Thursday, April 5, 2012

Give MeThat Ol'Time Religion

Easter is coming upon us.

We recently attended a Roman Catholic funeral.

I am preparing to return to Thailand for two weeks to take care of personal business.

These three events got me to thinking about devotion, ritual, and faith.

Several times I have written about Buddhist rituals that I have attended and I have remarked how similar they were to rituals of the Roman Catholic Church.  The similarities were the importance of candles, statues, incense, chanting, praying in a common old language of the faith, and blessing with water.

Well I should clarify that the Buddhist rituals that go back over 2,500 years ago are similar to the RC Church rituals of my youth.

Changes have occurred in the Parrish of my youth.  There is a crucifix over the altar with a less formidable Jesus in front of it.  He is clothed in a long robe and does not have a crown of thorns.  There are no visible wounds, no outward signs of sacrifice on the statue of Jesus. 

The church was devoid of any other statues.  There were not any trays of lighted candles or to be lighted.  There were no prominent confessionals where people go to admit and confess their sins.  The church did not have any odor of burning candles or of smoke impregnated wood from countless prayers sent towards heaven on wisps of burning incense.

The funeral Mass was spoken in English rather than Latin of the early Church.  The old songs have been replaced by newer music.  All in all, to me, it seemed very modern, antiseptic, and lacking in passion.

Back in Thailand and other countries, some people demonstrate their faith with passion, pain, and some suffering.

Last year I was planning on Duang and I attending the Hindu festival of Thaipusam in Malaysia but our need to be in the USA superseded my wish to witness one of the great religious spectacles..  The festival celebrates the birth of Lord Murugan, the God of War and Fertility.  In Malaysia and Singapore specifically. the festival is very intense with hundreds, if not thousands, of participants march to a shrine with

Some Shi'ite Muslims march in large processions in Iran and Iraq each year flogging themselves on their backs with chains, knives, and sword blades to commemorate the martydom of Hussien, the youngest Grandson of the prophet Mohammad.  I would love to witness and photograph this demonstration of faith but the realities of politics and religious sensitivities means that I will most likely never get there.

Some Christians in the Philippines and South America self-flagellate in commemeration of the Passion of Christ.  Someday I would like to travel back to Peru and witness the religious fervor and passion of the local celebrations of Holy Week.

The last of the major religions of the modern world, the Buddhists, also have a festival where adherents practice mortification of the flesh.  In Thailand, the "Nine Emperor Gods Festival" known more commonly as the "Vegetarian Festival" is a time where hundreds of men as well as women pierce their bodies with all kinds of objects in a demonstration of their faith and power of their Gods.  We have attended two of the Phuket Vegetarian Festivals.  The Phuket Vegetarian Festivals are unique and extremely interesting.  Like most and interesting things, you learn a little more, appreciate a little more and hopefully understand a little better each time that you experience the event.

The piercing of the body of the holy warriors, "Mah Song", is not exist in China so many people believe that the Mah Song tradition of the "Nine Emperor Gods Festival" is a Thai adaptation of the Hindu Thaipusam Festival practiced by Indians and their descendants in nearby Malaysia.

Duang and I will return to experience the Vegetarian Festival again for sure.

In this age where passion seems to be frowned upon by so many, I, personally am relieved and comforted to know that there are still places where and people who still practice that old time religion, no matter what faith that may apply, with passion, suffering, pain and sometimes blood.  Places and people that maintain their links to their past and respect their heritage, as different as it may be from ours.

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