From 4/6: What’s the Spiritual Season? Passover, Easter, Asian holidays recall hope and freedom …

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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(April 6 to 12, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

This week, more than 1 billion Christians, plus millions of Jews and Jains around the world mark some of the most important observances of the year: Easter and Passover and a special Jain festival. It’s an auspicious time in other world religions, too. This week, freedom and thankfulness are common themes.

Today, Monday,
Mormons honor the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith, Jr. organized the church in 1830 in the state of New York, although followers eventually settled in Utah after Smith’s death. The church teaches that families can be reunited after death, so it places a strong emphasis on researching family history. That’s why Mormons now maintain the largest genealogical library in the world today. Although the main library is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Mormons offer a free Web site and regional library centers to anyone searching for information about family history.
Want to learn more about your ancestors? Visit

Also today, Monday
, the people of Thailand honor the Chakri Dynasty on what is known as Chakri Day. Beginning with the rule of King Rama I in 1782, the Chakri Dynasty continues to this day. Although deemed a national holiday, Buddhism plays a major role. One of King Rama I’s primary objectives was to strengthen the country’s Buddhist faith, and Buddhism remains tightly woven into the fabric of Thailand.
    If you’re curious about this dynasty, click here to explore the various sovereigns. Want to learn more about Buddhism in Thailand? Check out the entry at a site called Absolute Astronomy.

On Tuesday, Mahavir Jayanti,
recalls the birth of the 24th and final prophet of the Jain religion. It’s a very important festival in the Jain year. Born about 2,600 years ago, Lord Mahavira rid himself of human pleasures and indulgences in order to better understand humanity. Although this holiday is more focused on worship than celebration, devotees often walk from village to village, proclaiming the peaceful ways of brotherhood that were major components of his teachings. Today, the people of Bihar – the birthplace of Lord Mihavira – are urging the government to declare this observance a state holiday. The photo shows a replica of Pawapuri Temple, where he is said to have achieved Nirvana. Take a look at these free e-greetings, recipes and fun facts about Mahavir Jayanti.

MIDWEEK, several observances encourage good health and mark milestones for many Buddhists:

    The World Health Organization deems Tuesday: World Health Day 2009
. This year, the day will include a focus on the safety of health facilities and the readiness of health-care professionals who treat those affected by emergencies.
    Buddhists in Japan rejoice in the sweetness of new life on Wednesday during Hana Matsuri, a celebration of Buddha’s birthday. When Buddha was born, it is believed that birds sang and flowers bloomed, and Hana Matsuri coincides with the blossoming of cherry blossoms in Japan. It’s common to pour sweet tea over the Buddha’s head in a festival involving processions and breath-taking flower arrangements.
    Similarly, Theravada Buddhists in Southeast Asia begin a New Year’s celebration that coincides with the rainy season. One practice is pouring water over Buddha images, monks and elders. Why? To honor the Buddha; to honor monks, the elders and the dead; and to wish for prosperity in the upcoming season.

     The full moon of April occurs on Thursday this year, and many Hindus
mark the day with Hanuman Jayanti. This holiday honors the birthday of
Hanuman Ji, the monkey god revered for his selfless, unyielding
devotion to Lord Rama. Featured in the Ramayana text, Hanuman Ji
provides a fantastic example of strength and ability, and for this, the
monkey god was granted immortality by Lord Rama. Colorful parades,
temple worship and offerings of food are common on this day. In addition to the BBC site linked above, here’s another summary of the holiday.


