Saturday, October 31, 2015

Interfaith Days: All Hallows' Eve , Samhain

In Christianity, today is All Hallows' Evening, or the evening before All Hallows' Day or All Saints' Day (or Hallowmas). Of course, the term is usually contracted to All Hallows' Eve or just Halloween. As a religious observance, is begins the time of Allhallowtide when the dead, including the saints (hallows) and martyrs are remembered and honored. The day may have roots in the Gaelic festival Samhain, but the setting of Hallowmas may date from the 8th century papacy of Gregory III. This site provides many different aspects of the day.

And this is indeed Samhain, a festival of Gaelic origin that is still a pagan holiday. It begins this evening and traditionally marks the end of the harvest festival. As this site indicates, it is a New Years holiday and a time for honoring ancestors.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Interfaith Days: Reformation Sunday

Window at Eden Seminary 
In many Protestant Christian churches, today is celebrated as Reformation Sunday. By tradition, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed to the door of Wittenberg Church a statement of 95 theses (propositions to debate) concerning papal authority and church teaching. He did not intend to break with the Roman Catholic Church, only to debate and clarify aspects of the Gospel. The statement led eventually to the Protestant Reformation. I wrote more about the day and about Luther here.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Interfaith Days: The Day of Ashura

In Sunni Islam, today commemorates the day when the Israelites were freed from Egypt and the Pharaoh. It is an optional day of fasting. For Shi'a Muslims, today is a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's grand some, at the Battle of Karbala in AH 61 (680 CE). In several countries, it is a national holiday and a significant day of public mourning and remembrance. The Wikipedia site provides more information.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Interfaith Days: Dussehra

In Hinduism, today is Dussehra, or Vijayadashami, or Durga Puja. It celebrates the victory of the Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasur, and it also celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over the ten-headed demon Ravana.  The day comes at the conclusion of the Navratri festival that began October 13th.  As this site indicates, the days of Navratri had focused upon different aspects and incarnations of the goddess: Durga and Kali, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. On this tenth day, a worshiper celebrates liberation. See also this site.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Interfaith Days: Birth of the Bab, Guru Granth Sahib Installation

In the Baha'i faith, today is a time of celebration for the birth of the Bab, one of the founders of the faith. He was born (named Ali Muhammad) on October 20, 1819, in Shiraz, Persia, of the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad. It is one of the three days that commemorate the Bab (also the declaration of his mission on May 23 and his martyrdom on July 9. As this site indicates, the day is celebration with no work, formal dinners in Baha'i communities, and other events.

In the Sikh faith, today is also the remembrance of the eternal installation of the holy books Granth Sahib. As this site indicates, "On this day in 1708, the ninth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, announced that he would be the last in a line of living Sikh Gurus. Today, the sacred collection known as the Adi Granth was officially installed as the 10th and everlasting Guru, named Guru Granth Sahib." This site also gives information about the sacred text's compilation, and this site also provides the background of the text and Sikh beliefs.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Interfaith Days: Al-Hijra

Yesterday was Al-Hijra, the Islamic New Year. On this day, the Prophet Muhammad moved with fellow Muslims from Mecca to Medina in 622 C.E. This is not only the first day of the year but the counting of years on the Muslim (lunar) calendar) also begins with this event. Thus, we are beginning the year 1437 A.H. (Anno Hegirae, "in the year of the Hijra"). The day is not a major festival in Islam compared to Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha. But Muslims reflect upon the beginning of the Muslim community. According to this site, "The date marks the beginning of Islam as a community in which spiritual and earthly life were completely integrated. It was a community inspired by God, and totally obedient to God; a group of people bound together by faith. By breaking the link with his own tribe the Prophet demonstrated that tribal and family loyalties were insignificant compared to the bonds of Islam. This Muslim community grew steadily over time, unifying the many tribes that had made up the Arab world beforehand."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Interfaith Days: Navratri

In Hinduism, today is Navratri ("nine nights"), the festival dedicated to the goddess Durga. On each night and day, a different form of the goddess is worshiped.

As this site indicates, "During Navratri, we invoke the energy aspect of God in the form of the universal mother, commonly referred to as "Durga," which literally means the remover of miseries of life. She is also referred to as "Devi" (goddess) or "Shakti" (energy or power). It is this energy, which helps God to proceed with the work of creation, preservation and destruction. In other words, you can say that God is motionless, absolutely changeless, and the Divine Mother Durga, does everything. Truly speaking, our worship of Shakti re-confirms the scientific theory that energy is imperishable. It cannot be created or destroyed. It is always there."

This site and this site give explanations for each of the festival's days.

"The Devaluation of Music"

Interesting analysis of music, the digital age, and the entertainment industry:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy birthday, Ralph Vaughan Williams

The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was born on this day in 1872. I wrote an appreciation back in '08, near the fiftieth anniversary of his death:

RVW and Foxy

Friday, October 9, 2015

Interfaith Days: Birthday of Guru Ram Das

In the Sikh faith, today is the celebration of the birthday of Guru Ram Das (1534-1581), the fourth of the ten Gurus of Sikhism.  He organized the structure of Sikh society, wrote the hymns of the Sikh Marriage Rites, and planned and created what became the holy city of Amritsar.

