Birthday of Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919), the 26th President of the United States, was ambitious, aggressive, occasionally contradictory, always dynamic. He was a physical fitness enthusiast, soldier, cowboy, politician, explorer, conservationist, big game hunter, and writer. His unusual blend of talents and commitments resulted in a life of action which mirrored the emergence of America on the world scene in the twentieth century.

Attending Harvard University, this go-getter competed as a boxer and graduated at the top of his class. He was elected an assemblyman at the age of 23, the youngest member of the New York State Legislature, where he was a champion of municipal reform. When the United States went to war with Spain, he organized a regiment and led these ” Rough Riders” in the capture of San Juan Hill in Cuba. Returning home as a hero, he was elected Governor of New York. He was elected Vice President of the United States in 1900, and after President William McKinley was assassinated, he became the youngest President in American history, serving from 1901 – 1909.

Much of the physical and mental energy of Theodore Roosevelt went into his warrior ethic which was expressed when he said: “No triumph of peace is quite as great as the supreme triumphs of war.” Yet, on the other hand, this indomitable President used his passionate feelings for the natural world to introduce conservationist legislation he pushed through during his years in the White House.

To Name This Day . . .

Spiritual Practice

“Passion is what disturbs and confounds the safe and the settled in your life,” writes Gregg Levoy in Vital Signs, as if describing the life of Theodore Roosevelt. “Passion is the impulse toward growth, which, by its nature, protests boredom and ennui, refuses to bump mindlessly along on the conveyor belt, and has little patience for the ‘been there, done that’ attitude that there’s nothing new under the sun. It is what stirs your interest in life, helping you awaken from the trances and entrapments of the everyday, which block the natural migration of your energies.

“Whether passion takes the form of colorful intensity or contemplative alertness, it constitutes to a vibrant life, a keen awareness of where the impulse is, and a determination to plug into that place. It helps you stay engaged with the world and enjoy it as a function of the primary calling of all creatures — maximum aliveness.”

Why do people with high energy and incredible pep impress those who work or socialize with them? Has this been the case with you? Who has inspired you most with his or her “maximum aliveness”? What practices have you tried which can deepen and enhance your zeal?

Stolen Daughters: Kidnapped by Boko Haram

On April 14, 2014, gunmen entered a boarding school in Chibok, Northern Nigeria, and kidnapped 276 girls. The perpetrators of this terrorist attack were part of Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist group that has been at war with the Nigerian government since 2009. They have terrorized the country, destroying villages, leaving some 28,000 people dead and forcing three million to flee. Their most known atrocities have been committed against women and girls, who have been raped, taken to a forest hideout, and forced to marry the terrorists.

The fate of the Chibok girls became the focus of a global media campaign with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. In the early hours of the kidnapping, 57 girls escaped. Three years later, 103 were released. The others remain in captivity.

This documentary follows the released girls as they adjust to life after their shared trauma. The Nigerian government puts them up in a safe house in the capital of Abuja, where they receive medical and psychological assistance and attend school. The filmmakers received exclusive access to the girls but have to rely on secret journals to learn what had happened to them in the forest. Government officials, fearing that Boko Haram will not release the remaining girls, insist that the girls not talk about their past, only about the benefits they are receiving now. Although many are still deeply traumatized by what they have experienced and seen, they enjoy trips outside the safe house and visits with their families. Eventually they enroll in the American University of Nigeria.

In contrast to all the attention given to the Chibok girls are the stories of the “Forgotten Girls,” as many as 2,000 other women and girls who have been taken by Boko Haram. In interviews in Maiduguri, where they have gone after escaping from the forest, even though it is home to many members of Boko Haram, they talk about being raped, tortured, and observers of atrocities. One of them, Habiba, got pregnant in the forest, escaped and gave birth, only to discover she is HIV-positive and have her baby die. She reaches out to two brothers, who witnessed the killing of their parents, and they create a new family.

