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Do the rite thing

Two DePaul religion professors, Scott Paeth and Khaled Keshk, help demystify some rituals of the devout.

By Jake Malooley Illustrations by pars/e |

Jainism sweeping
It’s not hyperbole to say that Jains wouldn’t hurt a fly. Nonviolence—a principle they call ahimsa—is so vital to Jainism that, in addition to being staunchly vegetarian, the religion’s most devout sweep their path as they walk with a whisk broom (often made of naturally fallen peacock feathers) to avoid accidentally killing even the tiniest insects. It’s all to escape the cycle of karmic suffering.

Zen Buddhism zazen
Did Michael Jordan’s fadeaway seem enlightened? Thank coach Phil Jackson for implementing zazen (seated meditation) in the practice regimen. By sitting in the lotus position—with straight posture, downturned eyes half open and hands in the mudra position (left hand on top of the right with thumb tips touching)—the practitioner is better able to breathe. This helps calm the mind and enables one to concentrate on the present as well as relinquish craving, which Buddhists see as the root of all suffering. “You’re not thinking about what you’re making for dinner tonight,” Paeth says. “You’re thinking about the here and now—that’s an important dimension of enlightenment.”

Pentecostalism glossolalia
Frank Bartleman, an early Pentecostal leader, described the experience of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) thusly: “All at once, I seemed to hear in my soul a rich voice speaking in a language I did not know…. I found myself, seemingly without volition on my part, enunciating the same sounds…. A Heaven of conscious bliss accompanied it.” To outsiders, glossolalia can sound like a bizarre amalgamation of Greek, Italian and pig Latin. But in Pentecostal church services, it’s a common experience of intimate communication with the Lord. Bartleman described it as “the Holy Spirit playing on your vocal cords, as on an aeolian harp.”

Islam salah
Nothing can stop a devout Muslim from performing his five daily prayers, which are scheduled for morning, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening. Before praying, a Muslim must purify himself through ritual ablutions (washing his mouth, nostrils, face, hair, neck, arms and feet with water). Then, facing Mecca, he will recite (exclusively in Arabic) memorized prayers from the Koran while taking several positions, including bowing (ruku), sitting (tashahhud) and full prostration (sujud). The basic goal, Keshk says, is showing submission to God. “That’s why you bow down; you are showing your creator that you don’t bow down to anybody or anything except Him.”

Eastern Orthodox Church sign of the cross
Christians accept the sign of the cross as a common self-blessing. But not all sects agree on how to perform the ritual. Both Eastern and Western Christian churches touch the forehead and breast with the thumb and two forefingers (a symbol of the Holy Trinity). But Eastern churches (such as the Eastern Orthodox Church) touch the right shoulder before the left, while Western churches (such as the Roman Catholic Church) go to the left shoulder first. Confused? Blame the East-West schism.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints baptism of the dead
For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, death is no obstacle to ushering people into the faith. In the ritual of baptism of the dead, a living member of the church is immersed in a font of water on behalf of an unbaptized deceased person (usually an ancestor). The deceased then has the right to accept the church and go to Heaven or…remain in Hell.