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Frohliche Ostern – “Happy Easter!”

“An Easter postcard depicting the Easter Bunny…”

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Resurrection (24).jpgToday is Easter Sunday.   That is, the day of the …

… festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day of his burial after his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary [circa] 30 AD.  It is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus, preceded by Lent (or Great Lent), a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.

And incidentally, the painting above left shows Jesus has “having kicked down the gates of Hades.”  It also shows “Satan, depicted as an old man … bound and chained.”

Which pretty much sums up the Lesson of Easter.  But what’s this about the Easter Bunny?

That tradition – first noted around 1682 – was based on folklore that had already been around awhile, and as practiced by German Lutherans.  In turn, the Easter Bunny – or more accurately, the Easter Hare – “played the role of a judge,” evaluating whether children were good or bad, especially in the days leading up to “the start of the season of Eastertide.”

Which brings up the fact that Easter is “not just one day, but an entire season.”  That full season is also called Eastertide, defined as that long period – 50 days – that runs from Easter Sunday to Pentecost.  (See On Eastertide – and “artistic license”.”  And for more on Pentecost, see “Happy Birthday, Church!”)  But getting back to the tradition of the Easter Bunny:

In legend, the creature carries colored eggs in his basket, candy, and sometimes also toys to the homes of children, and as such shows similarities to Santa Claus or the Christkind, as they both bring gifts to children on the night before their respective holidays.

One author noted the “hare was the sacred beast of Eastre (or Eostre), a Saxon goddess of Spring and of the dawn.”  (The “Saxon goddess” is at right.)  In turn, the goddess – called “Ēostre” or “Ostara” – is the “namesake of the festival of Easter in some languages.”

Ēostre is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work The Reckoning of Time, where Bede states that during Ēosturmōnaþ [“Easter-month,” in general, the month of April], pagan Anglo-Saxons had held feasts in Ēostre’s honor, but that this tradition [was] replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

Which brings up the real reason for the Easter Season.  It’s pretty much summed up in the painting below, by Rembrandt.  (As told in Easter Season – AND BEYOND, from April 2015):

Mary Magdalen had just found Jesus’ grave empty, and asks a bystander what has happened. In her confusion she thinks the man is a gardener.  Only when he replies with “Mary!” does she realize who she’s talking to.  To illustrate Mary’s confusion, Jesus is often depicted as a gardener in this scene.

See also Mark 16:1-8.  And as noted in Easter Season – AND BEYOND, the event celebrated on Easter Sunday has sparked an going debate that continues “even to this day.”  On the one hand there is the idea – illustrated in El Greco‘s “The Resurrection.“  (Q.v.)  It shows the Risen Messiah “in a blaze of glory … holding the white banner of victory over death.”

On the other hand there are all those Doubting Thomases.  They are the “rationalists” among us who “can’t be persuaded by and through any direct evidence of the Resurrection.”  Which is probably why the Sunday right after Easter is also known as Doubting Thomas Sunday.  (See Second Sunday of Easter and/or John 20:19-31, and also Thomas the Apostle – Wikipedia.)

But for those of us who believe, we celebrate this day because – by and through it – Jesus gave us all power to become children of God.  And that ain’t exactly chopped liver

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Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn: The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen

“The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Easter – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Resurrection (24).jpgThe “Jesus and Satan” image – shown in a larger version at left – is also courtesy of Easter – Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “Icon of the Resurrection, with Christ having kicked down the gates of Hades and pulling Adam and Eve out of the tombs. Christ is flanked by saints, and Satan, depicted as an old man, is bound and chained.”

Re: “Christkind.”  The term refers to “the traditional Christmas gift-bringer,” in parts of Europe and South America. “Promulgated by Martin Luther at the Protestant Reformation  … many Protestants adopted this gift bringer…”  As such, the “Lutheran Church promoted Christ as the children’s gift-giver, hoping to draw attention to the child for whom Christmas was named.”  The Christkind is a “sprite-like child, usually depicted with blond hair and angelic wings.  Martin Luther intended it to be a reference to the incarnation of Jesus as an infant.”  Later, the “Christkind was adopted in Catholic areas of Germany during the 19th century.”

Re: “Power to become children of God.”  See John 1:12, from one of the Daily Office Readings for today, April 16, 2017.  See also Romans 8:14 and Romans 8:16:  “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God,” and “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

The lower image is courtesy of “The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen” – Art and the Bible.  See also Rembrandt – Wikipedia, and/or Rembrandt van Rijn: Life and Work.

Psalm 22 and the “Passion of Jesus”

Holy Week started with “Jesus riding on a donkey in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem …”

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Holy Week is upon us.  It’s the last week of Lent.  (Which started back on March 1, with Ash Wednesday, as shown at right).  And it’s the week that leads up to Easter Sunday.  (This year, April 16.) 

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and includes “Holy Wednesday (also known as Spy Wednesday), Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday), Good Friday (Holy Friday), and Holy Saturday.”

Which sets up the reference to Psalm 22.  It was a Daily Office Reading for Friday, April 7, and Psalm 22 is inextricably intertwined with the “Passion of Jesus.”  (A reference to the “2004 American biblical epic drama film directed by Mel Gibson,” alluded to in the post title.)

Scholars believe that Psalm 22 was written some 600 years before Jesus was born.  (That is, in the “pre-exilic period … before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 587.)  The first words of the Psalm – at least in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, shown at left – are “Deus, Deus meus.”  In English we know the verse better as “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We know that verse well because that’s the psalm Jesus quoted on the cross, as told in Matthew 27:46:  “About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?'”  (See also Mark 15:34.)  

What most people don’t realize is that Psalm 22:1 goes on:  “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”  (And that’s a thought many have had from time to time…)

Then there is Psalm 22, verse 16, which reads in part, “they pierce my hands and my feet.”

Which is pretty much what they did to Jesus at the Crucifixion.

In that historical method of capital punishment – as shown at right – “the victim is tied or nailed to a large wooden beam and left to hang for several days until eventual death from exhaustion and asphyxiation.”

(But see also 10 Misconceptions About Jesus: [He] was pierced through His hands.  The article noted among other things that there was a “translation difficulty” involving the original Greek word usually translated as hand:  “The word xeiros, which we translate to ‘hand’ has a wider semantic range.”  Then there is the fact that – anatomically speaking – the “bones and tendons of the hand simply do not have the strength to hold the weight of the body without the nail ripping through.  The easiest and strongest place to hammer a nail is through the wrist, between the ulna and radius bones.”

And finally comes Psalm 22:18.  In the NIV it reads:  “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”  That verse from Psalm 22 was mirrored in Matthew 27:35:  “When they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments by casting lots.”

