Category Archives: Hinduism

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a (Hindu) match

A Hindu wedding ceremony. RNS photo courtesy Flickr

By MEGAN SWEAS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

LOS ANGELES (RNS) Kamna Mittal and her husband moved to the Bay Area soon after they were married in India in 2000. In addition to being in a new country, the couple were new to each other. Their marriage had been arranged.

“When you go for an arranged marriage,” she said, “it’s a total gamble.”

Now a mother of two, Mittal counts herself lucky that it worked out, but 12 years later, she wants to help Indian-American singles in the Bay Area meet directly.

Turns out even love can use a little help every now and then, and the age-old practice of arranged Hindu marriages is getting a 21st-century makeover.

Sapna Thakur, 34, recently moved to the Bay Area and attended Mittal’s first mixer in February, a Valentine’s Day-themed singles party. “Why not? Give it a shot,” she thought before going.

“It was a bit awkward in the beginning but then it was fine because there were a lot of games and people were mingling. I had a nice time.”

The marriage process is in flux in Indian-American culture, opening the door to new avenues for matchmaking. Even as singles’ attitudes on dating change, Hindu tradition still holds sway through mixers, matrimony websites and matchmakers.

Within Indian culture (which is predominantly Hindu), marriage is as much about families coming together as it is about couples coming together. Hinduism orders families into four major castes and thousands of sub-castes, each with their own particular ritual role or profession. Ideally, a couple must be in the same sub-caste, region and religion. Priests also compare their horoscopes to ensure compatibility.

Especially in Indian villages, matchmaking tends to be informal, using “extensive kinship networks,” said Lindsey Harlan, chair of religious studies at Connecticut College. When an Indian gets to a marriageable age, “aunties,” who are not necessarily related, start looking out for potential life partners.

A family also might hire a marriage broker to help the process along. These days, matrimony websites can serve the same broker role as the “aunties.”

Parents, both in India and in the U.S., create profiles listing their children’s personal and familial information — including caste and religion — on sites like Bharatmatrimony.com, which has more than 20 million profiles worldwide.

The website’s CEO, Murugavel Janakiraman, said 10 percent of clients are immigrants to the U.S. or American-born Indians.

“There have been a lot of more modern inventions trying to achieve the same goal as matchmaking by ‘aunties,'” Harlan said. Such inventions, she said, are “a reaction to the fear that kids will make inappropriate choices and suffer the same divorce rates that the (U.S.) does in general.”

Parties like Mittal’s can serve to either continue or break tradition: Singles might click with somebody outside their caste, or they could meet more of “the kind of people that your parents would like you to marry” than they might in everyday life, Harlan said.

Thakur’s parents encouraged her to go the singles party, even though they had wanted to arrange a marriage for her when she was younger. Now that she’s older, her father is more open-minded about who his daughter marries — “but it has to be an Indian,” she added, and preferably from one of the higher castes.

Thakur herself is also more open to arranged marriage than she was when she was young.

“When you’re working, it’s really difficult to meet people,” Thakur said. “You go there, you meet someone. You can meet them a few times. It’s basically semi-arranged.”

Thakur’s desire to marry reflects Indians’ traditional values at a time when only 51 percent of American adults are wed, according to 2010 Census data.

“It’s not like a flirty or just everyday kind of party,” Mittal said. “From the girls’ side or boys’ side, they are both serious about finding a life partner.”

Indian immigrants tend to look for the same religion, caste and region, Mittal said. American-born Indians might want somebody who is Indian, preferably raised in America, too. Ninety percent of Hindus in America marry within the faith, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

“I’ve seen so much that blows those stereotypes out of the water,” said Jasbina Ahluwalia, a Bay Area matchmaker who serves the South Asian community. Still, culture can add a burden to dating.

“Separating one’s own priorities and values from expectations of others — family, parents — I think can be very challenging,” she said.

Even if parents approach her, as they sometimes do, the first consultation must be with the single person, in private. “If someone says,’I want to find another Indian,’ I ask why,” she said.

Ahluwalia doesn’t necessarily advocate a wholesale break with tradition, but clients need to have thought through their answers. If a woman says she wants to marry a Hindu, for instance, Ahluwalia asks what that means: Going to temple each week? Simply being spiritual?

Thakur is willing to look within the parameters set by her parents, but she has her own priorities: physical attraction, education, good employment and stability. She didn’t meet anybody she liked at Mittal’s party.

“I guess you become more fussy when you get older,” she said.

Bride and groom hold hands during a Hindu wedding ceremony. RNS photo courtesy Flickr

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Faith Photo Spotlight: Keep the change

The sign at Love of Christ Full Gospel Church in Bolivia. Photo by Christine Moughamian.

Christine Moughamian

By Blogger Christine Moughamian
One Yogini, Many Paths

On “tax day,” April 15, Love of Christ Full Gospel Church in Bolivia knew just how to balance their book.

The stamp was issued in 1948 after the assassi...

The stamp was issued in 1948 after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I stopped to photograph their marquee, which read:

“JESUS PAID THE PRICE. YOU CAN KEEP THE CHANGE.”

Of course, this Yogini thought of the words by pacifist Mahatma Gandhi:

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

BRIEF: Scotty McCreery and other North Carolina sons featured in new Celebrity Faith Database

American Idol winner Scotty McCreery gets the ...

Did you know Julia Roberts is Hindu? Did you know Gladys Knight is Mormon?

The Internet inspirational website, Beliefnet.com, recently unveiled a new Celebrity Faith Database.

Native North Carolina sons Andy Griffith and Clay Aiken are in there under Christian. And so is Scotty McCreery, soon to play to sold out Wilmington crowds in concert at 8 p.m. Friday (April 13) during the N.C. Azalea Festival.

– Amanda Greene

“Project Conversion” – A Lumberton man’s year of burying hatred by exploring 12 different faiths

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By AMANDA GREENE
WilmingtonFAVS.com

Andrew Bowen sat yoga-style in his armchair, absentmindedly fingering a set of Muslim prayer beads in his left hand as he talked about 2011 – his year of conversion.

But he’s not Muslim. In fact, the 29-year-old Lumberton resident doesn’t call himself by any of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time last year.

Not Hindu (January). Not Baha’i (February). Not Zoroastrian (March). Not Jewish (April). Not Buddhist (May). Not agnostic (June). Not Mormon (July). Not Muslim (August). Not Sikh (September). Not Wiccan (October). Not Jain (November). And not Catholic (December).

Finding faith in God again was not Bowen’s aim. This young father of two was looking for faith in humanity.

The hardest decision

Bowen became a Christian in high school and took “a nose dive into fundamentalism,” he said. “It just ignited a furnace in me.”

As a teen, Bowen said he was extremely critical of faiths different from his own. Once when a pair of male Mormon missionaries visited his home, Bowen said he chased them down the street as they retreated on their bicycles.

After high school, Bowen met his wife, Heather, at East Carolina University.

The Bowens had two girls, Shaylie and Nevaeh, and thought their family was complete. But in 2008, Heather’s tubal ligation failed, and she was pregnant with their “miracle baby.”

But the doctors discovered the baby was behind her ovaries, an ectopic pregnancy which threatened Heather’s life.

And Heather and Bowen had to choose to abort the baby, something the couple never dreamed they would do. They were devastated.

“It was a really dark time. I went into a very deep state of depression,” Heather recalled.

Project Conversion

But Heather and her husband dealt with the baby’s death in polar opposite ways.

She bought a devotional Bible and was baptized at a local Baptist church. He plunged into a “two-year stint of just seething hatred toward God.”

The couple fought each time Heather wanted to talk about her growing faith. Still, deep down, Bowen worried his hatred would consume him.

“The best way I can describe it was flying down the road like a bat out of hell toward a wall,” Bowen said. “With any transformation, there’s a fire that has to be applied.”

So Project Conversion was born. He would study and practice one faith each month, guided by a mentor from each belief system. But this was no reality TV stunt.

It was an obsession – his own personal intervention.

“It was 110 percent balls to the walls for me,” Bowen said, describing his dedication to the project.

To find his mentors in late 2010, he had to look outside his tiny, mostly Baptist farm town. His Zoroastrian mentor lives in Chicago. His Jewish mentor lives in Charlotte. His Muslim mentor lives in Fayetteville.

Truthfully, Heather was skeptical about Project Conversion at first.

But she “saw changes in him. He was more patient. There was more of a sense of peace about him,” she said.

His first two weeks each month were spent intensely reading and learning a faith’s tenets and the last half was spent exploring the faith’s practices and rituals and visiting nearby congregations if possible. For his Sikh month, he spent five hours watching YouTube videos on how to tie a turban. During his Jewish month, he spent a weekend visiting different congregations with his Jewish mentor, journalist Michael Solender in Charlotte. He’s filled an entire bookshelf with holy books from his research.

Now as he’s writing a book and speaking about Project Conversion and blogging about the experience for Beliefnet.com, Bowen is still exploring all he’s learned.

“The most important thing I learned in Buddhism was how to wash dishes. Like there is nothing but this dish. It taught me finally to be quiet,” he said. “With the Mormons, the first thing I did was apologize. It was about humility and being one of them and serving them.”

Islam “showed me how much I was wasting in my life from food to activity. Bowing with the men in the mosque was astounding,” he said.

Catholicism was “a wellspring of expression and arts in worship. It was an ocean I could bury myself in for days and not come up for breath.”

The project also touched the lives of his mentors.

“It was energizing in that it allowed us to really put on the table and discuss conversations my wife and I wouldn’t normally have had with other people,” Solender said.

Bowen was one of the best students of Wicca Greenville resident Melissa Barnhurst has had.

“On the first week, he’d already run into tons of public backlash in the stereotypes against Wicca. But he stuck with it,” she said. “He gave it a lot more than some students who’ve come to wanting to become Wiccan.”

Meanwhile, his wife was still working as a labor and delivery nurse at a local hospital. Things were hard financially, at times, because Bowen wasn’t working.

And then there was November, Jainism and Heather’s least favorite

Andrew Bowen during his Jain month, November 2011. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bowen.

month. Bowen loved becoming a monk, meditating wrapped in his grandmother’s sheets, not bathing and walking with a broom to whisk away any creature in the Jain tradition of respecting all life.

“It was the not bathing or washing your hands,” she said. “The nurse in me was beginning to have a fit.”

Though he admits his experiment caused hardship, the couple had a deal. Bowen put his wife through nursing school. She carried the financial burdens through Project Conversion.

“It was entirely disruptive to our family. We argued more than we ever did, but my kids participated in celebrations, and my wife’s Christianity opened up a whole lot more,” Bowen said.

His wife agrees.

“Faith has become a constant topic in our house,” Heather said. “We may not share a faith. We may never share a faith, but there’s definitely a respect there.”

And now?

Bowen still meditates daily using various prayer books, and he attends Mass occasionally at a Catholic church in Lumberton.

At its essence, Project Conversion was about burying his hatred and learning tolerance.

“For so long, I suffered with ego so now I’m just going to make the faiths of others more beautiful to themselves,” he said. “I don’t think about God now. I just participate.”

VIEWPOINTS: Does the fear of a higher power interfere with loving that higher power?

Today’s Viewpoints question is a highly theological one, but it got my writers talking. And hopefully you, dear readers, will chime in with a few thoughts, too.

VIEWPOINTS: Does the fear of a higher power interfere with loving that higher power?

Fran Salone-Pelletier

Fran Salone-Pelletier

My response to that question reflects my experience with a “human higher power”—my father. Daddy was an immigrant from Italy and an older parent. I was the first of four children, born when my father was 44 years old in the days when parenting at that age was unusual. He reflected his Victorian-era birthing time and was a strict disciplinarian. We never asked why, we only responded to his demands. This did not mean he was cruel or abusive. It just underscored a limited relationship based on fear of angering him or disappointing him or annoying him. Fear obliterated deep love.

I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church at a time when that kind of fear translated into my understanding of God as a paternal taskmaster who counted all the good deeds but also kept strict score of errors of any sort. Walking on spiritual eggs made a faith journey nearly impossible.

As I grew in wisdom, various experiences caused me to examine my consciousness of love and fear as opposites. I could not love a God I feared. I could not continue to fear a God I wished to love.

So, I took a chance. I decided to believe I could never do anything to make God love me more; nor could I do anything to make God love me less.

The result has been astoundingly freeing. I both love and trust God. Fear has been banished. In its place, there is awesome love, love that impels me into an ever-deepening relationship both with God and all creation.

***************************************************************

Steve Lee

Steve Lee

From a Buddhist perspective, this question is irrelevant. In fact, the questions about the very existence of a higher power are irrelevant. The essence of the Buddhist project is threefold: individual and societal awakening to the true nature of existence, realizing the true nature of existence in everyday life and becoming liberated from the debilitating effects of a false understanding of the true nature of existence. The true nature of existence is summarized in the three Buddhist principles of annica, dukha, and annata: life is impermanent; life includes those things that we typically avoid or fear—such as old age, sickness and death—and there is no permanent, abiding self.

All of the many and varied Buddhist practices are aimed at awakening, realization and liberation. Spending time debating the existence of a higher power or the nature of a relationship to a higher power becomes a diversion from the path of awakening, work that is mostly individual and internal. Nyanaponika Thera, writing in “In Buddhism and the God-Idea”, quotes a passage of scripture that gets at the diversionary quality of questions about a higher power:

“Not far from here do you need to look!
Highest existence — what can it avail?
Here in this present aggregate,
In your own body overcome the world!”

**************************************************************

Victoria Rouch

Victoria Rouch

My mother always told me her image of God kept her from getting close to him. She said she always imagined him as having a long white beard and angry, flashing eyes. I don’t know a lot about her childhood other than her father was less than attentive. Perhaps that is why her image of God the Father was less than welcoming.

My image of a higher power doesn’t engender fear. Witches don’t see god or the gods as most in the mainstream religions do. Our higher power is one that allows us to make mistakes. Any punishment we receive is via karma or through our own doing. We believe what you do will be visited upon you three-fold, not by some faceless entity but through Universal Law. If you send out negative energy, it comes back to you with increased force. It’s like throwing a boomerang. Good or bad, you always get released energy coming back to you.

And because Pagans in general believe in both male and female deities, we also have a balanced perspective. The masculine strength of the father figure is balanced by the nurturing softness of the mother. It’s hard to fear something that guides and comforts you. Perhaps that’s one of the things that attracted me to Paganism in the first place. There is male and female energy in everything, a yin and a yang. But religion in general has exempted itself from that duality and only seems to recognize the male, in most cases. Mary was instrumental in bringing forth Jesus, but once her job was done she was relegated to a minor supporting role. That’s rather sad, because that female energy makes the Divine far less intimidating, and much more approachable to me and others who are attracted to both the Mother and Father aspect.

I guess my short answer is that the question doesn’t apply to me. I don’t fear consequences from a Higher Power. I have more fear of my own weaknesses. And any negative consequences I’ve ever suffered came not through punishment from above, but through my own doing.

******************************************************************

Gabrielle Barone, guest contributor

“The fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to turn from evil is understanding.” Job 28:28.

There are a lot of references to fear of God in the Old and New Testaments. But what does the word fear really mean? In the Old Testament, there are at least four different Hebrew words for fear. Yirah and pachad have to do with fear, terror and dread, whereas yare and kabad are reverence, honor and glorification. The New Testament Greek has four words for fear: timao and eulabeia are honor, veneration and value; phobeo is shocking and paralytic ; and deilia, which is timidity and cowardice. In our relationship with the Divine all of these aspects of fear come into play at one time or another. As an evangelical Christian, I know the fear of God is linked to the revelation of his sovereignty. He is a God who is big and holy and frightening and gentle and tender and MINE; a God who frightens me into his strong and powerful arms and whispers three terrifying words, “I love you.” As C.S. Lewis said “Is God good? Yes. But He is not safe.” The presence of the Divine has always brought fear to the heart of sinful man, but the fear that leads to wisdom is acknowledging we can’t go it alone. We need a savior.

**************************************************************

Christine Moughamian

Christine Moughamian

One of the Hindu scriptures answers this question with vivid imagery. In “The Bhagavad Gita,” Prince Arjuna has an inner vision of Lord Krishna’s “terrifying and marvelous cosmic form.” (BG 11:20)

At first, Arjuna falls “in adoration before the Lord” as Creator: “Clothed in mantles of light and garlands of blossoming heavens – the infinite, wondrous and resplendent One – facing everywhere simultaneously,” enhanced with “an indescribable fragrance.” (BG 11:11, 14).

Next, Arjuna prostrates in awe when he meets the Sustainer, whose “body is the entire cosmos… the treasure house of the universe, the refuge of all creatures, the eternal guardian of timeless wisdom.” (BG 11:16, 18).

Then Arjuna sees the Divine as the Destroyer: “When I look into your terrible jaws with fearful tusks, I see the fires of the end of time… Now I understand that all creatures, like moths to a flame, are rushing headlong into your gaping jaws of death.” (BG 11:25, 29).

Fearful, Arjuna begins “trembling uncontrollably” and pleads: “I am terrified by your cosmic form. O God of gods… mercifully show your more familiar form to me.” (BG 11:35, 45).

For Arjuna to love Krishna again, he has to reduce the Divine within to a human form.

I believe, like Arjuna, we are in turn in adoration before the Divine, or prostrated in awe, or pleading in fear. At any time in our lives, ours is the power to choose which aspect of the Divine within we want to activate.

***********************************************************

Andy Lee

Andy Lee

I don’t think anyone can come to know God through fear. Only loves draws us to him, yet he is holy. He is perfect love. Just as we can’t survive in the presence of pure oxygen, we can’t survive in the presence of pure love. But he made a way.

The God I respect and love is the God who died for me. He made a way for me to stand in his perfect presence one day. Until then, his Holy Spirit is my teacher, purifier and friend. His love changes me.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18, 19).

One Brave Christian Experiment: Day 40, “Am I a brave Christian?”

Editor’s Note: Contributor Christine Moughamian has blogged for 40 days of Lent (including Sundays) about her progress becoming “one brave Christian.” This was the last day of her Lenten experiment. Read about her experiment by searching this site for “One Brave Christian Experiment.”

By Contributor Christine Moughamian

Today’s day 40 of my 40-day Lenten experiment. I ask myself the question: “Am I a ‘brave Christian’?”

The answer that comes to me is: “Yes and No.”

If being a Christian means “accepting Jesus as my savior,” the answer is “No.”

If it means “living my life in accordance to what Jesus taught,” the answer is “Yes.”

What I have learned from this experiment is what I already knew:

– First, my Bible study gave me the certainty that the words and

Good Shepherd

Jesus as the Good Shepherd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

teachings of Jesus are aimed at leading us back to our inner divinity.

– Second, in my understanding of the scriptures, Jesus opened that path for us through the gates of forgiveness and love.

– Third, I think these teachings point to a universal truth. They belong to all spiritual traditions and are not exclusive to Christianity.

My experience strengthened my world faith approach to spirituality.

I am grateful to both Sam Teague, the creator of the experiment, and Danny Morris, the author of “A Life That Really Matters,” for this program.

Special thanks go to Stowe Dailey Shockey for giving me her book “Flying High,” and to her co-author Calvin LeHew for sharing his experience as a “brave Christian.”

I enjoyed the discipline of writing everyday. I think it made me a better writer.

I am grateful to www.wilmingtonfavs.com editor, Amanda Greene, for believing in my commitment and supporting me along the way.

I deeply appreciate the opportunity I had to share my process with my readers. I am thankful for their comments.

My fondest gratitude goes to my boyfriend, Jim Downer, for his unfailing support and listening presence. I love you, Jim!

Blessings of Love and Light to All!

One Brave Christian Experiment: Day 39, “A Life That Really Matters”

Editor’s Note: Contributor Christine Moughamian is blogging each day of Lent about her progress becoming “one brave Christian.” Follow her experiment on Twitter @1bravechristian.

By Contributor Christine Moughamian

In 1965, Danny Morris was the minister of John Wesley Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, FL, where Sam Teague created his “Ten Brave Christians” experiment. He recounted the spiritual renewal his congregation underwent in his book: “A Life That Really Matters.”

In his foreword, Morris explained it was “the story of how the program started and what happened to the first 38 people who took part.”

I was particularly interested in two of the testimonies.

Under “A New Calling,” Morris told the experience of a young man who participated in the original group and owned a drugstore. Although all names had been withheld, it was easy to identify Calvin LeHew, co-author with Stowe Dailey Shockey of “Flying High,” the book which inspired my Lenten experiment.

Once he completed the program, LeHew asked himself: “How many of my customers’ physical ailments are related to their lack of spiritual life?” He further noted: “With my drugs, they get relief but not help.”

Then LeHew decided to give every new prescription customer a complimentary “good book” which would read on the inside cover:

“Thank you for letting us aid in your physical health! May we also recommend this book to aid in your spiritual health.”

His “New Calling” served two purposes: to “witness to God for others” and to motivate Morris to write the “good book” which became “A Life That Really Matters.”

The second testimony that was meaningful to me came from a woman who had always been a Christian but, “in an attitude of prayer,” still wondered about “surrendering” her life to God.

She said: “in a time of war between two countries… the surrender is complete. I thought of the struggle I had been having in my own soul.”

She realized that to “surrender” her life to God meant: “God can decide – and help me to decide – what in my life needs to be cast off. He is the victor.”

Upon reading her testimony, I was reminded of two wars. The first one was raging in Vietnam at that time.

The second war opens “The Bhagavad Gita,” or “The Lord’s Song.” In the

Prince Arjuna and his Charioteer, Lord Krishna. Photo via Wikipedia

Hindu scripture, it is waged in the soul.

Prince Arjuna is portrayed on the battlefield, in his chariot. He is pleading with Lord Krishna to avoid the inevitable: surrendering to God.

In the epic allegory, the chariot represents the body, which must be fit. The five horses are the five senses, which must be controlled by the reins of the mind. Lord Krishna is the intellect or Divine Guidance within. Arjuna is the Master Archer who must battle his drives and desires with one-pointed concentration and surrender his ego, his own will, to the will of God.

After a long struggle, Arjuna runs out of arguments. He throws down his bow and arrows, sits down in his chariot, despondent. He addresses Lord Krishna “in an attitude of prayer”:

“I am your disciple. Please teach me, for I have taken refuge in you.”

From that place of total surrender to Divine Guidance, Prince Arjuna lets Lord Krishna drive his chariot on the battlefield of the soul. He conquers his inner enemies, the error thoughts of separation from God. The Prince becomes the King of Action, masters the Law of Karma.

He achieves Union with the Divine and inherits the Kingdom of Heaven.

Across thousands of years, those two stories seem to illustrate the same point:

Surrendering the ego to Divine Guidance may lead one to live “a life that really matters.”

One Brave Christian Experiment: Day 33, Love so divine!

Editor’s Note: Contributor Christine Moughamian is blogging each day of Lent about her progress becoming “one brave Christian.” Follow her experiment on Twitter @1bravechristian.

By Contributor Christine Moughamian

When my “brave Christian” scripture doesn’t inspire me, I turn to church marquees.

They never disappoint me.

The one I photographed this morning read:

One side of the Sea Gate Baptist Church sign. Photo by Christine Moughamian

“GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD HE SENT US JESUS,” on one side.

And then on the other side, it said:

“LOVE SO AMAZING. SO DIVINE.”

I couldn’t help but think about the similarity between the incarnation of Jesus and that of Lord Krishna.

The Hindu scriptures say that eons ago, Brahman, God the Absolute, out

The other side of the Sea Gate Baptist Church sign. Photo by Christine Moughamian

of love for humanity, became incarnate as Krishna, the simple cowherd who played his flute and sang songs of love.

Indeed, “love so amazing, so divine!”

Krishna chant card. Photo by Christine Moughamian

One Brave Christian Experiment: Day 3, Meditation

Editor’s Note: Contributor Christine Moughamian is blogging each day of Lent about her progress becoming “one brave Christian.” Follow her experiment on Twitter @1bravechristian.

By Contributor Christine Moughamian

You’d think my first couple of days as one brave Christian would have unfolded in divine harmony: set intention, pray and meditate, write post and cruise control.

Right?

Wrong.

Day One was mostly spent trying to remain gracious on two hours of sleep.

Day Two slipped away from me between errands and appointments.

Day Three: all of the above?

No way!

It’s taken me years of assiduous discipline to practice yoga first thing in the morning; then sit and meditate for a few minutes. After two failed attempts at observing Sam Teague’s meditation time between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m., I have to admit the obvious. Today, that last discipline will have to come, well, last.

Photos of Brown-headed Nuthatch. Photo by Jim Downer

Upon awakening this morning, I listened to my motivational tape, then practiced one hour of Kundalini Yoga, meditated for a few minutes, had breakfast, showered, checked my e-mails and oh yes, lovingly interacted with my boyfriend who’d already counted nine bird species in our front and back yards.

Which explains why it was 11:26 a.m. when I finally got to meditate as one brave Christian. I pick up my Bible to find an appropriate scripture. But I don’t even need to open it. As soon as I hold my Bible in my hands, I hear quite clearly:

“Be still and know that I am” from Psalm 46.

I light the candle on my altar, sit cross-legged on the floor and affirm out loud Unity’s Prayer for Protection:

The light of God surrounds us,

The love of God enfolds us,

The power of God protects us,

The presence of God watches over us.

Wherever we are, God is

And all is well.

Amen.

Then I read Psalm 46. The old English of the King James Version gives it a quality both raw and immediate. I’m particularly taken with Psalm 46:3-4:

“Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled,

Though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.

There is a river, the streams whereof

Shall make glad the city of God,

The holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.”

On my spiritual path, I encountered Bible study after I’d already read

Three translations: Bhagavad Gita As It Is, a ...

Three translations of the Bhagavad Gita. Image via Wikipedia

the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras and been educated about the Chakra system. I cannot help but hear those two biblical verses in a metaphysical context, which I would translate as follows:

“Though the waters of my emotions may be troubled,

Though the mountain foundation of my existence may shake,

There is a current of Divine Energy

Which shall brighten the Crown Chakra with Divine Bliss.”

In the same way, verse 10, “Be still and know that I am God” means to me:

“Meditate and know that I am God in you, as you.”

When I am done reading and studying Psalm 46, I prepare for meditation. I focus my gaze on the candle flame and repeat internally “Be still and know that I am.”

Immediately, I feel a sense of peace settle down in me. My breathing slows down, thinking disappears. When I check the time, nine minutes have elapsed. I turn my gaze back to the candle and meditate some more.

After my practice, it’s time to write.

I can tell I will benefit from daily prayer, scripture study and meditation, both as a person and a writer.

Later this afternoon, I’ll interview Stowe Dailey Shockey, whose book “Flying High” introduced me to Sam Teague and his “Ten Brave Christians” experiment. I make a mental note to ask her how she fared with the early morning meditation requirement.

Do you engage in a regular prayer and meditation practice? And if so, what kind of schedule seems to work best for you?

Bodily desecration is disturbing — but why?

A video of U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters stoked anger across the Muslim world and was condemned by the U.S. State Department and Pentagon. For use with RNS-BODY-DESCREATE, transmitted Jan. 23, 2011. RNS photo courtesy LiveLeak.com.

By OMAR SACIRBEY
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) The recent outrage over a video allegedly showing U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters provided Americans with a disturbing reminder that war can reduce men to revenge-seeking brutality that defies human norms.

