Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ramadan 2017

Ramadan: The time to go on a spiritual journey
About one quarter of the earth's population is Muslim--with Muslims spread in most every country around the world. Although I am Christian and living in a Muslim country, I have had many spiritual experiences talking to my Muslim friends about their beliefs and yearnings. They have taught me what it really means to embrace and love a stranger in a wilderness. To see their devoutness and discipline as they pray five times a day inspires me--even when it means stopping on the side of the road and putting their prayer rug down in the sand to kneel on. My Muslim friends pray for me, sometimes every day, and always when they go to Mecca. I tell them I can feel their prayers, and I hope they can feel mine.

Ramadan happens in the ninth month of the Islam calendar when you see the first glimpse of the crescent moon--the emerging new light. This year in 2017 the crescent moon occurs on May 26, and then a few hours later at 3:09 am, the first call to prayer of Ramadan will start. Children and families look to the first moonlight on that night, the symbol of a new radiance and enlightenment. The month of fasting and prayer is meant to be a new beginning, not only in the sky, but in a Muslim's heart. Ramadan's purpose is to have an inner spiritual journey--shedding negative habits--letting new light infuse your soul.

It is required of Allah for all those who can fast to do so--of course not for small children, the elderly, or people with health conditions. Most of the time, children begin to fast with their parents when they begin puberty, but sometimes children voluntarily want to fast earlier. Water and food are abstained from for about 13 hours, from the first prayer early in the morning called suhar, which is before sunrise. Therefore, if the suhar prayer begins at 3:09 am, a small meal is eaten before the prayer. The children wake up and eat with their family, and then the first of the five prayers is offered for the day. It is still dark outside. But it is said to the children that when they can tell a difference between a white thread and a black thread, the fast has begun. The new daylight has dawned.

For example, on the first day of Ramadan, the prayer schedule will be at these times: 3:09 am, 1:05 pm, 5:23 pm, 9:15 pm, and then 10:28 pm. When the sun sets, people will reach for some dates, and maybe some soup before the iftar meal. Many will go to the mosque. After the last prayer, then a huge meal is spread out for family and friends to partake. It is called the iftar meal because the last prayer is the iftar prayer. People still go to work and school during the month of Ramadan when they fast.

Praying five times a day is part of my every day rhythm--hearing the imman call to prayer.
Fasting is intended to bring Muslims closer to Allah. It requires immense self-restraint, discipline, patience. But also it is a time to share blessings with those who are poor or living in difficult circumstances. Ramadan is to sharpen inner spiritual traits, but then show selflessness and compassion outwardly to those who have less. One of our friends from Turkey said he always gives many sheep to people for their Ramadan feasts who live in meager conditions. As he looks over the past year and recognizes his blessings when he fasts, he then naturally wants to give and share his abundance. As Muslims fast, it reminds them of others' suffering, They want to give to charities and those whom they know are less fortunate.

During the month of Ramadan, many people read the 6,000 verses of the Qur'an, preferably reciting them by heart (You would be surprised at the children in my compound who can recite page after page of the Qur'an. They prepare all year long). The Qur'an is studied more deeply this month, thus adding to the deeper spiritual experience.

Arguing, gossiping, swearing, and anger are reigned in. Forgiveness is sought after by those who may have wronged another. One Qatari friend in his 60's told me that his sister was upset at him for a year. She would not speak with him. But two weeks ago, to prepare for Ramadan, she called him on the phone. She apologized, and said she wanted to visit him at Ramadan and Eid. If she fasted for 30 days, and still did not have kind feelings for her brother, then her connection to Allah during Ramadan would be void. Her efforts would amount to nothing. She choose to reconcile her family relationships so she could have a light-filled Ramadan.

Controlling one's emotions and thoughts-- connecting with Allah--is of paramount importance. With fasting and devout prayers, there are new resolutions and reflections to be better--to change inwardly, and then to give with new compassion. When I asked my neighbor children what Ramadan means to them, they said, "For ten of the days of Ramadan, there is one single night when the water is smooth on the ocean. That is the night when any of our bad deeds we might have done during the year disappear.. That is the most important night." I guess all the light is gathered in that night.

I am so grateful to live in a Muslim country at this time in my life. I hope I am growing some light too--next to my Muslim brothers and sisters.

                                         Some books to teach children about Ramadan:

                                                 A calendar for Ramadan, just like an advent calendar:

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Qatar: A Rising Tide With Art

Elias being introduced to the Minister of Art and Culture here in Doha. Adel, Elias's friend and mentor wanted him to meet the minister who visited the exhibit. 
Qatar is not only aiming to become a sports hub in the world, but it is also eager to bring more art to the Gulf Region. That means supporting not only local artists, but those who are here from different countries. This week we attended an exhibit of about two dozen artists who are trying to make it in the art scene here in Doha--several from different countries. Large paintings, and a few sculptures were being sold. Elias, our son with autism, was invited to show his paintings too. In the last few years, creativity is weaving into this culture in Qatar. It is an exciting time to be an artist in Qatar.
Creativity is prized and sought after.

The exhibit was a rich experience in various cultures being represented---Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Qatar, and Elias, the token artist from the U.S.

