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Posts tagged ‘diwali’

Following Light

John 8:12 [NRSV]
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

I John 1:5-7a
This is the message we have heard from Jesus and proclaim to you, that God is light and in God there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with God while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.

Matthew 5:14-16a
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others.

diwaliheld This time of year, in the fall, there are a variety of traditions that celebrate the symbolism and presence of light. One such holiday is a big one: Diwali. Also called Dipawali, Diwali is the biggest and most important holiday in India. The festival gets its name from the row of clay lamps that people light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects them from spiritual darkness. To put it in context, Diwali is just as important to people from India as Christmas is to American Christians. And it is not just Hindus who celebrate Diwali. So do Jains, Buddhist, Sikhs, and many others.

And do did I. On Thursday night, I went to a friend’s place in Philly to celebrate Diwali with a group of people from various parts of India and the U.S. We ate great food [including particular sweets that are famous during Diwali] and wonderful curry with rice. After the meal, we ventured out into Center City to find an appropriate place to light up the world—with fireworks, of course. This is a common occurrence during the days of Diwali. Now because in Pennsylvania “real” fireworks are not legal, one of my friends purchased the PA-sanctioned sparklers, spinning flowers, and grand finale sparking thingys. We found a parking lot. We fired up the sparklers. We were having a great time. And then…

FireworksDiwali

A random person walking by started yelling something at us.

At first, we couldn’t make out what she was saying. She was incensed. Soon enough, we figured out that she was yelling:

“No! You can’t do that. Not here. No! This is wrong! Stop! You must stop!”

Apparently, not everyone embraces the light? So one of the people in our group approached her and explained that we were not harming anyone or anything and that it was Diwali and that these fireworks were legal and that we would clean it all up. But the lady didn’t care. She kept on ranting and threatened to call 911. Well, we didn’t stop. We kept on going. She eventually took her dog and left.

Then, on Friday, I was eating a samosa at a place near where I live, talking to the manager of the café, and she told me: “Yeah, my cousin was shooting off fireworks on his own lawn on Thursday and one of his neighbors called the cops on him.”

I couldn’t believe it. On his own lawn? Thankfully, the cops who showed up told the neighbor that everything was okay. After all, they were using PA-sanctioned fireworks on their own property, no? Makes we wonder if the 4th of July would elicit the same response. I’m guessing not.

So what does this lead me to think? Well, first of all, it makes me sad for those who cannot even for one moment embrace a holiday [even if it’s new to them] that celebrates light. But it also reminds me that not everyone is open and understanding. Not everyone wishes light for everyone, or light for the world. It’s sad but true.

Also, though, celebrating Diwali [and encountering the opposition] reminds me that if we are open to it, we realize that we are all connected. I mean, it doesn’t matter which religion you hold to or don’t. Light is a universal idea. The thought that someone could be in a really difficult time in their life and somehow light breaks through—we call can resonate with that. And I think we all want to think that light lives in each one of us, that light is in the world.

Certainly, Jesus of Nazareth thought this. Jesus taught others that light lived in them and that this light was God and that this light made them a community. Jesus also taught that each person should not keep their light to themselves. They should let their light shine. It’s the idea of God-essence being within you and me.

And while this is a beautiful idea [and one I try to embrace], we cannot ignore the other side of it. The Diwali story and the Christian story don’t just include light, but also darkness. And if you wish to locate the source of the light and the darkness, look no further than yourself. You see, the point of all this is to affirm that we should not judge others.

We are capable of light but we are just as capable of doing harmful and hurtful things.

If ever we think we have “arrived” as a kind and accepting person, we are in danger. We must always remember continually seek light, pursue it, surround ourselves with people who emit light, and in some cases, we must light it up even when others are telling us not to.

So what will that look like for you? How will you recognize the inner light you have? How will you emit light so others can see and connect with you?

 

 

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Light Overcoming

John 18:33-37, John 1

Thanksgiving is over. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have ceased. Giving Tuesday came to an end.

Now what?

Advent.

Whaaaaat?

Yes, the season of Advent began on November 29th for Western Christians. I have to say Western Christians, because the season of Advent is indeed a Western creation, and it would not be a stretch to say that our observance of Advent in the U.S. is its own thing, too.

We actually shouldn’t assume that Christians around the world observe Advent at all. In fact, Eastern Christians [the first ones, mind you], don’t observe Advent at all. Instead, they observe what’s called the Nativity Fast. Depending on which Eastern culture we’re talking about, Christians abstain from eating any meats or animal-related products. In essence, the Nativity Fast puts one on a vegan diet. Some Eastern Christians fast for 40 days [an important number, of course, and the same number of days in the season of Lent]. They usually start the fast in mid November. A strict fast occurs on December 24th—no food is consumed, if physically possible for people.

The emphasis on fasting is not about depriving the body of nutrients or some kind of punishment. Fasting is a spiritual act, one that humbles the person doing the fasting. It allows someone to make deep connections between her body, mind, and spirit. Fasting is supposed to help us appreciate the food provided to us. Also during the Nativity Fast, Christians are encouraged to give of themselves to others—in the form of financial resources, time, or talents. In essence, Eastern Christians’ Nativity Fast is similar to Muslims’ observance of Ramadan.

