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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.

T’shuva: Recognizing Holiness

by Laura Hegfield, guest contributor

Found Heart-White Mts, NH, USA

I was watching the gathering clouds and their shifting shadows on those familiar mountains for quite a while. I saw you, but it wasn’t until I turned and took a step that I could truly see you.

With an intake of breath, my heart expanded in awe, recognizing yours, so perfectly formed.

How many others had passed by without noticing? What if I had not turned that afternoon, had not taken a step?

Gratitude awakened, witnessing this mirrored image of sacredness balanced on the mountainside.

                                                  You.   Me.   God.

Standing as One in this single moment of grace.

I love this tree. I love remembering the feeling of awe that filled me when I looked through the viewfinder of my camera and realized that the branches and leaves grew into a perfect heart shape. But I didn’t see it right away; it took a while until I was standing in just the right position to be aware of what was in front of me the whole time.

The form was there, the core essence of holiness was present all along, but I had to orient myself properly in order to recognize it. I think the same can be said for the holy essence that resides within each of us.

During the month of Elul, leading up to the Yomim Noraim, the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is a Jewish spiritual practice to make t’shuva — to turn, return to our goodness, our godliness, to God.

We turn inward. We look in our hearts and examine closely the mountains of mistakes we have made. We turn towards those we have hurt and ask for forgiveness. We promise to do better — at the very least to try to be kinder and more thoughtful in the year to come. We do what we can to repair what we have broken. We make a conscious shift from where our hearts were positioned when we were intentionally hurtful or simply not paying attention to our words and actions. We return to God awareness, remembering that it is when we forget our own divinity and that of others that we inflict harm.

We choose to change, to grow. Like the micro-movements of alignment a yogini must make to settle into vrkasana (tree pose) with strength, firmly rooted, balanced, open, present, we readjust our inner stance until we can see beyond the misdeeds, harsh words, insincerity, apathy, judgment and wounds to discover our own holy hearts, beautifully formed, strong, rooted, balanced, open and fully present; silhouetted before the jagged background of those mountains. The dark clouds move aside, our holiness shines brilliantly. It was always there. Here. We forgive ourselves; perhaps the hardest step of all. We have returned.


Laura HegfieldLaura Hegfield is a daughter, sister, wife, mother and lover of life with an artist’s soul. Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis three years ago, she is no longer able to work outside her home. She stays engaged with the world through photography and shares her journey on her blog.

We welcome your 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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Dancing the Stories of the Orishas

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Callejon de Hamel

In Cuban Santeria (also known as La Regla Ocha and La Regla Lucumi), orishas are revered deities who rule over different earthly elements. They are called through dance and drum rituals to interact with humans.

Oshun, for example, is an orisha associated with fresh water. She represents female sensuality and beauty. Oshun’s movement is fluid and coquettish, which is what you’d expect from a goddess of beauty. Her signature color is yellow and she typically carries a fan with her, which she sometimes wields as a weapon. When Oshun laughs, she’s preparing to punish someone. It’s only when she cries that she’s truly happy.

This summer, I realized a decades-old dream of traveling to Cuba to study Afro-Cuban folkloric dance, specifically the dances of the orishas. Before the trip, I understood the dances as reflections of the orisha’s personality. But Alfredo O’Farril Pacheco (pictured below, in red shirt), a master dance instructor based in Havana, says that the orisha dances also tell a story. When you know the story, it changes how you embody the dance.

In the case of Oshun, one dance movement pantomimes the orisha splashing water on her body. You can see this in the video at about 53 seconds. Oshun is bathing in a river, preparing to seduce the warrior Ogun.

At the time, Ogun was ”ranking off a lot of people’s heads,” as O’Farril Pacheco explains in Spanish. The other orishas knew they couldn’t stop Ogun by force, so Oshun was recruited to seduce him out of the forest and stop him from killing. Before she could begin her temptation, Oshun first needed to clean herself after menstruating; so she washes herself in the river, splashing water over her back during the process.

I learned this Oshun movement years ago, but never knew the story. Before I would scoop my arms forward, towards my heart. O’Farril Pacheco offered the image of the river and the story of the seduction and I started lifting my hands higher, above my heart, and “tossing the water” over my back.

