A talk delivered by The Rev. Wilfredo Benitez at the Holi Festival, Queens Museum.
Happy Holi and Earth Day to all our friends. I bring you Easter greetings from historic Saint George’s Church founded in the village of Flushing in the year 1702 of the Common Era. Saint George’s Church is a plethora of diversity in celebration of the wonderful mosaic of peoples from all over the earth, that reside in the village of Flushing, the most multicultural location in these United States of America. It is a joy to be here with the Hindu Temple Society of North America, the Queens Museum, and all our distinguished guests and performers as we honor the arrival of Spring in this Holi celebration, and we celebrate the endless bounty of fruit, provided by our mother earth.
Not unlike the Holi Festival, the Easter celebration that the church celebrates also begins with the lighting of a fire, which will eventually light the Paschal candle that marks the passage from darkness to light, and from death to life. When we begin to go beneath the surface of our world religions, we begin to discover commonality, and common themes.
Easter is a joyful colorful time, and what could be more colorful than the Hindu Holi celebration where people in India take to splashing each other with powders that reflect the colors and joy of Spring. These Spring colors represent the triumph of good over evil, as does the resurrection narrative in the Christian faith.
Holi, from my limited understanding is also a time of gratitude for all the gifts and bounty that come to us from our mother Earth. We welcome the arrival of Spring in the deepest and most hallowed humility, recognizing that all of life is a gift, and that the beauty and splendor of nature comes to us from a Higher Sacred Source. We are reminded in a festival such as this that we are all stewards of the earth, called to care for the earth, and not to trample upon it, for selfish ends. The care of the earth, and its preservation, is something that all the great religions of the world advocate. This is an area of faith that we should never ignore. We live in a time of incessant technological advances that often disregard the consequences to the planet, and even our very own existence, and Holi is a reminder to us that there is a perfect order to the universe, and our planet, that should never be tampered with.
We’ve been entertained today with dances and music from different parts of the world, dances and music that illustrate the endless variety of soulful Spirit contained in all the peoples of the earth, and these are gifts that reflect the Divine in all of us. Where there is joy, there is music and dance, where there is Spring, there is celebration.
For myself, I can’t tell you enough what joy the season of Spring represents. As I eagerly watch the branches of trees in anticipation of the first signs of new life, I’m filled with elation. As I watch the birth of new leaves and flowers sprouting from the ground, my heart rejoices, and something in my soul is restored. The dreary cold Winter starts to fade into the sunset, and a new sense of anticipation over takes me. I am reminded once again that this is the passage from death and darkness, to life and light.
This Holi gathering, in honor of our mother Earth, in the context of people from all over the world, is yet another sign that we are moving from darkness to light as one humanity with an incredible diversity, all interconnected to one another, and one Eternal Source of Life.
However, our mother Earth is suffering, and not all of her children have behaved in the most enlightened manner. The one single issue that affects all of human and animal life on our planet today is global warming. Our earth is warming at an alarming rate, and as stewards entrusted with the sacred care of our living planet, we cannot turn a blind eye to the consequences. Our great religions call us to care for one another, to uphold each other as brothers and sisters, and in the measure that we turn a blind eye to the plight of our only known living home, this incredible planet earth, we fail to honor all that is holy in Hinduism, in Buddhism, in Judiasm, in Christianity, in Islam, or any other great religion of the world.
We cannot celebrate the earth without assuming responsibility for the care of the earth. For too long our species has been reckless, and it’s time to turn this trend around. We also have a responsibility to the endless variety of life on this planet, the birds in the air, the creatures on the ground, the fish in the sea, the plants and trees that provide our oxygen, and even the tiniest of living microscopic organisms that permeate our world. Everything in creation has a place, and it is our sacred duty to honor this, and not impede its sustainability.
Holi, like Easter is a celebration of the victory of life over death, and Life in the end, is the most powerful force in the universe. Ultimately, there is no destruction that can come to LIFE, and it is in the deepest humility that we are all called to come to this recognition.
When we celebrate the coming of Spring, and the arrival of new life, we celebrate and regenerate our very souls. The sunrise of Spring, is a sunrise in our very hearts, it is like the song of a singing bird on our very sentiments, calling us to arise, to breath LIFE and to celebrate its beauty and holiness.
Signs of Life abound, all we need to do is to look around us; we see these signs in nature, but we too are living proof that life is more powerful than death. In a day and age where many cease upon religion to divide the world, and some commit acts of terror in the name of God, we are living proof in this space, right here and right now, that our faith traditions are about unity, and the respect of the dignity of every human being. This gathering is not an anomaly, this gathering is the essence of our faith traditions, and the colors of Holi remind us of the beauty contained in our great diversity; for in the end, our diversity is but a mere reflection of the endless beauty of God; and we as people of faith, embrace this gift.
So, let us continue to celebrate the arrival of Spring, let us continue to celebrate Holi and Easter,; let us continue to celebrate our mother Earth, and our wonderful ever expanding diversity. Let’s take a moment to be in gratitude for all the gifts that come to us in life, our friends and families, our faith traditions, our democratic freedoms, the joy of sunrise, and the green that is beginning to sprout all around us. Let’s celebrate the power of Life over death, and say no to all those voices of deception that refuse to acknowledge that our journey on the face of this earth is ultimately about Life and Living.
Let’s continue to celebrate our Mother Earth, embedded with endless spirals of mystery all pointing back to the unifying Unknown that connects everything in Creation. Let’s take a moment in gratitude for the opportunity to be in each other’s company, for we are in the company of the Divine. Happy Holi and Happy Easter!
What a gift it is to me, to celebrate this Easter Sunday within the context of the Holi festival, and our sacred mother earth. This day will remain in my heart as yet another example of the power of life over death, and the beauty of God’s creation. This day will remain in my heart, as a living example of the gift of our diversity, and the endless faces of God on this earth. Blessings and grace to all of us, Happy Easter, and Happy Holi.
Speech delivered at the Queens Museum on Easter Sunday, March 27th, 2016, in celebration of the Hindu Holi festival.
March 27th, 2016