Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sacred Grove

Two years ago in my Church at Worship liturgy class, we were given the assignment to plan and describe our funeral. As morbid and disturbing as this might seem, this is actually quite an important exercise for future pastors who will, undoubtedly, plan and conduct many funerals. For mine, I had the idea of having my ashes used at the funeral to plant a tree in a whole cycle of life thing.

Yesterday, all of the MPh students visited the Fire-Flies Ashram here in Bangalore. Fire-flies is an interreligious ashram devoted to ecological concerns. FIRE stands for Fellowship In Religious Experience. Anyway, the founder of the organization (who, by the way, is a friend of Dr. Ariarajah’s) showed us the tree that he had planted using his brother’s ashes. This was fascinating to me because it was a similar idea to the one I had.

Then he told a story about a tribal village here in India. In this village, when a person dies, they conduct a traditional funeral (traditional means cremation on a funeral pyre by the priest). What is different is that they then take some of the ashes and they use them to plant a fruit tree along the road. Everyday when they walk past the tree, they are reminded of what that person meant to them and perhaps they will say a prayer. When spring comes around, the tree bears fruit. In one sense, then, the person who passed away is contributing to the health and vibrancy of the community. When the people take the fruit, they remember the person and tell the children about their good attributes. In other words, the person continues to live on in that community through the life of that tree. Although the person has died, his/her spirit lives on through the memories of the villagers, which are the person’s sons, daughters, friends, etc.

Next, as the city limits of Bangalore continue to stretch farther and farther out, this once-remote village becomes potential land for development. A company comes and buys the land and wants to build a factory or store or something there. But the people protest saying “these are sacred trees! The spirits of our ancestors dwell in these trees!” The developers simply respond that these are foolish notions and that trees do not have spirits and are not sacred. The villagers, they say, are simple minded and superstitious.

Now what do we say about these villagers? Are they worshipping the trees? Are they venerating the trees? Who is to blame for the lack of understanding – the villagers for saying that the trees have spirits or the developer who doesn’t know what they mean? Does the tradition of the villagers seem like a practice we should discourage or mimic? What are your reactions?


Mom (Bannon) said...

My first thoughts tend to think that plowing down those trees would be similiar to taking a bulldozer to a cemetary...The trees possibly would be thought of as the headstones for those graves...To build a building on top of a cemetary would not he allowed here I don't think...How different can their way of thinking be....Hasn't the cemetary 'after dark' always made for a good 'scary' movie, because 'spirits' abide there at least in the minds of people...As their 'lawyer' I propose that the trees need to be left alone!

Kathrin Biemann-Monfette said...

I like the idea of living on and being thought of as the tree bears fruit, it seems closer to family than a graveyard in a way. But ofcourse when you compare the trees to money, which is more likely to win? So many things that should remain have been destroyed for money, much like the historic buildings in the US for parking lots. It's so ridiculous and it makes me angry. Perhaps they should have a headstone as well as planting a tree, then they could see how many spirits reside there. Would they then be as likely to build over the grounds? Do they have traditional cemetaries there that we know to be cemetaries? I feel as the world gets more knowledge, which ultimately comes with greed, there is less mercy, and steering away form our true selves, being one with our inner core and spirit. I feel that building on those grounds would be building over many hearts, that beat for those who have died and are thought of daily. For some reason this subject is quite emotional to me as it is true in everything, in every country, all we will have left are hearts of stone, since nothing beautiful will be left to treasure if the world continues at this rate. I hope that is not the case. I'm really not this morbid, or don't tend to dwell on it, but I myself tend to worry about catching up with my checking account instead of enjoying the simple things, like smelling fresh cut grass, clean laundry, birds chirping. If you could have all your problems escape by creating billions, would you keep some trees? But then only after do you realize that your problems have not 'escaped'.

Mother Nature said...

"THE TREE OF LIFE" - metaphore or reality?
How interesting that so many religious references for the creation of life on this planet center on plant growth.
How interesting that so many scientific references for the continuance of life on this planet center on the plant growth.
How interesting that religion and science so often take a second seat to financial variables in real life considerations.
If ALL Humanity were TRUELY concerned about God & the preservation of His creations, would we still feel the urgency to deposit human remains into our gardens?
Or should All Humanity be more concerned with harnessing of financial variables so to enable the scientific continuance of Life in accordance with religious interpretation of God's will?