What’s the Spiritual Season this week? Hello, Dalai! Buddha changes the world plus a mighty nun & legendary Reformer

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

THIS IS A WEEK full of powerful historical reflections! You’ll read about two Buddhist observances—and stirring memories of “Mother” Cabrini, a Wild West con man, a Baha’i martyrdom and a key event in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem! Plus, this week is John Calvin’s 500th birthday! Read all about it, below …

ON MONDAY, wish the Dalai Lama a happy 74th birthday! (He was born July 6, 1935.)
    While this isn’t one of those nice round-number birthdays, the Dalai Lama’s birthday has become an occasion around the world for special programs highlighting the tense political situation in Tibet.
    The Dalai Lama doesn’t dwell much on his own birth, except that he did once observe: “Children are usually born with their eyes closed. I was born with my eyes open. This may be some slight indication of a clear state of mind in the womb.”
    His homepage is overflowing with information. If you want to explore his life, work, travels and teachings, you could spend a couple of hours digging through this site.
    And, here’s a cool idea: Want to put the Dalai Lama on your computer desktop? His homepage offers three images—two in black and white and one in color to download.

TUESDAY, continue in your Buddhist reflections with Dharma Day, a celebration of the Buddha’s first sermon at the Deer Park—which “set in motion the Wheel of Dharma” (in other words, this famous talk launched the core teachings of Buddhism).
    The “Sacred-Destinations” Web site has an interesting page on the Deer Park, including some photos, a map and links.
    Buddhanet offers a good description of this world-changing sermon in the Deer Park. It must have been a fairly dramatic scene. The Buddha already had attained enlightenment and had moved away from the more extreme practices that were popular with many holy teachers at that time. According to tradition, on the day he preached this famous sermon, he was looking fairly fit and happy and his first small audience taunted him a bit about this. After their skepticism, however, the Buddha offered them his core teachings, as Buddhanet describes it:
    “The Four Noble Truths are: 1. There is suffering; 2. Suffering has a cause; 3. The cause is removable, and 4. There are ways to remove the causes. So as to remove the causes the Buddha prescribed an Eight-fold Path: Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness, Right concentration, Right attitude and Right view.

ALSO TUESDAY, it’s the 63rd anniversary of Catholics in the U.S. getting their “first American saint”—Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini. This is not her feast day, which is in December, but it’s remarkable to think of the relatively “young” spiritual life of the American Catholic church in this anniversary of her canonization.
    This is a woman whose utterly unstoppable courage is worth emulating today. She stood less than 5 feet tall and was dispatched to the United States in the late 1800s to minister to the growing communities of poor Italians forming “Little Italies” in cities nationwide.
    Her first quest was to care for sick children and abandoned girls—especially vulnerable to the worst of urban life. But she landed in New York with no assistance from the organized church. She had to beg and struggle to carve out a ministry—and she certainly accomplished her goal! In an era when transcontinental travel was life threatening, she hit the road and worked, at various times, in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle. In the Pacific Northwest, she even grabbed a heavy pick and showed Catholic women how to clear a building site!
    The photo at left is the statue of Mother Cabrini that now stands inside St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. For more than half a century, she has been officially recognized by the Vatican as a patron saint of immigrants—an issue of vital concern to billions of people, today. Whatever our faith may be, we all can learn from her arms-open compassion and her tireless bravery.
    To see the ongoing work in her spirit, you may want to visit the page honoring her life sponsored by the Cabrini Mission Foundation today.
    Google’s rapidly expanding books project also offers some great resources: Here’s a chapter in a book for Catholic families on how to remember St. Frances Cabrini, or a St. Francis Cabrini children’s story from a Loyola Kids book of saints for young people.

