Opening the Gates of Heaven for Ramadan

We are now almost through the month-long observance of Ramadan. 

PrayerA few weeks ago I came across the following quote: “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of hell are closed and the devils are chained.”  This hadith from the Sahih al-Bukhari doesn’t mince words.   It seems particularly apt at the moment.

Ramadan will last until May 23rd.  It is the holiest month of the year in the Islamic calendar, during which the Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Mohammad.  It is observed through prayer and by fasting from sunup to sundown, amongst other traditions throughout the month.

In past years, I’ve had the pleasure of being invited by Muslim friends to share in the breaking of the fast at sundown with an Iftar during Ramadan.  In this era of physical distancing, large celebratory Iftars will be difficult if not impossible for most people.

Our home is not far from a mosque, and it is always a delight to see children and their families dressed up in their finest outfits making their way to worship on Eid al-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan.  The excitement and joy is infectious.

I’ll add these pleasures to the long list of things I am grieving, just as I grieve the Easter and Passover celebrations prevented by the pandemic.  Indeed, Muslims, Christians and Jews have all paid a heavy price as the most holy days for each faith are coinciding with the tragedy of COVID-19.

In my post from last month, I quoted T.S. Elliot’s observation in his poem, The Waste Land, that April was the cruelest month.   Let us pray that during the month of May the “gates of hell are closed and the devils are chained.”

(Photo credit: Mihrab (Prayer Niche) from the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Spiritual but not Religious

pexels-photo-257037In my experience the declaration that “I’m spiritual but not religious” is often greeted by a collective eye-roll in church circles.   For many of us affiliated with formal church or faith organizations, it can seem a ridiculous thing to say.

What we think we’re hearing is “I’m spiritual but not yet religious.”

Continue reading “Spiritual but not Religious”

One billboard outside Sandusky, Ohio

Each year my wife and I attend St. Bartholomew’s three-hour Good Friday service.  Each year I wonder how on earth I will sit through three hours of music, extended periods of silent prayer, readings on the seven last words of Christ, and a homily on each.  Each year the time disappears. Continue reading “One billboard outside Sandusky, Ohio”

Fog Over the Promised Land

stock-photo-17181584-mountain-manLast Thursday afternoon, just before heading home to New York, I stood on Mount Nebo in Jordan and looked west to the Promised Land.  Mount Nebo is where Moses stood at the end of his life, having led the Israelites in the desert for forty years, and died.

Today there is a modern Catholic church built over the remains of an ancient Byzantine church on Mount Nebo.  The mosaics from the Byzantine church have been beautifully restored and are displayed as part of the modern church’s design.

Continue reading “Fog Over the Promised Land”

“Do not be afraid…”

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Today I find myself in the Holy Land—on a pilgrimage.  This is not my first pilgrimage, nor, do I suspect, will it be my last.  Moreover, this is my 5th or 6th time visiting many of the sites on this trip.  Yet, each visit is a little different.  Each visit challenges and rewards me in unexpected ways.

This time I have the luxury and challenge of not being the group leader.  I can enter into the visit as a true pilgrim.  

What does it mean to be a pilgrim? Continue reading ““Do not be afraid…””

Twenty characteristics that make a genius

Leonardo_da_Vinci_LUCAN_Hohenstatt_20_Uffizi_copyIn keeping with my desire to observe Advent by seeking out beauty (see my November 28th post) and my fascination with Salvator Mundi (see my November 14th post), I just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s masterful and insightful biography of Leonardo Da Vinci.  

Isaacson concludes his book by identifying twenty characteristics that make a genius.  Isaacson has given this list some thought, having written biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and now Leonardo.

So what does it take? Continue reading “Twenty characteristics that make a genius”

Servants of God: St. Nicholas & Bishop Paul Jones

Sveti_NikolaOn Wednesday, December 6th, Episcopal Relief & Development, the organization I have the privilege of leading, marks the anniversary of its founding. It also happens to be St. Nicholas Day. That is a happy coincidence and provides an opportunity to reflect on the values that shaped St. Nicholas’ life and inform the work of Episcopal Relief & Development. Continue reading “Servants of God: St. Nicholas & Bishop Paul Jones”

Five Advent Lessons

IMG_3750This Sunday, the First Sunday in Advent, will mark a new liturgical year. We tend to gloss over that in our culture, focused as we are on the big event: Christmas Day. However, Advent is one of the places where one can feel God at work in the world. Here are five ways to make space for God during Advent. Continue reading “Five Advent Lessons”

Salvator Mundi

IMG_1870 2On Wednesday morning I met Christ on my way to work.  If you want to catch him, he is currently at Christie’s auction house in New York City until Wednesday, November 15th at noon.  After that no one knows where he will go.  Stop by if you have a chance. Continue reading “Salvator Mundi”

Finding God on the other side of Halloween

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Let us stipulate that God seems very far from the commercial extravaganza that now surrounds Halloween.  I am much more likely to find God on the other side of Halloween, on November 1st, when we observe All Saints’ Day.   All Saints’ Day is a day to remember all of the saints who have passed through our lives into the next. Continue reading “Finding God on the other side of Halloween”