Friday, February 17, 2017

The Miracle of Changing Your Mind

In times like these, I wish I knew more about the history of the prophets and the disciples and those earliest martyrs to be canonized as saints.

In times like these, I can understand why people turn to religion.

As bad as these times seem, they most certainly had it worse.

Take, for instance, Saint Norbert, the namesake of St. Norbert Church in Orange, CA (whose Piczek-designed stained glass windows drew me in).

Descended from the Holy Roman Empire and born in an ancient area of what's now Germany...

...this 12th century holy man rejected a path of nobility after a near-death lightning strike at the foot of his horse, which threw him, knocking him unconscious.

He pursued a life of penance and asceticism after that, becoming a roving preacher throughout western Germany and into Belgium and the Netherlands.

Miracles that he performed led to his canonization in 1582, four centuries after his death. But perhaps more remarkable are those who chose to follow him in his path, known as "Norbertines."

These were just regular people who chose a life of faith over power, politics, wealth, or greed.

Principles were more important than the poverty they endured. They chose to believe in something rather than embracing doubt and suspicion.

St. Norbert inspired leagues of people to follow the message he'd received in his heart upon his conversion: "Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it."

He himself had turned away from a spoiled youth—and his subsequent ministry of abstinence and celibacy caused some to cry hypocrisy.

But the thing is, it's never too late to change our minds.

You've never gone too far to reverse the course.

Sure, if you're going through hell, keep going, as they say.

But if you're putting someone else through hell, you can stop.

If you see someone putting someone else through hell, you can stop them.

You don't have to take the path of least (or no) resistance.

You don't have to pick a fight, per se...

...but you don't have to avoid one altogether, either.

Some things are worth fighting for.

Some people need someone to speak up for them; some are so bad off that they need someone to show them the light—any light.

Choosing a better path may not make you a saint...

...but it might make you someone's angel.

And whether or not you believe in celestial beings—the patron saints of whatever, the divine messengers, the cherubim and seraphim—surely you believe in the possibility of being a better human.

We may be "only" human.

But plenty of humans have shown how much our species can accomplish...

...with or without divine intervention.

Of St. Norbert, Catholics have said, "A different world cannot be built by indifferent people."

Of course, the Catholic Church would have you devote fervently, unswervingly, and loyally to the figures, rituals, and icons of its particular brand of wisdom.

But I have a more pragmatic perspective for the God-fearing, the God-questioning, and the godless.

Be interested in the world around you. Listen. Form a well-researched bias. Embrace empathy.

And then, act accordingly.

If everyone did that, it would surely be a miracle.

[Ed: Additional stained glass window by Roger Darricarrere]

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Sin City's Guardian Angel Cathedral
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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Photo Essay: The Sparkling Tooth of Buddha & Other Glittery Relics

I'm not Buddhist, but it's not because I have anything against Buddhism.

I'm just not really... anything. Call me undeclared.

But despite my difference in faith (or lack thereof), I am starting to love Chinese New Year.

Luckily for me, I've never been turned away from a celebration for not being Buddhist.

This year, I decided to finally visit Lu Mountain Temple in the San Gabriel Valley...

...tucked away in a residential neighborhood...

...distinguishable not by its architecture but only by its statuary out front.

As I walked inside, I was surrounded by walls that are covered in golden Buddhas. But I wasn't there to see Buddha himself.

I was there to see his finger.

Buddha's finger was relocated to the City of Rosemead two years ago, when it joined the "10,000 Buddha Relics Collection" that also contains a sparkly tooth of Buddha.

This is reportedly the largest collection of Buddhist relics in the U.S. For that matter, it's rare to find any such relics as these in the U.S.—especially of Buddha.

Roman Catholics tend to parade their relics around—but less so stateside than in, say, Europe.

Take one look at these relics, though, and it becomes clear that they're not just ordinary preserved body parts of a dead saint or a prophet. Many of them are glittering crystals that were salvaged from the ashes of an enlightened sage who's been cremated.

Some of them are gem-like formations that grew on top of body parts like teeth and fingers—and when they were removed and placed into a separate container, they kept growing.

The teeth have been growing continuously for 3000 years, too. There's even a hair that supposedly moves.

These crystalized formations are called "shariras" (or, in Sanskrit, śarīrāḥ)—and they seem to hold the key to the power of the relics. After all, most Buddhists don't pay much attention to relic worship.

But then the crystals started reproducing spontaneously.

In addition to teeth and fingers, the śarīrāḥ have been found to form on the crown of the Buddha's head... well as his skin and the skin of his family members and disciples.

Some of them are even known to emanate a particular aroma—which allegedly is more floral than fleshy (though I didn't take a whiff myself).

Since the collection was first donated to Lu Mountain Temple in 2013, other donations have expanded it—and, year after year, the demand to witness it also grows.

It seems worth returning every year just to witness how the relics have changed and proliferated.

After all, conceptually—and logically—it's really just unbelievable. Not the idea of them forming in the first place (since, after ll, some of us are crystallizing into gallstones or kidney stones as we speak), but that they're somehow alive on their own.

But there are some things we feel in our hearts that our brains can't understand—and if some people get a sense of calm visiting these relics (or some pain relief), then it almost doesn't matter why.

Is it supernatural? Well, it might very well be natural—but in Western culture, we cremate our loved ones far beyond recognition and don't typically search through the ashes for crystals.

Generally, if you keep looking for something, you'll find it.

I don't know what I was looking for at Lu Mountain Temple, but while I was there, I received a blessing from one of the monks.

My debts were taken away, as were my worries. Or, so he said.

If that's even remotely possible, I'll take it.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Decorations, Wishes, and Faces of Chinese New Year
Photo Essay: Ringing In The Year of the Rooster
Photo Essay: A Tale of Two Temples
Photo Essay: The Dances and Dioramas of Hare Krishna in LA
Photo Essay: Blessings for the Poor in Spirit