I bring this up, because each November and December I feel that our U.S. version of Advent has become more and more of a race and less and less of a spiritual observance. I’m not going to spend a lot of time focusing on why that is—I think you can make your own conclusions just based on observation. But I do hope to provide you with some opportunities to claim Advent as a time to reflect spiritually and to focus on treating people and all living things with respect, love, and compassion. After all, that’s the ONLY reason to even observe any religious or spiritual season.

It’s supposed to make us better people.

So whether you choose to fast in some way, or to give of your time, energy and gifts to others this season—do so because it encourages you and brings peace into your life—not out of any obligation.

During Advent, there are a variety of symbols. One symbol is of course candles, which obviously represent light. Advent is indeed a season of light. And this should not be a surprise, because this time of year, other religious traditions also focus on light.

For example, recently, ten of us from the United Church of Christ in Warminster went to Bharatiya Hindu/Jain Temple to observe and participate in a special festival that takes place right after Diwali.

diwali

Diwali or Deepavali, is the “festival of lights.” It is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn (where we live, i.e. the northern hemisphere) or in the spring (southern hemisphere). Do you like candles? Well, Diwali might be for you! Actually, Diwali is for everyone, not only Hindus. People who celebrate Diwali? Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, and yes–Christians.

But our group got to participate in a unique festival native to the South Indian state of Tamil: the Skanda Shashti festival.

lord_muruganSkanda Shashti, typically a six-day festival, commemorates the destruction of evil by the Kartikeya also called Lord Murugan, Subramanya, son of Shiva, and is celebrated with the enactment of Sura Samharam, a story of struggle, triumph, and enlightenment.

The pujas [Sanskrit for reverence or worship] end with a victory celebration of spiritual light over darkness. Many fast, pray, and reflect during the festival. One prayer is a six-part prayer for protection, called the Skanda Sashti Kavacham, which is chanted. Six is a number associated with the divine presence.

Keep in mind that Hindus are often misunderstood. Many think Hindus are polytheistic [meaning that they worship many gods]; others assume that they are idol worshipers because of the various statues and representations of deities. This is not the case. In fact, Hindus do not worship a stone or metal idol as god. They worship god through the image. A good illustration from a helpful Hindu publication puts it this way:

Worship may be likened to using a telephone to talk across long distances with another person. When you do that, you’re not talking to the phone, right? You’re just using the phone to talk to the person.

The focus of what we saw on Tuesday at the temple was on Skanda, the god of many attributes, often shown as having six faces and twelve arms. Skanda is the commader of the army of light, defender of righteousness. Skanda is a healer and guide towards light, and is known to have a childlike love and compassion for all people.

skanda.jpegWe saw various ceremonial acts, including a small statue of Muruga being bathed in an array of sacred substances including milk, yoghurt, honey, sandlepaste and vibhuti.

skanda1

Then, a teenager from our congregation and I were asked by one of the priests to join others who were carrying one of the representations of Skanda. Here are some pictures of the dramatic presentation in India.

 

It was a fun and meaningful experience.

I am always of the mind that storytelling via interactive drama, puppets, colorful costumes, and songs is the kind of storytelling that impacts us the most. I also think that in any form of worship, symbols, smells, sounds, visuals, and hands-on participation enhance the experience and our connection to the Divine.

But religious observances aren’t about just going through the motions—lighting some candles around a wreath each week, singing some familiar carols, and going Christmas shopping.

It’s another thing entirely to view different seasons of the year as opportunities to be enlightened and to serve—to grow as people.

When Christians observe the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, it is an opportunity to observe the light in all of us, and in others. It is a chance to be stubborn about light, saying and showing that light can overcome evil, despair, and apathy in us and in the world.

The stories that Christians tell are colorful, interactive, and meaningful, too—if we decide to embrace them as we are, with what we have.

Jesus, Jeshua, was known to many as a lord, a teacher, a friend, a healer, a prophet, a spiritual leader, and even some considered him a king.

Yes, it can be tempting for us in the Western world to behave just like Pilate in John’s Gospel story, to only think and talk about Jesus in the ways that others tell us to, or to limit our perspectives to small religious and doctrinal views, convincing ourselves that we are somehow entitled or more deserving.

But why?

A question I want you to consider is this:
Will you believe something just because someone told you to?

Or, will you ask questions on your own, look for light on your own journey, and come up with our own conclusions as to how you will be light for others?

In the end, Pilate’s best question was:
What is truth?

And one of the answers we get in John’s Gospel is that truth is logos, or, in other words, truth is light.

So give yourself a fresh start this season, wherever you are. Start seeking this truth, this light, right now, in your own life. Start looking for this light in others. Look for this light in the world.

Find more info about Skanda Shashti and Hinduism here: https://vegeyum.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/skanda-shashti/

Info gathered from Hindu Festival Outreach

http://www.hinduismtoday.com/festivals

Photos courtesy of Soumya Sitaraman and Usha Kris, respectively author and photographer of Follow the Hindu Moon, hindumoon.com.

 

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