February 2017

World Interfaith Harmony Week
World Interfaith Harmony Week is about peace between religions.

World Interfaith Harmony Week is about bringing different religions together.

Seven years ago, H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan proposed a week for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in dialogue based on common elements of their religions. The King made this proposal to the United Nations, and it only took one month to be unanimously adopted by the organization. The first week in February is now observed as World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Common Elements in Monotheistic Religions

Muslims, Jews and Christians have two commandments that are common in each religion:

  • Love of God
  • Love of the Neighbor

The idea is that these two commandments are at the heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Looking at these two philosophies, we can find solid theological ground without compromising the tenets of our own faith.

Leaders came together and published “A Common Word” (ACW) as a way to bring religions together. “ACW is a document which uses religion as the solution to the problems of inter-religious tensions. By basing itself on solid theological grounds in both religions ACW has demonstrated to Christians and Muslims that they have a certain common ground (despite irreducible theological differences) and that both religions require them to have relations based on love not on hatred.”

2017 Events Around the World

Countries around the globe plan events to bring people together to find world peace. According to worldinterfaithharmonyweek.com, in 2017, there are currently 472 events on the calendar. While Western countries plan activities smaller countries have activities listed on the calendar.

King Abdullah believed that society could use infrastructure to bring harmony and peace between individuals, thus leading to peace between countries. Although we still have a lot of work to do, it is evident that more people want to see respect and tolerance between religions, governments and communities.

2017 Theme

The theme for 2017 is “The Gift of Love”. Although he is a direct descendent of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, the King is funding the restoration of Christ’s Tomb in the Church of Holy Sepulchre. His gift is thought to be worth about $4 million dollars. King Abdullah believes in the true message of Islam, but he also promotes interfaith dialogue. He has proven his worthiness as custodian of both Muslim and Christian holy sites through his words, deeds and actions. He truly has given the world a gift of love by respecting a faith not his own.

Take Part in World Interfaith Harmony Week

World Interfaith Harmony Week for all the world’s religions. While religions have common ground, it’s up to us to engage in dialogue and find that common ground to bring us together.

The United Nations has many declarations for world peace, cultural diversity and tolerance. World Interfaith Harmony Week is just one more time that is dedicated to finding common ground between faiths. We may not be able to change the entire world by being friendly, but we can change our community by encouraging diversity and tolerance.

ULC Monastery celebrates Beltane

May Day Celebrations

Girl with flower crown next to May Pole

Dancing around the May Pole

The transition from April into May marks the end of spring and the beginning of summer. During this time, the northern hemisphere is flourishing with new growth and warmer weather. The memory of winter is melting away, being replaced with brighter prospects. During this time, the earth is fertile and ready to foster the animals and crops which in turn sustain us all.

Beltane, or May Day, is a celebration of this new season, traditionally held on May 1st. This originated in pre-Christian times with the festival of Flora, a Roman goddess of flowers. Beltane originated as an ancient Gaelic festival, which was observed in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. These celebrations, and various other festivals held all over Europe, are closely related as they all celebrate the same thing.

As a cross-quarter day, Beltane marks the midpoint in the suns journey between spring equinox and summer solstice. According to myth, during this time the goddess and the god are united in holy matrimony and their relationship consummated. This symbolizes the fertilization of the earth and animals for the coming year. As part of the celebration, many earth-centered religions perform a ritual known as the Great Rite.

The Great Rite is the union of the male and female forces in creation. During this union, two halves become whole and bring all things into existence. The rite is performed by placing a male ritual tool into a female ritual tool, and couples are encouraged to perform the act de facto.

The holiday can be celebrated in other ways as well. Children, or those wanting to participate in ways other than the Great Rite, can make paper baskets by folding a piece of red or white decorative paper in half from one corner to the other; and string yarn through holes punched in the two connecting corners. Then, by placing a motley of spring flowers inside and leaving it on doorknobs, celebrants can spread the good will to friends and neighbors. This can be especially fun for children because you have to be sneaky and not let anyone know who brought them May flowers.

Another May Day celebration is the dancing of the May Pole. In this rite, many colored ribbons are woven around the pole, symbolizing the union of the goddess and the god. This is accompanied by the jumping over bonfires and making wishes.

While this celebration originated in Pagan and earth-centered religious, we all share the same home, and anyone can celebrate the changing of the seasons and the bounty that is provided by the Earth.

Spirituality in the Twitter Age

Devotion to technology is a form of modern-day spirituality

Twitter is one of the predominant social media platforms available today. The company was founded in 2006 and has grown exponentially since then. More than 350,000 tweets are posted per minute, and over 500 million are sent per day. In addition to everyday people, politicians, movie stars and spiritual leaders are also finding it an effective way to communicate with and inspire their followers.