In 2014, ISIS (in Iraq) and Boko Haram were responsible for 51% of all terrorism-related deaths, according to the Global Terrorism Index. In 2015, terrorism increased most significantly in Nigeria, where deaths increased by over 300 per cent to 7,512 fatalities. The fifth edition of the Index, published in 2017, noted that deaths from terrorism had fallen. But the statistics, as this documentary proves, only tell a small part of the story. The effects of terrorism cannot be estimated or ever thoroughly revealed. Films like Stolen Daughters create empathy for the survivors and help us, if only partially, to understand.

On Her Shoulders

“There is a light this world. A healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, and too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in ordinary ways.”
— Richard Attenborough

“On Her Shoulders” is one of the Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2018. (Find screenings here.) It provides an emotionally engaging portrait of a Yazidi woman from Iraq who has taken upon herself the daunting task of bearing witness to the genocide perpetrated by the Islamic State (ISIS). She is speaking today for more than her own people. She has become an activist for women victims of rape and the millions of women all over the world who have suffered sexual harassment and abuse.

“Always do what you are afraid to do.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nadia Murad was born and raised in Kojo, a small village in Iraq. Calling herself, a “simple woman with simple dreams and hopes,” she says as a teenager she planned to open a salon to help women see themselves as special. But in 2014, the Islamic State attacked the town with the intention of ethnic cleansing; they were determined to exterminate the Yazidis, an ethnic minority whose monotheistic religion, Yazidism, ISIS regards as esoteric and non-Islamic.

The invaders killed Murad’s mother and six brothers along with 700 people in the village of 2000; only 15 men were left alive. Throughout Iraq, an estimated 5,000 people were killed in the following weeks, and more than 7,000 women and children were captured.

Murad and other younger women were abducted and forced into sexual slavery. She was raped, tortured, and exchanged among the militants. When she was able to escape, she was only 21 years old. Grieving the murders of her family and community members, traumatized by her own terrible violations, she nevertheless made a life-changing decision not to cave into fear but to begin a campaign to honor those who died and those who left Kojo to become homeless refuges. She continually asks, “What must be done so a woman is not a victim of war?”

“Courage is the most important of all virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”
— Maya Angelou

In the opening scene of On Her Shoulders, Murad is seen receiving the admiration of a pressing crowd of men and women who are immensely appreciative of her telling her own and their stories and advocating for justice for the Yazidis. In speeches before the United Nations Security Council, the United States House of Representatives, and the House of Commons, her courage seems to be gathering momentum. Murad’s vision is affirmed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations and by the articulate and charismatic Amal Clooney, a British human rights lawyer.

“Freedom is invisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.”
— Nelson Mandela

As vividly portrayed in On Her Shoulders, Nadia Murad has heard a compelling call to share survivor stories and advocate for justice for her people. But her advocacy takes a toll on this remarkable young woman. At times, she admits she would not mind living just a normal life. Fortunately, she has the supporter of her translator and friend, Murad Ismael. He accompanies her to speaking events and gatherings with Yazidi refugees.

Interviewers keep trying to make her into a celebrity, but she insists that it is not her story alone they should be concerned about but what is happening to the thousands of women and girls still held by ISIS and other terrorists. An estimated 5,000 Yazidi people were kidnapped by the Islamic State in 2014 and about 3,000 remain in captivity. Murad insists they must not be forgotten.

In 2016, Murad was named the first United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. The same year she was awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize. In 2018, she and Congolese Dr. Denis Mukwege were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.” She shared the award “with Yazidis, Iraqis, Kurds, other persecuted minorities, and all the countless victims of sexual violence around the world.”

Watching Nadia Murad’s spiritual journey as she bears witness to the killings, violence, and abuses of ISIS, we recognize her very special calling to bring light to those in darkness — those entombed in suffering, depression, and feelings of helplessness. She would probably be the first to humbly say that she is just a young woman speaking the truth. But, oh, what her presence means to the world.