So, in order, Matthew 27 tells first of Judas Iscariot hanging himself for betraying Jesus.  Then comes “Jesus Before Pilate,” followed by “The Soldiers Mock Jesus” and “The Crucifixion of Jesus.”  Finally there is “The Death of Jesus,” with its three references to Psalm 22.  

gospelgeeks.netThe first reference came with the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:32-44), when Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross.  They fulfilled the prophecy in Psalm 22:16, which notes, “they pierce my hands and my feet.”  (Or feet and wrists, depending on the translation of the Greek wordxeiros.”)  Then came Matthew 27:35, “When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

And finally, in Matthew 27:46 Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1, crying out “in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’”

All of which is pretty depressing, at first blush.  But here’s a spoiler alert:  There is a happy ending, and we get to find out all about it next Sunday…

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Thepassionposterface-1-.jpg

Another hint: Good Friday leads to the happy ending…

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The upper image is courtesy of Palm Sunday (Wikipedia).  The full caption:  “Jesus riding on a donkey in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem depicted by James Tissot.”  I used the image in 2015’s On Holy Week – and hot buns.  See also On Holy Week – 2016.

The full readings for Friday April 7 were “AM Psalm 95 & 22;  PM Psalm 141, 143:1-11(12)
Jer. 29:1,4-13; Rom. 11:13-24; John 11:1-27 or 12:1-10.”

For further information on Psalm 22:16 see They have pierced my hands and my feet – Wikipedia.

The “crucifixion” image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article.  The caption:  “‘Crucifixion of Jesus’ by Marco Palmezzano (Uffizi, Florence), painting c. 1490.”

The lower image is courtesy of Passion of the Christ – Wikipedia.  The full caption for this theatrical release poster reads:  “This is a poster for the MOPTOP #1 The Passion of the Christ. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film.”  Further provisos:  1) Under the heading Portion Used:  “The entire poster: because the image is poster art, a form of product packaging or service marketing, the entire image is needed to identify the product or service, properly convey the meaning and branding intended, and avoid tarnishing or misrepresenting the image.”  2)  Under Other information:  “Use of the poster art in the article complies with Wikipedia non-free content policy and fair use under United States copyright law as described above.”

On Moses and Paul “dumbing it down…”

In writing his Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul – like Moses – “had to really dumb it down…”

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I should note first that Friday March 25 was the Feast of the “Annunciation.”  That celebrates the day – nine months before Christmas – that the Virgin Mary “would conceive and become the mother of Jesus.”  (See last year’s Annunciation “gets the ball rolling,” and also An Annunciation-Good Friday anamoly, which noted that in 2016 the Annunciation was celebrated on Good Friday; thus the anomaly, an “odd, peculiar, orstrange condition, situation, quality, etc.”)

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Philippe de Champaigne - Moses with the Ten Commandments - WGA04717.jpgI ended the last post by observing that when he wrote the first five books of the Bible, Moses – at right – had to really dumb it down.

In plain words, when he wrote the Torah Moses was forced by circumstances “to use language and concepts that his ‘relatively-pea-brained contemporary audience’ could understand.’”

Moses was addressing an audience of the largely “unwashed” … illiterate men and women who had been trained since birth to be “mindless, docile slaves…”  Suppose Moses had mentioned dinosaurs in his writings.  Or how “we” revolve around that “big bright thing in the sky.”  The result would have been similar to what nearly happened [in] Exodus 17:4, “Moses cried out to the LORD, ‘What should I do with these people?  They are ready to stone me!’”

(See My “pain in the back.”)  Which is one good reason why Moses wouldn’t have mentioned dinosaurs, or said things like “the earth we live on actually revolves around that ‘big bright thing in the sky.'”  If he had told his contemporary audience such things he would have gotten stoned, burned at the stake or worse.  (See On Moses getting stoned.)

Which is another way of saying that all the people who wrote the Bible had to keep in mind the human limitations of their audience.  They were trying to put incomprehensible things into plain and simple language that even the most obtuse dolt could understand.  Or to paraphrase Sir Kenneth Clark, the people who wrote the Bible had to have the intellectual power to make God comprehensible.

Which is no mean trick.

And which brings up one main theme of this blog:  That reading the Bible means operating on at least two different planes.  The first is the literal plane, the literal story of Jesus – which is so simple that even a child can understand it.  But understanding the second plane requires more thought, more persistence, more work – and having more of an open mind.

Which is another way of saying that no one can ever know all there is to know about the Bible.

There will always be more to learn…

Which is pretty much the point the Apostle Paul – seen at right – was trying to make in Romans 6:19.  (From one of the Daily Office Readings for Saturday, March 25.)  In the New International Version the passage reads:  “I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations.”  In the International Standard Version:  “I am speaking in simple terms because of the frailty of your human nature.”

But either way you translate the passage, the point is that Paul – like Moses – “had to really dumb it down.”  But that was also pretty much the point of Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Then too, Paul made pretty much the same point in Galatians 4:21-5:1, one of today’s New Testament Daily Office Readings.  Specifically, in Galatians 4:24 he used an allegory.  (The image at left shows a “Christian allegorical map of The Journey of Life.”)

Paul used this allegory – in Galatians 4:21-5:1 – to illustrate the difference between salvation through faith in Jesus and – reasonably interpreted – trying to achieve salvation through following the “letter of the law:”

Now this is an allegory:  these women are two covenants.  One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery…  But the other woman [“Sarai,” or Sarah, the wife of Abraham] corresponds to the Jerusalem above;  she is free, and she is our mother.

See also the GOD’S WORD® Translation of Galatians 4:24, which has Paul saying, “I’m going to use these historical events as an illustration.  The women illustrate two arrangements.”

Which – you could say – is what the Bible does on a regular basis:  Use “historical events as an illustration.”  And then of course there’s the end of John’s Gospel, John 21:25:  “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did.  Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Or as it says in the Matthew Henry Commentary for John 21:25:

Only a small part of the actions of Jesus had been written…  Enough is recorded to direct our faith, and regulate our practice…  We may, however, look forward to the joy we shall receive in heaven, from a more complete knowledge of all Jesus did and said, as well as of the conduct of his providence and grace in his dealings with each of us.

Which seems to be a fact that many Biblical literalists seem to overlook.  You begin your process of Bible-reading and study by “learning the fundamentals.”  But then – after your spiritual boot camp – you’ll want to move on to more Advanced Individual Training, as noted below.  That way – using an open-minded approach – you can get a head start on gaining a “more complete knowledge” of all that Jesus did and said, as well as a knowledge of the whole Bible itself.

And which brings up one final point for today:

“It was never ‘contrary to Scripture’ that the earth revolved around the sun.  It was only contrary to a narrow-minded, pigheaded, too-literal reading of the Scripture…”

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Galileo facing the Inquisition, for saying the earth revolved around the sun…

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The upper image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on the Apostle Paul.  The caption:  “‘Paul Writing His Epistles,’ painting attributed to Valentin de Boulogne, 17th century.”

