On Sunday our family is going to the Museum of Tolerance. If you’re interested in joining us, please email me at my mindonfire account (john@).
One of these days I’ll complete my Cathedral pilgrimage post. I promise! The next week and a half is going to be crazy, as I prep responses to papers for the upcoming Sunstone West Symposium, gear up for a work project deadline, and try to catch up on my papers and readings for my grad program. Warning: posts may be sporadic, really short, or more academic than usual during this time.
I’m reading an essay by historian Tamar Frankiel in Retelling U. S. Religious History. She opens it with a description of Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala in a cultural center in South-Central Los Angeles. This is a process that can take anywhere from weeks to months. The sand painting contained a symbolic representation of the Buddhist universe, with the focus on the palaces of various Buddhas.
In a neighboring room, Watts teens worked quietly for hours on another sand mandala, using tools and techniques provided by the Tibetan monks. Theirs was heavy with symbols that evoked African imagery and incorporated prominent African-Americans, like Rosa Parks and Malcolm X. Frankiel writes that “Except for exchanges with visitors, there was no talking. The African American youngsters worked in silence with the same visage as the monks, focusing intently on the on the work at hand.”
When, after a couple of weeks of persistent work their paintings would be completed, both groups would ritually sweep up their sand paintings, bless it, and release it all into the ocean. Frankiel tells of the significance of this contact across religious and cultural boundaries:
Thus, in one of the more violent sectors of the African American community of Los Angeles, an extraordinary event of cultural contact was occurring, focused around learning and adapting a ritual. Both communities explicitly intended to cross geographical and cultural boundaries. The Watts community offered the space; the Tibetans offered the practice, negotiating a ritual setting in which the two groups could, temporarily and partically, share their traditions and enlage their horizons.
I’m fascinated by this description and analysis for a variety of reasons, and I also include it as an unsatisafactory and oblique response to part of Nate Oman’s comment #7 on the previous post. My research emphasis within my academic study of religion is on religious practice (especially religious ritual). I think that most of us (in the U.S.? in the academy? in Mormonism and mainline Protestantism?), with the Englightenment and Protestant influence woven throughout our environment, approach religion with too much emphasis on the mind and heart and not enough on the body.
Frankiel opens up a little window into the power of ritual and non-verbal contact. I’m impressed. It leaves me wondering what we lose in our ecumenical efforts when we spend too much time discussing religion and not enough doing and experiencing it.