What’s the Spiritual Season this week? The “coldest day,” World Religion Day, King’s birthday and blessing animals


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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(January 11 to 17, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

THIS WEEK, the season is front-and-center as we
bundle up for—well, as legend has it—the coldest day of the year on
Wednesday, and the festival of the return of the sun in the Hindu Makar
Sankrant(i). Friday, we recognize the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. (more coming on King next week, of course), and Saturday, we look back at the onset of Prohibition 90 years ago.

    Interreligious relations are a hot topic in the news these days,
but Baha’is have been working on this for many years, we’re reminded
this week.

    Finally, it’s going to be a dog-gone good Sunday: Many Christians
celebrate the feast day of St. Anthony, Patron Saint of the Animal
kingdom, with a Blessing of the Animals. (You may be asking: Isn’t that St. Francis? Well, read on …)

WEDNESDAY, bundle up and sip on something warm—legend has it that St. Hilary’s Day is the coldest of the year. (Some traditional Roman Catholics celebrate St. Hilary’s feast day on Jan. 14.)
Due to an English history of terrible frosts and winters beginning on
or near St. Hilary’s Day, stories arose that Jan. 13 is the nippiest of
the calendar year. (Do you want to know the scoop on heating your home
this winter? CNN Money published an informative article. If staying cozy with hot food is more your style, here’s a fantastic recipe for potato pancakes from MSNBC. If you’re interested in paying less on heating bills and “going green” in the process, read over these tips from Eco Friendly Mag.)
St. Hilary of Poitiers was a 4th-century bishop of Poitiers, France,
who was selected to act as a bishop against his will. He was well-known for
his high rank among Latin writers of his century. (Read more on his life at American Catholic.)
St. Hilary was so highly regarded as a scholar that—to this
day, he is regarded as a “Doctor of the Church.” Augustine of Hippo
deemed Hilary “Doctor” many centuries ago, and Pope Pius IX officially
seconded that thought at the Synod of Bordeaux in 1851. (Check out Wikipedia’s page on Hilary of Poitiers here.)
St. Hilary was raised a Pagan and turned to Christianity after reading
the Scriptures, spending his life thereafter writing about the Trinity. As bishop, he defended his faith especially against theological
movements such as Arianism, which differed with the mother church on
the nature of Christ.
    Recognition for this saint began early:
The church of Sant’Ilario in Italy was dedicated to St. Hilary just 12
years after his death. To this day, the saint resonates in British
educational and legal institutions: To honor his scholarship, the term
beginning in January is known as the “Hilary Term.”

don’t despair too much about the cold weather; many Hindus and Indians
mark Makar Sankrant(i), a festival that recognizes the transition of
the sun from Sagittarius (or the Tropic of Cancer) into Capricorn. On
Makar Sankrant(i), the sun begins its northward journey in the Northern
Hemisphere, thus resulting in the beginning of longer days. (Here is the BBC’s page on Makar Sankrant(i).)
According to Hindu custom, there are 12 Sankrant(i)s, or
transmigrations of the sun from one sign of the zodiac to another,
although Makar is the only Sankrant(i) that receives its own elaborate
    Makar Sankrant(i) is joyously celebrated in India, but traditions and customs vary by region. (Find out more on this festival’s history, some recipes and more on I Love India.)
Originally, Makar Sankrant(i) was a harvest festival and today, since
the first sugar cane crop of the year is usually harvested around this
time, an exchange of jaggery
and other sweets is common in some parts of India. In other parts of
India, bathing is a ritual on Jan. 14 and devotees visit a river. Here is Wikipedia’s page on Makar Sankrant(i).
A trademark of this festival is color! On Jan. 14, a rainbow array of
kites usually fills the sky above Gujarat and Maharashtra. Makar
Sankrant(i) coincides with the International Kite Festival at
Ahmedabad, and through the years, kite-flying has become tightly
interwoven with other religious traditions of this auspicious day. (DNA India, a newspaper published online, recently featured an article on rising kite sales this year.)
During the kite-centered festivities, attendees can enter flying
competitions, fly leisurely or view social messages on oversized kites.
    Makar Sankrant(i) is one of the few Hindu/Indian festivals that falls on the same date every year.