The full Daily Office Bible readings for Saturday, March 25, include:  “AM Psalm 87, 90; PM Psalm 136Jeremiah 13:1-11; Rom. 6:12-23; John 8:47-59.”  See also The Annunciation:  “AM: Psalm 85, 87; Isaiah 52:7-12; Hebrews 2:5-10  PM: Psalm 110:1-5(6-7), 132;Wisdom 9:1-12John 1:9-14.”  See also The Lectionary – Satucket Software Home Page.

The Kenneth Clark paraphrase is from the hardcover book version of Clark’s Civilisation (TV series). On pages 84-85 of the book, Clark compared the poet Dante with the painter Giotto.  Then on page 85, Clark noted the differences between the two men, beginning with the fact that “their imaginations moved on very different planes.”  But in the film version – and only in the film or TV version – Clark said Dante had  “that heroic contempt for baseness that was to come again in Michelangelo.   Above all, that vision of a heavenly order and the intellectual power to make it comprehensible.”  Which is the phrase that drew my attention…  See also Wikipedia, for more on the TV series.

The “allegory” image is courtesy of Wikipedia’s Allegorical interpretation of the Bible, referring to the:

…interpretive method (exegesis) which assumes that the Bible has various levels of meaning and tends to focus on the spiritual sense (which includes the allegorical sense, the moral (or tropological) sense, and the anagogical sense) as opposed to the literal sense.  It is sometimes referred to as the Quadriga, a reference to the Roman chariot drawn by four horses.

The full caption for the map image reads:  “Christian allegorical map of The Journey of Life, or an Accurate Map of the Roads, Counties, Towns &c. in the Ways to Happiness & Misery, 1775.”

Re:  “Sarai,” or Sarah, the wife of Abraham.  Wikipedia noted that she was “the wife and also the half–sister of Abraham and the mother of Isaac…  According to Genesis 17:15, God ‘changed her name to Sarah as part of a covenant after Hagar bore Abraham his first son, Ishmael.'”

The lower image – Cristiano Banti‘s 1857 painting Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition” – is from a prior post (The latest from a “None“) and is courtesy of the article, Heresy – Wikipedia:

Galileo Galilei was brought before the Inquisition for heresy, but abjured his views and was sentenced to house arrest, under which he spent the rest of his life. Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture.  He was required to “abjure, curse and detest” those opinions. (E.A.)

Note that Galileo almost got burned at the stake – for saying the earth revolved around the sun – almost 3,000 after Moses was trying to lead his people to “the Promised Land…”

On my “pain in the back…”

Back-Pain

“Why – indeed – does my back hurt so much?”  See my answer below…

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Now about that “pain in the back.”  Unfortunately,  I’m not speaking metaphorically.

mardi grasI actually didthrow out my back,” back on Thursday, March 2.  That was only three days after I did my last post, The “Overlooked Apostle,” Ruth and Mardi Gras.  (Which featured the image at left, of revelers in New Orleans “showing skin for beads;” of which I am speaking metaphorically.)  And the reason that that was the last post I did is because – ever since then – I’ve been unable to sit at my “laptop” desk at home for more than a few minutes at a time.

As noted in September 2016,* for next September – 2017 – “my brother and I plan to hike the Camino de Santiago, mostly in Spain.”  As part of my training for that upcoming event, I tried a type of “forced march.”  (Also known as a “loaded march.”)  Briefly, a forced march involves alternating periods of walking and running – or jogging for older folk – but with increased resistance provided by a heavy pack.

In my case, on the Camino itself I hope to maintain a pace of 20 minutes per mile, with about 20 pounds of pack weight.  So for training purposes, I started experimenting with cycles of one minute – 85 steps – of jogging, followed by a number of minutes walking.

Product DetailsAll the while wearing a 22-pound weight vest.  (Like that at right.)

I started out with one minute of jogging followed by six minutes of walking.  But I also wanted to be time-efficient, so I kept increasing the pace, by decreasing the number of walking minutes.  Finally, on March 2, I tried a four-minute cycle:  One minute of jogging and three minutes of walking.  To make a long story short, I overextended.

The problem – I figured out later – was that the weight vest was a bit too loose, so that my back got a constant pounding.  (Much in the nature of a series of kidney punches, as I also figured out later.)  There were warning signs, including the fact that it hurt to breathe during those minutes I was jogging.  Unfortunately, I succumbed to the temptation to “Walk it offNancy!

Bad move.

Which is another way of saying that I’ve been paying for it ever since.

Which is also a problem, because Lent started back on March 1, and Lent is a key time in the church calendar and for this blog.  (For reasons including that it leads to the climax of Easter.)  So for your consideration – and as I type these words through my pain – I offer up last year’s On Ash Wednesday and Lent – 2016.  Also, from 2015, Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent:

According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan.  Lent originated as a mirroring of this, fasting 40 days as preparation for Easter.

See also Wikipedia, which noted that Lent is “devoted to ‘prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.'”  And if you’re interested in even more history on Ash Wednesday see The History and Meaning of Ash Wednesday.

That site noted the “pouring of ashes on one’s body” as an “outer manifestation of inner repentance” is an ancient practice.  The earliest mention seems to have come at the end of the Book of Job, “older than any other book of the Bible.”  In Job 42:6, after he is rebuked by God, Job says, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

The text set is in a phallic column extending from Hartnett's crotch.And incidentally, there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.  That’s because Sundays don’t count in the calculation.  Sundays in Lent are essentially “days off,” when you can still enjoy whatever it is that you’ve given up for Lent.  (A fact overlooked by the writer/producers of 40 Days and 40 Nights – as shown at left – a “2002 romantic comedy film” which showed the main character “during a period of abstinence from any sexual contact for the duration of Lent.”  As noted, the main character could have “taken Sundays off.”)

But we digress.

One important point is that for many people, the whole purpose of the Season of Lent is to “draw themselves near to God.”  For example, My Lenten meditation for last year involved trying to figure out “just when, where and how Moses came to write the first five books of the Bible. (The Torah.)”  And one thing I figured out from that Lenten meditation was that in writing the first five books of the Bible, Moses had to really dumb it down:

Moses was addressing an audience of the largely “unwashed.”  That is, illiterate men and women who had been trained since birth to be “mindless, docile slaves…”  Suppose Moses had mentioned dinosaurs in his writings.  Or how “we” revolve around that “big bright thing in the sky.”  The result would have been similar to what nearly happened [in] Exodus 17:4, “Moses cried out to the LORD, ‘What should I do with these people?  They are ready to stone me!’”  [For the full story see Exodus 17:1-7.]

See also On Moses getting stoned, which included the image below.  That post included this observation:  That in plain words, “Moses was forced by circumstance ‘to use language and concepts that his ‘relatively-pea-brained contemporary audience’ could understand.’”

Meanwhile I have my own thorn in the flesh, as part of this year’s Lenten discipline…

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Stoning of Moses, Joshua and Caleb

One time when Moses almost got stoned to death…

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The upper image is courtesy of Back-Painemdocs.net.  Although the article concerned pediatric back pain – such pain suffered by “infants, children, and adolescents” – it did note that the “incidence of back pain increases with age.”  Also re:  “Threw out my back.”  See also Throw Out Your Back? 8 Tips to Help You Recover, which includes steps I wished I’d taken three weeks ago. 

