What’s the Spiritual Season this week? All Souls’ Day, a Sikh guru’s birthday, Fawkes & African-American milestones


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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(November 2 to 8, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

THIS WEEK, some solemn events are in store: Catholics pray for those in Purgatory (the photo at top depicts a member of the All Souls’ Day procession in Tucson, Arizona, last year), and our friends in the UK remember wars past on Remembrance Sunday. On a lighter note, Sikhs celebrate the birthday of their founder, and Rastafarians remember the coronation of their messiah, Emperor Haile Selassie. Also this week, Jains pay tribute to scholarly persons, the English light up the sky and the ground on Guy Fawkes Night and African-American history is marked on November 7. Read all about these observances and events below …

MONDAY, many Christians around the world, mainly Catholics, observe All Souls’ Day. This also is known as the Feast of All Souls or The Day of the Dead, in some languages (check out the neat audio about this day at AmericanCatholic.org). According to Catholic tradition, the faithful departed—those believed to be in Purgatory, that is—are commemorated and prayed for. All Saints’ Day, which occurred yesterday and always precedes All Souls’ Day, recognizes those who have achieved beatific vision (the vision of God) and are in Heaven. Some believe that prayer on behalf of the souls in Purgatory can assist those souls in their work to reach heaven.
    Although the ritual of praying for the deceased has been around for thousands of years, an official All Souls’ Day was established by Odilo, abbot of Cluny (in France), in the 10th or 11th century (sources vary, but the BBC gives a very thorough overview of All Souls’ Day’s origins). Odilo’s observance spread to other monasteries in the Cluniac Order, and since this would become the largest network of monasteries in Europe, Odilo’s holiday was soon recognized by many.
    According to popular legend, Odilo was encouraged to establish an All Souls’ Day by a pilgrim returning from the Holy Land. Legend has it that this pilgrim was met by a storm during his journey and forced onto an island, where he met a hermit. This hermit told the pilgrim that, among the rocks on the island, there was a chasm communicating with Purgatory. Through this chasm, the voices of tortured souls could be heard, along with the complaints of demons pertaining to the success of prayer in rescuing the souls. When the pilgrim informed Odilo of this experience, Odilo created a day of dedication—of course, this story is only legend.
    When the weather is warm enough, some Catholics picnic near their ancestors’ graves or use recipes that call for lentils and peas. Traditionally, lentils and peas are known as “soul foods,” and this Web site offers some tasty All Souls’ Day combinations as well as a full plate of information about this holiday. As suggested at Women for Faith and Family, All Souls’ Day can also be used to introduce children to their ancestors, to discuss family history and to pray for those who have no one to pray for them.
    All Souls’ Day is honored around the world. In Poland, some believe the souls of the dead visit their churches at midnight; French, German and Czech peoples visit the graves of their ancestors and decorate them with flowers, and it is very common to leave food out for tortured souls on this night.

Also on MONDAY, Sikhs observe an important day in their calendar: the birthday, or jayanti, of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first of 10 gurus and the founder of the Sikh religion. According to Sikh tradition, the 10 gurus were enlightened with divine guidance, and this guidance was passed on from one guru to the next until it reached a final resting place in the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred name of the Sikh holy book. Each guru embodies a divine attribute, and Guru Nanak is noted for humility. SikhWorld, an online gathering place for Sikhs, offers detailed descriptions of each of the gurus.
    Guru Nanak was born in what today is Pakistan in 1469, but it wasn’t until age 30 that he made his mark in history. When Guru Nanak was 30, he vanished for three days. After these three days, the guru began preaching the Sikh faith. He continued this mission until he chose a future guru to follow him.
    For the next 25 years, Guru Nanak would preach the brotherhood of mankind, regardless of caste, and would frequently dine or associate with lower classes to demonstrate his message to others. Guru Nanak also preached the importance of continuing one’s vocation and association with family in the midst of religious work. This guru believed that an honest man’s work is one of his most valuable assets, and that the Sikh religion should promote one’s livelihood and contributions to society (SikhWorld provides a great biography of Guru Nanak’s life). Nanak Dev Ji earned the title of “Guru” during his lifetime, even though his teachings were starkly different than those of other religions. While Guru Nanak preached unity and society, the religions surrounding him focused on strict caste systems and personal meditation.
    In the days just before Guru Nanak’s birthday, or Nanak Jayanti, many Sikhs read the entire Guru Granth Sahib. On the day before his birthday, processions are commonly held in India and England, and Gurdwaras (Sikh places of prayer and worship) are decorated.
    In the U.S., Sikhs have recently faced challenges due to their traditional attire, which makes them visual targets for bigotry and heightens their chances of being held up at security checkpoints. This article from SikhNet reports on President Obama’s hospitality for Sikhs, as his representative extends an invitation to them from the White House. According to Paul Monteiro, Religious Liason for the Obama Administration, “We want to continue to hear from you. We want you to stay engaged with this administration to find ways to solve these issues.”

