SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING COLUMN, EDEN PRAIRIE NEWS, JANUARY 2019
Ohana and “Who’s Your Family?”
According to the U.S. Census bureau, “A family is a group of two people or more (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together.”
I’m sure that makes sense when you’re the government counting heads, but at this time of year, when connecting and giving is so in the foreground, that definition seems a little too narrow for me.
That definition wouldn’t, for example, include Steven, Alex and Jasmine. Those are the three young adults for whom I am “the other mother” that they had, for better or worse, growing up in EP. That definition wouldn’t count Nancy, Karen, Megan and about a dozen other women who have been sisters to me over the years. Not to mention Therese and Karen, who are my sister Sheila’s best friends. Because as she and I like to tell them, “The sisters of my sister are my sisters, too!”
If I had stuck with that Census Bureau definition, I’d never have recognized my second set of parents, Dodie and Bill. I wouldn’t have been an aunt to Tom, Sarah and Jane. Or counted Rick, Saleem and Tom as the brothers that I had always wished for when I was a kid.
I have a cluster of people that I love and count as family who are Hawaiian by birth and culture. Through them, I learned a beautiful word that describes this expansive experience of family: Ohana.
Ohana means family, but in a much wider sense than blood relations. It’s your close relatives, but also your cousins, in-laws, neighbors, friends and anyone else you collect along the way.
I’m so glad that Makana, my little brother from Nanakuli, gave me this wonderful descriptive word to honor the fact that “family” is so much broader than any family of origin. Having a name for my experience wonderfully affirmed a lifelong practice of accumulating and spiritually adopting people around me!
I’ve also learned that the spirit of aloha should always inform how you relate to your ohana. You share everything, from land to food to raising children. You should gladly nurture and care for people in your ohana, especially those who are young and those who are aged.
I have many people I count as part of my Eden Prairie ohana. I raised my children with some of them. With others, I got active in service to the community. My EP ohana, which stretches across multiple Christian faith communities and a few mosques, uplifted me and helped me expand and strengthen the spiritual ties I feel to the God of my understanding.
Every time we are at a “starting” point, something different seems more possible to me. So as we bring in the New Year, I’d like to invite you, my Eden Prairie readers, to try on the idea of ohana and all that it offers.
Our city is evolving in wonderful and diverse ways. This year is bound to bring us new people, including people grounded in cultures or religions that differ from our own. Let’s meet them and greet them with aloha, with the excitement, even expectation, that our ohana is about to expand.
Because as Lilo and Stitch reminded us, “Ohana means family. And family means no one gets left behind or forgotten!” What a great place from which to start the new year!
SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING COLUMN, EDEN PRAIRIE NEWS, NOVEMBER 2018
The Power of Gratitude
“What’s the magic word?” our mother would ask whenever my sisters or I were clamo
ring for something or other. It was important to say “please” when making a request, and equally important to say “thank you.”
It’s Thanksgiving time, our national tribute to gratitude. It’s a time that beyond boundaries of culture, religious expression and geographical location we all stand together in solidarity as we give thanks. Thanks for family, for friends, for this country and its freedoms. Thanks for the turkey and stuffing. Or the lasagna. Or the ham. Or the masala.
The spiritual writer and mystic David Stendl-Rast asserts that gratitude is the doorway to the divine. To be grateful is to shift our focus from distress or scarcity to where life is full and rich. It moves us out of negativity into a place of appreciation. For many of us, it involves turning our hearts and minds to the God of our understanding.
I have friends who are doing a practice of acknowledging one thing they are grateful for each day in this month of November. I know others who are using a gratitude journal, and every day jotting down something that strikes them as noteworthy, no matter how small.
Both those practices remind me that gratitude is not just random moments of saying “thanks,” but almost an art form. It’s an outlook, a way of viewing the world with openness to seeing the good and acknowledging its source.
What am I thankful for this week?
My amazing spouse and my remarkable children, two aging cats and a neurotic dog. Without them, my inner circle would not be so rich.
Our comfortable home, with its full cupboards and running water, which shelters us from steamy summers and frosty Minnesota winters.
My restored health after a distressing concussion and years of recuperation.
My family and friends, particularly my Interfaith Circle companions, who every year give months of their lives to bring our community together in understanding and peace.
My faith community, in which I get to love, and laugh, and draw closer to the divine life.
My state and nation, where no matter how fractious it gets, there’s hope that, eventually, we’ll find a path to common ground.
Our beautiful planet, with all its natural wonders and glory, and the increasing numbers of people awakening to its care.
Gratitude also helps me to look beyond the “easy to be grateful for” items. When I’m distressed about social issues such as racism, homophobia, and more, it pushes me to be grateful for the amazing allies in the battle for justice, and for the privilege of participating myself in working for change.
Even when things are bleak, there’s something to grab onto. Even if that’s something I take for granted, such as my heart beating without my instruction, or each breath that I draw automatically.
At our house, we often start Thanksgiving dinner by naming something for which we are each grateful. As we do, I’ll once again be reminded of the generosity of so many people I know and love, and of the God who I have come to believe is source of all.