This is a children's story by one of my favorite children artists, Leo Leonni. He tells of some mice who are gathering food for the winter, but Frederick is writing poetry and making pictures. The theme: that in the winter the mice not only need some food, but they need some culture--like art, a riveting storytelling session, and poetry. This is the message of Qatar's message right now to everyone: You are invited to create. To build a sculpture, paint, sketch, and draw is important to celebrate life and humanity. And then to share it. Somehow forming color onto pages, paper, wall, canvas make us more alive--definitely more happy. There should be a little Frederick in all of us.

Artist Elias with four of his paintings. Another one is hanging on a wall .The winter scene was sought after by a Qatari policeman/art who misses snow, and spent some time with his mother at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN

An artist painting a mural to advertise for the show.

A Qatari artist who paints portraits with his hands
I go to see Miriam, a Qatari artist exhibit some of her paintings at the show. She has not been able to walk for seven years, but continues to create. If you talk to her, she never stops smiling. It makes me think how much joy and fulfillment art has brought to her. I met her at the Picasso exhibit. You know how it is. We artists run in the same circles.....

An artist from Saudi Arabia wood burning portraits. He is stunningly accurate with his wood burner.

The night we went to bring the paintings, Hamad, a Qatari policeman and artist spotted Elias's painting--begging to buy it.  He misses the snow when he brought his mother to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, USA.

Hamad, the policiman/artist and Elias. Hamad never stops smiling. He laughed when I told him he didn't look like a policeman.

An artist from Pakistan who has just been here in Doha a few months--trying out his hand in a new country to show his art.

Some traditional Qatari music in the background. Adel, Elias's friend, a fellow artist, who has done so much to help him.

Some Qatari brothers buying some ice cream in a stall out in the parking lot--part of the show.

Of course, there is always decadent candy at exhibits in Qatar. The candy even was highly decorated for the occasion.

Elias with one of his art classes at an exhibit at the Fire Station. It has been thrilling for him to have his art displayed now three times since we moved here two and a half years ago. I am so grateful to those teachers and mentors who have helped my son be more alive and happy because of art. I appreciate Qatar for supporting him and all other artists.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Qatar: Sailing, Sailing Away....

I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship.                                                               --Louisa May Alcott

Elias, being my shipmate. We make a good team!
In the hilarious comedy What about Bob? Bill Murray is tied to a mast as his sailboat glides across Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, USA. He elatedly screams out for all those on shore to hear, "I'm sailing. I'm sailing. Look at me, I'm a sailor." Last week we took a spring sailing camp here in Qatar from Regatta Academy. This is my third year in Qatar, and my third spring break being a "sailor." You can start as young as six years old at the academy. My 15 year old son with autism can steer a dingy around the harbor. So no excuses for me when I thought I might get blown around or tangled in rope. On the last day you get to sail to an island off the coast of Doha. Feeling the wind of the sails above you, pulling you to your Ithaca, with the salty sea spraying in your face is exhilarating. I promise. It's addicting.

Graduating from our sailing course

Whenever I get out on the water in a sailboat, I begin to notice the direction and strength of the wind or zephyr. On land, the breeze or the lack thereof, is never much on my mind. But out on the smooth or tempest water, I am constantly looking at the flag, telling me which way the wind is gusting by.  Our instructor said to face where you think the wind is blowing, and if both ears feel the gust, you know where she blows. One needs to be wind-aware--always alert to the direction and strength of the wind. It's your invisible fuel to move in the direction you desire--your passage.

As Mark Twain said, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Sailing takes teamwork; it is not just a solo journey. Some of the kids bringing up the boats from the shore.

                                                     Lessons of a Sailing Week

There is a "no go zone" that is 45 degrees wherever the wind is blowing--meaning you cannot force yourself forward into the wind. You have to zigzag to your destination. Trying to push yourself directly into the wind will flap the sail. You will stop, and even go backwards. This is where the old sailing term, "in irons" comes from. You are stuck, almost like in chains. Just as in life, you have to be alert to the various angles and options available to avert the "irons." Understand where the "no go zone" is located, and steer yourself away. Know your wind, and eventually it will become more instinctive. You can maneuver your way around the "no go zone" to your Promised Land.

Know your winds

Know the points of sail that can bring you to your goal or destination. The point of sail lets the boat travel diagonally to the wind direction. You must turn into the wind, in a "close haul" or "beam reach," and then gain a lift as the sails are brought in tight. On a sailing journey, there is no way that you are going to go from Point A to Point B in one straight line course. The boat will have to follow the direction of the wind, and that means zigzaging. Just as in life, we need to be constantly vigilant of the motions surrounding us. Wind can pull us off course or be our surging power to reach our destination. It's your decision where the wind will take you. Keep your hands on the rudder, looking forward. But be aware: the wind is changing all the time.

Karin holding onto the tiller the whole time
Sometimes there is no wind in the sail. You just sit and drift for awhile--patiently waiting for a gust to push you along. Other times the waves are rocking, swaying the boat with water splashing in. Being in the small boat with my son, sometimes I had  to remember to stay calm. He was looking to my response if the rope got tangled or the mast suddenly blew across. I knew his reactions to the journey would mirror mine. Every day is a new journey--sometimes gliding swiftly along with no storms. And the next hour a wave can capsize you. But as long as your hand is steering the course and you are looking around for the wind to give you the direction, you will reach your Ithaca--the place you are looking for in the wide, expansive sea. The secret is to relish every moment of the journey.

Finding company along the journey....

Again, enjoying the moment of the journey.