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to “As noted in September 2016,” the reference (*) is to the post “Starting back with a bang.”  It told of the “almost six weeks” – last summer – that my brother and I spent “hiking the Chilkoot Trail – ‘meanest 33 miles in history‘ – and canoeing 440 miles on the ‘mighty Yukon River.’”  I ended that post by noting I would “talk more about that [projected journey] – and pilgrimages in general – in St. James, Steinbeck, and sluts.”

The weight-vest image is courtesy of Amazon.com: weighted vest.

Re:  “Forced march.”  See Loaded march – Wikipedia, which noted that in the U.S. Army, a forced march for training purposes means covering 12 miles in three hours, while carrying 70 pounds including pack.  (Meaning four miles per hour, whereas I was considering an average of three miles per hour on the Camino, carrying no more than 20 pounds, or 10% of my body weight.)  Also, in the French Foreign Legion, a forced march meant covering five miles in 40 minutes, while carrying a 26-pound pack.  After describing other, longer types, Wikipedia noted:

Troublemakers are made to place extra rocks in their backpacks for the duration of the marches.  Further in the training of a “Caporal” there is a 100 km march which must be completed in 24 hours.

Re:  “Nanc[y].”  See also Tough it out – Idioms by The Free Dictionary.

The lower image is courtesy of Stoning of Moses, Joshua and Caleb | Byzantine | The Metroplitan Museum of Art.  (It’s a mosaic from the 5th century.)  See also Stoning – Wikipedia, which includes another painting of the incident. The caption to that painting, under Punishment of the Rebels:  “The Punishment of Korah and the Stoning of Moses and Aaron (1480–1482), by Sandro Botticelli, Sistine Chapel, Rome.”  See also Heresy – Wikipedia.

The “stoning” article said this of the “Korah” painting:

The painting … tells of a rebellion by the Hebrews against Moses and Aaron.  On the right the rebels attempt to stone Moses after becoming disenchanted by their trials on their emigration from Egypt.  Joshua has placed himself between the rebels and Moses, protecting him from the stoning

Which raises anew the question:  “What would those backward, ignorant, sons-of-the-desert have done to Moses if he’d told them the truth about that ‘big bright round thing in the sky?’”

The “Overlooked Apostle,” Ruth and Mardi Gras

The French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras – which is now a generic term for “Let’s Party!!

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St. Matthias, from a 1708 Book of Common PrayerIn case you missed it, last Friday, February 24, was the Feast Day for St. Matthias.  (The “Overlooked Apostle” – as seen at right – of which more anon.)   Then too, the end of the Book of Ruth came last Saturday, February 25, in the Daily Office Bible Readings.  And finally, Lent begins next Wednesday – March 1 – and that season of penance and fasting is preceded by Mardi Gras.

I wrote about St. Matthias in St. Matthias – and “Father Roberts.”

Briefly, Matthias was the apostle who took the place of Judas Iscariot.  (After Judas killed himself.)  Then too, Matthias is not to be confused with either St. Matthew – who wrote the first Gospel – or with Mattathias, who rebelled against the Roman Empire just before Jesus was born.  (And who in turn was the father of Judas Maccabeus, “the greatest guerrilla in Jewish history.”)

You can see more about this “substitute 12th Apostle” at St. Matthias, or in the post about him and “Father Roberts,” noted above.  But unfortunately we know so little about him that he is often referred to either as  “Unremarkable Matthias” or the “Overlooked Apostle.”

Turning to the Book of Ruth:  It’s about ”Ruth the Moabitess, the great-grandmother of David.”

 Also briefly, she – a foreigner – chose to accept the God of Israel as her God, and the Children of Israel as her people.  And this was despite the disasters that happened to her mother-in-law Naomi, as shown at left.  Naomi’s other daughter-in-law, Orpah, decided to leave Naomi, as also shown at left.  (And a BTW:  Oprah Winfrey was originally named “Orpah,” but people got confused.*)

But it was the words that Ruth used – in refusing to leave Naomi – that made her famous:

And Ruth said, “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee:  for whither thou goest, I will go;  and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:  thy people shall be my people,  and thy God my God:  Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried:  the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”

And that of course was the highly-poetic King James Version.  (Which is of course “the Bible that God uses.”  And for more, see also Ruth (biblical figure) – Wikipedia.)

Finally, there’s the upcoming season of Lent to talk about.  I addressed the season last year in On Ash Wednesday and Lent – 2016.  That post noted that Lent is a season devoted to “prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.”  But it also noted that that season of self-denial is preceded by “Fat Tuesday.”  That’s the day before Ash Wednesday, which means that this year Fat Tuesday is February 28.

The French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and Mardi Gras is now a generic term for “Let’s Party!!”  Or as As Wikipedia put it, “Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc.”  That “debauchery, etc.” has come to include “showing skin for beads” as part of an “alcohol-fueled, nudity-filled bacchanal.”  But because this party-time comes right before the beginning of Lent, there’s an object lesson here.  That lesson?  That “to every thing there is a season…  A time to weep, and a time to laugh;  a time to mourn, and a time to dance…*”

Have a happy and spiritually-fulfilling Season of Lent…

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mardi gras

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The upper image is courtesy of Mardi Gras Information & Updatesnola.gov.

The black-and-white image of St. Matthias is courtesy of St. Matthias, in the Satucket website listing the Daily Office readings.

Re:  St Matthias, Apostle.  The full set of Bible readings for his feast day are:  Acts 1:15-26Psalm 15Philippians 3:13-21 and John 15:1,6-16.  The Satucket website had this to add:

The man chosen [to replace Judas] was Matthias…  Apart from the information given in the first chapter of Acts, nothing is known of him…  [And a]bout most of the other apostles (those belonging to the original twelve and later ones like Matthias) we know little after Pentecost on an individual basis.

The caption for the image of Naomi, Ruth and Orpah:  “Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab by William Blake, 1795.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to people getting confused about “Orpah” Winfrey, see Oprah Winfrey – Wikipedia:  “Winfrey was named ‘Orpah‘ on her birth certificate after the biblical figure in the Book of Ruth, but people mispronounced it regularly and ‘Oprah’ stuck.”  Also, the caption for the photo at left:  “Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986.”

Re:  “To every thing there is a season.”  See Turn! Turn! Turn! – Wikipedia, referring to the song written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, which “became an international hit in late 1965 when it was covered by the American folk rock band The Byrds.”  In turn the lyrics were taken “almost verbatim from the book of Ecclesiastes, as found in the King James Version (1611) of the Bible,” at Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  

The lower image is courtesy of A Brief History of Mardi Gras – Photo Essays – TIME, which noted that “Mardi Gras isn’t all nudity and drunken debauchery (though, yes, there is definitely nudity and drunken debauchery).  [Emphasis in original.]  The blurb below the lower image added:

Mardi Gras’ reputation as an alcohol-fueled, nudity-filled bacchanal is not completely unearned.  In 1973 … the tradition of showing skin for beads began.  Native New Orleanians despise the reputation, and rarely venture into the Quarter during Carnival season.