    The ancient Jewish observance begins Wednesday evening, when families either host or attend the first of two Seders, ritual meals that recall the story of God leading the Jews to freedom from slavery in Egypt — a biblical story that is as important to millions of oppressed people around the world today as it is for the Jewish men, women and children who carefully prepare for Passover. The Exodus is a central theme in African-American Christian preaching, for example.
    STAY TUNED ALL WEEK (as you are able) to for Passover-themed stories.
   Among observant Jews, preparation for Passover begins long before Wednesday night with a careful cleansing of the home to remove all remnants of non-Passover foods. Families with small children make an elaborate ritual out of this, including a festive search of the entire house and a dramatic removal of the last crumbs of leavened bread products. In preparation, entire sets of dishes often are switched, sometimes entire stoves and ovens are moved. Reverently preparing in this way helps families to observe the ancient traditions — and to recall the high drama of the Exodus.
    One day prior to Passover, some Jews also observe a one-day Fast of the Firstborn
, a ritual that falls to the oldest child in a family.
    AND, THIS YEAR, there’s a special prayer that is recited only once every 28 years! Thanks to author Judy Gruen, occasionally a contributor to ReadTheSpirit, for pointing out Birkat HaChamah, a special blessing on the sun that will be said on the morning before Passover. This blessing is said only when the sun is in a particular alignment with the Earth that recalls the Creation, according to Jewish tradition.
    Many of our readers and contributors already have made preparation for this week — including the Passover stories you will read on our site. To assist with today’s Spiritual Seasons column, WISDOM co-founder Gail Katz sent along the “Four Expressions of Redemption” that are at the core of the Passover story. These are promises by God:  (1) “I will take you out of Egypt;” (2) “I will deliver you from Egyptian slavery;” (3) “I will redeem you with a demonstration of my power;” and (4) “I will acquire you as a nation.”
    Here’s one last tip: a Web site with some helpful Passover recipes to enjoy.

HOLY WEEK and EASTER (for Western Christians)

     We have been observing the Lenten season in a special seasonal landing page: “Our Lent: Things We Carry.”
Counting both Western and this year’s later Orthodox Easter, Lent runs for nearly two months, so we were able to devote a special section to the lengthy season. That’s why we’ll devote more space in the main pages of ReadTheSpirit to the shorter season of Passover this week.
    We’re balancing our coverage this week. Monday, we’re sharing reviews of several Easter-related National Geographic documentaries. That’s followed on Tuesday with a review of a stirring film about an Ethiopian boy’s journey to Israel.

    For Christians, the two most widely observed days this week are Good Friday and Easter, which now ties with Christmas Eve as the most widely attended services of the year. There’s much more to this week, though!
     Many Christians regard Maundy Thursday as the introduction of the Eucharist into the Christian church. The evening before his crucifixion by Roman authorities, Jesus shared a meal of bread and wine with his followers, breaking the bread and passing the wine with instructions: “Do this in memory of me.” Today, this is a central rite for 2 billion Christians around the world. In addition, Jesus showed his disciples how to serve others by washing their feet.
    This becomes a very busy time for Catholic churches, in particular. Priests gather for an annual blessing of holy oils, which are taken back to their parishes for the coming year. In many places, symbolic foot washing is performed.

GOOD FRIDAY recalls the day Roman authorities crucified Jesus. (Read the second half of our recent Conversation With Bible scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan to learn more about how St. Paul preached about this crucifixion.) Many Christian churches hold special services, organize processions or follow the Stations of the Cross in remembrance of Jesus’ walk to his crucifixion site.
    Holy Saturday isn’t universally observed in Christian churches, but for millions of Western Christians, Saturday recalls the day Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. Masses are forbidden on this day as Christians prepare for Easter.

    Then, on Easter Sunday, Christians, often donning new clothes and organizing family dinners, celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
Please, follow the final days of “Our Lent: Things We Carry” to learn more about these final chapters of the gospel stories.
    Around the world, celebrations vary. In Africa, families and even entire villages come together for Easter feasts and dances, while Australian Christians typically dine on a traditional breakfast with children exchanging chocolate Easter eggs. Customs in Europe vary by country, ranging from the hiding of Easter eggs in England to the return of ringing church bells in France to large evening bonfires in Germany. In Mexico, plays often are produced.
    For families, the BBC offers a fun-filled page of Easter ideas: coloring pages, recipes and a list of common customs.

    Meanwhile, on Sunday — another major branch of Christianity, the Orthodox church will celebrate Palm Sunday and will hold Pascha, or Easter, festivities in one week.

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