Sacred Space Interview: Power in the Word

Melissa, age 56, is a retired network engineer, educator, and computer programmer from Central Florida. Her passions include photography, dogs, and reading. Today she shares her reverence for the God’s Word and for our words.

Do you believe in a God, gods, or other spiritual forces? If so, what name(s) does your spiritual force have? Where does the name come from?

I believe in the one God as described in the Bible. I am currently reading the Amplified Bible but enjoy reading different versions.

How do you practice your faith? What kinds of prayer, texts, service, or other rituals do you use?

I believe daily bible reading is important. In just the same way we must feed our bodies we must also feed our souls. Spending time each day with Jesus (who is described in John 1:1 as The Word) is central in maintaining (soul) peace and happiness.

I strongly believe that the words we speak are important. God created the world with his words: “And God said,  “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3, English Standard Version). And since we are all created in God’s image it follows that the words we speak are also powerful, not only in our own realm but in the spiritual realm. It breaks my heart to hear someone say how stupid they feel they are or how they never have any luck.

I feel I am best described as non-denominational but really I embrace all denominations as avenues to aid different types of people in embracing God. When I was very young my family attended a Presbyterian church but after my parents divorced we stopped attending church. I have always been an avid reader and at the age of fourteen I was given a copy of The Living Bible.  I read it cover to cover. To this day I mispronounce many of the place/people names because I was self taught.

Describe a moment when you knew that this faith was right for you.

I married a man who is a cradle Catholic. He was in the service when we were married, we had a civil ceremony so any faith questions/problems were delayed until we had our first child seven years later. At first we tried attending both the Catholic and Presbyterian churches. Interestingly enough the thing I remember most about that time is that the Presbyterian church was vigorously fundraising to restore their pipe organ at a cost of $100,000 while the Catholic church wanted $1200 for tables for their preschool. At the time the Catholic church was led by an Irish priest whose ideas and values seemed to most closely match my own. I have a story about how we finally chose a faith home for our two sons. (Cue those who know me to roll their eyes and sigh in a long suffering fashion.)

When our oldest son was old enough for kindergarten I began to tour the local private schools in an effort to be fully informed about all options. One day my son and I were recycling newspaper at one of those drop off dumpsters with sliding doors on each side located in the parking lot of the Catholic school. My son looked over at the building and asked if we were going to visit that school. I remember dubiously looking at the building myself while recalling my husband’s stories of ruler wielding, wrist slapping nuns. A woman who had been removing newspapers from the other side of the dumpster while we were putting them in (something I found slightly odd) quickly offered to take us on a tour. The look I gave her must have been even more dubious than the one I gave the building because she laughed and introduced herself as the kindergarten teacher. We did take her up on her offer and were thoroughly impressed with the school and it’s loving Christian staff and atmosphere. Turns out the Irish priest I mentioned earlier was very accepting of non-catholic students and teachers at his school. The only problem (there’s always a problem) was that there was a long wait list for the school. Something inside me made me insist on adding our son’s name to the list even though we were told our son’s chances of actually attending were very small. I went home that night and prayed, I promised that if God would let my son attend that school then I would raise my boys in the Catholic Church. The next day we got a call from the school telling us they had decided to start a second kindergarten section and there was a spot for our son if we wanted it. My sons were raised in the Catholic church and attended a wonderful school. They had a thorough faith and bible education and are good men. What more could a mother want?

In review I don’t believe I have really answered the original question but as my faith is ever evolving then that might not be possible anyway.

Describe a moment when you felt that your God was real, that your faith was making a difference in your life.

I was about seven years old when my parents divorced (it was the 60’s and divorce took a lot longer back then). I remember lying in my bed one late afternoon, a sunbeam streamed through the window dancing with dust flecks, the light was that soft gold of late summer. I was crying, desperately afraid of living without a father and felt so alone. This next part is hard to adequately describe but I heard someone call my name. Not “Melissa” but my real name, the name only our own heart knows. I knew, I knew right away that I was not alone, that God had called my name and he would be my Father. Volumes had been spoken in the breath of a second. I immediately stopped crying and rose from the bed no longer afraid. I am always grateful that God chose me, not because of anything I did or who I was but because He loves me.