On the “creepy” end of Isaiah…

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Since November 27, 2016, all the Daily Office Old Testament readings have been from the Book of Isaiah.  (As illustrated at right.)  The final reading from the Book of Isaiah came today, Sunday, February 19, 2017.  (That works out to a total of 85 consecutive daily Bible readings from Isaiah.)  And which also could be translated:  That is one long book!  

That final reading was Isaiah 66:7-14.  And parts of that final Bible reading reminded me of the ending of a more-recent tome, John Steinbeck’s controversial Grapes of Wrath:

At the time of publication, Steinbeck’s novel “was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event.  It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national talk radio; but above all, it was read.”

One big reason the novel got banned and burned was its “surprise ending.”

Briefly, the ending features a grown woman breast-feeding a starving man.

That is, near the book’s end, the Joad family finds shelter in a barn from flooding rains.  There they find a boy and his starving father.  “Rose of Sharon,” one of the characters, has just miscarried; lost her baby.  But seeing the starving father, she feeds him from her breast:

Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast.  “You got to,” she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close.  “There!” she said.  “There.”  Her hand moved behind his head and supported it.  Her fingers moved gently in his hair.  She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.

JohnSteinbeck TheGrapesOfWrath.jpgSee Is This The Creepiest Ending Ever? | 101 Books.  Which pretty much gives away that blogger’s opinion.  For one thing, he started off the post by saying, “If you’ve read the novel, you know that last paragraph is just weird – and a little graphic.”

He ended by noting there was “all kinds of symbolism going on there” – in the book version, shown at left – but that nevertheless, Steinbeck wrote a “creepy, uncomfortable ending.”  He then asked,  “Am I wrong here?  Is that possibly the creepiest ending in all of literature?”

Well, not quite.  And that brings us back to Isaiah 66:7-14.

Overall, the reading is one giving comfort to a long-suffering people.  As in Isaiah 66:13: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…  When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass.”  But right before that came some really graphic imagery:

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her;  rejoice with her in joy … that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast;  that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.

See Isaiah 66:10-11.  Of course, to my knowledge no one has debated whether this “graphic ending” to the Book of Isaiah was good and proper.  (As in Grapes of Wrath – The debate of the anticlimax, which closed with the rhetorical question:  “can the anticlimax … be seen as a cynical plot device that plays with the reader’s emotions or genius piece of creative writing?)  

Nor – to my knowledge – has any smart aleck read the last part of Isaiah and warned others, “You’ll Never Think Of ‘The Milk Of Human Kindness’ In The Same Way Again.”  (See The Grapes of Wrath What’s Up With the Ending?)  And finally, nobody has called Isaiah 66:11 “creepy.”

So – just in case I’m being too subtle – there are a couple points being made here.

Antique Valentine 1909 01.jpgThe first is that – contrary to the image set out by conservative Christians – the ancient Hebrews were a very earthy people.  (In the sense of “enjoying and being honest or clear about things connected to life, such as the body and emotions.”)  And one example of that “earthiness” just got discussed in the last post, On the Bible’s “erotic love poem.”

Which leads up to the second point, that Isaiah was a great book:

In Christian circles, it was held in such high regard as to be called “the Fifth Gospel,” and its influence extends beyond Christianity to English literature and to Western culture in general, from the libretto of Handel’s Messiah to a host of such everyday phrases as “swords into ploughshares” and “voice in the wilderness.”

And it didn’t get that way by being “conservative.”  Put another way, one major theme of this blog is that the Bible was written to stretch and expand the human mind, not restrict it.  It was not written to make people boot-camp Christians.  (See the notes below.)

Put another way, the Book of Isaiah – and indeed the Bible as a whole – was written and designed to give us all a “rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.”

Even if it does have a bit of a “creepy ending…”

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Detail of the entrance to Rockefeller Center, citing a verse from Isaiah 33:6… 

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The upper image is courtesy of drifting cowboy: Best Chatsworth Movies — The Grapes of Wrath (1940a-drifting-cowboy.blogspot.com.  And incidentally, the painting in the movie poster was done by the artist Thomas Hart Benton.  See Wikipedia.  See also Thomas Hart Benton | Departure of the Joads. [The Grapes of Wrath Series.  See also the grapes of wrath | Movie Poster Museum.

The full Daily Office readings for Sunday, February 19:  “AM Psalm 118, PM Psalm 145
Isa. 66:7-14; 1 John 3:4-10; John 10:7-16.”

The painting of Isaiah is courtesy of the Wikipedia article, Book of Isaiah.  The caption:  “Michelangelo (c. 1508–12), ‘Isaiah,’ Vatican City:Sistine Chapel ceiling.”

For a more-erudite view on Isaiah’s imagery, see Isaiah 66:11 Commentaries: That you may nurse and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations.

For another Steinbeck book using themes from the Bible, see East of Eden (novel) – Wikipedia:

The book explores themes of depravity, beneficence, love, and the struggle for acceptance, greatness, and the capacity for self-destruction and especially of guilt and freedom.  It ties these themes together with references to and many parallels with the biblical Book of Genesis (especially Genesis Chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel)…  The title, East of Eden, was chosen by Steinbeck from Genesis, Chapter 4, verse 16: “And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the Land of Nod, on the east of Eden” (King James Version).

The Wikipedia article then featured a chart showing further “biblical parallels.”

The lower image is courtesy of Book of Isaiah – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Detail of entrance to 30 Rockefeller Plaza showing verse from Isaiah 33:6 Rockefeller Center, New York.”  Isaiah 33:6 reads: “He [God] will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;  the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.”

And finally, for another “earthiness” in reading and/or interpreting the Bible, see the notes to On sharing the “Keys to the Kingdom.”

On the Bible’s “erotic love poem…”

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Antique Valentine 1909 01.jpgToday is Valentine’s Day, which makes this a perfect time to explore the Bible’s “erotic love poem.”  And besides, Lent is coming up.  (It starts on March 1, with Ash Wednesday.*)  And that means 40 days of “penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial.”

So now is the perfect time to live it up a little…

Anyway, Valentine’s Day started off as a purely “Christian liturgical feast day honoring one or more early saints named Valentinus.”  And several “martyrdom stories” circulated about various Valentines connected to February 14, the most popular being Saint Valentine of Rome.  He was imprisoned for – among other things – “ministering to Christians,” and according to one account, he healed the daughter of his jailer.  Then – shortly before his execution – he “wrote a letter [to the daughter] signed ‘Your Valentine’ as a farewell:”

The day first became associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.  In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other…

Which brings us to the Bible’s own love poem, the Song of Songs.  (Aka, “Song of Solomon.”)

