From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shakespeare: Religious or not religious?

William Shakespeare  (1610 Portrait)
People are wondering whether Shakespeare was religious or not as much as Hamlet was wondering whether to exist or not.

It seems that the famous bard of Stratford never quite came out with definitive statements about his own religious views.  Certainly this evasiveness wasn’t due to a lack of language-arts skills.  Therefore, why is it that we just don’t know much about Shakespeare’s spiritual leanings?

Wikipedia explains that during Elizabethan times, religion was an especially hot-button topic.  Recusancy Acts imposed punishments
upon those Catholic-leaning adherents who refused to participate in Anglican religious practices.

There is much debate over whether Shakespeare himself was one of those recusants.  Although his father, John Shakespeare, did not attend church, that could have been “for feare of processe for Debtte,” rather than because of any religious conflicts.  Although his daughter Susanna refused to take Anglican Communion one Easter, that could have been because of Puritan rather than Catholic sympathies.

On the other hand, Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, came from a “conspicuous and determinedly Catholic family…”  Shakespeare’s wedding to Anne Hathaway is said to have been officiated by a Catholic priest, John Frith, “who maintained the appearance of Protestantism.”

Then there are the analysts who believe that Shakespeare was neither Protestant nor Catholic, but instead a non-Christian (and perhaps even an atheist).  For example, Russian scholar Vadim Nikoleyav claims that the bard “put forward anti-church ideas and did not consider suicide a sin.”

Copyright April 23, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hollywood's got religion

Noah's Ark  (Painting by Edward Hicks)
If you’re thinking that Hollywood is just a land of unbelievers, a look at this season’s box-office winners might prove otherwise.

During the past few months alone, four major faith-based films have been released:  Heaven is For Real (about a young boy’s near-death experience), Noah (about the biblical ark-building prophet), Son of God (an adaptation of “The Bible” miniseries), and God’s Not Dead (the story of a college freshman who debates with his professor about whether God exists).

Ever since Mel Gibson’s 2004 The Passion of the Christ made hundreds of millions, Hollywood has realized the power of the faith-based market.  Reuters reports that quality religious scripts have been in demand ever since.

David White, head of Pure Flix (the company that produced God’s Not Dead), talked about the grassroots marketing of this particular film.  It was screened “for 8,000 pastors prior to its opening.” White had counted upon many of these pastoral “gatekeepers” to “rally their people [some of the “160 million plus” who “call
themselves Christian”] to go to the movie theater.”


Copyright April 22, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 21, 2014

Orchids: New and Old

(Photo by WPPilot)
For those who dread what the daily news might bring, here’s a headline that is actually uplifting:  Stunning New Orchid Species Discovered.

Even though approximately 30,000 species of orchids already exist, the world can always use one more.  This new-to-us species grows wild in the mountains of central Panama, and was discovered by a postdoctoral scholar and her dad.

Orchids in general have existed for hundreds of years (and then some).  Jerry Anthony reports that they have “come to symbolize many different things in different cultures.”

For example, the ancient Greeks used orchids in love potions and associated them with “virility and fertility.”  In Victorian Europe, they were more a sign of “luxury and elegance.”  The ancient Aztecs viewed the vanilla orchid as “a symbol of strength.”

Christianity has embraced orchids in many ways.  They are often to be found in Easter and Christmas
arrangements, as well as on the altars of many churches.  The spots on some orchids are said to represent the blood of Christ.     


Copyright April 21, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ukrainian Jews: In serious danger?

WW II Holocaust in Ukraine   (Chart by Dna-Dennis)
U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose family history is tied to Judaism, recently had this to say about an anti-Semitic pamphlet that is circulating in Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk:  [this pamphlet] is not just intolerable; it’s grotesque, is beyond unacceptable…  

According to Adam Taylor of The Washington
Post, this pamphlet demanded that “all Jews over
16 years old register as Jews…  supply a detailed
list of all the property they own, or else have their
citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated.”

These types of prejudicial stipulations can easily raise the specter of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.  Getting to the bottom of who is responsible for this vicious act seems therefore of the utmost importance.

