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I found A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice by Matthew Fox to be a powerful and worthwhile read. The book has long been on my ever-growing “to-read list,” and the reputation that it has is well earned, I think. In the first chapter of the book, entitled “Toward a Meaning of Compassion,” Fox discusses the various elements of what compassion is and what compassion is not; the headings are so good that they themselves serve as a lesson through short quotations:
- “Compassion is not pity but celebration.” (2)
- “Compassion is not sentiment but is making justice and doing works of mercy.” (4)
- “Compassion is not private, ego-centric or narcissistic but public.” (14)
- “Compassion is not mere human personalism but is cosmic in its scope and divine in its energies.” (17)
- “Compassion is not about ascetic detachments or abstract contemplation but is passionate and caring.” (21)
- “Compassion is not anti-intellectual but seeks to know and to understand the inter-connections of all things.” (23)
- “Compassion is not religion but a way of life, i.e. a spirituality.” (25)
- “Compassion is not a moral commandment but a flow and overflow of the fullest human and divine energies.” (30)
- “Compassion is not altruism, but self-love and other-love at one.” (33)
Fox concludes the opening chapter with an image of concentric circles with spoke-like lines intersecting at the center; each spoke is labeled with one of the elements of compassion discussed earlier in the chapter and where the spokes intersect in the center it is labeled “compassion.” The image and the caption below do a beautiful job of summarizing the first chapter: “All elements of compassion are interconnected like spokes on a wheel” (35).
In the second chapter, “Sexuality and Compassion: From Climbing Jacob’s Ladder to Dancing Sarah’s Circle,” Fox looks at “two contrasting symbols for the spiritual experience: That of climbing Jacob’s ladder and that of dancing Sarah’s circle” (37). Fox argues that the image of the ladder as an ascent toward God is damaging, going so far as to say: “As long as the West remains dependent on the ladder symbol there will be more violence, more sadism and masochism in the name of all our numerous gods—and the exile of compassion will continue. Phallicism, the worship of up-ness, remains America’s dominant religion” (65). As an alternative to the symbol of climbing the ladder, Fox offers the symbol of dancing Sarah’s circle—an image of equality, interdependence, and a “global village” (45). Fox says that “Transcendence is Sarah’s circle and Sarah’s circle is transcendence. Therein lies salvation for a global village and the holy people who inhabit it‚which is all of us” (65).
The third chapter is is about the relationship between psychology and compassion and was too in depth to explore here, but was succinctly summarized in the chapter’s title, “Psychology and Compassion: From a Psychology of Control (Competition, Compulsion and Dualism) to a Psychology of Celebration (Letting Be, Letting Go and Letting Dialectic Happen)” (68).
In the chapters that follows, Fox discusses compassion and how it relates to other key areas in our daily life. On creativity Fox says, “There will be no compassion without creativity” (104), and “creative compassion is the carrying on of God’s creation” (139). In his concluding thoughts in the chapter on science and nature, Fox calls for a change in even the way that traditional religious vows are understood in light of our evolving understanding of our place in the cosmos:
Centuries ago, when society believed in a Ptolemaic cosmos that was geo-static and geo-centric, monks and nuns took vows of stability, thus to mirror the energies of the universe as they understood them. Today, now that we know the universe is in constant motion and is interdependent at every level, the time has come for spiritually motivated people of good will to take vows of organic interdependence and motion. The proper name for such a vow would be a vow of compassion. (174-175)
In the fascinating chapter on economics and compassion, Fox discusses our need for an economic system built on compassion: “The ultimate principle in any economics of compassion is that it is to the self-interest of all of us and it is to the price and greedy interests of none” (220). The chapter on politics was an important one for me to read because I have personally become so cynical of our political system and its ability to do any good. Fox reminds the reader that politics often “become confused with politicians so that it appears to be one more game at assuring individuals their security in their compulsive and competitive climb up the political ladder” (223); but to “yield to this meaning of politics is to surrender true citizenship activity. The struggle of groups through the ages, of blacks, of women, of the non-landholding whites, for their rights as citizens has been a struggle for a citizenship based on Sarah’s Circle. The struggle goes on” (222). And indeed it does.