Isaac Asimov wrote of the “Song of Songs” in his Guide to the Bible: Two Volumes in One.  He used five pages to cover the book,* first noting that this was the “third of the canonical books to be attributed to Solomon.”  (Shown at left, he was the son of Israel’s King David who became widely known for his wisdom, as well as for his habit of acquiring “foreign wives,” as shown below.)  Asimov added:

The Song of Solomon is a love poem, frankly erotic, apparently composed to celebrate a wedding.  This, too, is appropriate, for Solomon had numerous wives and was, presumably, an experienced lover.

(See for example, 1st Kings 11:3:  “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray,” which sounds about right…)

And here are some highlights.  For starters, the poem features a back-and-forth exchange between a man and woman.  (Together with “Others,” acting as a kind of chorus.)

It starts off with the woman saying, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” (1:2, and in verse 3, she adds that “virgins love you.”)  In verse 1:13 the woman says, “My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts.”  Moving on, in 4:5 the man tells the woman: “Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies.”

In Chapter 7, verses 1-3, the man adds these observations:

Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand.  Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine.  Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.

Which raises an interesting question:  Why don’t Biblical Fundamentalists interpret the Song of Songs literally?  That is, why don’t they adhere to the “exact letter or the literal sense” of this book?  It also brings up the matter of selective interpretation.

On that note Asimov added, “Because of the erotic nature of the book, it has been customary to find allegorical values in it that would make it more than a description of bodily passion.”  Thus:

Jews would have it speak of the love between Yahveh and Israel;  Catholics of the love between Christ and the Church;  Protestants of the love between God and man’s soul.  However, if we simply accept the words as they stand, the book is a human love poem and a very beautiful one.

Which is fine, but why not be consistent?  Or in the alternative, why reject a spiritual, or even – (gasp!) – a liberal interpretation of the Bible, in favor of only a literal interpretation?

Which brings up the whole point of this blog.  The point is that if you limit your Bible-study to a purely literal interpretation, you’re robbing yourself of at least half it’s value.  (And driving potential converts away in droves.)  But if you move on from a purely literal interpretation, to an open-minded spiritual interpretation, your Bible-study can take you to exotic adventures and explorations that you couldn’t have dreamed of before.

Or as St. Paul said, God made us “servants of a new covenant not based on the letter [of the law] but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  (2d Corinthians 3:6.)

Put another way, if Jesus had been a Biblical conservative and/or literalist, we’d all still be Jewish.  And besides, by taking that “open” approach you won’t have to find a non-erotic literal-but-pure meaning of “your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand…”

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“Solomon sinned by acquiring many foreign wives…”

(Which made him well-versed in the “Art of Love.”)

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The upper image is courtesy of Valentine’s Day – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “An English Victorian era Valentine card located in the Museum of London.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to Asimov using “five pages to cover” the Song of Songs:  The reference is to the 1981 Avenel Books edition of his Guide to the Bible, at pages 518-23.

Re:  Canonical “Solomon” Bible books.  He is said to have written Proverbs, “a collection of fables and wisdom of life;”  Ecclesiastes, a book of contemplation and self-reflection, and Song of Songs.  The black-and-white image to the left of the paragraph about him is captioned:  “An engraving, ‘Judgment of Solomon,’ by Gustave Doré (19th century).”

The “Weird Tales” image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on Isaac Asimov.  The caption:  “The novelette ‘Legal Rites,’ a collaboration with Frederik Pohl, was the only Asimov story to appear in Weird Tales.”  The article noted that in addition to his interest in science and history, Asimov was “also a noted mystery author and a frequent contributor to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.  He began by writing science fiction mysteries … but soon moved on to writing ‘pure’ mysteries.”

The lower image is courtesy of Solomon – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Solomon sinned by acquiring many foreign wives.  Solomon’s descent into idolatry, Willem de Poorter, Rijksmuseum.”

Moses at Rephidim: “What if?”

Moses at the Battle of Rephidim:  “If I let my arms down, the other team will win!

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This year’s Super Bowl has come and gone, which means that some of us still haven’t recovered.  (The First Super Bowl is shown at right.)  Which is another way of saying that – with the New England Patriots’ win over the Atlanta Falcons – the 2016-17 NFL season has come to an end.

That in turn means that among Patriot fans, there are some who think their team won because of something they did.  The flip side is that among Falcon fans, there are some who are asking, “Why did my team lose?   What did I do wrong?

In my case, my sweetheart and I deliberately did not watch the first three quarters.  And all during that time the Falcons did quite well, thank you very much.  (We went to a movie, then went to dinner, though we did occasionally check the score.)  First it was the Falcons leading 7-0, then leading 20-3, then 28-9.  By that time we were home and decided to play cards.

Then Sweetheart decided to watch the fourth quarter, and things went downhill from there.

Despite my begging and pleading, she continued to watch the game.  Finally I got up and left, first driving around the neighborhood, then walking around the neighborhood.  And I kept waiting for the set of loud cheers – from all the Super Bowl parties around the neighborhood – that would signify the Falcons had finally pulled through; finally pulled it off.

It didn’t happen…

But the worst part was the way that “Sweetie” denied my urgent pleas for us to turn off the TV and go back to playing cards.  For one thing, she said “I’m invested now.”  (Which made about as much sense as saying she didn’t want to stop pounding herself over the head with a 2×4, for the reason that she was equally “invested.”)  But  the worst part was when she said, “You don’t  seriously believe that us turning off the TV would change the outcome of the game, do you?”   

Which brought to mind – eventually – what Moses did at the Battle of Rephidim.

I’ve written about that in posts like On football, Moses and Rephidim, and – from this blog – On the Bible and mysticism, and Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”  The gist of the episode in the Bible – at Exodus 17:8-16 – was that Moses “helped his team win:”

Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill.  As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it.  Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. [E.A.]

So what do you suppose would have happened if Aaron and Hur refused to hold Moses’ hands up?  Or what do you suppose would happen if the wife of Moses – or his Sweetheart for that matter – had come up the mountain and said, “Moses, you look ridiculous.  Do you honestly think that holding your hands up like that is going to change the outcome of the battle?”

65068339I’ll tell you what would have happened.  Chaos: Israel defeated.  No Moses, no Bible, no Jesus and His teachings to temper the inherent greed and cruelty of humans.  Which of course would make some people happy. (As shown at right.)

Those people who think life would be ever so much better without religion.  (As shown in the image at right.)  Such people seem to think life today would be a matter of the sun perpetually shining down on a literal Paradise on Earth, complete with people of all nations and cultures frolicking happily around in a circle dance.  Baloney!!

(We saw plenty of “life without religion” in The Holocaust…)

Put another way:  To that I’ll give the same answer my Dad gave me after Watergate and Nixon’s resignation in 1974.  I asked him if it wouldn’t have been better if George McGovern had been elected instead of Nixon.  His answer?  “Things would have been worse, much worse!”

