Successful Hindu and Christian Interfaith Marriage: Saffron Cross

The Saffron Cross

What the world needs now is inspiring models for interfaith families. Because love is essential, but not sufficient. This month sees the publication of my book Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family. But I am thrilled to be sharing my publication month with two other books on interfaith families (our books were featured together recently in Publishers Weekly). Rabbi Michal Woll and Catholic writer Jon M. Sweeney are publishing Mixed-Up Love (I look forward to appearing on a panel with them in the spring). And today is the publication day for Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk, a memoir by Southern Baptist minister J. Dana Trent, about her marriage to Fred Eaker, a devout Hindu.

A lively read, Saffron Cross describes how the couple met through the Christian online dating site eHarmony. We then follow Dana as she and Fred attempt to figure out how to fit their religious lives into one marriage. The couple is determined not to “water down” their respective traditions in order to find common ground. Dana and Fred live and breathe theological debate and do not shy away from addressing differences. On a trip to India to gain deeper understanding of her husband’s religion, Dana lives with Fred in a temple compound and struggles through her own doubts, culture shock, and hilarious religious blunders. She proves a humble and charming guide, even when at times she is gripped by insecurity and tears.

But the point of this book is not how hard it is to be in an interfaith marriage. Unlike books warning couples away from intermarriage, Dana celebrates the rich texture of the life she creates with Fred, and the joy they experience exploring religion together. One of the secrets to their success is the “no separate worship” rule, which they developed after considering and discarding the rather lonely alternative as the “interfaith version of segregation.” So Fred goes to church with Dana. And Dana goes to temple with Fred. Yes, this requires a lot of time and they each have to compromise, as do any two people in a marriage. But when you agree to study and celebrate and worship together, you grow together, even, and perhaps especially, when studying and celebrating and worshiping in two different religious languages. This couple is new and young, their interfaith journey just beginning. Someday, I hope Dana and Fred will write a sequel on raising their (future) interfaith children. But for now, I am grateful for a new book celebrating one of the infinite possibilities for successful interfaith marriage.


Susan Katz Miller is the author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, from Beacon Press. She works as an interfaith families consultant, speaker, and coach. Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.

6 Replies to “Successful Hindu and Christian Interfaith Marriage: Saffron Cross”

  1. I had the good fortune of hearing Dana and Fred speak in Nashville. They were kind, patient and enthusiastic. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the growing number of encouraging, brave, and creative voices taking leadership roles in the conversation about interfaith relationships!

  2. Keya:

    I enjoyed reading about your courageous story in Being Both! I hope that Saffron Cross may also be helpful for your family.


    It was lovely meeting you last week! We are all so fortunate to have books like Susan’s in the interfaith community. It is truly a gem and we can glean a lot from her both her personal experience and research.

    I’m looking forward to learning more about your journey!

    Wishing you both deep peace,

  3. Fertility Rituals

    Marriage is one of the biggest fertility rituals Known in Indian culture. When two people get married. they are said to enter grihasta ashram where they are expected to bear children. satify their sexual urge, earn money and follow religious practices. Hindu marriages profess the idea of coming together of the energies and paving way to a new creation. For this, male and female power of procreation is seen as a sacred virtue which is celebrated and is prayed for at the time of the wedding. To ensure that the nuptial remains fruitful and properous. many sacred ritual are carried out and these fertility ritual sanctify the purpose of tying the knot between them.

    Offering of Grains

    Throughout India, one thing that remains common to all communities is offring of grains in wedding ceremony. Mostly rice, puffed rice or whole grains, these grains are fed to the sacred fire in different ceremonies. In some communities a major ritual called Laja – Home takes place where the bride, groom and the father and brother of the bride feed fried grains to the sacred agni. This is done to invoke blessings of prosperity.
    fertility and fecundity upon the couple. In another, the brothers of the bride pour hands full of grain upon her, in a way signifying that she may remain blessed with all the riches and her life be complete. This completeness is often linked with the fulfilment of all her desires and duties including that of blessing the family with an heir. These grains which are highly venerated in a wedding ceremony owe their importance to Gaure, an avatar of Goddess parvati who is a consort of Shiva. The goddess is named so because of her fair colour and her fair colour is symbolic of that of ripening grain.