Dance teachers Alfredo O'Farril Pacheco and Barbara GutierrezHe also taught us to think about the environment the orishas inhabit when we’re dancing. Some of the orishas live in the forest. When you walk in the forest you have to pay attention and pick up your feet. There’s also a difference between owning the forest and living in it. When you live in a place but don’t own it, you tread with alertness and caution. These narrative elements aren’t extraneous. They convey rich layers of meaning through movement.

Another dancer I met on my trip, who is initiated into Santeria, told me that an enduring theme of Oshun’s narrative is that people constantly underestimate her. In a parallel way, I underestimated the narrative richness of the orisha dances. I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface and have so much more to learn. Oh what a gift to learn these stories, and dance these stories anew. 

About the lead image: Callejon de Hamel. (photo: Amy Goodman/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

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Finding Refuge in the Month of Elul

by Carly Lesser (Ketzirah), guest contributor

Joy(photo: Love Fusion Photography by Kelsey/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

It’s Jewish tradition to read Psalm 27 daily during the month of Elul, which falls during August and September. In this month of Elul, we have no holidays. It’s the month where we are supposed to turn inward and prepare for the High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. It always seems like this month should be one of quiet reflection, but it never is for me.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation…”

I started to adopt this practice a few years ago, and found that the words of the Psalm were exactly what I seemed to need to get through the month, which seems to have become a time of trial in my life each year. This year, like so many recent ones, seems to be following this pattern.

“Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;”

I’m conscious of not only my own personal trials and tribulations this year, but also our societal ones. So far this month, there have been hurricanes and floods on the East Coast and terrible droughts and fires in the South and West. We’ve also had bad economic news and the beginning of the remembrances of the tenth anniversary of the attacks on September 11th.

“Hear, O LORD, when I call with my voice, and be gracious unto me, and answer me.”

When I read the words of Psalm 27, it resonates deeply within my body. It doesn’t matter which translation I read. The words feel like mine. They feel like my cry for help to deal with a world that seems to be spinning out of control, whether personally or globally.

“Teach me Thy way, O LORD; and lead me in an even path,”

Each day as I read the Psalm, I’m aware that I am one day closer to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — the days of remembrance and judgement. I think of the imagery we use: the gates of heaven open on Rosh Hashanah and close on Yom Kippur. I think this is sad to think that the gates of divine blessing can only be open to us during this short nine-day period of time.

“If I had not believed to look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!”

Then I think, ‘Maybe this is why Elul is always so hard. Maybe the infusion of divine energy that is opened to the world so fully at Rosh Hashanah is fading out? Maybe thousands of years of this pattern has ingrained itself so fully on the world that we all feel it? Maybe what we need to do is be extra kind to each other and the world during this time, not for “repentance,” but rather because we need to support each other?’

“Wait on the LORD; be strong, and let thy heart take courage; yea, wait thou for the LORD.”

I believe in the cycles of time. I believe in mythic calendars that move our souls. I look to the “land of the living” to see the beauty, wonder, and mystery of G-d/dess, but it is hard to see in the fading light of the year. I will be strong. I will use these ancient words to remind me of my priorities and to sooth my fears. I will take refuge in Psalm 27 during this time of twilight because I know the sun will rise again and we all will be renewed and refreshed.

*Note, the translation of Psalm 27 is from the JPS 1917 edition of the Tanach.


Carly LesserCarly Lesser (a.k.a. Ketzirah – קצירה) is Kohenet, celebrant, and artist whose passion is helping Jews who are unaffiliated, earth-based, or in interfaith/interdenominational relationships connect more deeply with Judaism and make it relevant in their everyday lives. She is an active blogger and prayer leader on PeelaPom.com and PunkTorah.org.

We welcome your 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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The Moon Cake That Will Never Be Eaten

by Melody Ng, Public Insight Journalism analyst

Grandma May Ng with her grandson PenuelGrandma May Ng holds her great-grandson Penuel. (photo: Melody Ng)

I don’t know that I have ever paid much attention to the

legend behind the Moon Festival, but I sure love moon cakes. I haven’t bought them in years, because my grandmother always sends me a box of my favorite — lotus seed paste (a thousand times yummier than the usual red bean!) with one egg yolk per cake — from a good bakery in Los Angeles.

