Friday, July 13, 2007

Lights on Lake Hibiscus

Last night I participated in the annual Lantern Festival at Forest Hills Cemetery, which is a beautiful 250 acre arboretum and tranquil sanctuary, teeming with extraordinary sculpture and natural wonders, in a magnificent landscape.

The Lantern Festival is a Buddhist-inspired memorial celebration held at Forest Hills for the last 9 years. Against a backdrop of multicultural singing and dancing performers, participants in the Lantern Festival inscribe paper lanterns with personal messages to honor loved ones now departed. Japanese and Chinese calligraphers inscribe an Asian symbol of your choice on the paper (love, peace, hope or eternal spirit) and then you decorate the rest of the paper lantern yourself. The paper is then put onto a wooden base and a candle is inserted. At sunset, the candlelit lanterns are released onto Lake Hibiscus, symbolizing the soul's journey after death.

I found it to be a very emotional experience and somewhat profound. Seeing thousands of people with their decorated lanterns - young and old - from all different backgrounds, with their messages to their loved ones drawn and written on the lantern, with lots of thought, feeling and creativity. Everyone of us had lost someone and expressed our feelings about it, on the lanterns. It was obviously a ceremony where love abounded and I could feel it. The energy was amazing. As we began to float our candles on the lake, a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace". It was perfect.

The Lantern Floating Ceremony is a time-honored ritual practiced in various forms throughout eastern Asia. At this time in mid-summer, ancient tradition holds, a gate opens to the world of the ancestors. In Japan's Bon Festival, people light lanterns to invite ancestors to visit their family. Then the lanterns are sent floating out to sea to guide the ancestors back to the world of the spirits. Prayers are offered so their souls may rest in peace.

At Forest Hills, the Lantern Festival offers us a way to remember departed family and friends. Through inscriptions on the lanterns and through the candlelight that transforms the darkness, we send our messages of love, peace and hope into the world and to those we love.
What a wonderful experience!

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