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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(August 31 to September 6, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton
THIS WEEK, Native Americans give thanks for fall crops,
Orthodox Christians welcome a new ecclesiastical year and Sikhs honor
their holy book. It’s been 70 years since the official start of WWII.
Also this week, Hindus and Digambar Jains observe Ananta
Chaturdashi, and Buddhists honor their parents and ancestors during
Ullambana—even facing “hungry ghosts.” Read all about these observances and events below …
ALL THIS WEEK, Ramadan continues for the world’s 1 billion Muslims. At
ReadTheSpirit, we’re publishing a series of short profiles about Muslim
men, women and young people finding inspiration as they meet the
challenges of the all-day fast. That means no food or drink during
daylight hours and you’ll find a story about a Muslim pizza chef, a
Muslim Tae Kwon Do instructor and a Muslim comedian—all keeping the
fast and describing it as a richly rewarding season of the year.
No one knows exactly how many Muslims live in the U.S., but the
Washington Post is reporting on the growth of Islam. During Ramadan,
crowds fill up existing mosques and sometimes overflow into other
facilities. The Post reports on a fascinating example of interfaith
cooperation—a synagogue in Reston, Va., opening up its space for
Muslims in Ramadan. Read the full article from the Washington Post here.
TUESDAY, the end of summer months and beginning of September means the start of the Green Corn Ceremony for some American Indian peoples. This is primarily an Iroquois ceremony that is also marked by Cherokee, some Eastern Woodlands and Southeastern tribes—depending
on when the crop is ripe in each season. “Green corn” is similar to
American sweet corn. The Green Corn Ceremony is often met with dancing,
feasts, giving thanks and religious rituals.
Despite its name,
the Green Corn Ceremony also recognizes the harvest of beans and
squash, and since beans, corn and squash were the three staples in the
early Native American diet, tribes honored these “Three Sisters.” (Check out this New York State Museum exhibit on the Three Sisters). Women of the tribe often tended crops, and during the Green Corn Ceremony, the Old Woman’s Dance would renew the relationship between women and the sacred crops.
Often in years past, young girls would have dolls made of corn husks. Click here for a step-by-step, illustrated guide on making your own corn husk doll.
Also on TUESDAY, the Ecclesiastical New Year
begins for Orthodox Christians, who prayerfully reflect on the year
ahead. As is the case with most religious holidays, the Orthodox New
Year touches on many levels of tradition.
September brings the harvesting of crops and the storage of produce for the coming winter.
However, during this harvest, seeds are also sown for the next growing
season—so September also is considered a time of agricultural new
beginnings. At the same time, Orthodox Christians recall thanksgiving
feasts in ancient Israel as noted in the Bible. Church members also
recall Jesus’ entering the Nazareth synagogue and marking a beginning
in his public ministry. According to the New Testament, Jesus read from
the Hebrew scriptures: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me …“
So, Happy New Year to our Eastern Christian neighbors!
TUESDAY, Sikhs commemorate First Parkash,
and remember the installation of the first edition of Adi Granth (Sikh
scriptures) in 1604. At this time, fifth Guru Arjan Dev took the
completed holy book and placed it in the Golden Temple (the painting at left is of the Golden Temple).
The Adi Granth is referred to as the final guru, Guru Granth Sahib, by Sikhs—when the 10th guru, Gobind Singh, named Granth Sahib as his successor, he ended the line of human gurus.
According to Sikh tradition, the holy book is the living embodiment of every guru who contributed to it.
It is said that when Guru Arjan Dev first completed the Adi Granth, he
placed the book on his bed and slept on the floor. Today, millions of
Sikhs around the world worship Adi Granth not as a book, but as the
holder of Divine Light. Every guru was the holder of Divine Light while
Although Guru Granth Sahib (Adi Granth) is a Sikh holy
book, other religions have a place in it, too. Saints from Hindu and
Muslim faiths, for example, have contributed to Sikh scriptures, as
Lastly on TUESDAY, it’s been 70 years since the official beginning of WWII.
On this date in 1939, Hitler had planned for an attack and was ready
for war. At 4:34 a.m., three Stuka dive bombers hovered in the skies
over Poland. The initial German attack was devastating to Polish armed
forces. Following this attack, France, Britain and the countries of the
Commonwealth declared war on Germany.
The events leading to WWII
can be traced back to the Versailles Treaty of 1918, a treaty that
enforced the destruction of the German military after WWI. Moreover,
this enforcement prohibited Germans from using an air force. Nevertheless,
Germans continued to develop aviation training programs, and in 1935,
Hitler announced that the Germans had an air force, again. When the
Allies had no response, Hitler sent his aviators for training and
brought in engineers to design the most modern of airships. They played
a decisive role in the attack on Poland. (Check out this article from the BBC, written by an Englishman who recalls the start of the war).
