Did Adam have a navel? I must confess the question had never troubled me. But a Christian fundamentalist church has sprung up in my neighborhood and they are kind enough to deliver a newsletter satisfying one’s curiosity (or lack of it) on this and other such troubling questions. The answer: No, he did not, for the navel is the consequence of being born of woman and Adam was cast whole (sans navel) by God. It did, however, pique my curiosity about religious traditions, particularly the lesser known. For example, I was surprised to discover seventeen registered religions in Lebanon. There are so many, many others across the world… all with a common thread, all followed with a passion where followers will voluntarily risk their lives for their beliefs in a testament to the nobility of the human spirit.
This week UNESCO recognized acupuncture as an “intangible cultural heritage”. Likewise, Meizhou Island has been the recipient of this accolade. It houses Mazu, Goddess of the Sea; that is, her principal icon or “mother statue”. Other statues have been constructed by Mazu believers who number about 200 million in Southern China and Taiwan.
Mazu was born 1050 years ago and her anniversary was celebrated this year by bringing local statues to Meizhou Island to be united with the mother statue. Mazu’s father was lost at sea. Her sorrow sent her into deep meditation and she developed powers to heal the sick. Fishermen soon reported, she had the power to keep them safe at sea. Even now fishing boats often carry a Mazu bowsprit, and tales abound of her miracles — like the fisherman who was saved by clinging to her bowsprit statue when he was shipwrecked in a storm. Many keep her statue in their house and pray to her before each fishing trip. Others just pray for wealth, fame, and fortune.
For her 1050th anniversary, she was dressed in finery and paraded around the island. Then she was taken to sea for a circuit of a nearby island to give her a taste of her realm. After much festivity she was paraded back to the temple to be housed until next year. Only a select few are allowed to carry her and only three very select ladies permitted to wipe her face. Why? Because they saved her from destruction at the peril of their lives during the communist era.
Mazu is a forgiving goddess and accepts all converts. One can also feel free to add her to one’s repertory of saints, gods, prophets, etc.
Lt. General Boykin, famous for his “I knew my God was bigger than his” remark about a battle with a Somali warlord in 1993 seemed to forget we retreated from Somalia shortly thereafter following the Blackhawk helicopter tragedy. No doubt his pantheon is in need of bolstering. As for the Somalis … by 2010 things have changed … they need help too.
Whether it’s the dire economic straits of the General’s fellow fundamentalists in the U.S. or the misery of the oldest Christians in Palestine, they too need help … as do the Muslims in Darfur. Wherever we look, the world is suffering one misery or another. In India, the world’s largest democracy is trying so hard to satisfy the minimal needs of its citizens and failing miserably; the Muslims in Kashmir are blighted by injustice; the Hindu farmers have soaring rates of suicide; the Maoists are trying vainly and desperately for a measure of justice and relief from tyranny. It cannot be more transparent to any observer that their gods have failed. Yet there is hope … the Maoists might have failed but the Mazuists are coming.