I don’t know if the country would have been better without the constitutional crisis of Watergate, but I do know history would be way different – way worse – without the tempering effect of religion.  Without the host of Men – and Women – in Black, keeping us on course:

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town…  [F]or those who never read, Or listened to the words that Jesus said, About the road to happiness through love and charity, Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.

Hey, “Johnny Cash said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

But we seem to be ranging far afield here.  The point of all this is that if Moses had listened to pure logic and reason – as opposed to instinct and intuition – the world would have been much worse off.  If nothing else, with the Amalekites defeating the Children of Israel, world history would have been a much different, and “worse, much worse.”  For one thing, Moses would never have gotten the chance to write – or at least finish – the Bible, that “most influential, most published, most widely read book in the history of the world.”*

I figure that in all of this there is “some kind of object lesson…”

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J. R. Cash

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The upper image is courtesy of Rephidim – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The full caption:  “Moses holding up his arms during the Battle of Rephidim, assisted by Hur and Aaron, in John Everett MillaisVictory O Lord! (1871).”    As to previous posts on Moses at Rephidim, those posts noted that devoted sport-fans love to think if their team wins, they – the fans – helped out.  (Through their rituals, “lucky shirts” and the like.)  See for example “God’s Favorite Team” – Part II:  “It’s a natural tendency for people to make connections between events.  ‘When I do this, that happens…’  Primitive people [and perhaps modern football fans] developed superstitions in similar ways:”

Superstition is a large part of a fan’s repertoire these days, especially when the home team is in Super Bowl XLVIII today…   Kenny Shisler has similar superstitions.  The lifelong Broncos fan said he will wear Broncos gear all week long, but refuses to do so on game day… “Like the Bud Light commercials [say], ‘It’s only weird if it doesn’t work…’”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to the Bible being the “most influential, the most published, the most widely read book in the history of the world,” see Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at page 7.  

Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy, mathematics, theBible, William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’”  See Isaac Asimov – Wikipedia.

As to the Bible being the most influential and most widely read book, Asimov added:

No other book has been so studied and so analyzed and it is a tribute to the complexity of the Bible and the eagerness of its students that after thousands of years of study there are still endless books that can be written about it.

The “world without religion” image is courtesy of Date: July 4, 2016 Author: bige1972 … Commentsbigguycollege.  But see also Science without religion is lame. Religion … comquotefail.com:  “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”

Re:  “Johnny Cash said it, I believe it…”  The allusion is to the phrase “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”  BTW: Googling that phrase got got me 4,280,000 results.

The lower image is courtesy of Johnny Cash – Wikipedia.  See also Man in Black (song) – Wikipedia

On the FIRST “Presentation of the Lord”

Ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri (1).jpg

This could be called the “Second Presentation” – Good Friday, as Jesus is about to be crucified

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Thursday,  February 2, is the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.  This presentation – of Jesus as a baby – was done in accordance with a thousand-year-old custom started by Moses.  See Exodus 13:2, where God told Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male.”  And by that tradition, the consecrating came 40 days after the day of birth:

Counting forward from December 25 as Day One [for Jesus], we find that Day Forty is February 2.  A Jewish woman is in semi-seclusion for 40 days after giving birth to a son, and accordingly it is on February 2 that we celebrate the coming of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus to the Temple at Jerusalem.

Yegorov-Simeon the Righteous.jpgSee Presentation of the Lord – 2016.  (Including the image at left.)  And just to be clear, that brings up the old-timey, “once-prevalent custom of churching new mothers forty days after the birth of a child.”

That quaint custom came to be called “the churching of Women,” starting – as far as we can tell – back in the Middle Ages.  It was still offered by the Catholic Church until the 1960s, but then discontinued.  (The Anglican Church still offers the service, but it seems rarely used.)  

Among other things, that quaint practice took place in “the good old days when giving birth was a time of real and great danger for all mothers.  Accordingly, the usual prayer of Thanksgiving went something like this:  “ALMIGHTY God, we give thee humble thanks for that thou hast vouchsafed to deliver this woman thy servant from the great pain and peril of child-birth.”

Beyond that, this once-prevalent ritual drew “on the imagery and symbolism” of the original Presentation of the Lord, celebrated on February 2.  But for Mary, there was the problem of Virgin birth.  (She hadn’t been “sullied” in the normal manner of procreation.)  

The answer?  According to church practice, even though Mary had “borne Christ without incurring impurity” – that is, the usual “impurity” involved in conception – “she went to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses.”  In other words, in order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, Mary went through the ritual that became known as The Churching of Women, even though she didn’t have to.

And of course, to set a good example.

But we digress…

You can see the Bible readings for the day at Presentation of Jesus.  They include Malachi 3:1 – seen at right – where God said, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple.”  And of course Luke 2:22-23:

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord…”  (E.A.)

And that ritual – “required by the law of Moses” –  in turn went back to the time of Moses, as detailed in Exodus 13 and as already noted.

For more on the February 2 Feast Day, check out Presentation of the Lord – 2016.  But the ritual described in this post brings up what might be called “the Second Presentation of the Lord.”

That Second Presentation came when Jesus was “presented to the people of Jerusalem.”  But this time it came at the hands of Pontius Pilate, on what turned out to be the day before He was crucified.  This Second Time Around came when Jesus was “presented,” but not in the religious Temple in Jerusalem.  Rather, it came in the praetorium of the secular power.  (See Pilate’s court, which noted two possible sites for this trial;  either the Antonia Fortress or Herod’s Palace.)

The point being that from the time He was first “presented” at just over a month old, Jesus’ life was one long journey to the Second Presentation.  (On the eve of His making the ritual sacrifice that would literally change history, if not “split history in two.”)  In the same way, this February 2 marks the beginning of our own spiritual journey:  through Epiphany, then Mardi Gras – as seen above left – followed by Lent, and then on into Easter Week.

And all of which reminds us that life is not all fun and games.  Put another way, “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall.”  (BTW:  That 1944 song by The Ink Spots was based on a quotation from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s poem, The Rainy Day.)  Which is another way of saying that while we know those “rainy days” are coming – that our lives will be interrupted by pain and suffering – we also know that we have “already won the Game of Life.*”

That is, we as practicing Christians know how our lives are going to turn out.  We already know we’re going to have a happy ending.  It’s just those “in between” details that worry us.

On that note, yesterday I ran across a Bible passage apropos to current events.  The Daily Office Readings for February 1 included Isaiah 54:15:  “If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me…”

“Just sayin’…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Pontius Pilate – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Ecce Homo (‘Behold the Man’), Antonio Ciseri‘s depiction of Pilate presenting a scourged Jesus to the people of Jerusalem.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to knowing “that we have already won the Game of Life,” see Two Marys and a James – Saints, which indicated that the spiritual life is like water-skiing:

As yours truly once wrote, starting your spiritual pilgrimage by reading the Bible on a regular basis “is a bit like water-skiing,” or more precisely, “a bit like grabbing the handle of the rope” attached to a metaphoric “Big Motorboat in the Sky…  Once you grab on, your main job is simply to hang on for dear life…”

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Re:  The full Daily Office Readings for Wednesday, February 1, 2017:  “AM Psalm 72; PM Psalm 119:73-96Isaiah 54:1-10(11-17); Galatians 4:21-31; and Mark 8:11-26.”  They also included the readings for the Eve of the Presentation:  “PM: Psalm 113, 122; 1 Samuel 1:20-28a; Romans 8:14-21.”

