The end of May marks important Holy Days for three religions. Each of these traditions has wonderful stories about their founding. In the Baha'I story below, you will learn about the Bab, who like John the Baptist in the Christian tradition, was the herald for Bahá'u'lláh. In the Christian tradition the experience of wind and flames marked the beginning of the Christian church. Last, we will hear about the Buddha's Birthday, which is often celebrated in April, but can be celebrated as late as May - depending on the country and tradition in that area.
On May 22nd, the Baha'I Faith celebrates the Declaration of the Bab. The Bab, who was born Siyyid Ali Muhammad in Shiraz Persia, announced on May 22, 1844 that he was the bearer of a Divine Revelation. Keep in mind that in the mid-1800s many Christians were expecting the return of Christ based on their interpretation of Biblical prophecy. At the same time in the Middle East the followers of Islam were also expecting their promised one to appear. The Bab's declaration was a word of hope intended for the three major religions that would usher in an age of justice, unity and peace. His announcement caused hope and excitement among the masses. But as you might imagine the religious and political leaders of that time were not so happy. He was eventually imprisoned, exiled, beaten and executed. His followers were tortured and martyred. In 1864, however, the Bahá'u'lláh announced that he was the one foretold by the Bab. The surviving followers of the Bab embraced Bahá'u'lláh and the Baha'I Faith was born. If you are not familiar with the tradition of the Baha'i Faith, they are to the Muslim Religion what the Quaker tradition is to the Christian Religion.
On May 23rd Christians will celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian church. After the execution of Jesus, his disciples were scared and confused. They continued to meet, but did not have a solid sense of what they should do next. On the fiftieth day after Passover (the tenth day after Jesus ascended into Heaven), they were meeting indoors and praying. A sound like rushing wind filled the house, and when they looked at one another, they saw flames of fire over each of their heads. Each of the disciples was empowered to preach, so they went into the streets where they were able to speak in the languages of the people who were present, who came from all over the Roman Empire. They created quite a sensation.
On May 27th some Buddhists will celebrate the Birthday of Buddha (also called Visakha Puja). Depending on the country, Buddha's birthday is celebrated anywhere from April 8th (Japan) through the end of May. The Buddha, was born as Prince Siddhartha Gotama in the Himalayan Mountains over 2500 years ago. When Siddhartha's mother was pregnant, she had a dream about a white elephant with six tusks which descended from the heavens. The elephant had a pink lotus flower in its trunk which it placed on the queen's body. Then the elephant entered her body and she was filled with joy. When the Holy Men were summoned to interpret the dream, they told the royal couple that the Queen would give birth to a son who would be a great leader. He would either become a mighty emperor who would rule throughout the four directions or a great Teacher who would show the Way of Truth to all beings in Heaven and Earth. On the day that the Buddha was born, his mother was returning to her parent's home to give birth, and on the way she stopped to rest in the garden of Lumbini. Admiring an ashok tree in full bloom, the queen walked toward it. When she felt unsteady she grabbed a branch of the tree to support her. While holding the branch the Queen gave birth.
Each of these sacred stories speaks to the importance of signs. Whether it is a herald telling us that something important is coming, or a vision of wind and fire points out the significance of a moment, or the interpretation of a dream - we receive signs and information all day every day. One of my teachers said that everyone you come in contact with has something for you. The key is whether or not you pay attention.
The Rev. Paula Roper is an Independent Interfaith Minister in New Providence, New Jersey. She is available for spiritual counseling, weddings and other life cycle ceremonies.
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