Thursday, June 30, 2011

Participation is Powerful: Part 2, The Journey

About 200,000 Hindus make two-month pilgrimage through Kashmiri Mountains - MSNBC
A handicapped Hindu makes his pilgrimage to the sacred Amarnath Caves, one of the most revered of Hindu shrines on June 29 near Baltal, India. More than 5,000 Hindu devotees, braving sub-zero temperatures, began the hike over glaciers and along paths overhanging gorges to reach the sacred Amarnath cave housing an ice stalagmite, a stylized phallus worshiped by Hindus as a symbol of the god Shiva.
Pilgrimages and rituals involving physical exertion and sacrifice are common to all the world's cultures, and across all religious traditions.  Why this commonality?  Certainly adherents have a notion that being nearer to the holy will benefit them in some way, but I believe there is more to it.  

The journey itself, with its rigors and privations provides an opportunity for pilgrims to physically play out the story of their place in the cosmos, their relationship with the divine.  We may ponder, from home, the ice stalagmite lingam in a far off cave, worshiping it as a representation of the divine, but without the strenuous journey to visit it, we do not experience our relationship with Shiva in the same way.  The ice lingam is the same with or without us, but we don't really experience it without feeling the strain in our bodies and the relief of arrival.

So what does this have to do with funerals?  Everything.  The pallbearer feels the weight of the casket bearing her loved one and the abstract ideas of death and her love for the deceased become tangible.  The eulogist struggles to put the impact of his loved one on their family and community into words, and in doing so, he understands that impact in much greater depth.    Drivers and passengers in the cortege pass through familiar streets in a much different manner and are reminded that this day is not like all others because a life impacted others and the passing of that life is an important event.

Yes, we can stay at home and merely think about the deceased and their family.  It is a bother and a strain to attend, an inconvenience to dress in a special way.  It is uncomfortable to experience the emotions that are brought out by participating in these activities.  By participating though, by physically acting out our part, we feel our relationship and place in the rhythm of life as a physical reality. Our thoughts and feelings take form, and we can deal with them in a positive and meaningful way. 

for more on this topic, visit Participation is powerful: Part 1

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