“Without the senses there would be no religion, for religion is founded on a relation between embodied beings and the world around them. ” (IRS, 69) The senses help us construct and allow us to partake in the world’s religions. The faiths of the world are deeply fixed in the customs of culture and connect to the human experience. Aesthetics is important to religion, they are firm in our human sensory experience, it is the way human bodies sense their religious worlds, especially through sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell (IRS, 68).
Without the senses there would be no religion, religion is in the feeling of power and guidance the Hindus feel from participating in puja, religion is the sense of purification and closeness to God a Catholic feels when receiving the body and blood of Christ, religion is the way the Navajo call forth the healing spiritual power of the Holy People, Hindu worship, known as puja, involves almost all of the five senses. In The Power of Religion, Jaya explains that Devi is the savior of the universe, the Hindu mother, powerful and beautiful.
Devi is a guest in her home and Jaya keeps purple blossoms and grapes in a brass bowl on the alter to please her. “We bow to her and thank her for coming, sing her favorite songs, wash her feet and hands and face, and light incense for her” (POR, 56). The sweet smell of sandalwood dances around the room while she sings and bows her head to the statue of Devi that has been made real through special ritual. As a result of using her breath, or prana, she made that particular murti closely linked to her own. Brahman is the ultimate reality, the absolute.
Devi is just the form the Brahman takes, to Jaya, Devi is the ultimate personification of the nature and power of life. Jaya chooses to worship Devi because it is much easier and much more personal for her. Both are real but they occupy different levels of reality. Although this may be Jaya’s view, it is only one view from the aspect of Hinduism. Each Hindu sees the world somewhat differently, maybe worshiping Siva, Krsna, or Rama. Yet all of these different ways of seeing and worshiping finally meet and dissolve in the absolute. Like Hinduism, Catholicism contains important similarities, including a strong element of devotional reverence.
In Catholicism, God is one, eternal, and absolute, but also manifests in personified form in a deity who conveys both this worldly blessings and eternal salvation (POR, 55-58). One of the most powerful sensual engagements, I believe, happens while attending the Catholic Mass. In The Power of Religion, the chapter Roman Catholic Eucharist begins with a story of an athlete preparing for a game, who joined a group of worshipers for mass, a set of prayers, and ceremonies centered around the practice of receiving bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ.
One of the central sacraments, the Eucharist, is a manifestation of the presence of God in the world. Derrick’s voice joined in joyous prayer, echoing off the walls with the hymns of those around him, acknowledging the forgiving power of God’s Holy Spirit. While praying, Derrick’s body awakened to the sense of the sacred meaning of life, and the realization of his responsibility to treat life as a gift from God. The Eucharist calls attention to the grand event of Christ’s sacrifice and its power to cleanse the soul, save them from sin, and unite them with God.
In the transubstantiation, Catholics believe in the actual transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. As Derrick watches and listens to the priest bring forward the body and blood from bread and wine, he can feel the presence of Christ before him. After consuming the dry wafer signifying the body of Christ and filling his mouth with the pungent taste of wine that signifies Christ’s blood from the cup, he feels united as one with God. The Eucharist gives Derrick and all of the rest of Christ’s followers a sense of atonement, or reconciliation with God.
Through his participation in the mass he experiences a sense of purification and closeness to God that sends him about his day with energy, commitment, and emotional balance. Looking at the world through the lens of the sacrament gives a sacramental quality to the world, and can lead to an appreciation of natural beauty (POR, 15-23). The effect of the Eucharist in the Catholic religion is similar to the effect of the Navajo sandpainting ceremonies. In both religions the recipients in the ceremonies feel cleansed, strengthened, and attuned to the world through spiritual power.
The two also portray a similarity in the relationship between spirit and matter, which one could describe as reverence for the embodiment of spiritual power in the material world. The Navajo visualize the spirits working with their environment and call upon them to affecteffect well-being. The process occurs through prayers and songs that give the people a sense of involvement in the inner workings of the world and contributing to their positive outcome. Navajo singers bring forth powers of the Holy People, immortal beings whom share the Navajoland with the human people, or Dine.
The Dine see the physical geography of their land as the outward manifestation of the activities of the Holy People, and they visualize them as their inner forms of the mountains, winds, rains, and animals. Holyway chants include sandpaintings that are distinct to the Navajo in their design and use of dry pulverized materials from charcoal, flower petals, corn meal, pollens, and different stones. The sand paintings range in size from one to twelve square feet and depict one or more Holy People.
The individual whom the ceremony is held for sits in the middle as the singer calls forth the powers of the Holy People from the painting to various parts of the body with the intention of helping transfer the power between the Holy People and patient. Described by anthropologist Gladys Reichard, as a “ceremonial membrane” through which a kind of “spiritual osmosis” occurs. Chanting brings the painting to life by casting the Holy People into it, it then guides the process of purification and empowerment of the mind and body of the patient who is being sung over (POR, 5-10).
Like almost all other religions, a way in which the Islamic religion heightens the religious experience is through dreaming. In the book Dreaming in the World’s Religions, Sufism was a religious movement within Islam that promoted an extraordinarily strong personal relationship with the divine. In their simple lifestyles and musing devotions they sought to obliterate their ordinary human selves, purify their souls, and become worthy of a confession of God’s living presence. The dream of al-Tirmidhi, from a ninth century:
While praying one night, I was overtaken by deep weariness, and as I put my head on the prayer rug, I saw a huge and empty space, a wilderness unfamiliar to me. I saw a huge assembly with an embellished seat and a pitched canopy the clothing and covering of which I cannot describe. And as if it were conveyed to me: “You are taken to your lord. ” I entered through the veils and saw neither a person nor a form. But as I entered through the veils, awe descended upon my heart. And in my dream I knew with certitude that I was standing in front of Him. After a while I found myself outside the veil.
I stood by the opening of the veil, exclaim- ing: “He has forgiven me! ” And I saw that my breath relaxed of the fear (DWR, 208). Al-Tirmidhi was confident in his dream of God because of the traditional Muslim principle that Satan cannot take the form of the Prophet nor of Allah. His well use of descriptive words make for a stage in the mind of the reader for greater spiritual insight, to imagine the precious chair and the cover over head, entering through the veils to see only Him standing in front of his gaze. A sense of relief at the end fulfilled his wish to stand before God.