Have you had any spiritual mentors or teachers? If so, describe their role in your life. How did they help you find your faith?

There have been many people in my life whom I have admired, who have some quality that I find inspiring. Almost everyone has something special about them if we take the time to look closely enough. Strangely enough I find that dogs are fantastic examples of faith. They love unconditionally. They forgive completely. We can push away their nose in our preoccupation with things “more important”  but they keep no record of our wrongs. Dogs offer affirmation in their exuberant greetings. Dogs have a purpose, my setter is driven to hunt, the guide dog puppy I raised was born to guide. We people often behave as if we were placed on this earth for our own entertainment but we also have a purpose in this life. Dogs live in the present, they don’t regret the past or fear the future, they never feel sorry for themselves but carry on in whatever circumstances are present.  I would love to be the person my dog thinks I am. I would love to be as good a person as my dog is.

Where and when do you feel most in tune with your faith or spirituality?

Out in nature. God created it all! The vast expanse of the universe was created by the same God who loves you, who knows the number of hairs on your head.

Assign some “spiritual homework” for our readers. What is one practice, prayer, or lesson you’d like to share?

Be kind. Our words have power, more power than we know. We can build someone up or tear them down with just a few words. All of us have a memory of someone who devastated us with just a few words, how crushing to think we may have been that person to someone else.

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Sacred Space Interview: Calling for Balance with Faith, Hope, and Love

We’re starting the week off right with a luminous interview from Elizabeth L. Sammons. Elizabeth’s interview bridges the Sacred Space series and the October Interview series—opening a dialogue about faith and disability that is rich and rewarding. I know you’ll enjoy this extended conversation!

Elizabeth L. Sammons, age 50, is a Program Administrator with Ohio’s disability vocational services: Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities. De facto she conducts extensive research, outreach and writing for their agency statewide including both blindness and other disabilities. In the past, she has taught English serving in Peace Corps in Hungary, represented our culture in the then Soviet Union on a cultural exchange program, and served as interpreter for cross-cultural, faith and government meetings.
She enjoys creative writing, both fiction and nonfiction; paid and unpaid community interpreting using Russian and French fluency; keeping track of friends locally and around the world, particularly as touches the faith experience.

How would you describe your vision or blindness? Is it congenital or has it developed recently?

I was born with cataracts on both lenses; operations before school age restored vision in one eye to encompass color and basic shapes. I use Braille and audio for my reading and writing needs.

Do you use a cane, guide dog, or other mobility aid to get around? Why have you chosen this aid?

Always a white cane. It’s true that a cane won’t show me directly to a door or elevator, but nor do I need to feed, water or clean up after him; his name is “Stickie.” Nor do I have to tell his funny name to nosey strangers, and I feel secure with him swinging over the pavement to guide my path.

Are you active on social media? If so, share any of your links that you’d like my readers to know about:

I lack the time and patience to delve into any social media except what I call my “literary scrimmage site,” which is my blog. I invite you to visit for a mixture of poetry, memoir, humor and philosophy written over the past 4 years. I utilize NFB Newsline for much of my current events reading.

What is the most consistent challenge or frustration you experience with your blindness? How do you handle it?

A lot of people think that someone “afflicted” as many people say, with a disability, faces this disability as the major difficulty in life. In my case, this is not true. While I readily admit the inconvenience of living life in a physical world not labeled, leveled or linked with nonsighted people in mind, the far greater challenge for me is to balance the idealism of a perfect world and spirit that I have held since childhood, with the day-to-day “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” encountered by us all. I think that many middle-ability, mid-intelligence, mid-income, mid-life people have come to a balance on this question, accepting the monotony or the petty aggravations pertaining to most days in our lives as simply the things that happen… the things to expect. Most likely it is my desire not to compromise which has given me the label from others of being “passionate,” and my internal label, “disquieted by the act of living.” Regarding how I handle these dissonances, see next question.

