A Spiritual Practice for Connecting with the Iraqi People
- Heart to Heart:
A Spiritual Practice for Connecting with the Iraqi People
I call her Besma, though I do not know her real name. This woman and I are living in spiritual tandem through an ancient practice of prayer called kything. Kything is a promise to accompany each other, not physically, but heart to heart. Kything means to show by demonstrating, to walk together and voluntarily carry another person's burden as our own. Kything offers the opportunity for Americans and other westerners to share the suffering by pledging our daily awareness to an unknown person far away, and vowing to help hold the fear, pain, and threat that has come into the human family. Kything is a way for you and me to admit that among the 24 million people of Iraq there is another self: that they are all other selves. What if 24 million Americans pledge to kythe with 24 million Iraqis, to create a huge field of empathy with each other? What if we practice letting our minds and hearts leap over the political and religious dogmas that would set us against each other and claim the brotherhood/sisterhood of our humanity? This is kything. What if the veterans of other wars— you who know the realities of the foot soldier— would companion one of the young men and women who are today in danger? One of ours? One of theirs? Statistics vary, but approximately fifty percent of Iraqis are under age fourteen: children old enough to understand can kythe with other children, or grandparents can take one more child onto their laps. Congressional representatives can kythe with Iraqi parliament members; clergy with clergy, doctors with doctors, and so on.Here is how kything goes: First you calm and clarify yourself, ask if you are ready to companion one Iraqi. If you say yes, then continue: if you say no, that's okay, you'll find another way to tend this war. Once you say yes, ask for an image to come, a face, and with that face a story. Just listen to your heart: we are all connected, and someone will come to you.Here is how I began: On the first night of the war, I call out until I see a face. She is a mid-life woman, myself born in another land. She has deep lines at the corners of her eyes from squinting into desert sun and set lines around her mouth from holding her tongue, biting down on the bitterness of these decades. Nevertheless, she carries a sense of repose. I show her my face, tell her my name. "You are not alone," I say… and pause. There are tears riding my eyes and I see tears rising in her eyes, for the engagement of empathy feels very real. "Will you let me be with you? Will you be with me?" She glances around to see if anyone is watching, gives the slightest nod.Her whole adult life this woman has lived under the armored wing of a dictator. She has found what happiness she can. Three of her grown children are still alive. Her son has been conscripted into the army and she doesn't know where he is. Her daughters' husbands are also gone, just gone. The family has moved into one small apartment to take care of the children. Whenever the electricity flickers on, her husband sits dejectedly in front of the TV. He has only one leg.I reside near Seattle, Washington, "Besma" resides in Baghdad, Iraq. There are eleven time zones between us. When I get up, at 7:00 AM, she is serving supper, assuming they have something to eat. When I enter the busyness of my day, she goes to bed, assuming she still has a house. All day long I pray for her safety in the night. And I share my life with her… "Oh look Besma," I whisper in my mind, "it is raining on the daffodils. May you feel the softness of this rain. May you know the sweetness of a flower." A few minutes later I say, "Here is your tea, Besma, strong with a little milk. And here is your breakfast. Eat with me: may this bread nourish us both. May this tea rest in both our mouths." All day long I offer her an island of peace in a green land faraway. I offer her a warm bed in safe house. I offer her a grocery store spilling over in abundance. I offer her friendship in a language she does not speak, and yet we understand each other.Once we start kything, we need to keep it real. On the kitchen counter is a little space arranged with candles and plants. Everyone in the family is encouraged to write down their prayers and petitions so we can hold them together. Besma's name is there and a photo from National Geographic. I share the concept of kything and Besma's story with family and friends. Some start kything. My partner walks in from doing t'ai chi and says, "A 12 year old girl named Shira just came to my mind. She's free spirit who is afraid of what is happening to the earth in this war." A friend is excited to report, "I was on my morning jog, and suddenly this guy named Abdul seemed to be jogging with me. He runs a small shop in Basra and wanted to know what would happen if they open the city to American troops… and we talked about it! It felt really natural, like I was on an invisible phone call." We are finding our other "family."Besma reminds me to stay awake, to not take my comfort for granted, nor expect it to last forever. She models the courage of ordinary people who keep on keeping on despite incredible hardship. She provides a model for my own courage, for whatever comes to my country in retaliation or civil unrest. We offer each other a chance to carry the terror of this historical moment together. And some day, when I am in my own darkest hour, I know I will see her face and hear her voice saying to me, "Look, my friend, here is the moon rising over the desert. May its light shine on you. Here is a cup of dark, sweet coffee and a piece of fruit. I will share with you. You are not alone."Started by Christina Baldwin http://www.peerspirit.comPlease pass this message along to 24 million of your closest friends.If you want to know more about kything, see the book: Kything: The Art of Spiritual Presence, (Paulist Press 1988) by Louis Savary & Patricia Berne, and the spiritual fiction of Madeleine L'Engle, especially The Wind in the Door.The prayer, below, is one suggestion for reaching out in words, perhaps added to your daily ritual. Thank you.
Dear and beloved stranger,
Please eat this food with us that we may all be nourished.
Please share this walk with us that we may all know nature's peace.
Please rest in this warm house that we may come to know each other.
Please sleep under these soft blankets that we may all know safety.
Please pray this prayer that all our names of God may guide us on.
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