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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Religious freedom day

 Wisdom, Chapter 18, Verse 17-18
17 Then, at once, visions in horrible dreams perturbed them and unexpected fears assailed them; 18 and cast half-dead, one here, another there, they revealed why they were dying.

Egyptians had just had the tenth plague the death of the first born; all their horrible dreams and visions had come true. The day before or even the hour before they were happy; they continued to revele in their ungodly ways. They had 10 chances to change and now the last plague.

Nightmares in Ancient Egypt[1]

The dream in ancient Egypt functioned as a liminal zone between the land of the living and the afterlife. However, the dream was also a phenomenon over which the dreamer had little control, and its permeable boundaries allowed both the divine and the demonic inhabitants of the beyond access to the visible world. Sometimes the result was a positive beneficial experience, as is attested in New Kingdom royal texts and elite hymns that relate the awe-inspiring contact a dreamer could have with a god or a goddess. But another more disturbing belief was that dreams could also allow the vulnerable sleeper to be watched or even assaulted by the hostile dead. While today we call these events «nightmares» and consider them psychological phenomena, the Egyptians blamed them on external monsters or demons crossing over from the other side. These entities included the dead, and here it appears that the line between the justified transfigured dead and the malevolent unjustified dead might not have been an immutable one. Surviving spells, prescriptions, and apotropaic devices attest to the prevalent fear of nightmares while the intricate steps one could take to ensure safety in the night emphasize the tangible nature of these fears. To protect themselves against such demons of the dark, sleeping mortals could access the same potent energies that restored order and kept at bay the chaotic enemies of the sun-god himself.

Nightmares: A Jewish Approach to Bad Dreams[2]

Humans have long pondered our need for sleep, and the physical and mental harm that sleep deprivation causes. However, ancient sages saw a spiritual reason for sleep. When the Holy One Blessed be He, created man, the ministering angels mistook Adam for a divine being and wished to exclaim “Holy” before him. What does this resemble? A king and governor were riding together in a chariot. The king’s subjects wished to greet their king with cries of “Sovereign,” but they did not know which one was the king. What, then, did the king do? He pushed the governor out of the chariot and thereby the subjects knew who the king was. Similarly said Rabbi Hoshya, when G-d created Adam the angels mistook him (for G-d). What, then, did the Holy One blessed be He do? He caused sleep to fall upon him, and thereby all knew he was a human being! (Bereshit Rabbah 8:10). According to this Midrash, sleep was created to differentiate humans from G-d. It is a sign of our weakness. For hours of the day, every human gives up complete control of themselves. This is to inspire humility. Sometimes, sleep is not so restful. We have all woken up trembling, sweating, and in fear of our lives without any hope of return to sleep. Ever wonder why this happens?
Scientists have put forward physical and psychological reasons for why we experience nightmares. Nightmares tend to occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep episodes. These REM episodes become more frequent as the night progresses, so nightmares often occur in the latter portions of our sleep, during the early morning for most people. Nightmares frequently concern being unable to escape danger, falling, or reliving a traumatic experience. Unlike night terrors, which occur soon after going to bed and are not experienced as dreams, we do remember our nightmares. Sometimes nightmares can have physical triggers, such as eating just before sleep, or taking drugs such as antidepressants or antihypertensives, or conversely, trying to stop drinking alcohol or sleeping pills. Paradoxically, sleep deprivation can also increase the likelihood of nightmares, as can sleep apnea (where breathing is impeded during sleep, causing episodes of waking while gasping for breath). Finally, nightmare disorder (often hereditary) can cause nightmares. Nightmares may have serious physical consequences, such as an increased risk for obesity and heart disease, while those suffering from depression are more likely to consider suicide. Psychological explanations for nightmares have also been offered. About 100 years ago, Sigmund Freud taught that dreams were a way to access our subconscious, and interpreting these was a key element of psychoanalysis. Nightmares would reveal thoughts and desires that we were not aware of in our daily life, but which manifested in such things as a slip of the tongue (where we might says a word that seems totally out of place, which revealed what was secretly on our mind) or a persistent thought (which could be a song or poem that included a key word or concept). Today, many psychiatrists believe that dreams serve the purpose of allowing us to work out emotional or problem-solving issues. Nightmares may thus convey an ongoing, unresolved spiritual conflict. I have argued previously that nightmares enable us to cultivate compassion for the other we do not understand. For example, I believe that nightmares are gifts from God enabling us to access a painful situation without really having to experience the pain of the experience. This helps us to cultivate empathy if we choose to consider our self-improvement after our bad dreams. In fact, Rabbi Zeira taught, “if a man goes seven days without a dream, he is called evil,” and Rabbi Huna taught that “a good man is not shown a good dream, and a bad man is not shown a bad dream” (Berachot 55b). Perhaps this comes to teach us that, on some level, we need the human vulnerability of bad dreams to remain humble, sensitive, and empathetic. We must actively choose to use our dreams as a vehicle for deepening our spiritual and ethical sensitivities. Abraham was the first to have a nightmare in the Torah. “And it happened, as the sun was about to set, a deep sleep fell upon Abraham; and behold—a dread! Great darkness fell upon him” (Genesis 15:12). Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the great 18th-century German scholar, interpreted Abraham’s experience in a unique way. The answer had to experience figuratively the endless night and dread and the exulting awakening therefrom so that it could be grasped more surely and more deeply and be handed down with all the certainty of something that had already been lived through. This opens up a new way to understand nightmares from a theological perspective. Perhaps G-d provides us with experiences outside of reality in order to prepare us to handle real situations within our reality. We are more prepared for a negative life experience in our lives since we have already “encountered” it. Further, we are better able to digest a painful situation because we explored it more deeply in the unconscious realm. Sometimes, of course, nightmares can tragically terrorize someone and they may require prayer and therapy. But hopefully, we will all know as many positive things in our lives as possible, and our dreams and nightmares can be healing tools that prepare us to proceed along more difficult journeys.