What resources have helped you to handle your blindness best, either in everyday matters or in moments of crisis?

Since I’m thinking about music, I will give a quick point to this question with the song title “I Get by with a Little Help from my Friends.”
Words and music are a very present help in time of trouble. I never worked to develop this, but I have the idiosyncrasy of coming up with songs containing a certain word. For example, as soon as you say the word “Bridge,” I might think of the phrase/song “Bridge over Troubled Water,” and also “London Bridge is Falling Down” or even “Shall we Gather at the River” since the word “Bridge” converts to a picture of “River” in my mental gaze. This word association with music often comforts me and just the right lyrics, both secular and sacred, come to mind for me, a blessing not called for consciously.

What would you say is the most harmful or annoying belief that people have about blindness?  How would you change this belief?

People who inhabit able body’s under-estimate the abilities of people with disabilities including blindness. When able-bodied people are in a role of authority (employer, teacher, counselor, parent, mentor etc.) in the life of someone with bodily challenges, that person unfortunately often conforms to that belief without even examining the life he or she could live instead. I use humor in responding at times “I have half a century of experience on this… you don’t even have a day, so why do you think I can’t do such and such?” Another response I gave especially when I was younger was “OK, just give me a chance and let me show you how I can’t.”

In faith communities, a grave error people can make is viewing a congregation member who is nonsighted or with any disability as the object of one-way charity. It is an empowering act when that person can serve on congregational council, help in child care or teaching, pass out bulletins, offer artwork, interpret for non-English speakers, or any other role that frames the person’s ability and communal presence.

What is a book that you could read over and over again? Why do you feel this way about it?

Ah, there are so many books! If I had one and only one book, it would need to be the Bible, not only because of faith, but for its mix of history, poetry, philosophy and voices over centuries of compilation.  . If you take mercy on me and allow me a second book, I suppose it would need to be a form of Wikipedia, because my curiosity is never satisfied.

What book, person, or perspective makes you feel most centered?

I came across Betty Eadie’s Embraced by the Light during one of the hardest times in my life. Her perspective, gained through two out-of-body experiences and enriched by her Native American heritage, indicates that we are living as spirits in this world through the bodies we inhabit. Our purpose and connections are things that we cannot see in larger perspective while we walk on this earth, but we must be conscious of our neighbors, our influence and our joyful duty to illustrate love in everything we do and in every choice we make. While I fall extremely short of this faith philosophy, I agree with Carl Schurz: “Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.”

What is one dream you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?

I have written one secular book and am now researching and writing a second novel, which is a faith novel based on the life of Stephen, (Christianity’s first martyr, Acts 6-7.) I hope to finish this novel and to find a non-self-publishing opportunity for both these fruits of my mind. The work of my pen is the only mental fruit that I can leave when I depart our era, and I pray that anyone interested or in need of these writings will find them at the right time, both during my time on earth and afterwards. For a reason I cannot rationalize, I feel a profound peace and assurance that this prayer will be fulfilled.

What topics do sighted (or blind) interviewers usually ask you about?

Many people are intrigued that I speak 3 fluent languages and an additional 3-4 languages with reasonable competence. I love the tongues, tones and trumpets of faith as they play out in various cultures. Our journey of faith is necessarily as much a cultural experience as it is a spiritual walk, and it is fascinating to me to see the translation of faith in many ways of singing, means of accepting messages, houses of worship and foods/drinks of sharing. To me, a language is like a code-cracking puzzle or joyful equation to solve. I feel deeply moved and blessed that I have had the chance to speak with so many people who without my taking the effort to walk into their linguistic territory, I could never have known.

What topics would you prefer to discuss?

