Thursday, November 5, 2020

God is Great

I raised my palms and closed my eyes. The 99 names of Allah swirled around me, and I sung each name along with the chorus of singers in the recording. Each name flashed in my mind's eye, along with the meaning...

Al Khaliq (The Creator)...

Al Mu'min (The Inspirer of Faith)...

Al Mujib (The Responder to Prayer)...

Al Wadud (The Loving One)...

Each name cycled through me and my body rocked back and forth in the momentum. When the last name of Alllah was recited on the recording, concluding prayers rung out. 

Over the past many months as I have committed to learning the 99 names of Allah, I have reached out to old friends and teachers of  Islam on the internet. I've even asked my husband to ask a Muslim chaplain at work - what do those concluding words mean?? What is the translation? They're so beautiful, and I have been burning to know. 

Alas, I have had no response. I want to sing those prayers with all of my heart, but I have no idea what they mean, or even how to pronounce them correctly. 

The other morning, though, when those concluding prayers began to encircle me, I just belted out the words the best I could, in garbled Arabic, I'm sure. I caught a few words here and there, such as "Mohammed" and "Allah" and so I knew that God's great devotee was being glorified, God was being praised. 

As I sang, I realized that God does not care if my Arabic is perfect, or even that I know the exact meaning. All he sees is me in my living room with my palms raised, trying my best to glorify Him and His devotee with all of my heart. Tears came to my eyes. 

When the recording finished, I murmured, "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) and knelt to touch my forehead to the floor. Chills washed over me again and again. God is not only great because he is the supreme Creator. God is great because he is The Loving One, the One who Responds to Prayers, no matter how mangled. God is Great because He sees my heart.   




Monday, February 4, 2019

I Can't Help Falling In Love With You

Like a river flows
surely to the sea
darling so it goes
some things
are meant to be...

I can't help falling in love with you. 

I'm on the subway, listening to this song, and in the darkness of my closed eyelids, a glowing image emerges.

And while yes, that song does conjure up images of my beloved husband, Ghanashyam, another images always comes to the forefront.

My body goes still.

An image of statues emerges in the dark - one is of a young woman, the other a young man - and they're standing side by side, wearing lovely, draping silks. They glow. The woman is an iridescent, pearly white marble, her eyes luminous. The young man is of ebony marble, his arms forever poised to play a flute, his eyes reaching out through time and space. Their gazes touch mine.

A wave of emotion rolls over me and tears flow from my eyes.

The short song ends, I open my eyes to tap repeat on my phone and the wave of emotion dissipates. Then, the guitar begins, I close my eyes, and in the darkness of my closed eyelids, the glowing image emerges again.

I can't help it.

I just can't.

I can't help falling in love with you, God.

Radha and Krishna - Radhe Shyam.

Ever since I was a little girl, I've been gazing up at deities of Radha and Krishna, and in the eyes of an innocent girl the statues on the altar were simply God. There were no mind games and philosophical manipulations to wonder how God could fit on an altar and be four feet tall. God stood on that altar because that way we could see each other, and that reason made the most sense in the world to a little girl.

And to the woman I am now, I guess it still makes sense.

Now the altar is in my mind, and I can't help falling in love with those smiles. Those eyes.

When my stop comes, I open my eyes and the lights of 181st Street Station spill into my brain. I ride the wave of people who disembark the train. I wipe my cheeks of the wetness from the tears.

Unbidden, my mind jumps to the moment when I shall leave this world, and a profound peace falls over me. For maybe when I close my eyes for the last time, the image of Radhe Shyam shall be imprinted upon my closed eyelids.

God is magnificent, God is great, God is powerful. God makes the mountains tremble and the tsunamis crash and the earth spin and the sun blaze.

But God is also this beautiful boy along with a beautiful girl who smile at me in the dark and make me weep at their beauty. Krishna makes me fall in love with him, even in some underground tunnel riding a train.

So take my hand
Take my whole life too
For I can't help 
Falling in love 
With you

https://youtu.be/D8pCv-eivqM



Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Folded-Palms Thingy

*pseudonym

The stampede of students flew down the stairs - the end of the school day had arrived. "Hey, Mrs. Caruso," Charles*, an 8th grade student, called out to me with a grin, breezing past, "you have 180 youtube subscribers!"

