Category Archives: Reflections

Celebrating Holi on Easter

Standard

Ecuadorian Folk Dancers

Holi Festival 2 copy

A talk delivered by The Rev. Wilfredo Benitez at the Holi Festival, Queens Museum.

Happy Holi and Earth Day to all our friends. I bring you Easter greetings from historic Saint George’s Church founded in the village of Flushing in the year 1702 of the Common Era. Saint George’s Church is a plethora of diversity in celebration of the wonderful mosaic of peoples from all over the earth, that reside in the village of Flushing, the most multicultural location in these United States of America. It is a joy to be here with the Hindu Temple Society of North America, the Queens Museum, and all our distinguished guests and performers as we honor the arrival of Spring in this Holi celebration, and we celebrate the endless bounty of fruit, provided by our mother earth.

Not unlike the Holi Festival, the Easter celebration that the church celebrates also begins with the lighting of a fire, which will eventually light the Paschal candle that marks the passage from darkness to light, and from death to life. When we begin to go beneath the surface of our world religions, we begin to discover commonality, and common themes.
Easter is a joyful colorful time, and what could be more colorful than the Hindu Holi celebration where people in India take to splashing each other with powders that reflect the colors and joy of Spring. These Spring colors represent the triumph of good over evil, as does the resurrection narrative in the Christian faith.

Holi, from my limited understanding is also a time of gratitude for all the gifts and bounty that come to us from our mother Earth. We welcome the arrival of Spring in the deepest and most hallowed humility, recognizing that all of life is a gift, and that the beauty and splendor of nature comes to us from a Higher Sacred Source. We are reminded in a festival such as this that we are all stewards of the earth, called to care for the earth, and not to trample upon it, for selfish ends. The care of the earth, and its preservation, is something that all the great religions of the world advocate. This is an area of faith that we should never ignore. We live in a time of incessant technological advances that often disregard the consequences to the planet, and even our very own existence, and Holi is a reminder to us that there is a perfect order to the universe, and our planet, that should never be tampered with.

We’ve been entertained today with dances and music from different parts of the world, dances and music that illustrate the endless variety of soulful Spirit contained in all the peoples of the earth, and these are gifts that reflect the Divine in all of us. Where there is joy, there is music and dance, where there is Spring, there is celebration.

For myself, I can’t tell you enough what joy the season of Spring represents. As I eagerly watch the branches of trees in anticipation of the first signs of new life, I’m filled with elation. As I watch the birth of new leaves and flowers sprouting from the ground, my heart rejoices, and something in my soul is restored. The dreary cold Winter starts to fade into the sunset, and a new sense of anticipation over takes me. I am reminded once again that this is the passage from death and darkness, to life and light.
This Holi gathering, in honor of our mother Earth, in the context of people from all over the world, is yet another sign that we are moving from darkness to light as one humanity with an incredible diversity, all interconnected to one another, and one Eternal Source of Life.

However, our mother Earth is suffering, and not all of her children have behaved in the most enlightened manner. The one single issue that affects all of human and animal life on our planet today is global warming. Our earth is warming at an alarming rate, and as stewards entrusted with the sacred care of our living planet, we cannot turn a blind eye to the consequences. Our great religions call us to care for one another, to uphold each other as brothers and sisters, and in the measure that we turn a blind eye to the plight of our only known living home, this incredible planet earth, we fail to honor all that is holy in Hinduism, in Buddhism, in Judiasm, in Christianity, in Islam, or any other great religion of the world.

We cannot celebrate the earth without assuming responsibility for the care of the earth. For too long our species has been reckless, and it’s time to turn this trend around. We also have a responsibility to the endless variety of life on this planet, the birds in the air, the creatures on the ground, the fish in the sea, the plants and trees that provide our oxygen, and even the tiniest of living microscopic organisms that permeate our world. Everything in creation has a place, and it is our sacred duty to honor this, and not impede its sustainability.

Holi, like Easter is a celebration of the victory of life over death, and Life in the end, is the most powerful force in the universe. Ultimately, there is no destruction that can come to LIFE, and it is in the deepest humility that we are all called to come to this recognition.
When we celebrate the coming of Spring, and the arrival of new life, we celebrate and regenerate our very souls. The sunrise of Spring, is a sunrise in our very hearts, it is like the song of a singing bird on our very sentiments, calling us to arise, to breath LIFE and to celebrate its beauty and holiness.

