Sunday, March 29, 2015

Interfaith Days: Palm Sunday, St. Mary of Egypt

Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. In Christian celebration, the day recalls Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, when worshipers carried palm branches and used Psalm 118:25-26 to honor Jesus. The donkey on which he rode, symbolizing peace rather than war, harkens back to Zechariah 9:9.

In Orthodox Christianity, this is also the Fifth Sunday of Lent, honoring St. Mary of Egypt. Her feast day is April 1 but as a model of devotion and repentance, she is also honored on this Sunday. This site and this site tell her story.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Interfaith Days: Rama Navami

Today is Rama Navami, the Hindu festival that celebrates the birth of Rama to Queen Kausalya and King Dasharatha. It is the conclusion of the week of Ramayana. One of the most important Hindu festivals, the celebration includes community meals, Vedic chanting at temples, decorations in temples, and images of infant Rama that are cared for by devotees. This site, which is the source of the picture, provides much information about Rama and this festival.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Interfaith Days: Khordad Sal

Zoroastrians celebrate March 26 as the birthday of the prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster). His birth date, and even the century in which he was born, are unknown; March 26 is the sixth day after Nau Ruz (New Year). Some call this day "Greater "Nau Ruz." As this site indicates, on Khordad Sal prayers are offered, scriptures read, and parties happen to celebrate the day. "Parsi families come together during the festivities that are put on during Khordad Sal – if families are unable to be together then prayers are offered for those who are not in attendance. It is an important celebration for the Parsi community and because family (and community) is central to the themes of Zoroastrianism guests are invited to participate in the festivities. Parsis also take the time during Khordad Sal to be introspective. They look at ways in which they can improve the lives of others and themselves." See also this site.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Interfaith Days: Annunciation

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico
Today is Annunciation, the Christian celebration of the announcement by Gabriel to Mary that she would become Jesus' mother. Annunciation is nine months prior to Christmas, but also falls within the Lenten season when the adult Jesus proceeds toward suffering and death. It is also close to the vernal equinox, which several religions have observed recently.

According to a book I've been reading recently, the ancient church had already set March 25 as the date of Jesus' conception, because the spring equinox was also believed to have been the date of the creation of the world (when light and darkness are equal). But it was also thought to be the date of Jesus' crucifixion---and so creation, incarnation, and atonement coincided on the older dating of the spring equinox.(1)

1. Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe, eds., God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2014), 143.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Jolly Flatboatman in a Divine Pose

Years ago, my wife Beth and I worshiped at a church which featured a reredos copy of Raphael's The Transfiguration of Christ. It was an excellent rendering of the 1516-1520 masterpiece. I never cared for this particular painting; I wish Elijah (on the left) didn't look so much like he's floating like one of the kids in Peter Pan, and Christ's hair looks poorly trimmed rather than wind-blown. As my daughter points out, too, the depiction of a different gospel story in the painting's bottom half seems distracting.

How interesting, though, to learn the connection between this painting, and work by the American painter George Caleb Bingham, who is the subject of a wonderful exhibition currently shown at the St. Louis Art Museum. This past weekend, the traffic through Forest Park was horrendous, but we had already given up on a previous outing to the park because of traffic---people desperate for a respite from winter and taking advantage of a pretty day. So we hung in and finally arrived at the museum--walked down to the zoo, too maddening to access by vehicle, and then toured the gallery. The Bingham exhibition contrasts several of the artist's paintings with drawings and sketches Bingham made of river workers and travelers.

One, I was amused to learn, has nearly the same pose as the transfigured Christ in Raphael's painting, revealing Bingham's knowledge of the artistic tradition. From now on, I'll enjoy Raphael's masterpiece a little more, because I'll remember the "jolly flatboatman," being his own lord of the dance as he and his friends float down the beautiful river.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"Safe Spaces" and Classroom Discussions

I appreciated this piece by Judith Shulevitz in this weekend's NYT: "In College and Hiding from Scary Ideas." "In most cases, safe spaces are innocuous gatherings of like-minded people who agree to refrain from ridicule, criticism or what they term microaggressions — subtle displays of racial or sexual bias — so that everyone can relax enough to explore the nuances of, say, a fluid gender identity. As long as all parties consent to such restrictions, these little islands of self-restraint seem like a perfectly fine idea. But the notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe…..[W]hile keeping college-level discussions 'safe' may feel good to the hypersensitive, it’s bad for them and for everyone else."

Interfaith Days: Sunday of St. John Climacus

Today is the FIfth Sunday of Lent. Until the late 1950s, the day was known as Passion Sunday in the Catholic Church and was the beginning of the two-week Passiontide. Passiontide is still observed in many churches. The Gospel lesson today is John 12:20-33.
Today is also the Fourth Sunday of Lent in Orthodox Churches. The day honors St John of the Ladder (Climacus), who wrote The Ladder of Divine Ascent. The book became a popular guide to spiritual growth and perfection. This site indicates that John, who was the "abbot of St Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai (6th century) stands as a witness to the violent effort needed for entrance into God’s Kingdom (Mt.10: 12). The spiritual struggle of the Christian life is a real one, 'not against flesh and blood, but against ... the rulers of the present darkness ... the hosts of wickedness in heavenly places ...' (Eph 6:12). Saint John encourages the faithful in their efforts for, according to the Lord, only 'he who endures to the end will be saved' (Mt.24:13)." This site provides more information about him and the day.