We are reminded of this story by Kent Nerburn in Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace:

“We are not saints, we are not heroes. Our lives are lived in the quiet corners of the ordinary. We build tiny hearth fires, sometimes barely strong enough to give off warmth. But to the person lost in the darkness, our tiny flame may be the road to safety, the path to salvation

“It is not given us to know who is lost in the darkness that surrounds us or even if our light is seen. We can only know that against even the smallest of lights, darkness cannot stand.

“A sailor lost at sea can be guided home by a single candle. A person lost in a wood can be led to safety by a flickering flame. It is not an issue of quality or intensity or purity. It is simply an issue of the presence of light.”

National Cat Day

We here at Spirituality & Practice are great cat lovers! Frederic and Mary Ann have fostered countless cats through the years, finding loving and nurturing homes for their charges. Others became permanent residents and members of the Brussat family. Their current co-habitant is Puja.

Puja Brussat

Patricia and her husband Bo were not looking for a cat when they walked into a pet-supply store one day and saw Angelo — on a field trip from the SPCA — looking soulfully at them with alert green eyes that said, “Take me home!” They needed a mouser and were happy to make Angelo part of their family.

Cats are our teachers, companions, playmates, and so much more. What better way to celebrate them and all their feline relatives than with their own special day (though they most likely think every day is their day!), National Cat Day.

Founded in 2005 by Colleen Paige, a pet and family lifestyle expert and animal behaviorist, National Cat Day helps to galvanize the public “to recognize the number of cats that need to be rescued each year and also to encourage cat lovers to celebrate the cat(s) in their life for the unconditional love and companionship they bestow upon us.”

As Charles Dickens once mused, “What greater gift than the love of a cat?” Today cats can be found in 34% of American households, making them the most popular house pet in the United States. But there are some startling statistics about the fate of cats in the U.S.: “Estimates reveal that there are approximately 4 million cats entering shelters every year with 1 – 2 million being euthanized.” What a terrible waste of opportunities for the sharing of love. Even if you can’t adopt a cat, you can make a donation to a local rescue. Or you can volunteer to clean a cage or sit and play with a cat for a while. Who knows? You may just fall in love!

Cats are masters of attention and being present, but that’s just the tip of the tail of what they have to teach us. In honor of these precious companions, we have gathered some of our favorite resources to help you see all the myriad gifts cats bring to our lives.

To Name This Day:


  • “Having five cats around the house helps me have no expectations. They are not goal-fulfilling creatures in any human sense. There is little one can expect of a cat.”
    — Clarice Bryan in Expect Nothing
  • “The same attitude of relaxed gentleness is most beautifully seen when you watch cats climbing trees. When a cat falls out of a tree, it lets go of itself. The cat becomes completely relaxed, and lands lightly on the ground. But if a cat were about to fall out of a tree and suddenly made up its mind that it didn’t want to fall, it would become tense and rigid, and would be just a bag of broken bones upon landing. In the same way, it is the philosophy of the Tao that we are all falling off a tree, at every moment of our lives. As a matter of fact, the moment we were born we were kicked off a precipice and we are falling, and there is nothing that can stop it. So instead of living in a state of chronic tension, and clinging to all sorts of things that are actually falling with us because the whole world is impermanent, be like a cat. Don’t resist it.”
    — Alan Watts in What is Tao?
  • “The love we give to a pet, and receive from a pet, can draw us more deeply into the larger circle of life, into the wonder of our common relationship to our Creator.”
    — Kevin E. Mackin in Blessing the Animals by Lynn L. Caruso
  • “With my cats, I am learning the lesson of the sufficiency of the moment. No yesterday, no tomorrow, only the magic of today, of this single instant. No remorse, no regret, no yearning, just the play of now.”
    — Jeffrey Masson in The Spirit of Silence by John Lane
  • “Cats, in particular, teach us to be ourselves, whatever the odds. A cat, except through force, will never do anything that goes against its nature. Nothing seduces it away from itself. Contemplate ways we can strengthen our resolve to live our lives as who we really are. See the beauty, for instance, in foregoing an ‘important’ meeting or gala events in favor of a warm fire at home and a restorative nap. What makes us purr with contentment? Find it and let it, easily, find you.”
    — Alice Walker in We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For
  • “Brother David Steindl-Rast says that anything we do with a whole heart is prayer. By way of example, he recommends that if you come home from a long day too tired to say an Office, to pray a shower. Also to be prayed are gardens, walks, thunderstorms, conversations with cats and other creatures — any awareness or action that engages the core of stillness in which our hearts find wholeness.”
    — Maggie Ross in The Fire of Your Life