A Spirituality Named Compassion is a great book for those with a comfort and/or familiarity with the Christian tradition, but there are parts (beautiful parts, to be sure), that may be less meaningful to someone of a different faith background, or no faith background at all. If you’re looking for a book to comfort you and reinforce the status quo, this would not be the book for you. If, however, you are looking for a great book using Christian symbols and stories to challenge you to become a better and more compassionate person in your own life and to work to make the world a more compassionate place, Matthew Fox may have written just the book for you.
This post is based on a Powerpoint presentation given in a class on the Torah at Marylhurst University on 21 April, 2014. The text from the presentation is below, followed by information about the sources used. Click here to view or download the presentation.
What does ‘mezuzah’ mean?
The word ‘mezuzah’ means ‘doorpost in Hebrew. It also refers to the scroll that observant Jews post on their doors, and it colloquially is used to refer to the cases that are hung on the doorposts which contain the scrolls.
The most famous prayer in Judaism is the Sh’ma, whose opening paragraph reads: “And you shall speak of them [the Torah's laws] when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.… And you shall write them upon the doorpost of your house ad upon your gates” (Dueteronomy 6:7,9). The Hebrew word for doorpost is mezuzah, and for thousands of years Jews have posted small boxes, also known as mezuzot, on their doorposts. Inside each box is a small scroll, which must be written by a scribe. It includes the first and second paragraphs of the Sh’ma including the commandment concerning the mezuzah. When a Jew enters his house, he sees the mezuzah and is thereby reminded how he should act in his home. Likewise, when a Jew leaves the house, the mezuzah reminds him of the high level of behavior he is expected to maintain wherever he goes. (Telushkin 710)
The Mezuzah Case
The mezuzah scroll is traditionally held inside a mezuzah case which is then attached to a doorpost. These cases come in a large variety of shapes and sizes, and the images below suggest.
About the Mezuzah Scroll
In order for the mezuzah scroll itself to be considered kosher according to halacha (Jewish law), it must be written in a very specific manner by a trained scribe known as a sofer.
The kosher mezuzah scroll is hand-written with a quill pen and a special black ink onto a parchment made from the skin of a kosher animal. Each letter of each word must be perfect and the back of the scroll will have the word ‘Shaddai’ written on it.
The text on the scroll comes from the Torah. Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4-9 and 11:13-21:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes. And you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.
And it will be, if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love the Lord, your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give the rain of your land at its time, the early rain and the latter rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil. And I will give grass in your field for your livestock, and you will eat and be sated. Beware, lest your heart be misled, and you turn away and worship strange gods and prostrate yourselves before them. And the wrath of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will close off the heavens, and there will be no rain, and the ground will not give its produce, and you will perish quickly from upon the good land that the Lord gives you. And you shall set these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your sons to speak with them, when you sit in your house and when you walk on the way and when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates, in order that your days may increase and the days of your children, on the land which the Lord swore to your forefathers to give them, as the days of heaven above the earth.
I See the mezuzah as a beautiful reminder of the Torah. Not only is it written on a scroll like the Torah, but it contains the words of the Torah, and like the Torah, it must be meticulously created by a trained scribe. In a sense, it takes the command to ‘Hear, O Israel,’ and expands it to also be ‘See, O Israel.’
