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My Friday sermon —from the temple of endurance and the baptism of sweat

By November 13, 2020 3 Comments

The plan was to share inspiring, and less shared, stories about seers and prophets for this Friday sermon; great women —and men— who modelled humility, compassion, and most importantly faith and perseverance in the face of hardship. The “women” bit of the stories would necessitate serious research with no guarantee of success, perfectly in line with our current state of earnest discomfort compounded by fear, grief, and disillusion—with very little hope of salvation. I am deeply moved by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Sunday sermons, mostly because in her prayers she mentions coffee, dogs, and a satisfying amount of profanity in that order. I have been fairly confident that once I get my hands on a comprehensive biography of my namesake Khadija, I will be adding Tuesday and Thursday sermons too to satisfy the demand for “she-ro” content we [I] crave by women, on women, for men and women. Surely the medicine awaits in the pages of those illusive biographies I have yet to find. 

But as the pool (not puddle) of sweat deepened around my treadmill this morning, I remembered my conversation with my daughter the night before. Keep in mind that she is the eating embodiment of cynicism and sassiness. She has single-handedly added tens of new expressions to the 2019 [fictional] Merriam Webster Dictionary of Gen Z lingo including “hafoof” and “mmyeahp.” Her compliments are rare and far between, making her the sobering force that glues my feet to the ground and my chin to my chest. [My growing backside is no match to the weight of her reality check.] On the one-off occasion that a compliment does land on my lonely ears, it roars and lingers far deeper than that expanding pool of salted, chlorophyll-laden water around my rusty treadmill belt. She confessed that the —only— best piece of advice I shared with my girls when they were really young that kept them from complaining and quitting those exhausting PE classes at elementary school was to suck it up and keep their mouth shut. The pain won’t last forever. (I have always been too loving with my children.)

As I write this Friday noon, mosque loudspeakers are deafening my now fatigued ears with not sermons but reprimands for this and that. Not long ago, in the midst of an alarming rise in COVID deaths in Jordan, a preacher was yelling to his congregation something about the marital bed I kid you not. I understand preaching is not for me. Most of my inspiration comes from dogs and coffee. My learning is almost always guaranteed in the temple of endurance and pain. You can call me a scholar of sweat.

Currently in Jordan, we are under what our government sees as a “lockdown” but the entire civilized world understands as a military curfew. While other countries in lockdown allow their citizens to go out for solitary exercise and essential business, we are given a few days’ notice to stock up on cigarettes, bread, and toilet paper to prepare for what amounts to house arrest. We are not allowed to leave our homes, unless we just won bogus parliamentary elections, in which case we are allowed to take to the streets to celebrate with our automatic weapons and personal portable rockets. [I kid you not.] 

This explains why I am back on the treadmill and not pounding the concrete of West Amman, normalizing the sights of mounting garbage and the scents of pesticide-drenched gardens. Turns out treadmills have silver linings worthy of sermons.

They are the perfect analogy for what humanity is going through today. I notice that as soon as fatigue sets in, I become acutely aware of my gait. I begin to adjust my form, tweaking my step, the lift of my knees, the placement of my arms. My step lightens as the sweat dam breaks. I enter the temple of endurance and my breath settles. An empowering sense of calm overtakes my nervous system. I am delivered to the deepest depths of the open waters while the storm rages on the surface.

Fatigue gets me there.

COVID 19, Donald Trump, and our Jordanian parliamentary elections are our treadmills. They are as painful, rusty, and more than likely smelly. (Between chemical disinfectants, fake tan spray, and the stench of rocket fire mixed with lockdown tobacco, I imagine the fumes could be worse than my aging second-hand torture device.) After our baptism of suffering from frozen hamstrings and disabled hip flexors, they take us drenched in our own holy water to the temple of rebirth where we come face to face with our “ungloryness,” defences down delivered for salvation. [I have just added a new word to the above-mentioned anthology.]

Let us pray.

Thank you for the blessings of:

  • My chafing —fatigued— chest.
  • Donald Trump, for warming the stage on which hatred and bigotry can step out of the shadows and into the light.
  • COVID 19, for exposing the naked emperor and shattering our misguided understanding of power and disconnection from Mother Nature. 
  • But above all, thank you for reminding us that we have lost our way, sacrificing education for short-sighted booty, robbing generations of learners of wisdom and light, replacing them with non-thinking, non-questioning, non-spelling generations of robots mastering the art of regurgitation and karaoke.

I am reminded of these lines from Rumi’s Masnavi in which he recites to his third companion Hosam an incident told of Ali, the nephew and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him), who was on the battlefield and about to deliver a death blow to an infidel king.

“As Ali lifted his sword, the knight spat in his face. Suddenly, Ali, instead of stabbing downward, let his sword drop. Not spun as a parable of nonviolence by Rumi, the incident is a showcase of the mysterious ways of God. Held by Sufis as a model of the mystic saint, like Arjuna on the battlefield in the Bhagavad Gita, Ali sees beyond mere winning or losing to a larger divine pattern:

I am a mountain. He is my solid base. 

Like straw blown about by the thought of Him.

My desire is stirred only by His wind,

I am ridden by the love of Him alone, 

Anger is the ruler of kings, but my slave;

I have tied anger beneath my horse’s bit,

I have beheaded anger with the sword of patience

God’s anger has been turned within me into kindness

I am plunged in light, though my roof lies in ruin

I am turned into a garden, though I am filled with dust.

—Brad Gooch, “Rumi’s Secret”

Toward the end of his life, Rumi matured [fatigued] into a more meditative state of being that reflected itself in his poetry. His late work framed as the calmer product of his sunset rather than his sunrise years. 

“The noble title Lord of the East and the West means that God nourishes both the rising and the setting inspiration.” —Brad Gooch, “Rumi’s Secret”

Our setting sun is flooding the world with the light coming through the thankfully ruined roofs. Our running form is adjusting and maturing. Our sweat is at long last shedding the ugliness, bigotry, and blinding entitlement. We finally see clearly.

Suck it up. Keep your mouth shut. The pain won’t last forever.

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