make an effort to work on behalf of peace since today, in 1929, Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born—even though his holiday falls on Monday, January 18. Here is a biography of MLK, Jr. from publisher Gale Cengage.
Just past noon in an upstairs bedroom in Atlanta, Georgia, Michael King
Jr. was born as the second child and first son of Michael King, Sr. (Information about tours of MLK Jr.’s birth home is here.)
It wasn’t until later that the father-and-son duo changed their names
to “Martin Luther” in honor of the man who initiated the Protestant
Reformation in Christianity. (PBS compares Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Religion played an important role in King’s life from his birth, since his father was a Baptist minister. King eventually became a pastor in the American Baptist Churches and aided in the organization of the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference in his campaign against
discrimination. A profile of King, focusing on his relationship to other religious peacemakers, was published in “Interfaith Heroes,” written by the Rev. Daniel Buttry, a peace activist currently working in American Baptist Churches.
    King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and about him it
was said: “He is the first person in the Western world to have
shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence.
He is the first to make the message of brotherly love a reality in the
course of his struggle, and he has brought this message to all men, to
all nations and races.” (More is at his page on the Nobel Prize Web site.)

it’s been 90 years since the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
took effect and Prohibition officially began. Historians describe this era as a convergence of renewed Puritanism combined with the growing political influence of women. Literally taking to the streets in many cases, women aimed to rid the U.S. of a substance that they believed was tearing apart many families
and harming countless women and children. (Wikipedia has more.)
Prohibition, known also as The Noble Experiment, unofficially began
decades before the Amendment took effect. During the Progressive Era
(1890-1920), the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Anti-Saloon League
and Prohibition Party led the nation in supporting the idea of banning alcohol. Finally, after much pressure from both men and women, the U.S. Senate
proposed the 18th Amendment in 1917. Prohibition was approved by 36
states and took effect January 16, 1920.
    The Federal Council of Churches was a central supporter of prohibition. Read all of the details on this page from Ohio State University. Unfortunately, despite strong advocacy groups, government support and more than 1,500 police officers dedicated to enforcement—the 18th Amendment sparked a host of other problems, including a rise in organized crime, and eventually ended in 1933.

SUNDAY, Baha’is celebrate the 60th World Religion Day.
Religious, racial and social unity is central to the Baha’i faith, and
on World Religion Day devotees point out similarities between
religions. According to Baha’i teachings, human beings originated
in the same place and must now reconcile their differences and return
to unity. Baha’is believe that a singular moral
code should be observed by all men and women. (This Baha’i site dedicated to World Religion Day lists a breakdown of religious populations, country by country.)
World Religion Day was instituted by the National Spiritual Assembly of
the Baha’is of the United States of America in 1950, and is observed on
the third Sunday of January each year. “A Time of Bright Prospects”
will be this year’s theme at observances around the world. Many Baha’is
mark the day by hosting or attending interfaith dialogues, discussions,
conferences and other similar events. Each year, more non-Baha’is
recognize the day, too. (More can be found on the Official Web site of the Baha’is of the United States.)
Baha’i writings declare that “Religion should be the cause of love and
agreement, a bond to unify all mankind for it is a message of peace and
goodwill from man to God.”

Also on SUNDAY,
Hispanic Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians and various other
Christian sects “let it go to the dogs” and honor St. Anthony with a
Blessing of the Animals. While many Christians might associate St.
Francis of Assisi (whose feast day falls in autumn) with the blessing
of animals, St. Anthony holds the title of
Patron Saint of the Animal Kingdom. (Here is Wikipedia’s take on St. Anthony.)
The Festa di Sant’Antonio (Feast of St. Anthony) honors the man known
also as San Anton, San Antonio de Abad, St. Anthony of the Desert, St.
Anthony of Egypt and St. Anthony the Hermit.
    St. Anthony was born in
the 3rd century in Egypt and spent much of his time in the
wilderness. (Catholic.org gives an in-depth biography of St. Anthony.)
While it would be incorrect to call St. Anthony the first monk, he is regarded as
the first Christian ascetic to move himself into the wilderness, alone.
Stories abound concerning St. Anthony and animals, from writings on his
loyal companion, a pig, to references about lions helping St. Anthony dig
up the grave of St. Paul. (This blog has more stories.)
According to the Catholic Church, animals praise and glorify God
because they assist humans and serve us. Pets can help us
to achieve spiritual goals—therefore, they are recognized as
deserving of blessings by the Church.


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