Even though 70 years is a lifetime away—memories and cultural
expressions of World War II are fresh and controversial to this day.
The spiritual legacy of that conflict remains hugely influential. In
fact, there’s been so much spiritual commentary on “Inglourious
Basterds,” Quentin Tarantino’s violent new action movie about the war—Dr.
Wayne Baker (creator of OurValues.org), along with Rabbi Irwin Kula and
ReadTheSpirit are trying to spark some constructive public dialogue
this week about this movie and how we should remember the war years.
WEDNESDAY, get your finances in order, because the U.S. Department of Treasury is celebrating 220 years. The U.S. Department of Treasury was created to manage government income
(currently printing and minting all paper and coin currency,
supervising national banks, advising the president on financial
situations and collecting taxes through the IRS) and is managed by the
Secretary of the Treasury. Surprisingly, the Office of Treasurer
predates the Department by four years; Michael Hillegas was the First
Treasurer of the U.S. during the American Revolution, and it wasn’t
until after the war that Congress created the Department.
The current $10 bill pays tribute to the first official Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.
While Hamilton’s face is stamped onto the front of every 10-spot, a
picture of the Treasury Department building is printed on the back.
Hamilton was challenged with ridding the U.S. of its first debt, a
hefty $75 million built up from the war.
The Treasury Department was—as was the United States—founded by religiously reflective patriots: George Washington was Episcopalian, and John Adams described himself as a “church-going animal.”
Adams, in fact, argued that statesmen “may plan and speculate for
liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish
principles upon which freedom can securely stand.” More than 200 years
later, though, the Treasury Department continues to struggle with
balancing religion and financial public policy.
On June 16, the American Civil Liberites Union charged that laws intended to halt terror financing are unfairly aimed at Muslims,
and this practice is interfering with Muslims’ rights to give to
charities. Charitable giving, one of the five pillars of Islam and
known as Zakat, requires Muslims to donate 2.5 percent of their annual
earnings to the poor. When the Treasury Department created new
anti-terrorism laws that permitted it to locate charities associated
with terrorism, a whole series of Muslim charitable organizations were
forced to shut down. For more from the U.S. Treasury Department, check
out this interview with Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant secretary for
terrorist financing and financial crimes, courtesy of PBS.
THURSDAY, many Hindus and Digambar Jains observe Ananta-Chaturdashi. For Hindus, Ananta-Chaturdashi
often means two things: First, it is the observance of Lord Anant, or
Lord Vishnu, and is performed to regain lost wealth; second, this is
the last day of Ganeshotav, the festival honoring Lord Ganesha (the
deity with the head of an elephant). On this last day of Ganeshotav,
Hindus often hold large processions through town, carrying idols of
Lord Ganesha to bodies of water, where they will be immersed.
For Jains of the Digambar sect, Avant Chaturdasi is a part of Dash Lakshan Parva (the Festival of 10 Virtues).
FRIDAY, Buddhists in various regions of Asia honor their parents and offer food to hungry ghosts on Ullambana, or Happy Buddha Day. (The Japanese version of Ullambana is Obon—click here for a description of the holiday that ReadTheSpirit published in July).
The origins of this holiday are difficult to pinpoint, since Chinese
culture, Buddhism and Confucianism all contribute characteristics to
Ullambana. Similarly, the day Buddhists recognize Ullambana varies
regionally and by sect.
For many Buddhists, Ullambana (flag is at right)
is a joyful day that spreads its happy influence into the entire month.
When monks meditated in ancient India during the rainy season, they
would emerge from their practices on the fifteenth day of the seventh
month. Upon reemergence, the monks would tell the Buddha of their
Enlightenment progress. According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha was
often very happy with his monks’ progress.
The story goes that one of Buddha’s monks, Mahamaudgalyayana
(spellings vary), came to him requesting a way to free his late mother
from the torturous ways of the underworld; and, Buddha told him to undo
his mother’s wrongs. She was among the hungry ghosts and his righteous
acts could help to alleviate her suffering. So, the young monk
completed a food offering for hungry ghosts—which included helping the
Sangha (the community of monks and nuns)—and Maudgalyayana succeeded in
relieving his mother. Thus the name “Ullambana” is a transliteration of the Sanskrit word that means “deliverance from suffering.”
A Confucian influence has shifted Ullambana offerings to ancestors,
although many Buddhist temples do continue to donate to the Sangha and
to “feed” hungry ghosts. Many Buddhists give thanks to their parents
and other souls who may have been their parents in past lives. In some
parts of Malaysia, a Lamp Lighting Ceremony symbolizes the victory of
light (or knowledge) over the dark (or all things negative—envy,
violence, greed and lust among the evils overcome).
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)