"Wait, what? I do?" I replied, shocked. "How do you know??"

"We were all just checking it out in Mr. O'Connor's* class,"

"You mean, right now?"

"Yeah. We saw you singing. And dancing. You were playing that piano thingy..."

My mouth was agape. "That's called a harmonium,"

"Yeah, it was cool. A Simple Post? That's the name of the video? Pretty cool,"

"That was like, six years ago! My YouTube channel is mainly a teaching tool for singing...!"

"I know, I know. And what was that thing that all these people were doing - " Charles motioned his hands up into a kind of prayer position, " - you all came in and bowed..."

Bewildered, I said, "Uh, I don't know!"

The student swept on by. I glanced around in shock to other 8th grade students who had overheard us and they just nodded, grinning too. They also bounded away, carried away in the exultation of the end of the school day. Obviously they were in on this and had seen all the hullabaloo on Mrs. Caruso's YouTube channel.

I walked back up to my classroom, dazed.

Naturally, I looked up my YouTube channel. I looked at it through the eyes of my eighth graders. Mind you, I work at a Catholic school and I'm the Religion teacher to boot. So these kids are looking at a teacher who has all of these exotic videos of India, putting on some strange draped garment, wearing red dots on her head, performing some intricate and foreign kind of dance, being proposed to in front of an exotic priest in orange cloth, singing some kind of ancient language, and on and on.

Must be weird.

I then came home and kept watching and watching, no longer seeing through my students' eyes, but seeing through MY eyes, the eyes of a Bhakti lata who has been removed from her culture and active spirituality for a few years now. In all of these videos, I'm seeing a common thread - even the ones where I'm just demonstrating the structure of a Hare Krishna melody:

Devotion.

I'm peering into another world, another person's life.

And it's beautiful.

I keep remembering when my student Charles said that he had watched A Simple Post, which I had posted 6 years ago and was just me singing Hare Krishna in my cluttered living room. He had expressed genuine appreciation for that video. It wasn't some fancy edited video, I wasn't doing anything that dramatic. But his eyes had softened when he said, "Pretty cool,"

Some 8th grade boy thought that was pretty cool? Why? No seriously, why? Not just because of the cool harmonium thingy. Not even the foreign language I was singing in.

There must have been something else that was cool.

The holy name.

Devotion.

A hunger for something beyond this world. A hunger for a love to satisfy the soul.

In this quiet space before I jump into the whirlwind of work tomorrow, I feel this tender spiraling of my heart, this yearning to... to... be a devotee. To express my longing for God with all of my heart.

Oh Krishna. Please draw me home to You.

And if you so desire, may I sing and play the piano-thingy and may I approach you with the folded-palms thingy.


(If you are an email subscriber, you may click on the links below the videos to view)


A Simple Post: https://youtu.be/bj6lwzjFbhQ

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Me, At the Core

I am teaching my students how to write a five-paragraph essay. Because I work at a private Catholic school, I get to bring up God all the time. The special feature of Catholic schools is that people from all walks of life attend this institution. For the final exam for my 7th Grade, I created an exam that they would read an article about theism, atheism, and agnosticism, identify with one, and then write a five-paragraph essay to explain their reasoning. Their responses have been enlightening.

I decided to write the essay myself.

***

I glanced at the grinning faces of all the ladies surrounding me, and when the music in praise of God rose to a crescendo, we all spontaneously began to twirl, our arms raised. Our skirts flared like blossoming flowers, and my feet turned upon the warm wood floor in swift movements. My face lifted and my whole face smiled and I felt my whole body alight with a joy beyond this world. In my religious tradition, we sing and we dance, for we believe it is the natural proclivity of the soul to sing and dance in the joy of God’s love. Even when my mind doubts stories and is disgusted by the horrible things done in the name of religion, these deep, powerful experiences of joy tell me that God exists. I am a theist because I believe in sacred objects and rituals, I follow a God-centered moral code, and I experience religious feelings.

