Not Overlooking Any Possible Solution (A look at traditional religion)

As the heavy rains pounded Thailand this year causing abnormally high water levels, each person in government has done what they can to help the affected areas. However, in Bangkok, the governor has come under some criticism as the people of Bangkok think he is not doing enough.

As the waters continue to slowly flow downhill toward the basin of the nation, which happens to be the capitol city, people keep wondering why the governor did what he did last week. Last week, he performed an ancient ceremony to appease the spirits of water. He came out to sacrifice the food and offerings to the spirit to ask for protection and help in this time of crisis. In his mind, this ceremony would prevent his city from the calamity coming its way. This same calamity has already hit the ancient capitol of Thailand, Ayutaya, with its ancient temples now collapsing. (On a side note: The water levels in Ayutaya just north of Bangkok have yet to recede, and the broken ancient temples bring into question the worldview of many in Thailand. The flood has caused new cracks within the Thai identity.)

No crack stands out more than the Bangkok governor performing a ceremony to prevent the water from coming. One of my Thai friends told me that this is a 100 year-old ceremony that is outdated and unnecessary. He went on to say, the people in Bangkok were frustrated with the governor for performing the ceremony since we have technology in Thailand now.

The Thai people, rich in their history with spirit worship and appeasing the unseen forces of nature, have collided with the forces of science and reason. They are frustrated that their leadership takes steps to appease the spirits rather than measures to reinforce flood barriers and work with the agencies that are channeling the water around the city.

As we minister in Thailand, we need to be aware of the shift in their culture…but for now, in the midst of this crisis, we simply pray for the people and show them authentically the love of God.

How would you react if your government started their response to a natural disaster with an ancient animistic ceremony?

Traditional Thai Wedding Part 2

Earlier this week, I gave observations on a Thai wedding, focusing on the processional the groom made to arrive at the house of his bride. In this post, I will give my observations of the intimate ceremony with the family. In a Thai ceremony, which varies depending on which region of Thailand you are from, the only people who attend the actual equivalent to a wedding ceremony are family members or representatives of the bride and groom. Representatives in this case would be the same as the wedding party in a Western Wedding. In the north of Thailand, this ceremony is called the wrist tying ceremony. In Central Thailand, the ceremony is called the water pouring ceremony. These names refer to the part of the ceremony where blessing is spoken over the new married couple. We’ll get to that part shortly.

At the wedding we attended, the groom entered the house after paying his way in and through the different levels to access his bride. The levels are usually a wood level (the entrance gate to the house), a silver level, and a gold level all requiring a particular payment. The groom and bride then sat behind a table to await a blessing. Usually the blessing is chanted by a monk, but in this case the bride’s uncle played the part. He chanted a traditional blessing out of a notebook reading along as he went. Sitting and watching, I got the sense of rich tradition as well as long held beliefs about the sacred nature of a marriage. I wondered what spiritual elements were included in this type of blessing.

When the chanting concluded, the groom approached the parents of the bride to offer the bulk of his bride price. When they accepted the payment, the couple both bowed before her parents. Then the groom turned to his bride and gave her the jewelry portion of the bride price. He placed a necklace around her neck, a bracelet on her wrist and finally slid a ring on her finger. She reciprocated and slid a ring onto his finger. The uncle followed this by putting a wreath on each of their heads that had a string connecting the wreaths.

At this point, each member of the family came forward to tie a string around the wrist of each the bride and groom, the name of the ceremony. As they tie the string, they pronounce a blessing over the newlywed couple. Tying the string signifies the tying on of a blessing. After each person that holds significance in the couple’s life comes through and blesses them, the couple goes into the bedroom for the final part of the wedding ceremony.

In the bedroom, the parents explain to them the things that a married couple needs to value and soon consummate now that they are a married couple. The parents then show the newly married couple how to lay on the bed, and then make the embarrassed couple lay down together. It is hard to think of this as an outdated ritual since most young adults have heard about sex long before this point. However, I found it an interesting part of how traditional Thai families honor the intimate nature of a marriage.

After the ceremony with close family and friends concluded, the party began. The family of the bride provided lots of food and entertainment. The bride’s sister took advantage of the karaoke stage to sing and dance for all the friends who came to revel in the wedding and reception festivities. The bride and groom even sang a duet. I have to say my first experience at a traditional Thai wedding was fun.

Observations of Traditional Religion Day 5

In new cars you often see these white marks on the front ceiling of the car. These marks are made by a monk when he blesses the car.

When a person buys a new car, they take it to the local temple for the monk to be bless it. They do this because they believe it protects the car from calamity. The monk chants over the car and puts the marks to invite the spirits to bless the car.

The more I observe the phenomenon of traditional religion in this culture as it is in many cultures, I see how and why traditional religion is held onto, even when Thais are Buddhist. Traditional religion deals with the ever present questions of the here and now: how to gain success, protect myself from evil, explain death, and so on. Buddhism deals with large overarching questions of morality and what happens when we die, but doesn’t directly deal with the practical day-to-day life. The practices of local religions remain in order to deal with these day-to-day happenings of life.