While it brings me pain each day to walk along the imperfection of what we call “life,” I believe that the best is coming when my road ends on earth. Some close friends, particularly those raised in Communist countries, have asked me “Why does someone of your intellect believe in God?” On one hand, I can give an easy answer that even as they were raised atheist with little caring about matters of faith, I do not remember a single meal growing up when we did not open with prayer or a week when we did not dwell on faith questions together in my family. Thus both of us, the atheist and myself, were imprinted to travel certain mental and spiritual paths.
But that answer is incomplete. Beyond cultural context, while I understand many arguments pointing to God’s nonexistence, I equally comprehend those in favor of God, and the faith experience is my choice between the two. It is a decision that will do only good and no harm in my life, and I wish my post-Communist friends the hope that I lean on.

If I were speaking to a disability audience I might add that as a blind person, all my life, I have had to rely on those with sight to tell me many things about this world that otherwise I would not know… soaring of a gull vs. flapping of a sparrow… copper gutters turned tingly green with age… the smile of Mona Lisa vs. the grin of a Cheshire cat. If I lived only by what I knew through my own experience or intellect, my life would be limited indeed. If I stuck to my own experience, my world would be so small. But on the good days, borrowing another’s lens, I sometimes think that I can see nearly to heaven.

Do you believe in a God, gods, or other spiritual forces? If so, what name(s) does your spiritual force have? Where does the name come from?

While I simply say “God” and “Jesus Christ,” I believe as our Islamic brethren say that God has a thousand names… and perhaps more than that. Regarding other spiritual forces, unfortunately there are also evil forces in both human activities and in divine struggle.

Sum up your faith in three words. Why did you choose these words?

Faith, Hope and Love. This reply may sound pert, but if you think about it, what elements beyond this do you need in pursuing a meaningful life? (These words come together at the end of I Corinthians Chapter 13 in the New Testament, also called the “Love Chapter” for those who wish to read further.)

How do you practice your faith? What kinds of prayer, texts, service, or other rituals do you use?

I find prayer, song and recitation in a group context of great meaning. These acts, along with communion, make me realize that I am connected with not just one congregation, but generations, centuries and even millennia of believers of completely diverse cultural backgrounds, but who anchor their souls and spirits in the faith, hope and love in which I desire to live out in my own little life and generation.

Describe a moment when you knew that this faith was right for you.

Though I hold rather traditional Christian beliefs and was raised in a conservative background, I do not try to actively convert or evangelize. However, when friends and family have been in crisis, it is the well of my faith that has usually provided the insights I need to be of comfort or of meaningful presence. This included a recent death experience, the passing of my best friend. “The worst is behind you; everything ahead is good!” I told her…not “my” words, but words that came to me along the way to the hospital.
When I take the time to pray, ever so quickly, when I am in a conflict or a situation where I am contemplating a less loving or more destructive path than I could take, there has never been one time when some idea, person, or calm did not come to my rescue. My problem is taking that time and effort to call out for help.

Describe a moment when you felt that your god was real, that your faith was making a difference in your life.

It’s difficult for me to depict a single miracle moment in answering this question. However, I can safely say that the level of my awareness of God and his hand in my life is directly proportional to the difficulty of the situation. The more difficult the situation, the closer I feel my spirit to be linked with higher forces, as long as I take the time to ask for help.

Have you had any spiritual mentors or teachers? If so, describe their role in your life. How did they help you find your faith?

I have met far more people than I deserve along my half century of life who have shown me levels of love, respect, kindness and belief that were completely unmerited in the situation. One who comes to mind is a Jewish refugee whom I met in the USA at age 80, when he immigrated here with his children and grandchildren. He tutored me from an elementary level of Russian into exploration of the Russian great writers, and along the way we became friends. Always in departing from him, I felt a great awareness and love that wrapped my spirit like a blanket. I have tried to repay some of his generosity in serving other immigrants here and in depicting him in disguised form as a small but pivotal force in my first novel.

Where and when do you feel most in tune with your faith or spirituality?

The congregational experiences I mentioned above are one way, but another is when I go into nature, particularly when I am alone. No matter what my mood, the ocean speaks to me as no other force can.

