Friday, August 9, 2013

Thoughts During the Month of Shrawan

July and August are perhaps some of the hottest months in Kathmandu. When its not raining, the sun is bright, the wind is hot, and with all the road-widening work going on now, the dust is more omnipresent than usual. But this month, women can be seen decked out in red, green and yellow. While these colors adorn the clothes they wear, it is most prevalent in the churra (glass bracelets), pote (strings of glass beads), and bindis (decorated adhesive dots worn between the eyebrows) they wear. Mehendi designs—called “henna tattoos” in the West—adorn women’s hands and feet. My language tutor has been wearing red, yellow and green churra, and gave me a cone of mehendi after she learned that I do like wearing the designs on my hands.

 My token participation in Shrawan: yellow churra, and a mehendi design 

The month of Shrawan, according to the lunar calendar, is said to be a most auspicious month. Mondays are said to be especially holy, as Lord Shiva was born on this day. According to legends, Lord Shiva drank the poison (halahal) meant for humanity, which remains in his throat. One affect of the poison was turning his throat blue, hence his other name of Neelkanth (blue throat). To lessen the effect of the poison on him, he began to wear a crescent moon in his hair (no idea why a crescent moon has that effect), and people offered him water from the Ganges River to drink (Perhaps to cool his throat? Maybe the poison burns it?). Consequently, during the month of Shrawan, people fast and perform puja to the Lord Shiva on Mondays—especially women, who do this on behalf of their husbands, or if not married, in order to ask for a good husband. While there are innumerable holidays or festivals happening during the month to honor various relationships (such as Guru Purnima, where teachers or gurus are honored by their students), the women’s festivals that happen near the end of this time, namely Astimki (Krishna’s birthday) and Teej (another festival dedicated to Krishna and Shiva) take prominence. These festivals emphasize petitioning for a spouse, or for the long life of a spouse. A husband, for Hindu women, is important. A woman is more-or-less a non-person if she is not married, her very existence as a human being justified by providing male heirs for her husband’s patriline.

During this time, Nepali Christian women also gather for prayer and fasting events, taking the opportunity to pray for the various relationships they are in—their spouses and families, their congregations, communities, and nation. However, their understanding of “husband” is markedly different than their Hindu neighbors—their husband is not a deity. In response to my questions concerning the practice I’ve observed in many Nepali churches where women will cover their heads during praise, prayer, and worship, two of the women in my church gave me answers that seemed to mix my own Biblical understanding of woman (woman came out of man, not vice versa), and a South Asian cultural norm (covering the head was a way to honor men, and make oneself lower before God). Some of these women also participate in the more “fashionable” aspects of Shrawan, wearing mehendi designs on their hands, or accenting their outfits with red, yellow, and green churra. Other women see these as attached to Hindu dharma however—its part and parcel of praying for a husband, or as one woman explained to me, religious devotion to a husband—and take extra measures to avoid wearing accessories that contain these colors, and do not wear mehendi designs on their hands or feet during this time (at other times of the year, they’ll wear mehendi and red, yellow and green accessories).

So in light of these conversations and activities that more or less involve women petitioning God for a husband, I want to take some time in this blog post to compile some recent thoughts and internet reading concerning prayer, especially praying for a spouse, that I’ve had in recent weeks. The first three quotes are taken from Candice Watters and the last one is from Carolyn McCulley (internet site addresses given below).

  • One reminder that was much needed concerning the whole point of prayer: “The whole point of prayer is to grow in relationship with God. The more we talk and listen, the more He shapes the conversation. As we grow closer to Him, our desires shift from what we want — what we think we most need — to what He does. His desires become our desires.” I can be a very task-oriented person—I make TTD lists and will add stuff I’ve already done just so I can cross it out!—which is unfortunately reflected in my prayers, where I sometimes treat God like He’s a celestial ATM machine, and our relationship is only one way (me to God) and not two way (includes God to me).  
·      I often have the temptation of tempering my words and feelings toward God in prayer. I might be really angry about something, or completely frustrated with a situation, but I’ll basically repress these feelings and don't give them full vent in prayer; rather, I’ll pray about other things, or act like its no big deal—as if I could hide these feelings from an all-knowing God. I needed the reminder that its “Ok to be real with God: God doesn't ask us to begin there, or require us to deny that we have real requests and desires. Not only does Philippians 4:6 instruct us to "let [our] requests be made known to God," Jesus modeled that in his prayer in the garden…read the Gospels and you'll discover a passionate, feeling man. Thank God we have a Savior who is in touch with the real world, who prays that he will not drink the cup of his Father's wrath, who cries out on a rough wooden cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" (Matthew 27:46). Jesus neither suppresses his feelings nor lets them master him. He is real.” Hebrews 5:7 says Jesus, “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.” I think God can handle my outbursts…

  • During my senior year of college, God prompted me to begin praying for some of my Christian brothers—particularly ones I was having relational difficulty with (they were some of the last people I actually wanted to pray for many times)—and He has added to and subtracted from that list over time.  Candice Watter’s comment rang true: “This morning, I was praying about this article and wondering how God might lead me to pray if I were still single. I realized that before I could pray for a husband, I'd need to pray that this generation of men would be transformed by God's power to rise up as men capable of the commitments of marriage.” Here, I can say that God has been faithful to answer many of those prayers. Right now, I can count three US guy friends who are married, two others who are engaged to be married, and five Nepali brothers who are married, all for whom I have specifically prayed for. Just this past week, I’ve had two guy friends specifically ask me (unsolicited on my part) to pray for them concerning specific things they are currently dealing with. This both surprised and humbled me.

  • No matter what your petitions are to God today, I hope you are encouraged by this view that we are privileged to be able to intercede in prayer and see God bring life out of the barren aspects of our existence.” In studying Tharu music culture, I’ve had to look at many aspects of their ritual life as well. While there are dozens of deities that they keep track of, not everyone has access to them. Primarily, these deities are kept content by a series of rituals performed by specialists, or certain members of the household like the eldest woman or first-born son. Other family members don’t have direct access to these deities. My direct access to the all-knowing, all-powerful and always present God through the blood of Christ has been made all the more precious through these discoveries.