Last September, she gave me my box in person because I was in LA for my cousin’s wedding and spent a few days with her. I brought the moon cakes back to Minnesota, ate one right away, and gobbled up the second during the Moon Festival. The other two are still in my refrigerator. I haven’t been able to eat them.

My grandmother died last October, at the age of 96, just a couple weeks after the Moon Festival. Those two moon cakes are the last I’ll ever have from her — from her thoughtfulness and generosity. Seeing them each time I open the egg compartment where I stashed them makes me happy.

My husband says it’d be terrible to my grandmother to let them go bad. It’s true. She reused paper towels and never wasted food (and moon cakes are quite the luxury at $33 for a box of four). But I’m not sure moon cakes can go bad. In the past, I’ve kept them to savor over many months, and the ones my grandmother gave me a year ago still look just fine. That’s not a quality I’d want in most of the food I consume, but, with moon cakes — especially my two remaining moon cakes — I guess shelf-life longevity is just fine.

I’ll break out one to share with my two- and four-year-old tonight. They can recall memories of their Bak-Po, I’ll tell them some new stories, and we’ll talk about how she loved us so much that she’s providing us moon cakes, even when she’s no longer here with us.

And just in case the kids want more moon cakes, I’ll stop by the store on my way home today to get a new box before they’re gone for the year. Because my last moon cake’s staying in the fridge.


Melody NgMelody Ng lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is an analyst for APM’s Public Insight Network.

We welcome your 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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Autumn Harvest Festival Pays Homage to the Moon

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Traditional Moon CakeThe egg yolk inside the moon cake evokes the full harvest moon. (photo: Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images)

For many Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese, the moon festival or mid-autumn harvest festival falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. That is, today, September 12th, 2011.

Legend says the wife of a great archer flew to the moon after drinking a powerful elixir that was meant for him as a reward for shooting down extra suns that were scorching the earth. It’s a time to join with family to share a traditional moon cake, a bean paste-filled sister to the American fruit cake meant for giving rather than actually eating. Families also gather to watch the scheduled full moon. The Hong Kong Observatory has even made a chart of recommended viewing times.

Harvest MoonA harvest moon. (photo: beaumontpete/ Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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A Couple Observes a Moment of Silence on 9/11/11
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
A couple observes a moment of silence this morning during ceremonies at the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan.
(photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A Couple Observes a Moment of Silence on 9/11/11

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

A couple observes a moment of silence this morning during ceremonies at the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan.

(photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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Let Us Draw Fear and Solace from Certainty and Permit History to Surprise Us

by Krista Tippett, host

St. Paul's Chapel EventPhotos by Leah Reddy/Trinity Wall Street

I’ll confess here (as I didn’t do in the public event that became this week’s show) that I’m already feeling overwhelmed by the 9/11 remembrance. Part of me hesitates to add to what will be a media deluge by Sunday. On the other hand, so much of that coverage is about reliving and revisiting; I’m longing to make some new kind of sense, to bring some new reflection to our common grappling.

We framed this public conversation at St. Paul’s Chapel on the edge of Ground Zero with a phrase I’ve used once or twice across the years: “remembering forward.” This is a play on my favorite line from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass: “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”

Hendrik HertzbergAnd on Tuesday night, September 6th, remembering forward did take us to different places than I recall in my own September 11 deliberations up to now. We began by dwelling with the sense of vulnerability that was at the heart of that terrible day ten years ago — a catastrophic reminder of mortality and frailty even in our strongest fortresses. New Yorkers and Americans experienced a magnitude of “grief and dread” — Hendrik Hertzberg’s evocative words — that were disorientingly new.

I expected to be surprised, being in conversation with such an eclectic gathering of insightful thinkers — The New Yorker's Hertzberg, writer and thinker Pankaj Mishra, and theologian Serene Jones — but I didn't expect the word “hope” to resonate so loudly. It emerged as an intriguing, bittersweet theme.

Serene JonesFor in pondering the strange and universal experience of vulnerability, we dwelt less on what was done to us and more about the work of living with the reality of that. We focused on the enduring, inward work of trauma that accompanied and followed that day ten years ago. As Serene Jones reminded us, when grief becomes mourning it encompasses a vision of wholeness.

