just like everyone else in the room.

The priest looked dismayed. “That’s it?” he asked.

“Yes, Father.”

“Sit down,” he barked, looking around for the next hand.

Up it went, and the next brave soul stood up saying, “In God there are three divine persons, really distinct, and equal in all things — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

I nodded again, and the priest frowned. “Is that the best you can do?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Next,” he yelled, as she took her seat, looking around in wonder.

By now, we’re all confused, but one more raised her hand.

“God can do all things, and nothing is hard or impossible to Him.”

“Sit down,” he said.

He rolled his eyes, crossed his arms, and surveyed the whole group of us with a kind of silent disdain. By now, I’m feeling anxious and blood is rushing up my neck. I feel hot and sweaty. My first anxiety attack.

“How could he do this?” It seemed so mean. He asked for our ideas about God and yet, when we said them, it felt like he took a sledge hammer and smashed our beliefs into a thousand pieces. A tear rolled down my cheek.

It was a moment of devastating loss, incomprehensible sadness. I felt as if everything I believed in, everything on which I had based my life, was now being challenged. We sat there, 30 of us, for what seemed an eternity, reckoning with the obliteration of God as we had known Him. What if everything we believed wasn’t true? Did Father Grabys know something we didn’t know?

Finally the priest spoke. “You should be ashamed for having nothing more than catechism answers to this question. Are you just a bunch of parrots, repeating everything you’ve been taught? Hasn’t anyone here gone beyond the Baltimore Catechism in your thinking?”

The air was thick with silence. Hands were folded, eyes cast down. Tears cascaded down my face. I prayed he wouldn’t call on me.

“You must come to know what is true about God from your own experience,” said the priest. “If you are to be a nun worth your salt, you have to arrive at a faith that is deeper than your learning, one that is rooted in your ultimate concerns and rises up from the nature of who you are.”

I looked up at him, wondering how in the world to build a faith from my human nature. Wasn’t faith something I was born into — something I inherited from the outside?

I was a Catholic by default. They told me everything I was supposed to believe. That was the point, wasn’t it? I was just lucky to be born into the one true faith. I certainly didn’t have anything to say about it. That’s what infallible popes were for.

I raised my hand and asked him how someone could create a faith from the inside out, and why we even needed to since we knew what we needed to know from the catechism.

“What you believe, that is religion,” he said. “Who you are, what you live for — that is faith. And that is what we are here to explore, to create, and to declare — our faith and spirituality. You can let go of your beliefs for awhile as you learn how to create a faith that will see you through everything.”

I didn’t want to let go of any beliefs. They were all I had. And they were enough. I didn’t need anything more, or so I thought. As we continued on in the class, the biblical paradox that says we must lose our lives in order to find them suddenly began to make sense. Taking responsibility for our own spirituality was a painstaking process that lasted the entire semester as we worked to find and define our own commitments and ultimate concerns — a task that was supremely challenging for young women who had been taught all their lives what to think, but not how to think.

We never looked at another catechism, never recited another memorized belief, but step by step we built a new spirituality for ourselves that was deeply personal and rooted in our ultimate concerns. And every day during meditation there was something new and profoundly elegant to contemplate: myself as the creator of my own spiritual path.


Jan PhillipsJan Phillips is a public speaker and author of several books, including the The Art of Original Thinking. She currently lives in San Diego, California.

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

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I wish there was a website where non-profits could ask for what they need and people could work for them from home.
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@ths1104, from The Internet Wishlist

An image of wooden prayer tablets in Japan made me think of this virtual suggestion box, of sorts, where people can petition their “prayers” for the future of technology. The quotation above was one of those submissions, which I liked because it suggests using technology to serve and connect.

The Internet Wishlist creates a space for people to share the holes and needs in their complex lives where apps and websites could do them some good. Start-ups and developers, pay attention to these missives! The pedestrian longings of today could lead to the technological advances of the future.

