Religious tradition has a lot to say about solar eclipses

On Monday, Pradeep Reddy, a pediatrician from Carbondale, Ill., Will eagerly await the sight of the solar eclipse, which he says will be an awe-inspiring science spectacle.

Then he’ll go inside and jump in the shower with all his clothes on. (Or at least he’ll run them through the washing machine.)

This is what his religion tells the Hindus to do after an eclipse, to purify the clothes in which they watched the supposedly unfavorable cosmic event. For generations, Hindus have taken all kinds of precautions to ward off the bad luck they believe an eclipse foretells.

On Monday, when the first nationwide eclipse in 99 years hits America, believers of all faiths will have their first chance in decades to put into practice the eclipse traditions of their particular religion.

For Muslims, it is an opportunity to revisit a section of the Koran that describes an eclipse that occurred on the very day of the death of the young son of the Prophet Muhammad, said Imam Asif Umar. During this eclipse, Muhammad gathered the community to pray in response; since then, Muslims around the world recite the same prayer whenever they are on the way to an eclipse.

Umar, who heads the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis, will take students from his mosque school to a park in Missouri, where he will talk to them about the scientific phenomenon of the eclipse as well as its spiritual significance. “The sun is so much bigger than the moon. But the moon is so much closer to Earth, ”he told them, explaining how the eclipse can happen. “It sort of shows how God created it this way – from an Islamic point of view, besides being one of nature’s most spectacular sights, it is also a reminder of the power of God. . “

Dozens of church groups across the country have organized eclipse-watching parties and trips. Most aim to preach about God’s creation, but for the most part Christianity also does not assign specific prayers for an eclipse; Father James Martin, author and expert on all kinds of dark saints, said he did not know of a patron saint of eclipses.

Some interpret the eclipse as a sign of the end of times to come, referring to biblical passages including Acts 2: “I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, fire. and waves of smoke. The sun will turn to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. A theory popular in some evangelical circles postulates that the Rapture will take place on September 23, which is 33 days after this eclipse.

Jewish tradition offers specific blessings that believers should say upon seeing many natural phenomena – a lightning bolt, a mountain, a flower, a rainbow – but no blessing for an eclipse.

In fact, the Talmud – the rabbinical commentary on the Bible – describes an eclipse as “a bad omen for the world.”

“What can we compare this to? Wrote the Talmudic rabbis. “To a king of flesh and blood who prepared a feast for his servants and set up a lantern to light up the hall. But then he got angry with them and said to his servant, ‘Take the lantern from before them and place them in the darkness.’ “

Nonetheless, some more liberal rabbis encourage their followers to use Monday’s eclipse to give thanks to God for the wonders of the universe. Rabbi Daniel Zemel of the Micah Temple in northwest Washington said it has been his goal for years to see an eclipse; he sometimes reads an excerpt from a particularly poetic 1991 New York Times article about an eclipse in place of prayer during Shabbat services.

Zemel will finally achieve his goal: he will witness this eclipse from Wyoming. He provided his congregation with suggestions for blessings, including one of the traditional morning prayer service: “Blessed are you, Adonai, creator of heavenly lights.

Hindu traditions are more specific. Reddy, who is a board member for the Hindu Temple and Cultural Society of Southern Illinois, said his community will review the guidelines this weekend: do not eat any food cooked before the eclipse after it is over. If you stored drinking water in your home before the eclipse, throw it out. Try not to conceive at the time of the eclipse, for fear of birth defects.

Hindu scriptures teach that an eclipse occurs when an angry spirit swallows the sun: “They have a score to settle with the sun and the moon. They basically swallow it. That’s what makes the light go out, ”Reddy said. “It’s the old belief. Obviously, the new belief is completely different.

At Reddy’s Temple, where many members like him work in scientific fields, they balance both old and new beliefs. They handed out eclipse glasses to the congregation last week, so members could safely enjoy the show. And then those same members can come in, jump in the shower in their clothes, and go from room to room to cleanse their homes – but not necessarily with the traditional holy water of the Ganges. Reddy says that at the temple they will use a strong cleanser.

It’s a balance between modern day exuberance and traditional respect that believers across the country will embrace on Monday.

Umar told members of his congregation that even though they cannot go to the mosque, they should take a break from their work day to watch the sun go down and say at least a phrase or two of prayer.

“Don’t do it with the intention of ‘I’m going out as a tourist’,” he said. “Do it with the intention of remembering God. Strengthen your faith by watching it. Use it as a moment to reflect on your purpose, why God put you in this world.

This is advice that people of many faiths will heed.