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Representatives of six faiths observe common themes

Hindu, Muslim, Baha'i, Jewish, Christian and Buddhist speakers described their spring holy days and their faith's teachings on creation care in an April 22 panel during the Hope for Creation Conference at the Cathedral of St. John.

Malcolm Haworth, ecumenical and interfaith liaison with The Fig Tree, asked panelists to describe their spring holy days, how they celebrate them and how they relate to creation care.

Common themes related to the spring holy days are reflection, renewal, recentering, responsibility, new life, seasonal cycles and a need to care for the earth so the cycles of life continue.

There were six panelists.

Sreedharani Nandagopol, a Hindu who has lived in Spokane for 45 years, has shared South Indian cultural programs.

Karen Stromgren, co-chair of Muslims in Community for Action and Support, has been Muslim for 24 years.

Shahd Khalili, who is Baha'i, attends Whitworth University.

Rabbi Tamar Malino serves Temple Beth Shalom and Congregation Emanu'El in Spokane.

Lauri Clark-Strait, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor, has lived in Spokane 18 years and is pastor at Rockford United Methodist Church. 

Melissa Opel is a minister in the Spokane Buddhist Temple, a Japanese based Jodo Shinshu temple.

Sreedharani Nandagopal said that, while North India celebrates Holi, her area of South India celebrates Ugadi on April 2—the first new moon after the equinox, which is a signal of the arrival of spring.

Started in 3100 BC, Ugadi celebrates the new year as cold winter days turn into warm spring days. People eat a dish, Ugadi pachadi, made of jam, brown sugar, salt, tamarind, neem flower, mango and chili powder. The ingredients symbolize happiness, interesting life, challenges, bitterness, surprises and anger, she said.

"The dish has all the tastes of life—sour, sweet and bitter—representing that life is a mixture of emotions," she said. "It is about having balance in life."

On care for the earth, Sreedharani told of five princes banished to a forest. One started to chop trees, destroying the forest. Krishna, the divine, asked what he was doing. The prince was expressing his anger. "Why do you take your anger out on innocent trees? Did they take your kingdom from you? Did the animals or birds do anything? You destroyed their homes." The prince stopped chopping. Krishna said: "Only take from nature what is necessary. If human beings forget this principle and abuse their power over nature, future generations of humanity will pay the price."

For Muslims, Ramadan—in April this year—is a time to focus on prayer, fasting and giving back to the community and the world, said Karen Stromgren.

"To celebrate, we gather and pray," she said.  "We fast from eating between sun-up and sundown."

"Each of the 2 billion Muslims on the earth has the duty to care for the earth. The Holy Koran and Sunna are a guiding light to promote sustainable development in Islamic countries and the world," she said. "Allah commands humans to avoid doing mischief or wasting resources, acts that degrade the environment.

Karen said the Koran mentions care for the environment 155 times. The environment includes all things on the ground and in the atmosphere.

"Islam says people are responsible for damage to the earth. We are to protect the environment and natural resources," she said. "Maintaining balance of natural resources is the only way to guarantee survival for future generations."

Shahd Khalili said Baha'is celebrate two holy days. Nororud on March 21 is the first day of spring, the spring equinox in the solar calendar. Risman celebrates that Baha'lullah founded the Baha'i faith in 1863 in Risman Garden on the Tigris River in Baghdad, Iraq.

Families and communities gather to celebrate with prayer and to reflect on advancements during the year.

"It is a time for giving back and a new cycle beginning," Shahd said. 

"The biosphere depends on the unity and relationship of all living and nonliving things on earth. We reflect on ways we are selfish or not selfish so we share with others rather than live as we want to live."

Baha'is believe in universal education, equality of men and women, and balance of science and religion.

"Balance starts with our behavior and attitude towards our earth—what we are expected to do for the earth and what we can expect the earth to do for us," Shahd said. "For the earth to be sustainable for future generations, people are to care for the world God created.

"First, we encourage children and youth to be mindful, to love themselves and serve their community," Shahd said. "We have them do projects for nature and community building.

