Sunday, September 03, 2006

In the Garden of Spirituality – Zainab Salbi

“We are not on earth to guard a museum,
but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.”

– Pope John XXIII

As signs of spring burst forth here in Australia, I’ve decided to begin a series of reflections on spirituality. The first of these reflections is from Zainab Salbi, founder of the relief organization, Women for Women International.


To me, spirituality is ultimately about seeing our Source – no matter what we each call It – as the same. It also involves acting on our responsibility to help others, especially those who are less fortunate. We must each do something to improve the world, even if it’s only that we pick up a piece of paper on the street. I feel very strongly about this.

No matter what your religion, if you live anywhere in the Middle East where I was raised, the teachings of Islam permeate the culture. There is no specific image or person that embodies the Islamic conception of God. God is everywhere, anywhere. God is part of you. Though I do not follow the teachings of Islam, I believe this as well. I talk to God in my heart. Depending on the situation, I ask, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ Or I say, ‘Thank you. Thank you, God.’ I feel comfortable and happy with this connection. We all have something we create for ourselves to make sense of things. This is what does it for me.

I don’t believe in nationalism or in grouping people only according to a geographical location or outer characteristic. Culture, religion, ethnicity are man-made social constructs that influence our lives, but we are more than these limited constructs. We are one humanity, the human race, and we have a responsibility to help each other regardless of what group we belong to. It’s only natural for people to drift towards others of like mind or color or geographical location, but I don’t think these things should restrict us from relating to everyone simply as human beings. If we act based on what we have in common with each other rather than on what’s different about us, we can really help one another.

I’m not trying to essentialize human experience, to disregard what makes us each different or unique – or to say that one way will help everyone. I realize that our experiences of race, ethnicity, and class do affect who we are and the challenges we face. But we have to act humanely toward each other. I can disagree with someone politically – and God knows I do! – but when it comes time to ensure that they have access to food, medical care, education, shelter, and so on, their political views become irrelevant to me.

I believe Spirit, or God – the name is not important to me – is influencing my life and [ . . . ] that this Spirit is everywhere all the time. Believing in God is what is important to me. This belief, more than any particular religious teaching, is what guides my life.

My spirituality is [ . . . ] a view I have about life that helps me make sense of the different experiences I go through [ . . . ] It helps me deal with the challenges and enjoy my happy times. I do pray every day and try to silently reflect on and contemplate my life. This strengthens my connection to God and my ability to deal with my challenges [ . . . ] Gratitude is also a big part of my spirituality. I’m grateful for the big things [ . . . ] and for the really small things. I don’t take anything for granted.

Excerpted from In Sweet Company: Conversations with Extraordinary Women About Living a Spiritual Life by Margaret Wolff.

Garden photos by my dad, Gordon Bayly.

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