  • Cat Sense by John Bradshaw offers a mix of fascinating history about cats and helpful suggestions for caring for these independent animal companions.
  • Guardians of Being by Eckhart Tolle and Patrick McDonnell is a celebration in words and illustrations of dogs and cats as spiritual teachers of stillness, joy, and being present.
  • Zen Cat by Judith Alder and Paul Coughlin contains quotations matched with pictures of cats and kittens.

Children’s Books

  • Captain Cat by Inga Moore is a rousing tale of adventure, cats, and greed based on an old Italian tale.
  • The Cat with Seven Names by Tony Johnston is about a gregarious and wandering cat who visits six lonely people in his neighborhood and becomes their reliable companion.
  • The Coconut Monk by Thich Nhat Hanh is set in Vietnam and models the path of peace and nonviolence through the example of his two animal companions, a cat and a mouse.
  • Homer, the Library Cat by Reeve Lindbergh recounts the quest of a cat who lives in a quiet house with a quiet woman to find another place in his town where silence is appreciated.
  • I Am Tama, Lucky Cat by Wendy Henrichs is about an adorable cat who in return for a monk’s kindness brings good fortune to the temple.
  • Moo Kitty Finds a Home by Valerie Lee Veltre is a heart-touching tale about an abandoned cat and his quest to find a new home.
  • When Cats Dream by Dav Pilkey takes a trip with cats into their dream world.

Book Excerpts

  • In Getting Older Better Pamela Blair offers new vistas for women over fifty. Here is an excerpt on love and how she turns to her cats for physical comfort when her husband travels.
  • Kim Rosen’s Saved by a Poem is an astonishing presentation of the transformational power of poetry. Here is a poem by Jane Hirshfield in which a cat is saluted for being able to live “amid the great vanishing.”


  • Puss in Boots is a razzle-dazzle animated feature about an outlaw cat who dances flamenco; he’s a survivor able to handle all challenges before him.
  • The Rabbi’s Cat is a French animated film about the unusual quest of a rabbi, a skeikh, and a talking cat to discover the essential unity of life.
  • When the Cat’s Away is an irresistibly charming film about the magical and surprising ways in which community is created in large cities.

A Prayer for Healing Action in the World

A Prayer for Healing Action in the World

Upon hearing the heartwrenching and horrifying news of the shooting assault on the Tree of Life Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we asked Rabbi Ted Falcon of the Interfaith Amigos for a response. He immediately wrote back to share his reflections with us.

And so we pray this news …

Blessing always calls us to the immediacy of the present moment; it is an invitation to mindfulness. In the case of hearing terrible news, we are invited to share blessing in this form:

“Blessed are You,
Eternal One our God,
Universal Presence,
the True Judge.”

Something bringing pain and suffering has occurred that is outside of our control, and we are asked to be fully present to that pain with energies of blessing.

As the consistent rhetoric encouraging greater polarization and demonization of the “Other” has flooded our country and our world, explosions of violence can hardly be a surprise. While many identify the slaughter of innocent Jewish people in Pittsburgh as a Hate Crime, it is also Domestic Terrorism, and needs to be labeled as such. Anti-Semitism is clearly on the rise, but so is Islamophobia along with racial and gender discrimination. We need to do all we can to change the energies overtaking us.

So our prayers must encourage us to open more fully to the unlimited resources of Love and Oneness behind our individual identities, and express those resources more consistently and more loudly through our words and actions. Our prayers are only real when they stimulate healing actions in the world.

What are the healing actions that are ready now to be expressed through you?

Next Post: A Prayer for Our Role in Climate Change