Signs of Life abound, all we need to do is to look around us; we see these signs in nature, but we too are living proof that life is more powerful than death. In a day and age where many cease upon religion to divide the world, and some commit acts of terror in the name of God, we are living proof in this space, right here and right now, that our faith traditions are about unity, and the respect of the dignity of every human being. This gathering is not an anomaly, this gathering is the essence of our faith traditions, and the colors of Holi remind us of the beauty contained in our great diversity; for in the end, our diversity is but a mere reflection of the endless beauty of God; and we as people of faith, embrace this gift.

So, let us continue to celebrate the arrival of Spring, let us continue to celebrate Holi and Easter,; let us continue to celebrate our mother Earth, and our wonderful ever expanding diversity. Let’s take a moment to be in gratitude for all the gifts that come to us in life, our friends and families, our faith traditions, our democratic freedoms, the joy of sunrise, and the green that is beginning to sprout all around us. Let’s celebrate the power of Life over death, and say no to all those voices of deception that refuse to acknowledge that our journey on the face of this earth is ultimately about Life and Living.

Let’s continue to celebrate our Mother Earth, embedded with endless spirals of mystery all pointing back to the unifying Unknown that connects everything in Creation. Let’s take a moment in gratitude for the opportunity to be in each other’s company, for we are in the company of the Divine. Happy Holi and Happy Easter!

What a gift it is to me, to celebrate this Easter Sunday within the context of the Holi festival, and our sacred mother earth. This day will remain in my heart as yet another example of the power of life over death, and the beauty of God’s creation. This day will remain in my heart, as a living example of the gift of our diversity, and the endless faces of God on this earth. Blessings and grace to all of us, Happy Easter, and Happy Holi.

Speech delivered at the Queens Museum on Easter Sunday, March 27th, 2016, in celebration of the Hindu Holi festival.

©Wilfredo Benitez
March 27th, 2016

What Draws My Eye?

Standard

Tree Tops 1 copy

What draws my eye?
When I look through a dark tunnel,
And fixate my gaze on the light at the end;
When I look above trees dormant in the Winter,
And I feel the cold emptiness of the chill on my neck?

What is my eye doing,
When it sees Light and Darkness all at once?
What draws my eye,
When the numinous makes its presence?
Is there total darkness when I can still see the light?
Is there total desolation when the element of grace is present?

Dark tree branches reach for the light
Casting shadows below,
And there I stand.
Darkness encircles me,
In the midst of the light.

What draws my eye?
Is it the inner impulse always seeking to unravel the mystery?
Is it the inner yearning to know, and see beyond the veil?

I point the camera and release the shutter,
The impulse to shoot is there,
It is no longer a conscious impulse,
The eye has seen something beyond seeing.

What draws my eye?
It is the never-ending quest to know…

©Wilfredo Benitez
January 7th, 2016

There in the Mist

Standard

L1000145 copy

There in the mist is hidden the deepest of mysteries,
So why deceive ourselves into thinking we see the whole picture?

An apostle once wrote: “For now we see through a glass dimly,”
And my lens is that glass wanting to penetrate the mystery!

Mysteries of mysteries, all of life is a mystery;
Things are hidden from sight,
But when you see beyond seeing,
There in the mist is a truth that penetrates the heart.

It is stillness, in slow gentle movement,
It beckons me to look ever so deeply,
And alas,
There in the mist, is a universe unfolding,
Shadows and light converge,
Moving beyond light and darkness,
One begins to see with the eye of the heart.

It remains an impenetrable mystery,
It humbles and teases my pursuit,
It avows my mortality,
And yet it beckons me,
Calling me, seducing me, it never lets me go!

There in the mist is hidden the deepest of mysteries,
I continue to look, and wait,
Wait until alas I will see “face to face” and know
Who it was, and what it was that beckoned me.

What will be of my mortal self when the mystery is no more?
What will be of my mortal soul,
When I cast away the dim glass,
And see with clarity for the very first time?

I feel as if I will burst into a zillion infinite particles,
Reaching the outermost confines
Of what was once an impenetrable mystery.