The “Mardi Gras” image is courtesy of Mardi Gras Information & Updatesnola.gov.

Re:  Rainy Day, by Longfellow.  One line reads:  “My life is cold, and dark, and dreary.”  Another:  “Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary.”  But there’s also this line of hope: “Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;  Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.”

Re:  “Just sayin.'”  I first used that phrase for this blog in The True Test of Faith, in February 2015.

The lower image is courtesy of Chaos Defines Trump’s First Week in Office – NBC News.  See also Analysis: Trump’s start creates chaos, and Chaos, anger as Trump order halts some Muslim immigrants.  BTW:  The search term “trump chaos” got me 1,430,000 results.  The search term “trump strife” got me 565,000 results.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if WE could be ‘restored?'”

“Two Scholars Disputing” – Peter and Paul – but they ended up working for the common good… 

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In the middle of summer – June 29 to be exact – there’s a Feast Day that celebrates both Saint Peter and Saint Paul, together.

But on the other end of the church year – here, in the dead of winter,* as seen at left – good Christians remember both of these saints separately, on January 18 and January 25:

On January 18 we celebrate the Confession of Peter:  “Thou art the Christ, Son of the Living God.”  A week later on January 25 we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul.  Then comes June 29, when we celebrate both men…

See Peter, Paul – and other “relics.”  See also the post from last January 20 (2016), Peter confesses, Paul converts.  The latter noted that both saints were martyred – killed by the Roman authorities – at about the same time and place.  (In Rome, around 65 A.D.)

That post also noted that these twoPillars of the Church took completely different paths to the same destination.  (And often had “spirited” disputes. See Galatians 2:11-14, and 2d Peter 3:16.)

On the one hand, Peter was one of the original 12 disciples, and the first “to confess Jesus as Messiah.”  (See the matching accounts in the three Synoptic Gospels, illustrated at right: Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27–30 and Luke 9:18–20.)

On the other hand, Saul of Tarsus – later “Paul” – started out as the most ardent enemy and persecutor of the early Christian Church.  (See for example Acts 8:3:  “Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church.  He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.”)

In other words, Peter came to his position of authority from “inside the church.”  Paul on the other hand was pretty much dragged kicking and screaming into his position of authority.

In plain words, Paul’s Damascus Road experience (at left) “changed him from a Christ-hating persecutor of Christians to the foremost spokesman for the faith.”  Put another way, Paul was led by God’s grace, from being the most hated and feared enemy of the church to becoming “one of its chief spokesmen.”  (See Conversion of St. Paul, emphasis added.)  In further words, these two former enemies were brought together – by God – to work together for the common good:

In philosophy, economics, and political science, the common good (also commonwealth or common weal) is a term of art, referring to either what is shared and beneficial for all or most members of a given community, or alternatively, what is achieved by citizenship, collective action, and active participation in the realm of politics and public service.

Which leads to this question:  What would happen if two or more American conservative and liberal politicians today could likewise come together and work for the common good?

Which brings up the topic of being “restored.”  In one sense it means bringing “back to health, good spirits, etc.”   Or “to bring back to a former, more desirable condition.”  So say what you want about the bad old days, they never seemed to be this bad.

For one thing, there once was a time when the most ardent politicians felt free to “sup with their enemies.”  Like Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy – at right – were able to do, despite their vastly different political views.  For example, Kennedy said of Reagan:  “He’s absolutely professional.  When the sun goes down, the battles of the day are really gone.”

Or as one writer said of Kennedy, as having learned to “operate within the politics of symbolism:”

Heated rhetoric was part of the game of government.  When the day was over, win or lose, everyone could have a drink together.*

And that’s the kind of political “Restoration” I’d gladly welcome.  Then too, it turns out that both Peter and Paul got “restored,” again, each in his own way.  See Doubting Thomas – and Peter Restored, which noted that Peter got “restored to grace” after basically turning on Jesus, by denying Him three times.  And as to Paul being both transformed and restored:

As a result of that transformation, the Apostle Paul got transmogrified. I.e., changed from being the early Church’s deadliest enemy to being second only to Jesus in the history of that early Christian Church.

See Paul restored – from the Damascus Road.  Which leads to this question:

Wouldn’t it be nice if we too – here in America – could also be “restored?”  Restored to a time when people of all types and backgrounds worked together for the “common good?”

Which is of course the main job of a good Christian.  See 2d Corinthians 5:18, which noted that God “reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

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“Ananias Restoring the Sight of St. Paul” – after his Damascus road experience

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The upper image is courtesy of www.canvasreplicas.com/Rembrandt.htm.  See also Two Scholars Disputing by REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn.

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus, as to the winter” image, it is courtesy of Wikipedia.  The caption:  “A snow-covered park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during winter.”

Re:  The common good.  See the Wikipedia article, which added this:

[T]he common good became a central concept in the modern tradition of Catholic social teaching, beginning with [a] papal encyclical by Pope Leo XIII, issued in 1891.  This addressed the crisis of the conditions of industrial workers in Europe and argued for a position different from both laissez-faire capitalism and socialism…  Pope Leo guarantees the right to private property while insisting on the role of the state to require a living wage.

Re:  Heated rhetoric as “part of the game.”  (Of politics.)  See On Reagan, Kennedy – and “Dick the Butcher,” in  my companion blog.  The Reagan-Kennedy photo is courtesy of boston.com/bigpicture … ted_kennedy.  The caption:  “Senator Edward Kennedy talks with President Ronald Reagan, left, on June 24, 1985, as they look over an American Eagle that graced President John F. Kennedy’s desk during a fund raising event for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library at McLean, Virginia.  (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi).”  The quotes – of Kennedy and Reagan, and about Kennedy and “heated rhetoric” – are courtesy of Battle for Justice: How the [Robert] Bork Nomination Shook America, by Ethan Bronner, Anchor Book edition (1989), at pages 103-104. 

(And incidentally, “Dick the Butcher” was the character in William Shakespeare‘s play, “Henry The Sixth, Part 2,” who famously said, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”)

The lower image is courtesy of Conversion of Paul the Apostle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The full caption:  “‘Ananias Restoring the Sight of St. Paul’ (c.1631) by Pietro da Cortona.”  See also Ananias of Damascus – Wikipedia, which noted his name means “favored of the LORD.”  The actual restoration of Saul-Paul’s sight was described in Acts 9:17-19 NIV:

Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.  He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.