Friday, March 25, 2011

Cultural Diversity

Several recent events have given me cause to be grateful for our cultural diversity here in the United States.

Once again, St. Patrick's day came and went, this year, with more meaning to me.  I had watched the movie  "St. Patrick, The Irish Legend" and subsequently did a little further research on this beloved saint.  I'm not so much on corned beef and cabbage, but my Irish heritage has a bit more meaning when I contemplate the sacrificial love with which Patrick won over the Irish people, and stayed with them to continue to lead them to Jesus.

I read "Hopi Summer" by Carolyn O'Bagy Davis for book club.  The story is about a Massachusetts family who toured the U.S. one year in the late 1920's, spending a lengthy time on the Hopi mesas in Arizona.  (The book was the Arizona One Book winner for 2011).  They struck up a friendship with several Hopi families which lasted their lifetimes, and left behind a wealth of photographs and correspondence which serves to chronicle that moment in American history. 

I attended a Presentation celebration for a young Mexican friend.  At the age of 3 or 4, a Mexican child is "presented" to Jesus and Our Blessed Mother at a special Mass, followed by feasting, etc.  The Mass was very simple, the child dressed like a princess, knowing it was her special day, and taking all the ceremony and blessing very seriously.

I watched "The Singing Revolution", a documentary about the non-violent Estonian revolution and their ultimate break from Communist oppression in the late 1990's.  Through their persistent preservation of their culture of singing, the Estonians eventually won worldwide support in their cause to liberate themselves from the USSR.

In the past, groups of immigrants would form their own close communities and preserve their language, culture and tradition.  Not so much any more.  Oh, we can still find tiny pockets of Polish, Amish, Native American and others.  But mostly we really have to search them out.  There is so much beauty in each different cultural tradition. Yes, we have our Sacramental celebrations, but the Mexican Presentation and Quincenera are beautiful additional reminders to continue to dedicate our lives to the Lord.  The Polish blessing of the food  before the Easter Vigil, reminds us that all we have comes from God, and Jesus lived and died that we might have it more fully.  Shrove Tuesday (before it became a corrupted form of Mardi Gras) is the day before the start of Lent, when English-speaking immigrants would feast on foods rich with fats, sugars and eggs, before giving them up for Lent.  The Swedes celebrate the feast of St. Lucia in December, with a teenage girl portraying the saint, adorned with a crown of candles and dressed in white; the candles symbolizing the fire that would not consume the saint when she was condemned to be burned.  If you've had a chance to celebrate Passover, just as Jesus and the Apostles did, maybe you've experienced the mystical connection between the Jewish and Christian celebrations.

Americans are as guilty as any other country of trying to eradicate the customs and traditions of our many different citizens. A great deal of the Native American culture has been lost through earlier governmental intervention, much of which was done in the name of Christianity. Somehow, I don't think Christ would approve.

This Lent, instead of or in addition to giving up some thing, maybe we can try to give up some attitude that prevents us from being more Christ-like.  I promise, once you get started, there is no end.  We are forever slipping back into negative thought patterns.  But as we confess our weakness and firmly resolve to try again, little by little we become more the children God created us to be.  And like little children, we can accept and celebrate our wonderful cultural diversity.

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