When you awake from a nightmare give thanks; that the evil did not overtake you; give thanks for the many blessings you have been given; think, remember His goodness.

Religious Freedom Day[3]

Religions and religious organizations have been responsible for a great deal of good being done in the world, from the founding of worldwide charity organizations to simply inspiring people to be kinder and humbler on a daily basis, as well as more sympathetic to the plight of his fellow man. Unfortunately, an often-observed characteristic of many religions is that their faithful often try to convert others to their faith, and when those others refuse, the consequences can be grave. From the Roman persecutions of Christians in the ancient times, to the infamous Spanish Inquisition, to the witch hunts of Puritan America, to the Islamic Jihads (or secular progressives for that matter) still occurring today, it is easy to see how dangerous religions can be if not checked, and how overzealous believers in a certain god or no god at all can be in attempting to force everyone else to believe as they do. This is why it is enormously important to make sure religious freedom is granted and protected to all, and this is why the Founding Fathers of the United States of America saw this as such.

On January 16, 1786, soon after the United States of America came into existence as a sovereign nation, the Virginia General Assembly adopted Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. This statute then became the basis for what we know today as the First Amendment, which guarantees religious freedom to all people residing in the U.S.A. Every year since then, a statement is released on this same day by the president of the United States officially proclaiming Religious Freedom Day.

How to Celebrate Religious Freedom Day

A good way to celebrate Religious Freedom Day is to do some research about what life used to be like before religious freedom was protected, and every person had the right to believe as he or she chose.

·         “The Name of the Rose” is both an excellent book and an excellent movie, which quite accurately depicts what life was like during the Inquisition, and how far the inquisitors were willing to go to find and punish people they suspected of sorcery.

·         The young adult novel titled, “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” can also help one understand what it was like to be the least bit different from the rest of the villagers in 17th century New England, and just how dangerous it was to avoid church.
·         1951’s Quo Vadis, on the other hand, demonstrates how badly Christian were persecuted during the reign of the Emperor Nero in Ancient Rome.
·         “The Diary of a Young Girl”, written by Jewish teenager Anne Frank during the height of the Nazi persecution of Europe’s Jewish population is both interesting a heartbreaking when one thinks about all of the other innocent children like Anne who died horrible deaths for simply being of the wrong religion.
·         The works of Salman Rushdie could also prove to be a very insightful read, as the author himself received years of death threats after the release of his acclaimed novel “The Satanic Verses”, which was critical of Islam was published.

It could also be an interesting idea to have several of your friends of different faiths get together for coffee and discuss how positively religious freedom and the freedom to not practice any religion at all impact all of your lives and help make them better. Religious freedom is a wonderful thing, that should be fully appreciated and celebrated.

Listen to Blues in Memphis, Tennessee[4]

January 16-20

The Blues Foundation presents the 32nd International Blues Challenge, the world's largest gathering of blues acts. The clubs up and down Beale Street are filled with a variety acts as they compete for cash, prizes and industry recognition. The quarterfinals take place throughout the clubs on Beale Street and then the finals held at the Orpheum Theatre.

Daily Devotions
·         Drops of Christ’s Blood
·         Universal Man Plan
·         Nineveh 90-54 day rosary day 4
·         Iceman’s 40 devotion