What is one misconception that others have expressed about your faith? How would you correct it?

One can be a deeply believing Christian, even a conservative Christian, without being narrow-minded or intolerant of others as today’s media seems increasingly prone to depict. We can define the rights and wrongs that direct our spiritual walk without enforcing them on others. The example of how we live and relate to our neighbor is a far more vivid “Bible” than what most people will ever read.

Assign some “spiritual homework” for our readers. What is one practice, prayer, or lesson you’d like to share?

When I get into my blackest mood, I sometimes assign myself the exercise of taking one hundred breaths and with each one, thinking of something I am grateful for. It can be anything – as vast as the universe or as small and funny as my cat’s husky voice when he wakes up and makes me laugh. After the hundred breaths, I cannot help laughing and realizing that things may be in chaos, but that I am better off than I was feeling. Try it at least once and you’ll always breathe easier.

Sacred Space Interview: God Is the Beauty in All Things

Kathy, age 59, is a retired radiologic technologist from Jacksonville, FL. She loves reading, cooking, gardening, doing crafts of all kinds, and caring for her family. Today she is speaking with On the Blink about her Catholic faith.

Do you believe in a God, gods, or other spiritual forces? If so, what name(s) does your spiritual force have? Where does the name come from?

Yes, I strongly believe in God the Father, Jesus God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
These names have always been a part of my life since I am a cradle Roman Catholic.
I come from a long family history of Catholics.

Sum up your faith in three words. Why did you choose these words?

Love God always and put Him first in all things. Keep the holy commandments.

How do you practice your faith? What kinds of prayer, texts, service, or other rituals do you use?

Roman Catholicism is a religion of sacred rituals, sacraments and time honored traditions. I keep the holy commandments, I keep the laws of my faith, honor holy days with special services and fasting.  I attend Mass, pray daily and pray the rosary. I read Scripture from the New American Bible.

Describe a moment when you knew that this faith was right for you.

My faith is how I was raised and I never thought to question if it was right for me. I will always be Roman Catholic. It’s a deep part of my being. It fulfills me in a way that is indescribable and brings comfort to my soul.

Describe a moment when you felt that God was real, that your faith was making a difference in your life.

My God has always been real to me. I feel His presence in my everyday life and especially during dark times. He is my joy during happy times. During life crises when I needed to make difficult decisions, my prayers were answered. These answers were defining moments for me personally.

Have you had any spiritual mentors or teachers? If so, describe their role in your life. How did they help you find your faith?

I have found support and guidance in the elders of our family. Those whose faith was so much stronger. They were my spiritual guides. I married a man of the same faith and all of his family were Catholic. Two relatives were priests so this Catholic environment has been very real and supportive from day one.

Where and when do you feel most in tune with your faith or spirituality?

God is everywhere—in the beauty of children, nature and all things. Celebrating mass, receiving the Eucharist (the body of Christ) often. Holy days such as Easter and Christmas is a very intensely spiritual time for me. Easter is the foundation upon which our faith is built.

What is one misconception that others have expressed about your faith? How would you correct it?

A common misconception is our love and honor for the Blessed Mother, Mary mother of Jesus. We do not worship Mary but implore for her intercession. As a son we believe that Jesus would do everything His mother asks. Another confusion is the many statues we choose to have in our churches and homes. Catholics are not idol worshipers, but these symbols remind us of holy figures. We need not ask for intercession in prayer, but it can be part of our faith life.

Assign some “spiritual homework” for our readers. What is one practice, prayer, or lesson you’d like to share?

Seek and examine to find a truth for yourself and a place or way of peace, love and worship. Respect all life from conception to the natural end. including yours. Be happy with your life and know each life is a worthy gift. Be thankful every day.

Sacred Space Interview: Live By Doing

Welcome to the first of my Sacred Space Interviews! Today, I’m honored to present my conversation with Elaine.