    Importance of Shiva’s Bael leaves

    Holy Bael leaves are proffered in several ceremonies before the wedding and after it. In many communities in india, before the wedding day arrives, Bael leaves are placed in earthen pots which are topped with different kinds of cereals. After the wedding, the sprouted seedlings are then released in a flowing river or a pool. This ritual is performed to invoke blessings of Lord Shiva upon the married couple and pray for their progeny. The signifiv\cance of Bael leaves in terms of fertility and sacredness has a mention in atharva veda also. Bael leaves which are an insepareble part of a Hindu wedding ceremony represent Lord Shiva’s presence and his consent in the wedding. Lord Shiva is seen and worshipped by men and women alike for his attributes of vigour and virility. Therefore, at the time of wedding, the groom is taken to a nearby Shiva temple before heading with the wedding procession. Shiva Linga is the most prominent symbol of male potency. It is believed that after Shiva destroys the universe, the unbounded energy of the cosmos gets collected and rests in the linga or the phallic symbol.

    Vishnu’s pious Lotus

    As per mythology, at the time of creation of the universe, while lord Vishnu was pondering over the creation of mankind, a pious lotus rose out of his navel. On that lotus was seated Lord Brahma who paved way to the creation and illumination of the universe. Thus, lotus remains symbolic of procreation, birth and fertility. It is Therefore, offered during wedding puja to the gods to confer potency upon the couple. Also, At the time of a Hindu wedding, the bride and the groom are given the stature of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu because they represent the eternal companionship and exemplify how a relationship between husband and wife should be. Besides, Goddess Lakshmi’s fertility is attributed to Lord Vishnu’s maya which is the power to create and sustain the physical world. Legand has it that once Goddess Lakshmi became very angry. With that happening, the world at large witnessed severe drought. The lands lost their fertility, people started becoming sick and the procreation came to a standstill. It was only when she calmed down that the universe got its virility back. Also, the satyanarayan katha is held after the wedding.

    Nose ring

    Usually seen as a piece of accessory, almost all brides sport nose ring on their wedding day. In some communities, girls are told to get their nose pierced before they tie the knot. According to ancient scriptures, piercing left side of the nostrils enhances fertility of the women. It is an old ayurvedic medicinal practice prevalent in most cultures and communities in india.

    Sacred coconut rituals

    Across India, since time immemorial coconut has enjoyed its association with human fertility in a sacrosanct manner. In Gujarat, there is a ritual of bride presenting a coconut in a customary way to the groom at the time of the marriage. Here coconut is symbolic of the progency of the couple that the bridegifts the groom. Of all the fruits, coconut is most closely related to human skull because of the three marking on its base that resemble human facial features. In other such ritual, coconut is placed on an earthen pot. Here, the pot is symbolic of the womb while the cocnut represent life. Likewise, among Tamils, the mangalsutra or the Tali is first tied around coconut before the groom ties it around the bride’s neck.

    The mantras of virility

    During saat pheras in a Hindu marriage, there are several mantras that are chanted for progency of the couple. While the first phera is for a long lasting companionship, in the second Phera, “Kutumburn rakshayishyammi sa aravindharam”, the bride promises the groom that she will fill his with love and will bear children of him. She also pledges to support him in protecting the progency. In the fourth phera, as the priest chants, “Om mayo bhavyas jaradastaya ha”, the groom encircles the sacred fire with the bride one more time for the sanctity, fortune and to be blessed with healthy children. In the fifth Phera, “Om prajabhyaha santu jaradastayaha” the groom again prays to the gods for noble, brave and righteous children.

    The History

    There was a time when potency was considered as the be all and all of all activities. The earliest ritual of fertility among Hindus can be dated back to the Harappan civilization where it has been discovered that people worshipped clay figurines of a mother goddess who represented fertility. Several phallic symbols representing gods in sitting position wearing bull’s horns (Bull being a universal symbol of male potency) have also been found at the sites of indus Valley Civilization. As the world evolved and ancient civilizations paved way to the modern societies, marriage started being considered as a mandatory ceremony before women could conceive. Also, the idea of marriage was propelled by the thought of having the family legacy move ahead; so that families could get heirs. And therefor, one can see the symbols of fertility being venerated, obeisance being paid to the gods and goddess of virility and fruits and other offerings being made to confer potency upon the couple at the time of wedding. Marriages are grand festivals in india; not only for food and decor but also for the sacred ritualistic ceremonies that sanctify the whole purpose of getting married!

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