On Tuesday night, we mourned not only for the tragedy but for the gift of those immediate post-9/11 days: the unprecedented solidarity that they called forth among strangers and fellow New Yorkers, between New York and the rest of America, between America and the rest of the world. And in this chapel, which is the symbol and practical heart of that ennobling moment of solidarity, we named questions, which themselves have power to create new realities in this coming decade. Did we really take in the extraordinary compassion the rest of the world extended to us in our moment of crisis? Is it too late to learn to extend that to each other and the world anew in more generous, more intentional ways?

My hope right now is rooted in a quiet, growing sense that, slowly, after many twists and turns, we might be settling into a more helpful realization of the limits of our understanding — and that this can open us to a new range of new possibilities and actions. We are more aware of our global interconnectedness this decade on. We are better equipped to understand that our dramatic moment of fear and grieving, of weakness in our strongest fortresses, is an experience many people across the world live with much of the time. We’ve realized that the Arab world we suddenly saw as full of enemies was also full of human beings who want the same dignity and democracy as us. The economic roller coaster of recent years has also reminded us of the perplexing reality that the only constant in life is change.

All these features of the decade since 9/11 have driven home its lesson of vulnerability. But they also drive home the lesson that there is both fear and solace to be drawn from the certainty that life and history will surprise us. Within that certainty, as Pankaj Mishra said so helpfully on Tuesday night, hope remains renewable. This was palpable at St. Paul’s Chapel that evening, making no sense at all and all the sense in the world.

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Eid Mubarak, But When?
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Celebratory preparations are underway for Eid ul-Fitr, a multi-day festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Eid ul-Fitr (also known as Eid al-Fitr) officially begins with the sighting of the new crescent moon. There’s been controversy and confusion leading up to this year’s Eid festivities about when the holiday starts. Some countries like India and Pakistan won’t see a new moon until Wednesday, August 31st while stargazers in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East will be able to see the sliver of a crescent moon on Tuesday, August 30th. The Saudi Supreme Court made a late-breaking decision that Eid will begin on Tuesday. According to The Washington Post, it’s customary for many countries to follow Saudi Arabia’s example as it’s home to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. 
Are you celebrating Eid ul-Fitr this year? What do you have planned for your Eid celebration?
About the image: a Thai Muslim man uses binoculars to spot the moon on the eve of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan in Thailand’s southern province of Yala on August 29, 2011. (photo: Muhammad Sabri/AFP/Getty Images)

Eid Mubarak, But When?

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Celebratory preparations are underway for Eid ul-Fitr, a multi-day festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Eid ul-Fitr (also known as Eid al-Fitr) officially begins with the sighting of the new crescent moon. There’s been controversy and confusion leading up to this year’s Eid festivities about when the holiday starts. Some countries like India and Pakistan won’t see a new moon until Wednesday, August 31st while stargazers in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East will be able to see the sliver of a crescent moon on Tuesday, August 30th. The Saudi Supreme Court made a late-breaking decision that Eid will begin on Tuesday. According to The Washington Post, it’s customary for many countries to follow Saudi Arabia’s example as it’s home to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. 

Are you celebrating Eid ul-Fitr this year? What do you have planned for your Eid celebration?

About the image: a Thai Muslim man uses binoculars to spot the moon on the eve of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan in Thailand’s southern province of Yala on August 29, 2011. (photo: Muhammad Sabri/AFP/Getty Images)

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A Summer’s Koan

by Catherine J. Denial, guest contributor

Lake Nokomis

This summer, I headed to Minneapolis on a research trip, glad to be headed north after two years’ absence. I rented a tiny house on the city’s south side, and hauled books and papers and photocopies with me — the tools of my trade in glorious abundance.

And then the state government shut down. Thousands of Minnesotans were thrown out of their jobs, and services of every imaginable kind ground to a halt. I was not someone whose income suffered from the shutdown, only someone who could not access the state’s historic sites, museums, or archives. My ability to do my job was, in a tangled way, connected to my ability to do those things, but I did not face hardship, only a struggle to let go of plans and goals that I had convinced myself I must achieve.