Some theorize that it is “the work of pro-Russian separatists.”  Others wonder whether it is instead a ploy to undermine the separatist movement.

Taylor reports that Ukrainian Jews do not at this point seem particularly alarmed by these leaflets.  However, a vigilant stance seems certainly in order…


Copyright April 20, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Kepler 186f: Earth's doppelganger?

Johannes Kepler (1610 portrait)
The term “doppelganger” is an amalgamation of two German words:  Doppel (“double”) and ganger (“goer”).  It implies that for every one of us, there are two of us.

Could this include planets, too?  Could Earth have a “twin” (or at the very least “cousin”) somewhere out there in the Universe?

Astronomers are thinking that Earth very well might.  In fact, an exciting candidate was recently discovered a “mere” 500 light-years away in the Goldilocks zone of a red dwarf star within the
constellation Cygnus.  

(Don’t go packing just yet…  Bear in mind that one light-year equals approximately six trillion miles.)

This possible doppelganger, dubbed Kepler 186f after the telescope with which it was detected (in turn named after the great German mathematician Johannes Kepler), could have water on its surface.  The Associated Press reports that this planet is located in “the sweet spot where lakes, rivers or
oceans can exist without freezing solid or boiling away.”

Of course, plentiful liquid water is a key ingredient for life as we know it…    


Copyright April 19, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 18, 2014

Heaven: News and Views

Paradise  (by Jan Brueghel the Elder)
The movie “Heaven is For Real” recently made its debut.  It tells the story of a four-year-old’s heavenly journey during a near
death experience.  

Throughout the centuries, many traditions have had their own descriptions of Heaven.  Wikipedia ties these descriptions together with this definition:  Heaven… is a common religious, cosmological, or transcendent place from which heavenly beings (such as God, angels, the jinn, and sky deities…) originate, are enthroned, or inhabit.

Although many religions agree that Heaven does exist, they differ (sometimes sharply) as to how one gains entry into this ultimate “Promised Land.”  Some Universalist traditions believe that everyone will eventually get there, no matter how troubled life here on Earth may have been.

Other traditions believe that entry into Heaven depends upon the type of life one has led.  A spiritually “good” life (according to the beliefs of a particular religion) can result in immediate entry upon death.  A questionable life may instead first result in time spent elsewhere.  And a highly questionable life?  According to some doctrines, the result can be eternal damnation.

Ancient Egyptian faith included a rather arduous view of the afterlife.  In order to reach Heaven, the 
deceased person would undergo a weighing of the heart with the feather of truth.  If the heart was heavy with
sin, it would then be devoured.

Ancient Judaism spoke of the shamayim, located above a dome-shaped firmament which covered the Earth.  It was there that Yahweh dwelled in a heavenly palace.  (Yahweh’s earthly dwelling was Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.)

Islamic texts refer to several levels of Firdaus (Paradise) for those who do good deeds while on Earth. Even the lowest level of Islamic Heaven is said to be “one-hundred times better than the greatest life on earth.” The highest level is known as “Seventh Heaven.”


Copyright April 18, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rabbi Sasso: Raising spiritual kids

'God's' Paintbrush    (Photo by Jennifer Rensel) 
According to Spirituality & PracticeRabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso was the “second woman to be ordained as a rabbi (1974) and the first rabbi to
become a mother.”  She therefore knows a thing or two about raising spiritually-oriented children.

Her well-known children’s book God’s Paintbrush has recently been honored with a Special 10th Anniversary Edition.  During the past ten years, Sasso has also written nine other "multifaith" classics” that focus upon the spirituality of
children and their parents.

In an interview provided to Spirituality & Practice by Sasso’s publisher Jewish Lights, Sasso explains that children have an “innate spirituality” that is often overlooked by adults because it isn’t easily expressed with words.  She therefore advises:  When talking to our children about God, we do not need to simplify the concept, only the language.

Children are often taught specific ways to describe God.  Like coloring only within the lines, this might somewhat limit their ability to creatively understand the vastness of God’s inexplicable nature.

Sasso also recommends that adults try to recall their own spiritual childhood experiences. She feels that this will make parents better able to resonate with the soulful experiences of their children.

Copyright April 17, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved