01 September 2011

World Religions

Some of the my most extraordinary experiences abroad were the different religions I encountered. I kept track of the number of different religious services I attended--five, six, eight--and I felt blessed to meet devout people of so many faiths. In London I went to an Anglican service, the 5 p.m. Evensong by the Choir of Westminster Abbey. One Friday I ended up at a Jewish Shabbat feast, and another time I walked the kora on the most auspicious day in Tibetan Buddhism. I've been to Hindu temples, Sikh temples, the great Muslim tomb that is the Taj Mahal, and plenty of LDS services. One Sunday I even headed down to the old Anglican chapel in McLeod to a Protestant service led by an American pastoress. Here are some picture highlights from my unofficial study of world religions:
The LDS temple in London

The Buddhist temple at the TCV
A Sikh entering the Golden Temple compound
The Golden Temple

The bell at the Hindu temple
Head coverings in the Hindu temple
Pilgrims walking around the Golden Temple compound
Lord Shiva
Enjoying the free meal at the Golden Temple
Pilgrims sleeping at the temple compound
The perfect symmetry of the Taj Mahal
Church of St. John in the Wilderness, McLeod Ganj
A Hindu monk
Spinning a giant prayer wheel at the Dalai Lama's temple
View of the Taj Mahal from the guest house

From my field journal, 17 July
This morning I took a rickshaw out to the beautiful Anglican church St. John's in the Wilderness. The English service was unique and interesting. An Asian American boy played guitar and sang in a microphone for quite a few hymns. A Swiss girl named Sapporah (Zipporah?) harmonized in a second microphone and held up a half sheet of lyrics for the guitarist to reference. The rest of us stodo and followed their lead for the melody since we only had the printed lyrics to read. We didn't sing any hymn I recognized; indeed, I don't have a clue as to the origin of the hymns we sang, and a brief perusal of the lyrics revealed only two familiar songs: Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing and Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me. I guess it doesn't really matter if we were singing religious songs composed by the guitarist since all hymns were just regular songs in their beginnings. 

We sang a few songs standing and then sat (glory hallelujah, I was a sick girl who was not happy standing) for morning worship. That meant a girl spoke some scriptural texts, including the Lord's prayer and the Apostle's creed of the Catholic church (Catholic? Anglican?) and we responded by reading from our program at the right time. Oh! I forgot to mention the prayers. The guitarist spoke all the prayers into the microphone, and they were beautiful. He used "you" rather than "thou" and solely expressed thanks to a generous God. After the morning worship recitation we had a talk (sermon? message?) by an elderly American woman who may or may not have been a preacher from the South. 

She spoke for at least 30 minutes and I was genuinely interested the entire time. She began with a story about a boy and his twice-bought boat, a symbol of redemption, and proceeded to explain land redemption in the Israel of the Old Testament. She then expounded the book of Ruth in great detail, explaining in common language every aspect of the story, and concluded by explaining that the relationship between Ruth and Boaz is a type of the redeeming power of Christ. In becoming mortal, Christ literally becomes our kinsman. I learned a great deal and have a much deeper understanding of the story and meaning now. We did a few more hymns, the guitarist prayed, and then they served tea and biscuits outside to encourage everyone to linger. I was feeling really unwell, so I didn't stay for the next meetings, even though I wanted to because they were in Hindi.

India is the birthplace of many world religions. Buddhism, for example, began in India, though its practice among Indians has all but died. The Tibetan Buddhists in India today, though, continue to practice in Gautama's homeland. As I've mentioned before, many foreign tourists in McLeod come for religious reasons, sometimes to practice their faith and sometimes to find a new religion. The German boy I met was very interested in the Hindu faith, and that Swiss girl was solidly Christian. I was impressed by the level of religious tolerance I witnessed. Though I know people of different faiths have not always mixed well in India, the diverse people in McLeod seem to be interested in and respectful of the faiths around them without any hostility. 

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