MONDAY also brings a major holiday for Rastafarians, as it is the anniversary of the Coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie. This Web site for Rasta-ites gives a wonderful description of Selassie’s coronation. Rastafarians regard Haile Selassie as God incarnate who will someday lead all Africans and the African Diaspora into a promised land.
    On November 2, 1930, Ras Tafarai Makonnen took the title of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Selassie I before more than 700 guests and officials from across the globe. According to National Geographic, “Through the early morning the chanting of praises continued, accompanied by the dancing of the priests with their great pulsating drums, the whole suggestive of the Ancient Jewish rites which were in use at the time of King David danced before the Ark of the Covenant.” Not only did Selassie break tradition in his ceremony, but he also gained independence for Ethiopian bishops (they no longer had to answer to the Patriarchate in Egypt) and changed the Ethiopian church-state relationship during his reign. For his people, Haile Selassie worked to improve education in Ethiopia and to increase the quality of life.
    Jamaicans began revering Haile Selassie partly because an early pro-African activist in the U.S., Marcus Garvey, had told his followers, “Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King; he shall be the Redeemer.” The Ethiopian Emperor received the titles of “King of Kings” and “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah,” as, according to Ethiopian tradition, Haile Selassie was the 225th in a line of Ethiopian kings that were descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. World Beat Center explains beliefs and origins of Rastafarians. The Catholic Conference of Kentucky provides significant information, too. In both Revelations and Psalms, Rastafarians point to references they believe identify Haile Selassie’s titles and predictions of his coronation. In honor of the anniversary of his coronation, Rastafarians refrain from work and light colored candles, eat natural foods and recite Psalms.

MONDAY, Jains celebrate the births of scholarly persons during Lokashah Jayanti (a photo of a Jain temple in Bombay is at right). Particularly, Jains use this day to honor Lonka Saha, a 15th-century reformer who preached against temple worship and against the use of images. Saha founded the Sthanakavasi sect of Jainism, a sect that places high priority on scholarship (PBS gives a broad overview of this holiday).
    According to the Houston Chronicle, Jains in Texas are making big news: JVB, a Jain organization, recently hosted events for the grand opening of a new 6,000-square-foot Jain facility. This facility, named the Preksha Meditation Center, cost $2 million raised through community donations.

THURSDAY evening, bonfires and fireworks will be lit across England and various other countries on Guy Fawkes Night. On this date in 1605, Catholic conspirators—led by Guy Fawkes—attempted to blow up the House of Parliament in London, England. The conspirators had hoped to bring Catholicism back in full to England, but they were unsuccessful in their attempts and their Gunpowder Plot ultimately failed. Today, former British colonies such as New Zealand also honor Guy Fawkes Night.
    Following the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, Catholics who had been persecuted hoped to find refuge in her successor. When James I did not fulfill their hopes, a small group turned to violence and set 36 barrels of gunpowder in a cellar beneath the House of Lords. When a traitor wrote a letter of warning to the king, however, the gunpowder was found and Guy Fawkes was executed. Find out more about this night at BonfireNight.Net, a site dedicated to this event.
    The Gunpowder Plot Society was formed in 1995 by a group of three people from Australia and the U.S. This group delved into historical research and has since become the leading resource for reference regarding the plot. Just shy of 15 years later, this group is comprised of 500 members that include prestigious authors, historians, genealogy experts and more.
    Are you interested in sending a jolly good English Guy Fawkes eCard to a friend? Go ahead! Today, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster just prior to the State Opening of Parliament—the one time each year the monarch of England enters Parliament—just to make sure that no one has gotten any dangerous historical ideas.

SATURDAY, it’s an important anniversary in African-American history: On this day 20 years ago, David Dinkins was elected the first African-American mayor of New York City and Douglas Wilder was elected the first African-American U.S. governor. (The photo at right shows Wilder with President Obama). Today, we recognize how those movements have led to another political first: the election of the first African-American U.S. president (this article from the New York Times, from last November, has a great interview with David Dinkins on his perspective of Obama and the 2008 election).
    In New York City, David Dinkins delivered an inaugural speech that spoke in detail of human rights and his desire for equality. He promised to be “mayor of all the people of New York,” and was very active in anti-Apartheid issues. Today, Dinkins teaches public affairs at Columbia University (read his university profile here, on Columbia’s Web site), chairs the Earth Institute’s NYC Sustainable Development Initiative and hosts the annual Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum. Check out a full biography of Dinkins on this NYC government page.
    Lawrence Douglas Wilder was the grandson of slaves and, as such, was named after Frederick Douglass and poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Wilder overcame tough odds to become the governor of Virginia, the very state where his grandparents had been slaves. Look here for some great insight from CNN. In 2005, Wilder was elected the mayor of Richmond. The State of Virginia pays tribute to Wilder on this site.
    By religious affiliation, Wilder is a Baptist and Dinkins is an Episcopalian. Barack Obama continues to highlight the need to defend Americans’ religious diversity. Recently in the Christian Science Monitor, the president said, “We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and nonbelievers.”

SUNDAY is Remembrance Sunday in the United Kingdom, a day to remember the end of “the war to end all wars,” or WWI, and subsequent wars as well. On Remembrance Sunday, men, women and youth—especially those with connections to the military—hold ceremonies at war memorials, often placing wreaths of poppies and observing two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. Citizens commonly purchase paper poppies from the Royal British Legion prior to Remembrance Sunday, to show their support of the ceremonies.
    The national ceremony gathers prominent figures such as the Queen of England, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales, Duke of York and the Prime Minister, and has been televised by the BBC since 1946. The national ceremony on Remembrance Sunday has earned the title of “Joint-longest Running Live Televised Annual Event in the World.” Museums often mark this day also, and the Order of Service for Remembrance Sunday is published by the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (click here for a PDF of the Order of Service). This year, the Remembrance Day London Parade will take place at the Cenotaph in White Hall.

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