I believe in God because of my experience of the supernatural through sacred objects and rituals. In my tradition, we worship a special statue of God, called a murti, because in this way we are meant to develop a sweet and intimate relationship with Him. In the article “Who are atheists and agnostics? Are they religious?” on Thoughtco.com, the author states, “Sacred means that something is very special and worthy of respect. In religion, people might think sacred things are connected to God or gods.” When we worship this murti of God, we hold it very special and offer it our deepest respect. This quote says that people might “think” that something is connected to God, and I would take this one step further to say that I have “experienced” that this murti is connected to God. I have experienced that when I look into the eyes of this statue, I feel that I am seen, and I feel loved and accepted for who I am, unconditionally. I have never experienced this by looking at any ordinary statue in this world. It is actually said in my tradition that the gaze, or the drishti, of the murti actually has this effect on the heart - a sense of peace and a sense that “everything is going to be okay.” I believe that this object is sacred and connected to the supernatural which gives me conviction that God exists. 

Another reason that I am a theist is that I follow a God-centered moral code. When I took vows of spiritual initiation, I promised to follow four moral codes plus a commitment to meditation that would guide my life. The article states: “Think of a moral code like this: it is a set of rules about right or wrong behavior.” One code that I vowed to follow is to take no intoxicants - this means to not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or take any sort of drug. I believe that this moral code to not take intoxicants helps me to live a life that is awake and present. This moral code is communicating that I do not need some material substance to be happy and that ultimately my only, true happiness can be found by loving and serving God. To me, this is "right" behavior. This moral code, as well as the others that I follow, allow me to live a present, conscious life and to love with my full heart.

A third reason that I consider myself a theist is that I experience religious feelings. Religious feelings are more of an undeniable experience of something beyond this world, and no one can take that away from me The article states that “These feelings might include awe, adoration, or guilt. If you believe in religion, the feelings are usually connected to the presence of the supernatural.” I have experienced awe by participating in religious rituals and singing God’s praise. I have experienced adoration, affection, joy, peace, and humility through my religion. I have never experienced the depth of these kinds of feelings from anything in the ordinary material world, such as from watching a great movie or even spending time with my family. The depth and power of these religious feelings have only been felt when I am connecting to God and the supernatural through scripture, and spiritual song and dance. Ultimately, even when my mind rejects God, religious feelings and experiences are what make me come back to God and believe and trust in Him.

In conclusion, I am a theist at my very core. I could share many reasons, although the ones I highlighted here are that I believe in sacred objects that connect me to the supernatural, and that I follow a moral code that is connected to God. What binds all of my reasons together to be a theist is that I experience religious feelings, which always pull me back, even if I wander away from God for a long, long time. I would say that right now, I have distanced myself from the externals of my religion. But I have conviction that I will sing and dance in praise of God again and my soul will lift beyond this world to experience a joy that can only be felt within God’s embrace.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Closet Catholic

I entered the church and the vaulted ceilings lifted my breath and my gaze and my mind.

Inhale. 

Exhale. 

The morning light filtered through the high windows and stained glass. Warm pools of light illuminated wooden pews, cream-colored pillars, and the massive murals of Saint Brigid and Saint Emeric. The cloth of their painted robes billowed in an unseen breeze, their faces gentle.   

That day was our School Mass for the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which takes places several weeks before Christmas.

Although filling with children from ages seven to fourteen, the Church echoed with only quiet shuffles and murmurs. I paced down the center aisle then directed my eighth grade class to file down the wooden pews. When everyone had settled, I took a seat and gazed up at the giant effigy of Christ on the cross.

The service for this special day was filled with devotions for Mother Mary, songs and prayers in her honor. Towards the end of the service, I rose to direct my students to file out of their pew to receive the Eucharist, the sacred wafer that represents the body of Christ. I approached the priest and folded my arms across my chest, which is a sign that I won't receive the Eucharist itself as I am not Catholic, but I would like to receive a blessing. (As a note, one may receive the Eucharist even if one is not Catholic but for now this is my preference.) With a soft smile, the priest put down the wafer and placed his hand on my head in blessing. I felt warm all over. 

I walked back to my pew and took a seat. I could see many students had taken to kneeling again. Their elbows were placed on the pew in front of them, their palms folded, heads bowed in silence.

