March 9 — What’s the Spiritual Season? Fasting for some; festivities for others

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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(March 9 to 15, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

Nearly 2 billion Christians around the world are now in the midst of the Lenten season of prayer and preparation for Easter. Observant Orthodox Christians are fasting. Western Christians likely are trying to spend more time in prayer and Bible reading. Many fast in some form in preparation for Easter.
    Not everything about the Lenten season is solemn, but there are somber notes throughout these weeks for Christians. On Monday, March 9, Orthodox Christians recall the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste — a stirring story from the 4th Century of a group of Roman soldiers who were persecuted for becoming Christian. As in many of these grim tales of martyrdom, their fate was tragic: In this case, 40 men froze to death for their faith.
    But, for followers of several faith traditions around the world, this is a festive week. That includes Jews, Hindus and Muslims. Millions will be losing themselves in gaiety this week.

MANY MUSLIMS will honor the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad this week, an occasion with a number of names (check out the Wikipedia article to read a list of those names). Most commonly in the U.S., it’s known as Mawlid an Nabbi. Sunni and Shia vary in their observances. Not all Muslims mark the date. And in many diverse communities the observance is combined with others. Here’s an example from a reader at Carleton College, a liberal arts school in Northfield, Minnesota. Our reader points out that the college’s chaplains have decided to celebrate Purim, Holli and Mawlid an Nabbi all on Wednesday, March 11.
    The Prophet Muhammad (Muslims would add “Peace Be Upon Him”) is regarded by the faithful as the last and greatest law-bearer in a series of prophets; and the birthday of this leader has been celebrated since the 11th century.

JEWISH HOUSEHOLDS celebrate Purim from sundown on Monday and continuing through Tuesday with carnival-like festivities. Also known as the “Feast of Lots,” Jews recall the events of the Book of Esther with a special service. Individual observances vary, but plays, costumes, traditional foods and the giving of gifts to charities and friends are common. All are encouraged to eat, drink and be merry! The Feast of Lots celebrates Jewish survival in the defeat of the Persian advisor Haman, a man who had advised King Ahasuerus to kill all Persian Jews. Enjoy author Judy Gruen’s retelling of the Purim story. OR, visit this Chabad Web site to hear Purim songs — and you’ll even find some recipes cooked for Purim. (The photo at top today is from a Purim parade in Jerusalem. You’ll see more Purim images with Judy’s story.)

Perhaps you can on Tuesday. Telephone users across the world should perhaps pause in a moment’s homage to the incredible advancement of this piece of technology: The first discernible speech was transmitted over a telephone system by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. The first words spoken? “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”
    Now, here’s a fascinating bit of trivia to share with friends on Tuesday: Do you know the first telephone  message sent by SMS in 1992? Yes, it was much shorter than Alexander’s command to his assistant back in 1876 — and far cheerier, too. Here’s a clue: It was sent on December 3 that year. Two words: “Merry Christmas.”

occurs on Wednesday, as Holi, or the “Festival of Colors,” encourages believers to throw aside cultural castes for a day and celebrate in great merriment. Customs vary from region to region, but Hindus commonly rejoice in the new life and colors of spring. In one popular Holi custom, Hindus don white clothing and throw colored powder at one another. Some of the ingredients used to create this powder (which sometimes is mixed with water) have medicinal properties, which help — at least in concept — to ward off spring viruses.
    For ingredients and instructions to make your own natural Holi powders, check out this I Love India page.

on Wednesday, a celebration that will last for a number of days. In honor of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last guru who organized his followers into the order of the Nihang, martial arts are often practiced throughout these holy days. Activities like archery, mock sword fencing and elaborate horse riding are highlighted, as Nihangs proudly show off their skills. Holy readings, songs and processions are also popular.

FINALLY A NOD TO TOM CRUISE: He may be out providing community service on Friday, March 13, the birthday of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. A former science-fiction writer, Hubbard once wrote, “A being is only as valuable as he can serve others,” and he asked that his birthday always be celebrated in this way.

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