June 19, 2019
(Note: Neepam uses the gender pronoun "They")
This Sunday we welcome Justice Leadership Intern Neepam Shah to the Plymouth pulpit. Neepam has spent the past year with Plymouth UCC as a Justice Leadership Intern. Though they do not identify with any specific religion, Neepam was raised Hindu and, from the age of 5 through 18, attended the Vivekananda Vidyapith, a school of Vedantic thought that emphasizes the universality of all religions, the compatibility of science and religion and the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and Swami Vivekananda. They are committed to a radical style of empathy — one that strives to meet folks where they are — and are interested in how the social determinants of health shape our well-being. During this year of service and their time with Plymouth United Church of Christ, Neepam has developed a deeper understanding of the ways in which spirituality and religion nourish, rather than dictate, our lives. Neepam holds a BA in English Literature from The College of New Jersey, and is a medical student at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, slated to graduate in 2020.
Here is the story Neepam will be using to frame the sermon. Neepam struggled to find a telling of this story that comes from an “official source,” but which still would be accessible to a population that is unfamiliar with much of the broader narrative that this story fits into. This version is from a telling of the story intended for children, and was published on Katha Kids. Neepam made some small modifications to the text, but it is from their website almost verbatim.
The devas and asuras were cousins who were always at war. Once there came a time when the cousins agreed to stop fighting and work together. The idea was to churn the ocean of milk, which would yield Amrit, or the nectar of immortality. Anyone who had a sip of Amrit would live forever. The cousins, the devas and asuras, both wanted to become immortals. So, putting aside their differences, they agreed to churn the ocean of milk.
They placed Mandara, a large mountain, on the ocean bed. The mountain was to be used as a rod to churn Amrit out of the ocean. Lord Vishnu took the form of a giant tortoise to support Mount Mandara on the ocean bed and prevent it from sinking. The serpent king Vasuki allowed the cousins to use him as the rope to rotate the huge churning rod. The serpent was looped around Mount Mandara. Vasuki’s tail was held by the devas and his head was held by the asuras. Using all their might the cousins began to churn the ocean of milk.
To their dismay, as the ocean of milk was churned hard, it threw up a cloud of deadly poison — Haalaahala. This poisonous gas choked the devas and the asuras. But, before it could inflict severe damage, Shiva scooped it up in his hand and swallowed it. His wife, Parvati, was quick to grasp Shiva’s neck tightly to prevent the poison from going down his throat. As a result, Shiva got a blue patch on his neck that is seen in many pictorial depictions of him. For this trait, he is sometimes known as Neela-kanta, which is Sanskrit for “blue throat.”
Come hear Neepam’s message at 10:30 am worship this Sunday.Subscribe