The Human Jihad and ‘Crazy Cosmic Connections’
They say ‘life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away’ and ‘don’t wait for the perfect moment, take the moment and make it perfect.” I like stories, probably, the reason I studied history and religion/faith/spirituality and can talk about these at a drop of a hat! I am just going to share some stories that have connected and resonated with me.
This morning I got a powerful sense of my maternal grandmother, cleaning her local mosque and praying, desperately, for a child. It must have been a struggle and there must have many stories that she was unable to share with those around her. She eventually had a child but he died and then 18 years, into her marriage my mother was born, but she too was not expected to survive. My mother did survive, however, and maybe because her grandfather, my great grandfather, donated her weight to charity, hoping for Mercy and Compassion: or maybe because she was destined to have children and grandchildren of her own. This could be said, to be just another human story but it is connected to so many others including Queen Anne’s who was queen of Great Britain and Ireland from 1702 to 1714.
Queen Anne was pregnant 18 times, only five children were born alive, and, of these, only one, survived infancy but he did not reach adulthood. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, online refers to her “intellectual limitations” whereas Royal Central writes “Queen Anne quite frankly had a tremendous reign becoming the first monarch of a united single sovereign state, known as Great Britain in 1707 as well as showing her worth as a Queen Regnant in a male-dominated society.” Makes me ask how we are all judged and who by? History, they say is written by the victors so, some great stories have never seen the light of day. One my personal annoyances is how Queen Mary I of England, our first Queen Regnant/Monarch has gone down in history as ‘Bloody Mary’ despite the fact that she “was only responsible for the deaths of fewer than 300 people. Quite a meagre number when compared to her father, Henry VIII, who reportedly had over 50,000 people executed during his reign.” Is this because she was a woman, married a foreigner or could it have been due to Protestant propaganda? After all the United Kingdom still has a commemoration on 5 November, which has been a focus of anti-Catholic sentiment, and a Catholic can never be monarch although, since 2013, they can marry one.
My apologies but it seems, I am getting lost in history and religion, again!
I recently started my second job in the Royal Victoria Dock, London. The first time I worked there it looked like a dock and felt quite isolated but now we have two DLR stations, an international exhibition convention centre and London City Airport, just 5 minutes away. The Excel centre was built on the site of my old office and in 2001 it hosted its first arms fair: the same day as the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. It now hosts an NHS vaccination centre and hospital. It felt good to see the sun shining over the Millennium Mills, a derelict turn of the 20th century flour mill on the south side of the Dock. The history of the docks also includes the bombings during WW2.
Fictional stories can also be very poignant and some of them have a truth within them. Some of those below are from books, the TV, radio or books.
Yentl is a 1983 American musical drama film which tells the story of a young women who decides to live like a boy so she can receive an education in Talmudic Law after her father dies. The film ends with Yentl leaving Europe on a boat bound for the United States, where she hopes to lead a life with more freedom. With a smile on her face, she finishes the story by singing “Papa, watch me fly.” It is interesting how many cultures have thought it unnecessary to educate women.
Firefly Lane is based on a book of the same name, written by Kristin Hannah. It tells the story of two friends from their teenage years in the ’70s, to their mid-life crises in the mid-2000s. Named after the street they lived on as teens and where they met, the plot focuses on an enduring friendship. “Tully Hart, is bold and brazen, basking in the spotlight … Kate Mularkey, is much more soft-spoken, …” Not all reviewers have been kind but my view is that “Despite its many limitations, there’s something lovable about it,”
“it’s impressively breezy for something that pulls in stories of rape, cancer and suicide (miscarriage and a reflection on “women sleeping their way to the top/Me Too movement). That ability to maintain an emotional and aesthetic levity at all times, even amid hefty themes, is something these kinds of shows do incredibly well. They don’t often get enough credit for that. Even if we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic, Firefly Lane’s cosy gentleness would be something to be thankful for.” It has some really good lines such as “every soul knows when it is time to come into this world” and “crazy cosmic connections.” Tully Hart has a miscarriage and ends up asking the audience at the girlfriend hour to put up their hands if they have had a miscarriage — slowly many hands go up.
