Umma means Nation / thoughts on violence and freedom

By Maya Kriem

We named our daughter Umma, hoping that she, along with all our loved ones and ourselves will all become an Umma, gaining the ability to get in touch with our human essence…

I seldom share personal thoughts online, but today I feel compelled to do so. I feel so saddened by yesterday’s attacks on the mosques in New Zealand. So many deaths, so much grief! I have been particularly affected by the events, imagining the terror that children who were there must have felt. A father shielding his sons and being shot to death, Women and children screaming. So much loss in an instant. Perhaps I have been affected so because I had planned on taking my three kidlets to our local mosque for Friday prayer, but got caught up in a visit with a friend and decided not to go. Perhaps because it happened in a mosque, a place of worship that is supposed to be a safe space. It’s a unique feeling to be barefoot, in a room stripped from all furniture, where you stand shoulder to shoulder with strangers and pray to a common God. The energy during a communal prayer is indescribable. My mother called me as soon as she heard the news to beg that I never take my children to the mosque. “Who will you leave your children to if you are killed? What if they are killed?” Perhaps it’s because these acts of madness target a religion, my religion, that for me represents a precious gem. And I feel so privileged that I hold claim to such a gem.

My daughter’s name Umma means mother or grandmother in many different cultures and languages (in the Arab/Islamic world, India, Germany, Scandinavian countries). And most people assume that it is the reason we named our daughter Umma. A feminine name that represents motherhood; but it has another, related meaning. It is from a Qur’anic verse that speaks of how Abraham (considered the father of all three monotheistic religions) through his unwavering devotion to God became an Umma. And here Umma means Nation. Many understand this verse to mean that Abraham produced a nation of devout people, as many of his descendants were messengers and prophets, their stories often told in the old and new testaments and in Qur’an (Isaac, Ismael, Jacob, Joseph, Benjamin, and many more). But I always understood it to mean that Abraham became a nation onto himself, referring to Abraham’s unique ability to shed all the cultural and social layers of his identity and get to the core of what it is to be a human being; the human essence; that divine spirit that animates us all; that part of us that we all share; the common human denominator.

Abraham was a nation onto himself because he let his human essence shine above all else, and he did so by staying true to his beliefs, by submitting utterly and completely to his Creator, a God of light and love. Abraham became an Umma by free falling into love. And in so doing he gained unprecedented freedom. Freedom we glimpse when we are young children immersed in play, with no limitations on our imagination. Freedom we touch when we are out in nature and experience that indescribable feeling of peace and contentment, momentarily unburdened from our daily worries. Freedom that comes with that feeling of utter joy when we have done an act of genuine kindness for a stranger. Freedom that I always feel every time I step into a mosque.

We named our daughter Umma, hoping that she, along with all our loved ones and ourselves will all become an Umma, gaining the ability to get in touch with our human essence, that which links us all and makes us one, that which underlays our collective memory as a species. I am a Muslim Moroccan Australian woman raising my children in the Muslim faith in a country where I migrated as an adult. I find anchor in my cultural identity, my traditions and teach them to my children so they may serve as anchors for them too. I also attempt every day to teach myself and my children how to readily access and stay close to that human essence within us all; to reach beyond cultural difference and touch the Other’s soul. It is my attempt to counter the violence and terror we live with everyday.

Violence comes in many forms: A mad man wearing a GoPro camera storming a mosque in New Zealand and killing people, perpetuating a discourse of violence and discrimination against those who are deemed ‘Other.’ Harsh daily schedules and daily stresses in sterile urban jungles are impacting our mental health and wellbeing, disconnecting us from each other, from nature, from tradition, from ancestral knowledge. Industrial production and transportation systems that have affected our climate and are destroying our planet. A medical system that fails to uphold its own oath, that tells us time and again that our bodies are unable to stay healthy or heal themselves and so we need to medicate them. A food production and consumption system that is killing us and the planet. An educational system that strips us of innate knowledge and our natural ability to learn, analyze, question and replaces them with sterile information. An educational system that takes our children away from us everyday and turns these gentle, kind, empathetic human beings into stressed out, competitive ones. An educational system that is demanding that our children behave in unnatural ways (spending most of their daylight hours with same age kids, sitting still, letting the bell punctuate and dictate their needs and desires to play, study, even eat) and slaps labels on them when they fail to comply (ADHD, disruptive).

I pray that those who lost loved ones yesterday have beautiful memories to hold on to, prayers to soothe their souls, and arms to hug their pain away. I pray that the souls of those who were killed find peace in the highest heavens. I pray that my children only ever encounter kindness and gentleness. I pray that they continue to trust and free fall into love and light. I pray that we all do. With much love.


Spiritual Pirates

Here’s a bracing article by Corey Ichigen Hess about the wildness and intensity of Zen training. With thanks. Read the full article on his website.

... what I found was a group of wild rebellious spiritual athletes ... they had a brightness, a sturdiness, an unmistakable freedom ...