WEDNESDAY is a tribute to the need for skepticism along with our faith! It’s the annual Soapy Smith Wake in the little Alaska town where one of the Wild West’s most famous con men finally met a violent end. ReadTheSpirit highlights news about faith, spirituality and values—and there’s certainly a whole chapter of a textbook on values that could use Soap Smith as a cautionary tale.
    In the scam that earned him his nickname, Soapy would set up a big suitcase on a street corner, then stack bars of soap on top of his case. He would demonstrate in front of the crowd a “game” in which he would wrap various amounts of U.S. currency (including a $100 bill) around a few of the bars—then he would cover all the bars in brown paper. He would begin selling them for $1 a bar and, when no one had found the big money, he would auction off the final bars. Of course, only a “plant” in the crowd would ever see the prize money. By the time he hit Alaska, Soapy’s scams had grown to far larger schemes.
    Wikipedia has a fairly complete overview of the life of Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith II. Then, here’s a really fun site produced by a historic trust established to preserve the memory of this infamous American character.

THURSDAY, Baha’is worldwide will suspend work to honor the Martyrdom of the Bab in Tabriz, Iran, in 1850. His tragic death is a key event in the founding of this faith. Some inspirational Baha’i versions of the story compare his martyrdom with the drama surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion.
    It wasn’t a simple or quick death. Traditional inspirational versions of the story emphasize the miraculous nature of the Bab’s survival during the first volley unleashed by a firing squad. This Wikipedia summary of the martyrdom is interesting because it compares versions of the story. If you’re not familiar with this important figure in world religion, you may simply want to dig deeper into the life of the Bab.
    The photo at right shows the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, Israel, where his remains now are visited by pilgrims from around the world. (The Bab’s followers preserved his remains after the execution and eventually placed them in a simpler mausoleum in 1909 in Haifa. Then, a far more elaborate shrine was built around this site. Upon its completion in 1953, the structure was widely regarded as a world-class architectural landmark. You may want to read more about this shrine.)

THURSDAY also is the 17th of Tammuz in the Jewish calendar, a day of fasting in solemn remembrance of the Roman army’s breach of the walls of Jerusalem on their way to destroying the Second Temple. (At least that’s one major commemoration in this complex observance.) Jewish days begin at sundown, but the fast of the 17th of Tammuz is a daytime fast—so observant Jews will be fasting from dawn to dark during Thursday.
    As with most Jewish observances, many layers of remembrance surround this date. Wikipedia gives general readers a nice overview—and lots of links.
    Then, if you want to learn more about the Roman siege of Jerusalem in the year 70, the Wiki site also has a pretty impressive introduction with even more links to explore outward. This destruction is of vital importance to three of the world’s great faiths. For Christians, this Roman victory is a major shadow over gospel accounts written about Jesus’ life, according to Bible scholars. The remaining Temple Mount is the site of two major Muslim shrines. And the “Western Wall” of the Second Temple is the destination of Jewish pilgrims from around the world.
    The photo at right is an 1868 painting of Roman siege engines at work, suggesting the high drama of the scene as Jerusalem’s walls were breached thousands of years ago.

FRIDAY, it’s John Calvin’s 500th Birthday!
    Now, there’s a puzzle of a man! He certainly was a worldwide religious giant, but today he either seems to be forgotten or he’s widely misunderstood. Among most of the world’s 2 billion Christians, he’s a footnote to history—unless you’re among the minority of Christians who enjoy reading religious history. Those most likely to summon up helpful memories fall within the Reformed and Presbyterian branches of Christendom—the folks with the most direct connection to him.
    Calvin was a major figure in the Swiss hub of the Protestant Reformation—and his brilliant works of theology spread around the world. Here are some links to find out more:
Wikipedia’s got a helpful overview. But, here’s a surprising development: Did you know that the Vatican actually is praising him on his birthday as an “extraordinary” figure? It’s true—from the pages of Osservatore Romano.
    Peter Steinfels devotes his column in the New York Times, this week, to Calvin’s global impact. (You may need to fill out a free registration to read this Steinfels column online.) Today in the U.S., Calvin’s legacy is felt especially in western Michigan. Grand Rapids, Michigan, naturally weighs in on the birthday with a special newspaper story.
    For a global perspective, though, Associated Press out of Geneva is a good stop in your review of this often-misunderstood Reformer’s life.
    FINALLY, we’d love to hear from you about John Calvin—if you’ve got an opinion on the venerable old fellow you’d care to share.

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