Monday, September 19, 2011

Pchum Ben Festival - Feeding the Ancestors

In Cambodia, there are several Buddhist festivals that occur over the year.  One of them is known as Pchum Ben.  The premise of Pchum Ben Festival is to feed the spirits of the dead. Cambodians firmly believe that the act of feeding the souls of their deceased predecessors will make their stay on Earth more enjoyable. During Pchum Ben, it is believed that the spirits of the dead descend from the spirit world and walk the Earth. Most modern Khmers will say that the festival lasts fifteen days, ending on the fifteenth of the month. In actuality, the ancient, traditional festival lasted three months, ending on the fifteenth day, of the tenth month of the year.The last four days of the festival are public holidays in Cambodia. 

So next week September 26-28th , many Khmer who live in Phnom Penh will be exiting the city to visit the province where they were born and to spend time with their family members. The other day I was asking my language instructor what he does during this time since he is a Christian and his family members are not believers. When the family meets, they will all go to the Wat (temple) and he will stay back. His family respects his beliefs and do not give him a hard time for not participating in the offerings to the ancestors.

For those of us who are believers, this is also quite an interesting time. Yesterday as I was having lunch with some friends from the international church, we were all commenting on what a difficult week it has been. We have been feeling more tired than normal and very lethargic. There is a heaviness in our spirits and it has been more challenging to pray and focus. It is hard to fully describe as physically we all feel fine but the consensus seems to be that the time leading up to Pchum Ben there definitely seems to be a lot of spiritual opposition. Yesterday afternoon, I went for a long walk adding a new path to my usual walking route as it is not as noisy and it is quite enjoyable since you are actually walking on a sidewalk and do not have to battle the cars for the road. This new route takes me towards the Royal Palace and surrounding Wats and gives me more time to worship and prayer. It is easy to focus inward but it is times like this that worshiping the Lord becomes the key so that we focus back on who is really is in control. I was reminded of His resurrection power that sustains us despite the spiritual obstacles that we may feel or sense. It is times like this that Jesus has been speaking to me about holding on to His promises despite what is happening around me and despite how I may be feeling physically or mentally. As I was meditating on Isaiah 30:16 (in the Message) it said: Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me. Truly today I experienced the truth of these verses as my 2 hour language lesson zipped by without me noticing that time was up. I could have continued on as it felt so short. That in and of itself is a small miracle as typically, I am so wiped after 2 hours I need a 30 minute break to have my brain functioning again :-) His word indeed has the power to  bring forth new life and vitality so that we do not wither in this sun scorched land but instead, we can thrive and be well watered gardens persevering and pressing on towards that which He has called us to be involved in despite the spiritual challenges we are facing.

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