- by Corey Ichigen Hess [published at]

There seems to be a feeling among some practitioners who have never lived in a monastery or Zen center, that it is some kind of cloistered, strange place, where socially awkward people go to be alone and get away from society. That society is one thing and the temple is separate. I thought this as well before I met a couple of folks who had lived in the Monastery I lived in in Japan.

What I found instead was a group of wild rebellious spiritual athletes, like some band of bald skinny pirates, chasing after the meaning of life with zest and swag and samugi. And the most badass pirate of them all, the most intense, the most extreme, the wildest, was the Roshi, like some transparent Alpha Dog Captain Hook. Being in the monastery is like being in the spiritual major leagues or the Zen biker graduate school, with exceptional people pushing life to the limits. It is like an oven turned up all the way. It is a bunch of determined heroes, men and women, with a problem with authority, only bowing down to the Roshi because of his obvious energetic dominance. His huge sublime state of mind. He walks in the temple and everyone sits up straight, not because of an idea, but because his energy changed the cells in our bodies.

We went there because we saw a huge vessel, human potential at its ultimate expression. We saw someone who would never be fazed by our incredible intensity, our rogue spirits, our inner turmoil. He could take anything we gave him, and show us just how badass one could be. He showed us that our struggles could be transformed to really help people.

And the folks who trained there, they had a brightness, a sturdiness, an unmistakable freedom we wanted. They had been through the shit there, so that every day is a good day, no matter the circumstance. Sitting a billion hours, in the cold of winter, or being swarmed by mosquitos for days, clothes molding on our bodies. Year upon year of training, like Jedi knights.

And being forged in that oven of essence, we saw that the way to truly help society is to find a light within ourselves which can never burn out. Deepening the vow to save all sentient beings, over and over, deeper and deeper…

Continue reading the article here :

- with thanks to Corey Ichigen Hess and (Leave comments for the author on his website).

Corey Hess offers manual body therapy sessions and internal process work. He is located near Seattle, and can be contacted here.

Further thanks to Reinhard Jung.

Gabe Huck / A Guide for the Assembly

I am very pleased to be part of a collection, A Guide for the Assembly, in honour of Gabe Huck, to be published by Liturgy Training Publications next year.

This collection of essays, A Guide for the Assembly: Praise of God with Style and Grace, builds upon and extends the work of author and publisher Gabe Huck, who through his work at the Liturgical Conference, Liturgy Training Publications, the North American Academy of Liturgy, and in other writings the provided a visionary, evocative, and poetic foundation for the "full, conscious, and active participation" of assemblies engaged in liturgical renewal across the denominational spectrum. Inspired by his work, these colleagues, scholars, and pastoral liturgists explore new proposals for worship that is both catholic and ecumenical in contemporary assemblies, gathering the collected wisdom of the many cultures and contexts that mark the liturgy of the church in the United States. Parish clergy and liturgists, musicians and students of liturgy will find here guide for renewed celebrations in the twenty-first century.

The collection will be arranged in three broad sections, with titles drawn from Gabe Huck’s landmark (and still in print) text, Liturgy with Style and Grace. Each section aims toward the continuing renewal of a dimension of the liturgical practice of actively participating assemblies, concluding with specific proposals for further developments in pastoral liturgy.  

Who does the liturgy?

The first section, “Who Does the Liturgy? The Assembly and Its Ministry,” comprises essays by Stephen Burns (Anglican), Bryan Cones and David Lysik (Episcopal), Timothy Matovina (Roman Catholic), Kimberly Bracken Long (Presbyterian) and Paul Turner (Roman Catholic), and focuses attention on the assembly itself, along with its leaders, as the primary subject and symbol of the liturgy, which points to Christ and reveals the varied modes of Christ’s presence. Essays in this section will explore the active participation of the assembly, the role and service of special ministers within it, and the many ways the assembly manifests Christ’s presence through its practice of liturgy.

The sound of our prayer

The second section, “The Sound of Our Prayer: Word and Song,” comprises essays by Tony Alonso (Roman Catholic), Eileen Crowley (Roman Catholic), Kim Harris (Roman Catholic), Michael Joncas (Roman Catholic), and Gail Ramshaw (Lutheran), and explores the way the assembly addresses God in both language and music, as well as beyond text, and how these sounds, images, and melodies evoke the triune God, Jesus Christ the Word, and the assembly that gathers in Christ’s name. Essays in this section will address the intersections of language, gender, and culture in liturgical word and song and how the assembly makes use of its many and diverse treasures in this regard.

Knowing what it feels like

The third section, “Knowing What It Feels Like: The Body at Prayer,” comprises essays by Loraine Brugh (Lutheran), Mark Francis (Roman Catholic), Don Saliers (Methodist), Frank Senn (Lutheran), Juan Sosa (Roman Catholic) and Ben Stewart (Lutheran), and expands attention into the wider dimensions of liturgical celebration: sights and sounds, postures and gestures, architecture and environment. Essays in this section will explore ways in which the Body of Christ in all its members and through all their senses is drawn into common prayer. Sections will be connected by brief essays that highlight Huck's unique contributions in these areas.


A Guide for the Assembly, edited by Bryan Cones and Stephen Burns (Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, forthcoming 2019.