What’s the Spiritual Season this week? Boy Scouts, Catholics and Hindus celebrating—plus all you Darwin fans!


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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(February 8 to 14, 2010)
By Stephanie Fenton

THIS WEEK, observances range from the centennial of Boy Scouts—to Valentine’s Day and the Chinese New Year. Along the way, we’ll tell you about St. Bernadette’s amazing vision, the Hindu festival of Maha Shivratri—and something called Evolution Weekend with some very cool resources for you and your congregation from ReadTheSpirit. (Scratching your head at the provocative image above? It’s symbolic of the message in a small but growing number of congregations this coming weekend.) Finally, this week, we’ll return to centuries-old traditions with Orthodox Cheesefare Sunday.

MONDAY—Scout’s honor!—it’s the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of the Boy Scouts of America on Feb. 8, 1910.
Along with camping and earning badges, the BSA stresses values, education, maturity and the reward of shouldering responsibility. (Many
celebrities and U.S. presidents were once Scouts—including Barack
Obama! Read more about the centennial in this article from The Hour, an online version of a Connecticut newspaper.)
    In honor of its centennial, BSA is holding a 2010 National Jamboree
in Virginia. Although the National Jamboree has been held every four
years since 1937, exceptions are sometimes made to the four-year
rule—which is the case this year.
    Approximately 4
million boys and young men are Boy Scouts today. Although no
discrimination is made against persons of various religions, the BSA
has long had a bias against atheists. The group still requires a pledge to “do my duty to God and
country.” Boy Scouts of America recognizes 38 different religious
affiliations, including Zoroastrianism and followers of Native American
religions. (Learn more about the BSA from Wikipedia.)

marks the anniversary of the first time St. Bernadette of Lourdes,
France, saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary, according to Catholics
and many others who are inspired by such experiences. Today, Lourdes is
home to one of the most popular Catholic shrines in the world. (Click here for a link to TV Lourdes, a site that allows visitors to view the grotto live, with footage 24/7.)
    On Feb. 11, 1858, 14-year-old Bernadette Soubiroux experienced the first of 18 visions of the Virgin Mary. (Read the details on CatholicCulture.org.)
Bernadette described the apparition as “Lovelier than I have ever
seen”—a lady clothed in white with a rosary draped over her arm.

    On one occasion, the apparition told Bernadette to drink from a
nonexistent fountain, and once Bernadette scratched the ground,
tradition has it that a stream of water bubbled up. (Here’s more on this from American Catholic.)
Over the years, the grotto where the apparitions took place has been
credited with numerous healing miracles, as officially recognized by
the Catholic Church. As a result, millions of ill pilgrims flock to
this “fountain of healing” every year. (Women for Faith and Family offers appropriate readings and prayers for the day on this Web page.)
Although Bernadette was unfamiliar with official Roman Catholic terms,
reports from the era say that the apparition told her that it was the
Immaculate Conception (just a few years earlier, Pope Pius IX had
proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and prior to this,
the term had not been widely used).

    According to Bernadette, the apparition requested that a place of
worship be built on the site, and today the Sanctuary of Our Lady of
Lourdes contains 22 places of worship. (Facts about the grotto, a map and article links are on Sacred Destinations, an online guide to the world’s religious sites.) Seventeen pools on site are believed to possess healing properties, and candles burn continuously as an aide in prayer. (A group known as the Society of Our Lady of Lourdes organizes pilgrimages for the sick to this sacred Catholic site.)

millions of Hindus fast all day and hold a vigil all night, in honor of
the deity Lord Shiva on Maha Shivratri. On this “Great Night of Shiva,”
Hindus often offer fruits, flowers and bilva leaves to this central
divine figure within Hindu religious traditions. (More is at Swaminarayan.org, a socio-spiritual Hindu organization.)

    Wives are encouraged to pray for their husbands, and young women pray to Lord Shiva as the ultimate husband figure. (For a general overview of Maha, check out Wikipedia’s explanation.)
Devotees believe that a sincere worship of Lord Shiva on Maha Shivratri
will wash away their sins and help to free them from the cycle of birth
and death, thus allowing them to obtain moksha.
    The legends surrounding Maha Shivratri vary: Some hold that Lord Shiva was married to Parvati, while others believe that Lord Shiva performed the Tandaya, or the dance of primal creation, preservation and destruction. (The Kashmiri Overseas Association, a non-profit socio-cultural organization, dedicated a Web page to this festival—read it here.) Still others state that it was the day that Lord Shiva manifested himself as a Linga.
Whatever your regional or cultural approach may be within Hinduism, the
practice of honoring Lord Shiva dates back to ancient times.
    This year, approximately a half-million visitors are expected at the Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal on Maha Shivratri, according to an article in The Himalayan Times (the photo above, at left, is of women on the stairs of the Pashupatinath Temple).
This is such an enormous event that The Mahashivaratri Management Main
Committee has formed separate committees for the 2010 event, including
those for the arrangement of security, of health camps and of traffic