Thanks to the books and papers I’d brought with me, I could keep plugging away at my project at the dining room table in my borrowed home. Yet without a schedule, and without the daily trips back and forth to St. Paul that I’d planned, I was forced to slow down, to rethink my purpose. I was forced to consider new definitions of accomplishment, new ways of being in a different place, and to experience a different kind of time.

As I grumpily relaxed my hold, my plans for what might have been, new things flooded into those spaces. I began to read books that had nothing to do with my work and everything to do with living a full and balanced life. I devoured Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara, a chronicle of the California wildfires of 2008 and the efforts of the Tassajara community to both save their monastery and do so with Buddhist compassion and attention.

I discovered The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd, in which author Mary Rose O’Rielley recounted her sabbatical away from her position as an English professor, learning – from sheep — the art of staying present and paying attention to the smallest things (lest a sheep hoofed you in the head). I began to pay attention in my own life — to slow my pace as I walked the paths around Lake Nokomis; saw the ducks on parade, the red-winged blackbirds at play, the butterflies feasting on coneflowers, and the eagle that sent the local crows into cacophonous disarray.

Lake Nokomis

That I was learning a new way of being in the world crystallized for me in the strangest place — the tiny bathroom of my temporary home. There I began each day in a diminutive shower stall, and gradually I realized that I’d been presented with a koan: How did a person shave their legs in such an economical space? I tried, for three weeks, every conceivable solution to this female, summer problem, wrestled with what seemed, within the contours of my life, as unanswerable a question as the sound of one hand clapping. And then, on my penultimate day in the city, on terms set by forces beyond my control, I realized my solution: turn off the water; work without the thing that habit has told you is necessary to your life.

It perhaps sounds strange to suggest that the practice of paying attention and opening my heart, mind, and being to change came together in a shower in Minneapolis, but it did. I sent out a thank you to the glad spirit of the universe, and to Mary Rose O’Rielley for her observation that you never quite know who your Zen masters will be. For her, it was sheep; for me it was monks, booksellers, waterfowl, and razors. I am grateful to, and humbled by, each and all.


Catherine J DenialCatherine Denial is assistant professor of History at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She is writing a book about the political and personal meaning of marriage in Dakota and Ojibwe country between 1815 and 1845. For the remainder of the summer, she’s working on syllabi for her fall classes and trying to relearn to ride a bike.

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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Raksha Bandan, A Celebration of Brotherhood and Sisterhood

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Tying rakhi around a brother's wristA woman ties a rakhi, a sacred thread, around her brother’s wrist for a Raksha Bandhan festival in Bangalore, India. (photo: Dibyanshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images)

Raksha Bandhan literally means "a bond of protection" and Hindus celebrate brotherhood on this day, the full moon day of the Shravan month. It’s a celebration of relationships where the symbolic thread, or rakhi bracelet represents an inseparable bond of love and trust between a brother and sister with a pledge to take care of one another.

If you don’t have a brother or a sister, the goodwill metaphor is intended to apply more broadly to your neighbors and community. Priests may tie rakhis around the wrists of congregation members or close friends share them. Women will tie rakhis around the wrists of the prime minister, or around the wrists of soldiers.

Tying rakhi onto soldiers' wristsIndian college girls tie rakhi onto the wrists of Indian Army Jawans, or soldiers. (photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

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Lammas and Lughnasadh: Festivals of Harvest and Fire

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Harvesting the wheat fieldHarvesting the wheat fields. (photo: tpmartins/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Lammas is celebrated by Christians and many modern Pagans (Lughnasadh) today, August 1st.

During medieval times, Christians observed this day as a feast day of St. Peter in Chains. The Anglos-Saxons called it hlaefmass, or “loafmass” in which medieval Christians baked bread from the first wheat grains harvested and placed loaves on the church altar as an offering. The festival, rooted in Celtic origins, marks the beginning of the harvest season and the middle of summer — the midway point between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. Lammas is a time of thanksgiving for the ability to reap a successful grain harvest.

Celts held the fire festival Lughnasadh at this time to honor the Irish god Lugh, who is associated with late summer storms. And this is also called the season of John Barleycorn, the personification of the barley crop.

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