As promised in the previous post, I have been reflecting a little more on the feast of Santo Nino and its meaning. This weekend was undoubtedly a memorable cultural experience, but Sinulog is also the celebration of a religious festival. I had a wonderful weekend, but have been asking myself the question, did I really live it as a religious experience? It has led me to think more widely about the interplay between religion and culture, two things which are invariably impossible to separate.
About thirty years ago, in Cebu, a decision was made to separate the "cultural" Sinulog parade, on the Sunday, from the "religious" Santo Nino procession on the Saturday: but to say one was religious and one cultural is a dramatic oversimplification of the reality. There is no doubt in my mind, that dancing through the streets, with a Santo Nino waved aloft in one hand, and a bottle of Red Horse beer in the other, is not purely religious to the exclusion of cultural elements. Nor would it be fair to say the dance presentations on Sunday, all of which involved images of the Santo Nino, were purely cultural with no thought to the religious origins of this celebration.
The experiences of this weekend were completely alien to the way I usually experience faith, and are from a religious culture very different to my own. I cannot pretend that I found it to be a particularly prayerful experience.
That said, I think there were elements of faith very much in evidence, elements which are often absent in my own experience of religious culture. Sinulog concerned the whole of Cebu (and many from further afield): it was a community experience of creating a shared identity, of coming together in a truly joyful celebration, a celebration which is inclusive of all comers, whatever their motivations, intentions, faith or life stories are. As we walked to the stadium on Sunday morning, people cooking in the streets invited us, who they had never met, to eat with them. I believe the idea of an inclusive, welcoming, shared joy is a central gospel value, and it was probably the living out of this aspect of faith which, for me, was the most “religious” part of the experience.
The interaction between religion and culture is not limited to festive celebrations. It is something I have been very conscious of here, as we live our faith in a very different religious culture, but it is not just an experience for here, nor is it something I have only become aware of here. The wider ramifications of the interweaving of cultural and religious experiences are felt on a local, national and global scale.
It is an easy temptation to identify as "faith" things which are loaded with cultural influences, and likewise, to identify as purely cultural, experiences which actually have a deeply religious or spiritual significance, even if they would not always be named as such. It is not as simple as identifying where faith ends, and culture begins, or of promoting one to the detriment of the other, or of trying to separate one from the other, but about acknowledging how our culture and our history and a million and one other things affect the way we live our faith.