From 3/30: What’s the Spiritual Season? Recalling Dr. King, the Dalai Lama, Hindu and Christian festivals …

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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(March 30 to April 5, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

This week is full of powerful remembrances that our past is vital to our future. Observances and anniversaries recall a wide range of spiritual figures from the Dalai Lama to St. Innocent to Martin Luther King, Jr. This week, we’ll even show you how to fold a traditional Palm-frond cross like you recall your grandparents making each spring.

Tuesday, March 31,
some Russian Orthodox Christians, especially those in the U.S., will remember St. Innocent. That’s the date of St. Innocent’s “repose” — as Orthodox refer to death within their church. Born John Evseyevich Popov-Veniaminov in 1797, St. Innocent became a priest as a young man but soon moved his ministry – which would last almost 50 years – from his homeland in Siberia to the distant American islands. He is remembered for his patient approach to Christian conversion, in addition to the extra steps he consistently took to better understand island natives and serve them. He was known as “the apostle of America.”

Also on Tuesday,
Tibetans – as well as admirers around the world – will recognize the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama beginning his exile. After he was identified as the 14th Dalai Lama at the age of 2, Lhamo Dhondup’s name was changed to Tenzin Gyatso and his mission was believed to be that of his preceding Dalai Lamas: to have postponed nirvana in order to be born once more and serve humanity.
    The Dalai Lama assumed his position as Tibetan head of state in 1950, one year after Chinese took over Tibet. After an unsuccessful Tibetan uprising, the Dalai Lama was forced into exile, escaping to safety in India on March 31, 1959. As Tibetans continue to struggle for their independence from communist rule, the Dalai Lama continues to negotiate with China in a peaceful manner. Over the past half-century, he has received more than 84 awards for his work in peacemaking.
    To learn more about this man of peace, check out our story, taken from “Interfaith Heroes 2.”
    According to the New York Times, the Dalai Lama recently delivered a severe speech about the decades of violent Chinese campaigns, saying, “These thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on earth.”

You know what Wednesday is, right?
APRIL FOOL’S DAY!! It’s not entirely clear how April Fool’s Day started. Theories include that it marked a New Year, related to the spring season and was tied to ancient “renewal” festivals. Wherever this silly custom came from – use it as an excuse to have fun! Your boss won’t really care if you play a few tricks around the office, right?
    Are you in for a good laugh? Visit this site to read about the Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of all time. Among the brilliant strokes in this collection of elaborate humor is the Derbyshire Fairy (photo at right), which convinced a lot of people — briefly — that fairies do exist and that evidence had been found by police.

Thursday, April 2
, marks the birth anniversary of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, the founder of Swaminarayan Sampraday (a modern sect of Hinduism) that has over 3.5 million followers worldwide. Born in 1781, Lord Swaminarayan reformed Hinduism for some, during a time of much change in the state of Gujarat, in India. As was pointed out to us by reader Padma Kuppa, the number of followers of Swaminarayan Hinduism is  growing not only in the place of its origin (in Gujarat), but also in East Africa, Great Britain and the United States. Swaminarayan Hinduism remains a top form of transnational Hinduism, because it allows followers to preserve their culture and religious identity in spite of a rapidly changing world, according to helpful information Padma Kuppa sent us. (Thank you! We always welcome notes from readers about spiritual seasons.)

Also Thursday:
More than 67 million people around the world are affected by autism, and the United Nations General Assembly officially deemed April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day in December of 2007. Thursday marks one of only three United Nation days dedicated to awareness of a specific disorder. Although there is no known cure for autism, early detection and education have proven important tools.

While the world recognizes awareness of autism on Thursday, Americans also recall a very different, historic event that took place in 1902: The first American movie theater opened. Thomas Tally’s Electric Theater in Los Angeles was the first permanent venue dedicated solely to the showing of films. Now, in the opening decade of a new century, many media analysts are wondering whether movies aren’t destined for a new home — the Internet. This year, the number of feature films released to theaters in the United States will shrink from last year. So, mark Thursday by patronizing a movie theater near you!

is a great celebration for most Hindus, as their nine-day wait for Rama Navami comes to a close. Today, Hindus celebrate the birthday of Lord Rama, a prince believed to be an incarnation of the deity Vishnu. Among the festivities are favorite folk dramas of Lord Rama and his wife, Sita, taken from the Ramayana, an epic about Rama’s life. According to the Ramayana text, Lord Rama was the perfect king and the ideal government. Mahatma Gandhi regarded this collection of stories as the greatest book in existence.
    Click here to visit a BBC site that tells more about some of the traditions associated with Rama Navami.

another peaceful leader is remembered, although on a more solemn note: On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Dr. King was named president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, and he oversaw this civil rights organization with the ideals of Christianity and the wisdom of Gandhi. At age 35, Martin Luther King, Jr. received a Nobel Peace Prize: He was the youngest man to have received one.

Sunday is Palm Sunday
for more than 1 billion Christians around the world. This starts the final week of preparation before Easter, often called Holy Week. Throughout that coming week, Western Christians will recall Jesus’ final days, his death by Roman crucifixion and the events leading up to the resurrection on Easter. On Palm Sunday, Christians call to mind the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem, met with great joy by the crowds.     According to the Bible, the rejoicing crowds waved branches and placed more branches in Jesus’ path. As a result, it is tradition that new palms are distributed to Christian congregations on Palm Sunday. These branches – which can be replaced by yew or willow branches in places where palms are unavailable – will be placed behind a crucifix of choice until the next Ash Wednesday, when they will be burned.

AND, we promised to show you how to fold a traditional “Palm cross.” CLICK HERE to view Page 1
of this handy guide. CLICK HERE to view Page 2. (If you want to Download these 2 pages, right click on the links and “save” the two “jpg” image files.)

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