It’s nothing new: the desecration of enemy soldiers during the Civil War, of Japanese during World War II and North Vietnamese fighters during the Vietnam War, and Iraqis and Afghans in the most recent conflicts, is well-documented.

It obviously makes people squeamish — but why?

Desecrating enemy dead is not always a vengeful impulse, and in some cultures even has a religious component. At the same time, disgust at the desecration of the dead is not always a simple case of demanding respect for a fallen human being, but also carries religious implications, even on one’s journey in the afterlife.

“Virtually all religions have reverence for the dead. Different religions, especially the monotheistic faiths, don’t accept any desecration of their own dead, or the enemy’s dead,” said Carl Raschke, a religious studies professor at the University of Denver.

For example, Muslims believe that after death their bodies will slowly disintegrate, except the tailbone, which on the Day of Resurrection will regenerate into the complete human being. For that reason, most Muslims reject cremation because it destroys the tailbone, making resurrection impossible.

Still others believe the resurrected body will appear as it did at the moment of death, and for that reason they fear and condemn desecration of the dead.

Within Islam, desecration of enemy war dead was forbidden by the Prophet Muhammad himself. When warriors mutilated dead Muslim soldiers during one battle, Muhammad commanded his soldiers not to do the same. At another battle, the pagan army offered to pay Muslims for the return of one of their famed warriors. Muhammad responded, “I do not sell dead bodies. You can take away the corpse of your fallen comrade.”

“It’s considered a sin and a crime,” said Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, chairman of the North American Fiqh Council, which interprets Islamic law.

Respect for the dead has been a core teaching within Christianity, in part because of belief in bodily resurrection. Christian churches have softened on cremation in recent years as the practice becomes more popular.

“The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches. “The burial of the dead is a corporal act of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.”

Hindus believe that the soul, or Atman, leaves the body at the moment of death, starting a journey to the next life. The condition of the body has no impact upon the soul’s journey or its ultimate destiny, but a dead person has to be properly cremated under specific funeral rites if the departed soul is to have a peaceful journey to the next life.

“It is believed that if the dead body is not properly cremated, the journey of that soul is disrupted or becomes difficult,” said Dileep Thatte, founder of the Seven Stars of Hinduism, a nonprofit group in Chicago that educates people about Hinduism.

“The rites and the treatment which the body undergoes have bearing on the nature of the journey the soul encounters.”

For that reason, while Hindu scriptures don’t speak of desecration, Hindus condemn the practice. “There is nothing whatsoever in the Vedic literature that promotes desecration of war dead,” explained Bhupender Gupta, a Hindu priest in Cary, N.C. “These are humans, brethren, who performed their duties as commanded.”

Religious belief is also behind the act of scalping, which was practiced by some Native American warriors, who believed that a disfigured body would not be allowed to enter the afterlife.

“A battle was viewed as much a spiritual contest as it was a physical contest,” said Raschke.

Zulu warriors were famous for disemboweling their foes, but not out of revenge or brutality. Rather, Zulus believed that a bloating decomposing body signified spirits trying to escape the corpse. If they did not release the spirits of their victims, Zulus believed that they would suffer the same fate.

Within Judaism, mutilating a dead body — even through an autopsy — is also strictly forbidden.

Nancy Sherman, a philosophy professor at Georgetown University who specializes in war ethics, ventured a guess as to why people worry about human remains.

“I suspect it is simply because the living return to us,” she wrote in a CNN.com commentary about the return of dead soldiers’ bodies to their loved ones. “And we want something of that for our dead, so that we can mark an honorable passage from this world.”

The various military branches all follow the same written guidelines on how personnel are to conduct themselves, including how to handle enemy dead.

“Desecration is not tolerated in any way, shape or form,” said Lt. Col. Joe Kloppel, a U.S. Marine Corps spokesman. While there is no way to ensure that Marines read or practice the prohibition against desecration, Kloppel said, “it’s made very clear to Marines at various levels what’s right and what’s wrong.”