830 congregations around the world plan to devote some time in services
to the link between Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and creation. This year marks the fifth annual Evolution Weekend, when participating
congregations declare that the beliefs of science
and religion aren’t so different, after all.
    Plus, there are other plans underway for annual
observances, including Darwin Day that would fall on Friday this year.
    ReadTheSpirit has a terrific faith-and-science resource page themed around Evolution Weekend, Darwin Day and other ideas to highlight Darwin’s contributions. PLUS, just like last year, we invite you to help us update this page. Already, we’re offering links to a lot of great resources. We’ll try to add some of the links you suggest to us, just as we did last year. We may even add quotes or messages you might be sharing in your congregation!
The concept for Evolution Weekend began in 2004 with the Clergy Letter
Project, a project that grew out of Wisconsin. One of
Wisconsin’s local school boards was rewriting its science curriculum to
include creationism. In protest, biologist Michael Zimmerman sought the support of professional educators, religious leaders, scholars and members of congregations—unified around statements in support of evolutionary teachings. (As we’ve said, you’ll find a link to this Clergy Letter Project on our resource page.) To date, the Clergy Letter Project had been endorsed by
the United Methodist Church, the Southeast Diocese of the Episcopal
Church and approximately 13,000 members of clergy.
Zimmerman is promoting a next step in the project: He’s encouraging participating
congregations to have scientists on hand to answer questions about the
theory of evolution. So far, more than 600 scientists have volunteered.

people around the world exchange candy, flowers, cards and other tokens
of love for Valentine’s Day. February 14 became known as a day for love
during the Middle Ages, when the concept of courtly love grew in
popularity; originally, Valentine’s Day was devoted to two Christian
martyrs named Valentine. (Some argue that the roots of Valentine’s Day
actually lie in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercus, the god of
fertility. More can be found on Wikipedia.)
In Valentine’s Day tradition, both Valentine of Rome and Valentine of
Terni are recognized: Valentine of Rome was a Roman priest who lived in
the third century, and Valentine of Terni was a bishop of Interamna,
the modern Terni, at about the same time. (Here’s a page from the BBC.)
While the recognition of the Valentines was removed from the General
Roman (Catholic) Calendar in 1969, traditional Catholics and those in
Malta—a place where relics are believed to be located—still recognize
the saints on this day.
    Saint Valentine’s Day was declared
official on February 14 in 496 BCE by Pope Galasius. This year, a
star-studded movie called “Valentine’s Day” came out on Friday; but if you’re more in the mood for Valentine crafts and cookies, here are great ideas from Kaboose.

Also on SUNDAY,
it’s the Chinese New Year for the religious groups of China and of some
of its neighbors, primarily including Buddhists, Daoists and
Confucianists. The Chinese New Year is the most important and longest
festival of the Chinese calendar year, and is also known as the Spring
Festival. This centuries-old festival reflects the values and beliefs
of the ancient Chinese people. (Here’s more from Wikipedia.)
Chinese New Year celebrations end with the Lantern Festival, a Buddhist
holiday during which children carry brightly lit lanterns through the
streets at night. While lanterns used to be simple, many are now quite elaborate. (For a great assortment of Chinese New Year craft ideas, check out Kaboose from Disney.)
According to tradition, those with the brightest lanterns garner good
luck for the coming year. In earlier eras, young people walked through
the streets with the additional hope of finding love; matchmakers kept
busy during the Lantern Festival.
    Today, customs vary widely by
region, but many people spend festival days cleaning their homes,
feasting joyously, watching fireworks, giving money to children in red
paper envelopes and wearing the auspicious color of the observance:

Orthodox Christians mark the Sunday of Forgiveness and prepare to eliminate
another food group from their diet that won’t be consumed until Pascha,
or Easter: dairy products. (To indulge, try this delicious-looking recipe for macaroni and aged cheddar cheese with bacon and sage, from the Food Network.)
    Today, Cheesefare Sunday, is the last Sunday prior to the commencement
of Lent and is an integral part of the pre-Lenten period. (Get all of
the official information from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of America. Or, from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
    The Sunday of Forgiveness recalls the exile of Adam and Eve
from the Garden of Eden—and, in general, how far people have fallen and need God’s forgiveness.
    Eastern Christians
believe that Lent is a time of intensive devotion. Their Great Lent is longer than the season marked by Western Christians and its spiritual disciplines, especially the fasting rules, are far stricter.
    Tomorrow, February 15, the Lenten
fast will officially begin for Eastern Christians; meat and dairy
products will be avoided until Pascha (Easter).


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