If you’ve got an idea to contribute, simply post your idea on Twitter and include the hash tag #theiwl.

by Susan Leem, associate producer

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My Wish for Japan: A Softness Touching the Earth

by Sharon Kingston, guest contributor

A Softness Touching the Earth

Japan has been on all our minds and in all our hearts. There doesn’t seem to be enough capacity in the human soul to witness nature unleash its force on man in this way. Helplessness still sits with us even after the contributing of funds to relief efforts.

The magnitude of the disaster and continuing saga has made us all feel vulnerable to the uncertainty of life. We can’t fathom how recovery can possibly follow such devastation.

Then there’s me here in my studio just painting clouds and wondering how what I do could possibly matter. And then today I happened upon this Rilke poem after I finished the painting shown above. And the words could not be more profound and with them my painting feels right again.

Threshold of Spring
Harshness gone. All at once caring spread over
the naked gray of the meadows.
Tiny rivulets sing in different voices.
A softness, as if from everywhere,

is touching the earth.
Paths appear across the land and beckon.
Surprised once again you sense
its coming in the empty tree.

—from “A Year With Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke” (translated and edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows)


Sharon KingstonSharon Kingston is an oil painter of invented and imagined spaces infused with metaphor and poetry. Her most recent paintings, the Reading Rilke series, have been inspired by the writings and poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. She lives in Bellingham, Washington.

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

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Fasting on Facebook with My Beloved Baha’i Community

by Candace Hill, guest contributor

Baha'i Faith Facebook Page
Screen capture of the Baha’i Faith Facebook page.

Day two of fasting this year, and the egg salad on the sesame bagel was especially delicious this morning. This is the dichotomy of the Nineteen Day Fast — that while we don’t eat or drink from sunrise to sunset, the early morning meals feel more special and dinners more festive.

The Baha’i Faith has its own calendar of 19 months made up of 19 days. As in Islam, one of these months is set aside for fasting, just during the daylight hours. And much like the Islamic month of Ramadan, when it comes time for the sun to set, the evening meal feels like a party, a celebration, a time for truly giving thanks for our nourishment, be it a feast or bread and water.

This is all fine and well if you live in a community, neighborhood, or family where everyone is fasting. Although certainly not the children, the elderly, the sick, the traveler, or the pregnant or nursing mother, fasting is for the healthy, mature adults in the community, if you have a community.

In America, the Baha’i Faith is small in numbers. It is more likely that a college student will be the only one in her dorm who is fasting. The editor at his desk will kindly refuse offers of lunch outings. A coffee break with friends seems strange if you are the only one who is not drinking coffee.

But then there’s Facebook. If you are a Baha’i on Facebook, then you have the bounty of an in-gathering of friends from around the world. Baha’is tend to love conferences, summer schools, study circles, and potlucks. It’s not difficult to amass a list of Facebook friends of all ages and ethnicities, living in an exciting number of time zones.

On Facebook you can worship together, with friends posting excerpts from beloved prayers and meditations. On Facebook you can learn together, with friends posting photographs from Baha’i history. On Facebook you can laugh together, with inside jokes and stories that don’t have to be explained. On Facebook you can sing along, to songs from breaking artists like Andy Grammar to beloved standards by Seals and Crofts. On Facebook you can cook together, sharing recipes and shopping tips. On Facebook you can fast together, encouraging each other to make it through the 3 p.m. nap at the desk, and by cheerfully counting down the days.

Facebook allows the beloved community to chat with each other while working, on a mobile phone riding the bus to work, when the baby is napping, and even late at night when we should have all been in bed hours ago.

Fasting is a religious experience where we practice patience and restraint. It is also a community experience where we support and encourage each other. As enlightenment dawns through prayer and meditation, we reflect that light upon each other. It is lovely to be able to do that face to face. But, I also enjoy that same process on Facebook. The reaching out and sharing feels the same across the miles, now that we have the immediacy of the Internet.

Now, what to make for dinner tonight? My Facebook friends will have some ideas.


Candace Moore HillCandace Moore Hill lives in Evanston, Illinois and has recently published a photographic history of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette. She is currently a volunteer community ambassador with One Chicago One Nation, affiliated with Interfaith Youth Core and blogs at Baha’i History in Postcards.

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

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