Sources (including images)
Caves, Jonathan. Mezuzah. 28 July, 2007. Flickr.com. Web. 04 Apr. 2014 [Link]
Djampa. Creteil Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai synagogue Mezuzah. 14 July, 2011. Wikimedia Commons. commons.wikimedia.org. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. [link]
Djampa. Israel Safed Beit Hameiri Mezuzah. 07 Oct. 2010. Wikimedia Commons. commons.wikimedia.org. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. [link]
Djampa. Old Jerusalem Yochanan ben Zakkai Synagogue Mezuzah. 10 Aug. 2010. Wikimedia Commons. commons.wikimedia.org. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. [link]
“Deuteronomy – Chapter 6 (Parshah Va’etchanan) – Tanakh Online – Torah – Bible.” Deuteronomy – Chapter 6 (Parshah Va’etchanan) – Tanakh Online – Torah – Bible. Judaica Press, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. [Link]
“Deuteronomy – Chapter 11 (Parshah Eikev and Re’eh) – Tanakh Online – Torah – Bible.” Deuteronomy – Chapter 11 (Parshah Eikev and Re’eh) – Tanakh Online – Torah – Bible. Judaica Press, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. [Link]
Fine, Anthony. Untitled Image. 29 July 2012. Flickr.com. Web. 04 Apr. 2014 [Link]
Jodi0327. The only mezuzah I saw. The Netherlands was particularly deadly for Jews during WWII. Only 1 out of 16 survived. 19 June 2011. Flickr.com. Web. 04 Apr. 2014 [Link]
Mezuzah Scrolls. Mezuzah scroll ashkenaz real front.JPG. 03 Apr. 2012. Wikimedia Commons. commons.wikimedia.org. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. [link]
Moore, Ari. mezuzah. 02 Oct. 2005. Flickr.com. Web. 04 Apr. 2014 [Link]
Telushkin, Joseph. Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History. Revised ed. New York: W. Morrow, 2008. Print. [Amazon Link]
Zienowicz, Alina. Mezuzah Haifa 2011.JPG. 07 Aug. 2011. Wikimedia Commons. commons.wikimedia.org. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. [link]
“Rastafari means to live in nature, to see the Creator in the wind, sea and storm. Other religions pointed to the sky, and while we were looking in the sky, they dug up all the gold and diamonds and went away with them.” (Jimmy Cliff)
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.
None but ourselves can free our minds.”
(Bob Marley, Redemption Song)
“No one should question the faith of others, for no human being can judge the ways of God.” (Haile Selassie I)
“Few modern-day movements have spread as widely as Rastafari. Born in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica, in the 1930s, today the movement of ‘Jah people’ is chanting down Babylon ‘outernational.’” (Frank van Dijk)
April 21st is Grounation Day. For members of the Rastafari movement, Grounation Day is the commemoration of the visit of Emperor Haile Selassie I to Jamaica on April 21, 1966. The Rastafari movement, sometimes incorrectly referred to as “Rastafarianism,” is a fascinating religious movement (though many devotees would say that it is not a religion). An afrocentric tradition that was influenced by Judeo-Christian traditions, Hinduism, and the experiences of oppression (referred to as downpression) of the 20th Century Jamaican ghettos coalesced as the Rastafari movement in 1930 when Haile Selassie I—then known as Ras Tafari—was crowned emperor of Ethiopia and was given the title His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God. Haile Selassie I’s coronation took on messianic meaning for the some in Ethiopia, who saw him as an incarnation of Jesus and God in the flesh.
The Rastafari movement and its message spread around the world through reggae music, most notably the music and message of Bob Marley. Having been a fan or reggae music since my childhood, I have long been interested in the countercultural message of the the Rastas as expressed through the music I love: ideas like understanding the dominant western society as ‘Babylon,’ the unwavering love for God (or Jah), the emphasis on personal health, and the unapologetic use of cannabis (ganja) as a religious sacrament.
It has also long bothered me that people seem to know little more about the Rastas than they have dreadlocks, listen to reggae and they smoke herb, as all three of those things are also done by many people who are not Rastas. This Grounation Day, which marks the 48th anniversary of Haile Selassie’s visit to Jamaica, I am setting out for a 2-month experiment of studying the teachings and traditions of the Rastas as much as I can, consuming an ital diet of vegan non-processed foods, listening to reggae music primarily, giving Jah praise every way I can, and blogging about the experience and some things I learn as I go.
Some of the subjects I intend to blog a bit more in depth on are: The Ital diet, Views on HIM Haille Sellasie I, Ganja, Reggae, Bob Marley, Isms & Schisms, Rastas & Race, and the Dreadlocks. Are there any questions about the Rastafari movement you have that you think I should explore further? Any suggestions? Leave your feedback in the comments.