(From the 2015 Interfaith Calendar of the Diversity Awareness Partnership of St. Louis---see for more information---and various online sources.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Interfaith Days: Founding of the IAS

Today is one of the holidays of Scientology, the founding of the International Association of Scientologists (IAS), an unincorporated organization open for membership for all Scientologists. The IAS began in 1984 to help preserve the religious freedom of Scientologists and unite them into an international body. See

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Abide in the Shade

During this past week, I thought about the third anniversary of my mother's passing. Because the Oregon shootings also happened that week, my Facebook feed was occupied with many articles about the tragedy as well as proposals for gun control, anger at the NRA and politicians, and other topics. Normally interested and involved in such discussions, I distanced myself from the topic and, except for a tweet or two, I let other folks share and talk.

A few years ago I purchased a humorous, Avanti-brand greeting card. The front of the card depicts a very grouchy cat on a yoga mat, doing stretches. The inside of the card reads, “I meditate, I do yoga, I chant … and I still want to smack someone!” I don't feel like smacking anyone, but I like the sentiment. Faith can be struggle; you do all the correct religious things, but personal losses and public tragedies are distressing. Sometimes God seems far away. Read Psalm 42, 143, and others, however, and you know that such feelings aren’t alien to Holy Scripture. Psalm after psalm bids us to acknowledge "what's going on" with us, to seek and trust the Lord, and to rejoice in God's care. Psalm 91 is a favorite:

"You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
   who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
   my God, in whom I trust.’"

"Bible Road": Signs of Faith and Warning

This semester I'm teaching a seminar on evangelism at Eden Theological Seminary. For a change of pace this week, I'm passing around a favorite photography book, Bible Road: Signs of Faith in the American Landscape by Sam Fentress (David & Charles, 2007).

The blurb on the Amazon site reads, "For the last 25 years, photographer Sam Fentress has travelled America taking architectural photographs as his full-time profession. Along the way, he has encountered illustrative signs of faith along the nation's highways, country roads and back alleyways. "Bible Road: Signs of Faith in the American Landscape" is the result of these sometimes sought, sometimes serendipitous encounters. A photographic chronicle emerges from the most unlikely places, from beauty salon windows to highway pylons and burger joint marquees. These pictures, both individually and collectively, offer a remarkable insight into a distinctly American religious phenomenon, which may cause us to reflect on our own religious cultures and attitudes."

The different signs and graffiti photographed by Fentress are fascinating examples of people (whoever they might have been) sharing their faith, and calling others to religious faith, in ways sincere, blatant, unintentionally humorous, and thought-provoking. Here is a site that gives more information about the book, as well as a sample of some of the photographs.

Interfaith Days: Simchat Torah
In Judaism, today is Simchat Torah, "Rejoicing in the Torah," which marks the completion of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings. On this day, the last Torah portion from Deuteronomy 34 is read and then immediately the reading from Genesis 1, so that Torah reading is a circle. It is a day of celebration, drinking, procession around the synagogue, shared aliyah (receiving a blessing over Torah reading, and as many people as possible carry a Torah in the procession. See

Monday, October 5, 2015

Interfaith Days: Shemini Atzeret

In Judaism, today is Shemini Atzeret ("eighth day"), the holy day devoted to the spiritual aspects of the seven-day Sukkot festival which immediately precedes it. It is mentioned in Leviticus 23:39 in conjunction with Sukkot (see also Numbers 29:35; Nehemiah 8:18; 2 Chronicles 7:9). As this site indicates, "Although the observances of Shemini Atzeret generally share the characteristics of the rest of Sukkot, there are four significant differences. The first is that there is no more shaking of the lulav and etrog. Second is that although we have our meals and recite Kiddush in the sukkah (though customs vary), we no longer say the blessing to sanctify us through the commandment to dwell in it, as we did the previous seven days. The third is that in the synagogue, after the Torah reading, we recite the memorial prayer (Yizkor). And finally, the special prayer for rain (Geshem) is added to the repetition of Musaf and thus begins the period of an additional call for rain in our prayers, which lasts until Passover..."

Shemini Atzeret is closely related to tomorrow's day, Simchat Torah. In the Land of Israel, the two festivals are celebrated on the same day.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Interfaith Days: St. Francis Day, Hoshana Rabbah, World Communion Sunday

In Catholic Christianity, today is the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi. He died the evening before, in 1226, two years after he received the stigmata. A feast day in honor of Francis' stigmata is celebrated on September 17, although some liturgical calendars omit that day as being close in observance and meaning to St. Francis Day. Francis was, of course, an Italian preacher and friar who founded the Franciscans and the Franciscan Clarist Order. Because of his association with nature and creation, many churches, including Protestant congregations, have "blessing of the animals" components during Sunday services on or near October 4.

Today is also Hoshanah Rabbah in Judaism. It is the seventh day of the Sukkot festival and is considered the last of the Days of Judgment that began on Rosh Hashana. The judgment for the new year is sealed on Yom Kippur but not delivered until Hoshana Rabbah.  This site and this site provide more information.

In many Christian denominations, this is World Communion Sunday. Happening on the first Sunday of  each October, the day originated in the Presbyterian denomination in the 1930s and was endorsed and promoted by the Federal Council of Churches (now the National Council of Churches) in 1940. The day promotes ecumenical cooperation and Christian unity.