Thursday, 23 September 2010
The things you learn when you go for a walk
I was fascinated by this exchange and the use of familiar and unfamiliar titles. The feeling was reinforced when I went to a meeting last week in a Hindu Temple here in London. It was the first such temple in Europe and they showed me round with pride. There were images of all of the various Hindu deities. Candles were lit, bells tinkled and prayers were said aloud. People took off their shoes at the door as a mark of respect and reverently knelt before the Deities with offerings of food and bottles of milk. The milk is used to bath the images of the Deities before worship. It felt slightly like being in a parallel universe from the images of the Pope and the ritual of Catholic services. It was also the first time I have ever been at a meeting where all of those attending sat without their shoes on. Business suits and bare feet were an unusual sight to my eyes.
I learned a lot at that meeting. Despite the strangeness the Elephant God, the flower petals and milk and meetings without shoes I learned yet again that the drive to make pilgrimage lies deep in human beings. Part of our hardwire. It also seems to me that much of the practices and rituals of religions are ways that human beings develop to try and make sense of spiritual concepts, make them real, bring heaven closer to earth. Make God more accessible.
I remember the first time I travelled in rural Spain when I called in at the local Church and saw fully clothed statues. This was alien to minimalist Scots with our Calvanistic streak and they looked as odd to me as did the Deities in the Hindu temple. Then whilst walking the Via de la Plata from Seville I saw for the first time the great Procession of the Kings on the 6th of January. The feast of the Epiphany is as important as Christmas in Spain and is the day when presents are given. These processions are held in the smallest villages as well as large cities. Then on the Camino Frances I remember seeing the procession on the Feast of Corpus Christi when the Blessed Sacrament, the consecrated host, was process around the village.
It has taken me some time to realize that we are all different and so are our pilgrimages. The things you learn when you go for a walk!