I swung down my kneeler with a soft clunk and knelt on the padded bar. I followed the lead of my students and also placed my elbows on the pew in front of me and clasped my hands together. I bowed my head. Sudden tears came to my eyes.

Thank you, Mother Mary.

Thank you for bringing me to this school to serve and to learn about you and your son, Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Lord, for always protecting me with your loving arms. 

I cannot escape You. You will always come for me, even if I do not ask you to come. You have come for me in the form of this position as the English Language Arts and Religion teacher. Every day I get to talk about you and learn about you and share your love. I didn't ask for this, but you guided me here.

That is grace. 

What an unexpected, undeserved gift. 

Thank you Lord, for showing up in my life, unconditionally. No matter the form you may take, you are here, you are here. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My First Love

When I was 11, I sketched a self portrait with the thought bubble emanating from my forehead:

Should I be a scientist?

Or a singer?

I find it fascinating that I felt inspired at that age to pursue a musical career when the extent of my singing was to burst into song alone in the woods (a la Snow White), and of course, the shower.

As for scientist, um, yeah. No idea where that one came from.

Over the years, that thought bubble has spiraled from my mind again and again:

A teacher?

A photographer?

An environmental ecologist?

A small business owner?

A mother?

A writer?

Recently I've been inspired by Marie Kondo's book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. The title of the book is no joke. I have systematically gone through categories of my life, from clothes, to books, to closets of storage, and more. Bags and bags, boxes and boxes: donated, gifted, discarded.

The criteria for what to keep:

Does this item spark joy?

In the process of clearing away extraneous stuff that has been piling up for years, I am rediscovering my first spark of joy, my first love:

Writing.

Funny how my first official contemplation of what I should be when I grow up was through the medium of paper and pen. Since I was a little girl I have sought solace, connection, joy, and community through the written word.

For so long now I have neglected to share my creative heart through writing.

Maybe we all have parts of our true selves that we neglect because of lack of time, money, committment, and encouragement. Today, for the kajillionth time, "write blog post" was on my To Do list. As the day wore on, I began to sense with growing dread that once again, it would be put off to some nebulous day in the future, some writing utopia.

Suddenly, I decided to honor my word to myself.

I would write a post.

In the process of writing this post my completed drafts got deleted TWICE. So this is literally the third time I'm writing this. It's taking waaaaaaaaaay longer than expected.

That said, here I am.

Here's my heart.





Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Touchdown!

My husband has an amazing capacity to receive love.

He's a wide receiver.

No, literally, he's a wide receiver. As in, one of these:


Now, I had no idea what a wide receiver was before I got married to one. In fact, I attempted to understand American football many times and attended my fair share of Superbowl parties and STILL was clueless (you Europeans aren't the only ones!). 

But football is my husband's favorite sport, and with patience he unraveled this sport for me. Similar to chess, each player in football has his own position, and the strategy is a complicated feat of skill and psychology involving multiple coaches for each position. 

In football, the quarterback throws to the wide receiver. This fascinates me that ever since he was a boy, Ghanashyam has played wide receiver. You see, I experience my husband as loved. He's loved by family and friends and mentors and his patients and bosses...! If footballs were love, he'd be pelted with those brown pointy things on a daily basis. But more importantly than being loved, my husband receives love. He actually catches the ball of love and doesn't let it bounce off his heart. Then he goes for the touchdown.  

The thing is, he doesn't just catch any ol' ball hurtling down the field. There's strategy. Discussion. Boundaries. Rules. Intuition. Love is about cooperation and then being open and ready to receive with a trusting heart. 

I've seen Ghanashyam play football. He is focused. Present. Mostly, though, he's grinning. Even when he misses a pass, he smiles and tries again. And again. 

What I'm coming to realize is that if life was a giant football game, we would ALL be surrounded by brown pointy balls flying our way all day, every day. We would be throwing balls, hoping others would catch our love. And hopefully, we would be receiving the love that our heart desires, opening our hands to catch that love and go for the touchdown. 

By cooperation with one another to give and receive love, ultimately we experience the touchdown of God's love. 

To write is to dare the soul. So write.