Dalai Lama: @DalaiLama – 11.8 M followers

The Dalai Lama is a Buddhist monk who won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. He has one of the largest Twitter followings of any spiritual leader and tweets every couple of days. His posts are filled with messages of peace, happiness and compassion. Some recent tweets are:

  • “The use of force and violence inevitably entails unanticipated consequences, but rarely yields a solution.” – August 21
  • “To create a happier humanity we have to pay more attention to our inner values, whether we are religious or not.” – August 3
  • “To cultivate genuine compassion we need to take responsibility for our own care and have concern for everyone’s suffering, including our own.” – July 27

Pope Francis: @Pontifex – 6.89 M followers

The papacy of Pope Francis began on March 13, 2013. He has had a profound effect on the religious and secular alike, and is proving to be a religious force with whom to be reckoned. The pontiff has also amassed 6.89 million Twitter followers, which is a far cry from his predecessor’s (Pope Benedict) 12,700. Every two to four days, he tweets messages of benevolence and God’s love. Some recent tweets are:

  • “A Christian too attached to riches has lost his way.” – August 25
  • “Reading the Gospel each day helps us overcome our selfishness and to follow Jesus our teacher with dedication.” – August 21
  • “Hospitality in families is a crucial virtue today, especially in situations of great poverty.” – August 1
  • “We are all sinners. Let us be transformed by God’s mercy.” – August 8

Joel Osteen: @JoelOsteen – 3.89 M followers

Joel Osteen, a preacher and New York Times best-selling author, is the pastor of the biggest Protestant church in America. Every week, more than 44,000 people fill a former basketball area to watch him live, with another seven million tuning in on television. Osteen is also extremely active on Twitter and typically posts twice per day. His messages are inspirational and motivational. Some recent tweets are:

  • “You were created to overcome every obstacle, to rise above every challenge. Not just to survive – to thrive!” – August 26
  • “You may have a negative past, but you don’t have to have a negative future. This is a new day. Make the most of it.” – August 25
  • “You didn’t just happen to show up on planet earth. God had a plan for you long before you arrived.” – August 21

Deepak Chopra: @DeepakChopra – 2.57 M followers

Deepak Chopra is a renowned author and public speaker; he is also a doctor and vocal proponent of alternative medicine. Chopra was born in India and immigrated to the United States in 1970. He is prolific on Twitter (presumably, he has someone helping him), sometimes tweeting up to eight times per day. He interacts with his followers and frequently retweets messages. His posts are filled with New Age spirituality. Some recent tweets are:

  • “Each one of us is created with an inherent light within – a light made up of limitless spiritual power.” – August 27
  • “Yoga is the connection to the source field beyond space and time.” – August 25
  • “A compassionate heart, tapping into the inner ocean of unconditional acceptance, flows in waves of love.” – August 23

Much can be said in a 140-character tweet. Spiritual leaders who have jumped on the Twitter bandwagon are making the most of every post.

Shakespeare In the Ruins Puts Modern Twist on Classic Tale

anthony and cleopatra

Mark Antony and Cleopatra are one of most legendary couples of all time. Their doomed relationship was the subject of the William Shakespeare play Antony and Cleopatra, first performed in the early 17th century. In June, Manitoba theater company Shakespeare in the Ruins is staging a uniquely Canadian dramatization of the famous Shakespeare tragedy.

Mark Antony and Cleopatra

Mark Antony and Cleopatra ruled around 40 B.C. In Shakespeare’s play, they have an ill-fated, illicit relationship even though Antony is married to the sister of one of the most powerful rulers of the Roman Republic. Antony and Cleopatra both ultimately commit suicide due to the collapse of their empire and a series of misunderstandings.

The setting of the Shakespeare in the Ruins production is Canada’s pre-Confederation period, which was prior to 1867. Indigenous Canadians of the era portray the roles of Cleopatra and the ancient Egyptians. Antony and the Romans are represented by European fur traders. This interpretation of the literary classic emphasizes the themes of colonization and empire building, which was as applicable in 19th century Canada as in the time of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.

Other Famous Literary Couples

While Mark Antony and Cleopatra were real people, they are a popular literary couple as well. In addition to Shakespeare’s play, their lives were dramatized in other plays, operas and film. There are numerous other famous literary couples. Some who lived happily ever after and others who suffered tragic endings like Antony and Cleopatra.

  • Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe, Anne of Green Gables Series

While not as famous as Mark Antony and Cleopatra, Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe are probably one of most well-known Canadian couples of all time. Their relationship gets off to a bumpy start in Anne of Green Gables, the first book in the Lucy Maud Montgomery authored series, set in early 20th century Canada. Their affection blossoms to love and they have numerous ups and downs over the course of their early lives and later marriage.

  • Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice, written by British author Jane Austen, was originally published in 1813. The novel has become one of most beloved romances of all time and was set in 19th century England. The story revolves around the relationship of Elizabeth Bennett, the second daughter of an English country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a wealthy aristocrat. The two originally despise each other, but end up madly in love despite a variety of obstacles to their relationship including coming from different social classes.

  • Romeo and Juliet

Another tragedy by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet is the story of two star-crossed lovers from the warring Capulet and Montague families. The couple meets by accident at a ball and later secretly marries. Juliet’s parents arrange for her to marry someone else, not knowing she is already married to Romeo. They threaten to disown her if she does not go through with the wedding. Juliet takes a drug that puts her sleep before her arranged marriage so her family will think she is dead. Romeo finds her and, believing she is dead, kills himself by drinking poison. Juliet awakens and finds Romeo dead. Not wanting to live without him, she stabs herself with his dagger.

  • Hermonine Granger and Ron Weasley, Harry Potter Series

Hermonine Granger and Ron Weasley don’t officially become a couple until the very end of the seven-book series by J.K. Rowling. At first, they seem like an unlikely pair because Hermonine is the smartest student in the class and a goody-two-shoes, and Ron is more of a slacker and a lot less concerned about following the rules.

Love stories are one of most popular literary genres. Whether the couples are from ancient Egypt, pre-Confederation Canada, present day or anything in between, a well-told story will always captivate an audience.

Saint-Jean Baptiste Day and the Summer Solstice

Lighting bonfires on Saint-Jean Baptiste day
Saint-Jean Baptiste Day, also known as La fete Nationale, is a public holiday in Quebec and occurs each year on June 24. It always falls around the same time as the summer solstice, or Midsummer, which has been celebrated since ancient times in France and other European countries including Sweden, Norway, Finland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Pagan History

In Europe, Midsummer, also called Litha, traditions have been observed since pre-Christian times. The main focus of Litha celebrations have always been centered on the power of the sun, and were particularly important in agricultural societies. The holiday, which usually occurs on June 20 or June 21, is the day of the summer solstice and the longest of the year. The sun reaches the highest point in the sky, or its zenith. The word solstice is derived from the word solstitium, Latin for “sun stands still.” The lighting of bonfires, which stood for the lightness and warmth of the summer, was a common way to mark the occasion.

The ancient Romans honored Juno, for whom the month of June was named, during this time of year. She was the goddess of women, childbirth and marriage. June was (and still is) a popular month to be married.

Christian History

While the Midsummer holiday is pagan in origin, Christians associate it with the birth of John the Baptist. This prophet and saint predicted the arrival of Jesus Christ. John’s own birth was considered by Christians to be a miracle and has many parallels to Christ’s life. Zechariah and Elizabeth, John’s parents, were past childbearing years when he was born. The Archangel Gabriel came to Zechariah and told him that he and Elizabeth would have a son and they were to name him John. John’s birthday was six months before Christ’s, whom he would eventually baptize.

Canadian History

The first Saint-John the Baptiste Day celebration in Canada is believed to have occurred on the night June 23, 1636 on the St. Lawrence River. A group of French colonists are thought to have commemorated the occasion with cannon shots and a bonfire on the St. Lawrence River.

In the 19th century, the holiday rituals were mostly religious and backed by the Catholic Church. Bonfires, a tradition that dated back to pagan times, were lit and there were also parades. Pope Pius X declared St. John the Baptist the patron saint of French Canadians in 1908. June 24 officially became a public holiday in Quebec in 1924.

 

Saint-John the Baptiste Day celebrations became more secular in the 20th and 21st centuries. A bill was introduced in the Canadian Parliament in 2011 to make the day a federal holiday throughout Canada, but it has not been passed.

 

Modern Day Traditions

In modern times, Saint-John the Baptiste Day and the Midsummer are celebrated in a variety of ways.

 

Saint-John the Baptiste Day

The people of Quebec look forward to this public holiday every year. Some of the following ways they commemorate the day have historical origins and others are more contemporary in nature:

  • Bonfires
  • Parades
  • Musical performances
  • Art Exhibitions
  • Fireworks

 

Midsummer

Litha is one of the most important days of the year to pagans. Here a few of the ways people celebrate the occasion. Even for non-pagans, the holiday can still be a fun way to mark the summer solstice.

  • Take a hike and enjoy nature
  • Host a bonfire for family and friends
  • Build a Litha altar and decorate it with flowers, vegetables and lit candles
  • Learn and grow by reading a new book or taking a class such as yoga.

 

Saint-John the Baptiste Day and Litha are connected by thousands of years of tradition and rituals. The holidays honor one of the most important figures in Christian history and celebrate the sun and summer.