©Wilfredo Benitez
11/7/15

Waking Up Spiritual and Religious: Some Initial Thoughts on Sam Harris

Standard

Brandon's Beach copy

Sam Harris is a brilliant writer with credible insight into the world of organized religion. He identifies with impressive precision the myriad of flaws contained in the world of religion. The culprit in all of this, according to Harris, is religion itself. This is where I part ways with his manner of thinking. In my experience as a clergyperson with 25 years of ordained ministry behind me, and as a person who has been on a spiritual quest ever since I can remember, the problem with religion is not religion, but rather what the adherents of religion do with their religion.

For better or for worse, religion at its most basic level is like a lump of clay that can be molded in any which way the potter wishes. Once a perceived leader of a religion molds the clay, he or she can get others to follow along whether it makes sense or not. The question needs to be asked, what is it about our species that makes us so gullible? Is it religion, or perhaps our unwillingness to probe deeper into ourselves, and the nature of things? Why do we humans readily follow a leader, be it a Jim Jones or a Hitler? The dynamics that we observe in organized religion can be observed in political ideologies, or any given philosophy as well. Dogmatism is not solely a religious issue; it is rampant in human activity. Entrenched orthodoxy can be found anywhere, even in the world of science.

In the 21st Century industrialized world, religion has taken an enormous hit. Many of the reasons for this are legitimate. Anyone who knows me, or knows anything about me, is aware that I readily acknowledge the murky and shadowy side of the world of religion. As a clergy person I often deal with the aftermath of shadow religion on the lives of people who come to me and share their stories. Most often these people have been abused by religious leaders, or at the very least have been muffled in the free exercise of their imaginations and thinking. For these persons, adherence to dogma often lead to a clash between their inner intuition, and what was expected of them in their religious circles. The damage is real, and it’s no wonder that many people with some intelligence in the 21st century have said goodbye to organized religion. This is one of the reasons houses of worship are being converted into condos, discos, café’s, you name it. The faithful have abandoned the fold. We can add to this the very fact that books bashing religion have become national best sellers. There are a string of writers who have managed a great career by merely bashing religion.

Sam Harris does a dazzling expose of organized religion in his books, and he’s probably the best source at this time pointing towards everything wrong with religion. Those who have given-up on organized religion can take refuge in his writing. While this may be the case, there is an alternative narrative unfolding within the world of religion (and beyond new age spirituality) that mostly goes ignored by the general public, and the media. It doesn’t catch the attention of the media because it doesn’t generate media buzz, and hence a single narrative about religion prevails, the one that says religion stinks, and you better get out while you still have a chance! We post-modern humans seem to go from one extreme to the other, on the one hand often adhering to destructive fundamentalist religion, and on the other hand clinging to an atheism that is also very fundamentalist in its dynamics; but there is a middle way.

I just ordered a used copy of: “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion” by Sam Harris. From listening to the first few pages on Amazon.com, I could recognize the same language being used by Harris, that contemplatives in the Church have used for centuries. How ironic? These contemplatives and mystics are the product of religion; there is no denying that! The spirituality without religion that many seek today has been contained in religion all along; tragically institutional religion itself has failed to share that. The institution of religion is as flawed as any other human institution, but there is a middle way. Religion – in its authentic forms – births spirituality. We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Religion is not the problem, it’s the adherents who don’t seem to get it right, and seemingly become trapped on the shadow side, that generate the conflicts surrounding religion.

Why not wake up to religion in all it’s authenticity, embracing the spirituality that comes with it, and discarding the garbage stuff that takes the form of rigid destructive fundamentalism? Anyone reading the Gospels today will discover a Jesus who was by no means orthodox or fundamentalist; some might argue that he was spiritual but not religious. The truth of the matter is that the man portrayed in the gospels, was very much a Jew who lived the pure essence of his Jewish religion. If we turn to the essence of whatever our religion may be (not in the fundamentalist mode) then waking up spiritual and religious, can be a natural outcome.

In closing, I believe it is not fair to bash religion, generate anti religion sentiments, and then draw from religion itself, to spread spirituality based on religion. I think we should stop kidding ourselves about being spiritual but not religious. Religion births spirituality!

©Wilfredo Benitez
July 22, 2015

Authors note:  My photograph above was taken at Saint Brandon’s Beach in Southern Ireland. Saint Brandon was a Celtic Saint also known as Brendan the Voyager.  We are all on a voyage on the vessel of LIFE!