Elaine, age 65, is a retired teacher living in Jacksonville, FL. She describes herself as a lifelong learner with a passion for meditation and travel. She speaks in today’s interview about the beliefs and practices of her Jewish faith.

Do you believe in a spiritual force or forces? If so, what name(s) does your spiritual force have? Where does the name come from?

I believe in one G-d as my spiritual force.  G-d’s name should never be used in vein so one speaks of G-d with words such as:  Adonai (“My Lords”),  HaShem, and many other words. Adon (singular) is found in the Tanakh, which has the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings.

Sum up your faith in three words. Why did you choose these words?

“Live by doing.” Judaism focuses on one’s actions, one’s belief in following G-d’s laws in their daily life.

How do you practice your faith? What kinds of prayer, texts, service, or other rituals do you use?


Judaism is deeply grounded by rituals and religious observances. These traditions found in Judaism are intertwined in the framework of the commandments as well as the rabbinical laws and traditions. The Jewish religion recognizes significant occasions in a person’s life.  Specific rituals use specific prayers and traditions to recognize these occasions such as birth, bar/bat mitzvah, marriage, death.

Describe a moment when you knew that this faith was right for you.

I was brought up in a Jewish home and knew no other faith.  When experiencing all the traditional rituals throughout my life, attending services in a Conservative Synagogue and attending Religious School, it became my way of life.

Describe a moment when you felt that G-d was real, that your faith was making a difference in your life.

 
I feel comfort knowing that when I am in a difficult situation or in a good place, I am able to believe G-d is always with me.

Have you had any spiritual mentors or teachers? If so, describe their role in your life. How did they help you find your faith?

 
The Rabbis from my many congregations that I have been affiliated with have been my spiritual teachers.  I enjoy learning each of their philosophies and their beliefs on Judaism. My Judaism is deep rooted, but I do believe I can expand my knowledge of the faith.

Where and when do you feel most in tune with your faith or spirituality?

 

At home, in synagogue, around my family celebrating Jewish rituals and traditions

What is one misconception that others have expressed about your faith?  How would you correct it?

Many people do not understand why the Jewish people do not believe in Jesus.  One needs to explain that we do believe Jesus was the son of G-d but believe G-d is our spiritual force.

Assign some “spiritual homework” for our readers.

Reflect upon who you are, who you could be and who you should be. How are you living up to the image of who you could be by your actions.

What is one practice, prayer, or lesson you’d like to share?

Think about your family, work, love life, social life, community, spiritual and religious life and make a list of the ways you are blessed.

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I am still seeking participants for this series. If you would like to discuss your spiritual practice, please contact me here.

Announcing Sacred Space, a new interview series at On the Blink!

I’m delighted to announce the launch of a new series of interviews here at On the Blink. The series is called Sacred Space, and it will feature short interviews with people about their spirituality.

I was inspired to create this series for several reasons, but I can trace bright lines of inspiration to two figures in particular: the former Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and the Jewish-Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein.

In his On Being interview with Krista Tippett, Rabbi Sacks emphasized the need to honor difference across religious practices. Rather than insisting that everyone conform to our beliefs, Sacks suggested that we take the time to learn the beliefs, songs, and stories of other religions—even if we don’t choose to adopt them. He suggested that our God lives in these differences, in the rare and surprising moments of connection we establish through empathy and trust. So this series will strive to bring such differente voices forward.

Sylvia Boorstein’s wisdom also came through her On Being interview. Dr. Boorstein says that developing a spiritual practice doesn’t require time apart from our daily lives: “Spirituality doesn’t look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you’ve had a long day.” She emphasizes the need for a spirituality that is expressed through everything else in our lives, that hums along beside us in all we do.

My Sacred Space interviews will attempt to honor difference and bring spiritual practice to the center of conversation. Faith and spirituality are not all we will talk about on this blog, but they are moving toward the center—as all important commitments in our lives must.

If you would like to share the stories of your faith and spirituality with me, just send me a message through the contact form below. I am excited to begin this series with all of you!