Catholic San Francisco


(Photo courtesy of Jake Dear)

Mirza Khan, seated at right, gave a presentation at St. Anselm parish hall on Nov. 30 on an Advent theme blending seasonal stories from many faith traditions. Between stories, San Domenico School eighth grader Grace Miskovsky played the ukelele and san

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Speaker’s peaceful seasonal message from different spiritual traditions
December 5th, 2016
By Christina Gray

Though almost 50 people were assembled in the St. Anselm parish hall in Ross on Nov. 30 for a unique Advent presentation that blended seasonal stories from Christian, Buddhist, Islamic and Jewish traditions with poetry, music and song, the room was as still and peaceful as snowfall.

As Mirza Khan described the bitterly cold night in which the Virgin Mary traveled with Joseph through the darkness “holding onto the light inside of her,” the audience wrapped fingers around steaming mugs of hot tea and coffee and listened in rapt silence.

Khan, the middle school religious studies director of San Domenico School in San Anselmo, concluded the parish’s three-part “Storytelling and Sacred Scripture” series which launched in May. His students know him as a spiritual storyteller who draws from Christian, Jewish and Islamic texts to provide answers to the challenges of modern day life. The free series featuring three different local storytellers was put together by the parish’s Spiritual Life Committee to show how our spiritual tradition began with the passing down of stories before the Hebrew Bible and how they continued through the parables of Jesus.

San Rafael resident Don Leach, the series’ first storyteller introduced Khan with a paraphrased quote from Sunni Muslim poet Rumi.

“Out beyond ideas about right religion and wrong religion, Mirza will meet us in a field of acceptance where our goal is simply to lie down in that grass and the world of faith is so full that we don’t have to talk.”

The relationship of darkness to light emerged as a theme in Khan’s tales.

Khan recalled an evening spent with some young rabbis in Jerusalem who by tradition, would stay up all night together in a meadow on the eve of the winter solstice, looking up at the stars and telling stories.

They shared a Garden of Eden-like story where darkness prevailed before light appeared and life sprang from it, from plant to animal to human. When the days got shorter and the leaves fell and the plants began to die, Adam, the first human, fretted that the world would fall into everlasting darkness.

“On that longest night, Adam spent the night in a vigil, praying for the light to return to the world. In the middle of the night he suddenly realized the light was there, but it inside his own heart,” Khan said.

There’s a promise in the seasons that darkness will never fully take over, that there is always a light that will return, he said. “But we have to be the ones to hold that light and carry it through the world.”

Between stories, San Domenico eighth grader Grace Miskovsky played the ukelele and sang two songs while her father Mike played the guitar and sang.

Khan’s stories revealed that wherever something new is formed or born, “it is always incubated in darkness.”

Seedlings need to be planted deep down into the darkness of the soil to emerge as it needs to, he said, and “a human embryo needs that pregnant, sheltering darkness of the womb to grow.”

“In some way we also need light and darkness for our hearts to grow,” he said.

He described visiting San Quentin State Prison, where he saw a lotus blossom painted in the chapel and listened to a choir of men who were finding redemption in the darkness of confinement. The lotus is a symbol of purity and rebirth in Buddhist and Hindu traditions and emerges out of the “murky darkness” of stagnant water.

We will all encounter dark times in our own personal lives, in our families, in our country and in our planet, Kahn said: “It’s up to us to journey through the dark times holding onto that light, that light that is not ready to be born yet.”

From December 8, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.

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