The real stories, below do not have a cosy gentleness but , like everything else “there is a complex relational concept” (yin-yang) and with “every difficulty comes ease.”
The Romanovs: A Chronicle of the Russian Royal Family by SS Montefiore. This story of “twenty tsars and tsarinas, inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition”, makes for painful reading because of the torture and bloodshed but reminds me of the complex historical relationship with power, wealth and judgment. Catherine the Great, for instance was an Enlighted Despot but she over threw her husband and at least one Turkish writer did not think she was very great. Catherine, on some level “did sleep her way to the top” because she married the Tsar but, it seems they did not “sleep together” for 18 years.
Viktor Emil Frankl (1905–1997) an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor who wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning” a best-selling book, based on his experiences in various Nazi concentration camps.
“All My Mothers” -The Story of Yehudith Kleinman: who was born in Venice in 1939; and In January 1944, was taken to a convent for safety, where she was hidden and raised as a Christian. A life full of choices some of which we hope never to have to make.
Survivor Testimony: Escaping the Auschwitz Gas Chambers: Rachel (Rae) Gleitman was born in Czechoslovakia in 1923. In 1939, the Germans sent her brother to labour brigade at the battlefront. She and the rest of her family were forced onto cattle cars and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
From our own Correspondent BBC, for over 50 this programme asks “correspondents, journalists and writers from around the world report on the stories behind the headlines, often bringing a personal perspective to them. There are few countries and subjects which have not featured on the programme — places as diverse as the Faroes, Moldova in Eastern Europe, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and one of Africa’s smallest countries — Sao Tome and Principe.” The latest programme focussed on:
1. Israel’s Vaccine Rollout which leads one to reflect of the impact of the pandemic, the equity of care and provision.
2. Ireland, which in recent weeks has been caught in the middle of the row between the UK and the European Union over the Northern Irish protocol (and therefore Brexit).
3. Iraq where 30 years ago an American air strike destroyed an air raid shelter in Baghdad, killing hundreds so a reflection on US interventions in the region and their bearing on the future.
4. Pangolins are one of the most heavily trafficked species in the world and are now in the frame for being a possible source of the Covid-19 outbreak. In India, they are seen as a delicacy but a conservationist in Maharashtra is finding creative ways to help protect the mammals.
5. Seville, which may soon see the construction of its first new mosque since the 13th century. It’s a bold new initiative that has involved an ex-Premiership footballer, a former male model and an internet crowdfunding campaign.
A Point of View: Going Underground. Will Self reflects on a year of not travelling on the London underground… and why he’s starting to miss it. We are all weary of a year of lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions.
Sunday Worship Radio 4: Facets of Love, ‘This is love’. The programme ended with: This is Love
Love is beds for the weary and food for the hungry and shelter for the needy and grace for the fearful. Love is the very nature of God refracted in the lens of peoples’ lives. It plays across the surface of the world now like sunlight reflected from a gem, reaching the darkest corners and finds its way into the narrowest places. Like any light it eclipses the darkness and banishes the shadows. This is Love
On this day may our love for God be echoed and amplified by our love for those around us. May He/She be seen in us and may we see Him/Her reflected in each other. Amen.
I shall end with a prayer/meditation for all those creatures that have any connection to our human stories:
“O God! Forgive me, my ancestors, my father, my mother, my siblings, and all my family. Those who are close to me, those beloved to me, my teachers, those who ask me to pray for them, those who taught me true prayer and all those living and dead who hope for the blessings of my prayer. (All those who have ensured we have adequate plumbing, transport, healthcare system and adequate food on the table and have health concerns etc). O You who are subtle, beyond all imperfect attributes, O Almighty Lord, … O Most merciful of the Merciful forgive with Your Mercy. (Adapted from The Mevlevi Wird: (ISBN 0–939660–91–1))
May we all be well, healthy and strong:
May we all be happy. May we all abide in peace
May we all be forgiven and forgiving
May we all feel safe and secure
May we all feel loved and cared for.