Second, communities should balance science—objective and subjective understanding—and religion—moral understanding—to build the common good, she said, "and find concrete ways to solve environmental problems."

Third, governments make laws to create trust among people and nations, to help people understand their responsibility as citizens.

Tamar Malino said Passover celebrates the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt to freedom. It involves storytelling and daily practice.

The seder meal uses symbolic food to tell of moving from slavery to freedom.

"We don't eat any leavened food, mindful that the people fleeing Egypt had no time for bread to rise before baking it," she said. "The foods invite us into the experience, to see ourselves as the ones leaving Egypt. We eat bitter herbs, like horseradish. We dip parsley in salt water as a reminder of the tears. We eat a mixture of fruits and nuts to remind us of bricks the slaves made. We eat matzah, the unleavened bread.

"We tell the story so children will understand our history," she said. "As an ethical component, we learn we are to welcome strangers because we were once strangers in the land of Egypt."

Passover also celebrates a new year and the arrival of spring.

"Central to the observance is the connection of time, seasons and cycles of the earth," Tamar said, adding that two months later is the holiday of Shavout, the barley harvest, when the people received the 10 commandments.

"The time is a transition from freedom to responsibility, recognizing that to be free means we are responsible to care for the earth," she said.

Tamar told a midrash: When God led the first human around the trees in the garden, God said, "Look at how beautiful my works are. I created you to care for the earth. Pay attention that you do not corrupt it, because there will be no one to repair it."

Lauri Clark-Strait said Christians start Lent in winter. Its 40 days are a reminder of Jesus' 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness before his ministry started. It is a time to fast and give up, leading to Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter. Two months later is Pentecost.

Easter is based on when Passover is, because Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. He had a triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, as a servant. The people waved palm branches, calling, "Save us."

Christians recall the Passover meal on Maundy Thursday, when Jesus washed the disciples' feet, something a master would not do, she said.

"For Disciples of Christ, communion is the center of every worship," Lauri said. "It reminds us that Jesus took bread and wine for the Passover meal, and said his body would be broken and his blood shed for his followers. His triumphant entry went sour by Friday when he was betrayed, tried and put on a cross to die. On Easter Sunday, women came to care for his body, but found the tomb open. God brought him back to life."

Because sunrise services remember that, she has shared videos of the new life she sees on early morning hikes—as winter frost and snow give way to the new life of blooming flowers.

"Easter celebrates that there is new life and death is not the final answer," she said. "God is always doing something new, but God needs our help in caring for the earth."

In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, Hanna Matsuri, the flower festival, celebrates Buddha's birthday. It was on April 8.

Melissa Opel said Queen Maya, who was pregnant and traveling home to her parents, stopped to walk in Lumbini Garden. As she reaches out to touch a flower, the baby Buddha burst from her right side, from the pure place.

"The Buddha took seven steps forward, raised one hand to the heavens above and one hand down to the heavens below, and said, 'I am the world honored one.' The skies rained sweet tea, representing the Buddha stepping out of the six realms of suffering and into the seventh realm of nirvana," she said.

"Buddhists follow Buddhism to step out of suffering, seeking truth that addresses selfishness," she explained. "For the flower festival, we put fresh flowers on the roof of a little structure, called a Hannamito. Inside is a statue of the baby Buddha with one hand up and one hand down. We pour sweet tea over the baby Buddha's head.

"To be Buddhist is to be a conservationist. Everything is a gift and interconnected," she said. "Whether vegetarian or carnivore, we know that boiling water takes the life of microbes.

"We teach children the golden chain of the Amida Buddha, representing wisdom and compassion. We are links in a Buddhist golden chain of love that stretches around the world," she said. "I must keep my link bright and strong, be kind and gentle to every living thing and those weaker than me. I will think pure and beautiful thoughts, say pure and beautiful words, and do pure and beautiful deeds, knowing that not only my happiness or unhappiness but also that of others depend on what I do. May every link be bright and strong so all attain perfect peace."

Buddhists know all sentient beings suffer and they want everyone to find enlightenment and nirvana, she said.

For information, call 535-1813 or email news@thefigtree. org.

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2022