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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

The Shortest Day

poem by Susan Cooper

Copyright Susan Cooper 1974

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen,
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing, behind us — listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight
This shortest day
As promise wakens in the sleeping land.
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year, and every year.
Welcome Yule!

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This poem was written for The Christmas Revels held in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The text was posted on Susan Cooper (Official Fan Page) on facebook (24 Nov 2015). Please note that sharing is only for noncommercial use, and permissions questions should be directed to susancooper@thelostland.com.

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“Even when one sees something ugly in another person, one should give heart to the fact that there, too, dwells the name of the Blessed One, for there is no place empty of God.” —Rabbi Jacob Joseph Katz
I strongly recommend From Enemy to Friend: Jewish wisdom and the pursuit of peace to all readers interested in interreligious dialogue and peacemaking. In this book Rabbi Amy Eilberg has done a compelling job presenting personal stories, classical Jewish texts, and peace and conflict theory to bring readers a powerful vision to guide our everyday lives as peacebuilders. There is inspiration for all who feel that “peace is not a utopian ideal, but a daily need.”

For anyone unfamiliar with the rich peace tradition in Jewish texts, Rabbi Eilberg shares that “the command repeated more frequently than any other in the Torah — 36 times, in fact — is the command to love, to reach out to, and do justice to the stranger.” She offers rigorous yet accessible engagement with Jewish texts, highlighting the many ways that peacemaking forms a central component of Jewish teachings.

Rabbi Eilberg illustrates that peacemaking is not merely a set of tools or techniques, but a way of being in daily life. As peacemakers, we must begin with transforming our own hearts, and extend our efforts into the world of our neighbors. With regular practice, we can learn to “unclench our fists, minds, and hearts when we feel wounded,” and live into the truth that “all human beings, even those who have hurt and threatened us, are human creatures like ourselves, worthy of the same respect and dignity we demand for ourselves.”

When the fear and hate that are revealed in the news become overwhelming, we can remember that many ordinary people hold peacemaking as the central value. For example, I learned of the exciting work of Clergy Beyond Borders, essential for building understanding in a pluralistic society. In another example of peacemaking lived, Rabbi Eilberg writes about the intentional community Oasis of Peace/Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam, where Jewish and Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel live together. Across our religious traditions we need guidance and inspiration, to learn to lay aside our fears and suspicions of difference that often get in the way of building relationships.

Readers will find that From Enemy to Friend offers inspiration, deepened understanding, and rich material for reflection. In a world that is hungry for peace, Rabbi Eilberg’s inspiring and helpful work deserves a wide audience.

Disclaimer: A copy of his book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

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After our first reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, my daughter declared that we would read it again in preparation for every future Christmas. Meanwhile, I searched for some contemporary seasonal stories, and found that high-quality holiday-themed fiction for older readers can be elusive. I was delighted to discover that prolific children’s author Katherine Paterson has published two collections of short stories for Christmas, available through my local library. I began with A Midnight Clear: Stories for the Christmas Season. Each of the dozen stories here was written to be read aloud at church on Christmas Eve, and they uplift the hope at the heart of the Christmas story.

Readers encounter an older woman whose loneliness is relieved by a young neighbor; a cynical man who discovers warmth and holiday spirit in the company of a stranger; a young couple who receive hospitality when they need it most. Paterson’s stories are well-crafted and believable, heart-warming and not overstated. I found nothing preachy in these tales, yet each carries the Christmas message of caring for one another, of having hope in the coming Light, of finding peace amidst the confusion of the human condition.

Next I shall sit with Angels and Other Strangers: Family Christmas Stories, which has just arrived at the library. I anticipate a few cozy evenings reading with my daughter, reflecting together on the Light at the heart of this season.

What fiction have you read that draws you closer to the heart of Advent, helping you to wait in hope? Does your family have favorites that are revisited each year?

Disclaimer: This review is based upon a book borrowed from my public library. No fee was received.

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“Give your enemy fresh milk.”  This memorable Somali aphorism from will stay with me for a long time—a highlight of the powerful life story of Ahmed Ali Haile.  In  Teatime in Mogadishu: My journey as a peace ambassador in the world of Islam, readers can discover the reconciliation work and faith journey of this Somali-born peacemaker.  His story, part of the “Christians Meeting Muslims Series,” is told with the help of David W. Shenk, who has lived in East Africa and works with Eastern Mennonite Missions.
Throughout his life Haile has given witness to the power of love and forgiveness.  The book’s title refers to the priority Haile has given to hospitality—setting an example for others of a loving home, expressing God’s love to everyone (even when it might not feel “convenient”). In his effort to live a life in keeping with the peacemaking teachings of Jesus, Haile describes Romans 12 as “an ethical manifesto” for his family, and, truly, his life exemplifies the call to live in harmony with one another, and to overcome evil with good.  This book provides inspiration for those of us who long to listen for God’s call in our lives, and to live out that call with integrity and passion.
Born into a loving, pious Muslim home in central Somalia in 1953, Haile grew up with an awareness of God’s blessings and a desire to serve God.  As a serious student of his religion, Haile was interested in learning more about the monotheistic faiths that preceded Islam, and which are mentioned throughout the Qur’an.  When he had an opportunity to study the Bible, the life of Jesus spoke to his heart and he decided to convert to christianity.  At that time, the political regime in Somalia forbade the practice of any religion except Islam. Within this environment, it was heartening to read that Haile’s parents were very supportive of his decision.  They knew Haile was not rejecting the religion of his birth, but rather that he felt called by God to follow the path of Jesus.
During the 1970s, while Somalia experienced revolution and war with Ethiopia, Haile had the good fortune to receive a scholarship to study peacemaking and development in the U.S.  When he returned to Africa in 1982, Haile worked to nurture healthy relations with the Muslim community and his extended family, meeting weekly with elders from his clan.  “We ate and fellowshipped and conversed vigorously together.  In that way, our covenant of peace was renewed each week.”  This kind of relationship-building is an important foundation for restorative justice, and builds on pre-islamic clan traditions.
Through his studies and his life experiences, Haile determined that neither traditionalist nor modernist forces would bring peace to Somalia—only God could do that, for true restorative justice requires the healing work of the Holy Spirit. Even after losing his leg to a violent attack in 1992, Haile continued to work tirelessly for peace, and, as part of the Somali diaspora in the U.S., he continues his efforts still.
Once again, Mogadishu is in in the news, and at the center of humanitarian crisis and violent conflict. Ahmed Ali Haile’s story demonstrates that we must persist in working for peace, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  This inspiring book includes discussion questions for each of its short chapters, which will be very helpful for book groups and Sunday school classes that use this book as a resource.

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