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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.

To Epiphany – “and BEYOND!”

Buzz Lightyear To Infinity And Beyond by eposselt

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Each year, January 6 is the traditional day to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany.  (In this sense, an “annual religious celebration…”)   See also the Satucket (or “Daily Office) piece, on Epiphany:

“Epiphany” is a word of Greek origin, related to such English words as “theophany,” “phenotype,” and “phenomenon.”  It means an appearance, a displaying, a showing forth, a making clear or public or obvious.  On this day, Christians have traditionally celebrated the making known of Jesus Christ to the world.

In other words, January 6 is celebrated as the day the world got “first introduced to Jesus,” in large part by the visit from the “Three Wise Men from the East.”  That is, this Feast Day includes – but is not limited to – a celebration of “the visit of the Magi to the Christ child,” as shown in the painting above left.  (The “We Three Kings of Orient are,” from the Christmas carol.)

But January 6 also marks the start of the Season of Epiphany.  That church season runs from January 6 to – and through – the Last Sunday after the Epiphany.  This year, 2017, that date is February 26.  The following Tuesday, February 28, we celebrate Mardi Gras.  The day after that – March 1 – is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the 2017 Season of Lent.

Buzz Lightyear.pngWhich brings up Buzz Lightyear.  (His catch-phrase – “to infinity, and beyond” – is popular among people including astronauts, philosophers and mathematical theorists…)  The point being that practicing Christians also work to go “to infinity – and beyond!”  Or in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, to “live with confidence in newness and fullness of life,” and to await “the completion of God’s purpose for the world.”

And that’s a promise especially meaningful after that 2016 Year from Hell. But wait!  There’s more!  Practicing Christians can also look forward to infinity – “without any bound” – as a new existence, with “the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other.”

And – it could be argued – it all starts with Epiphany.

That is, the 2017 church year officially started with the first Sunday of Advent, last November 27.  That was followed by Christmas and the Season of – or after – Epiphany.  That in turn will be followed by Lent – preceded by Mardi Gras – and then Easter.  (It’s a full, 40-day season as well and not just a single day.)

Then comes Ordinary Time – the Season after Pentecost – which takes up over half the church year.  (As shown at left.)

However, you could argue – again – that it all started with the first Epiphany.  (The first “making known of Jesus Christ to the world.”)  That is, Jesus was born in relative obscurity, and it wasn’t until the Three “Wise Men from the East” visited that He started to become better known.

That was the point of last January’s post Epiphany, circumcision, and “3 wise guys.”  It also noted that other names for January 6 include the last day of Christmas and Three Kings Day.

The word originally used for Three Kings was Magi, which gave rise to the current word “magic.”

And  in its original sense – 600 years before Jesus was born – the word Magi referred to “followers of Zoroastrianism or Zoroaster.”  In turn it wasn’t until well after Jesus died that a number of traditions arose about the three Wise Men.  That included their names, places of origin, and how soon after “Christmas” they actually visited the Holy family.

The most common names given the three are: Melchior, from Persia; Caspar, from India; and Balthazar, from Babylon.  (Which could present some logistical difficulties;  for example, in their getting together to start the trip.)  And as to when they actually visited Jesus:

The Bible specifies no interval between the birth and the visit [by the Magi, but] artistic depictions … encourage the popular assumption that the visit took place the same winter as the birth…  [L]ater traditions varied, with the visit [said to occur] up to two winters later.  This maximum interval explained Herod’s command at Matthew 2:16–18 that the Massacre of the Innocents included boys up to two years old. (E.A.)

All of which adds up to some confusion about these post-Christmas holidays…

You’ve probably heard of the 12 Days of Christmas, which end on January 6.  But the evening of the 6th is also known as 12th Night, and was yet another occasion for “drunken revelry.”   (From back in the days when life – especially life in winter – was “nasty, brutish and short.”)  Yet another celebration – and a time for “drunken revelry” – came on Plough Monday, which is officially the Monday following January 6.   In turn, back in Merry Olde England, Plough Monday marked the start of the new Agricultural Year.  In other words, a new year of work.  

So the point of Plough Monday – the Monday after January 6 – was to have one more big blast before getting back to work.  (That is, resuming farm-work after the extended holiday season.  And for more on this seeming rigamarole, see Epiphany, circumcision, and “3 wise guys.”)

Ruby Gallagos holds a handful of beads before a Mardi Gras parade. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) - (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)So in a way, Plough Monday is like our celebrating Mardi Gras – also called Fat Tuesday – on the day before the first day of Lent.  Or:  “one last feast before the Lenten fast.”

Are we seeing a pattern here?

In a sense it’s like the pattern of growth and debriefing – the asking of  “really aggravating questions” – that should follow such a period of personal growth.

On that note, see DORs for June 6, 2015, which took issue with “sin” as sometimes held out:

[T]he concepts of sin, repentance and confession should be viewed as “tools to help us get closer to the target.”  In other words, they help us grow and develop, and are not to be used as a means of social control…  Note also that the “Biblical Greek term for sin [amartia], means ‘missing the mark,’” and implies that “one’s aim is out and that one has not reached the goal, one’s fullest potential.”

And that – after all – is what the true Christian should be working for, during these upcoming, alternating seasons of celebration and reflection:  To reach his or her full potential.

So the Epiphany reminds us that – in order to do His job – Jesus had to be revealed to the world as “God incarnate.”  That revelation – that “revealing” – involved a substantial risk to Jesus in His earthly incarnation as God “embodied in the flesh.”  In fact, that big risk led to His ultimate – and untimely – death on the Cross.  That in turn should lead us to the conclusion that our job is not to withdraw from world into the safety of being a “carbon copy Christian.”

Instead our job is to grow into our fullest potential, and that means taking risks.  One such risk – for example – involves reading the Bible “with an open mind,” rather than retreating into a safe “fundamental” view.  For more on that see Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”

In the meantime, celebrate the “Adoration of the Magi,” and the season of growth to follow…

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The “Adoration of the Magi,” by El Greco

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The upper image is courtesy of Buzz Lightyear To Infinity And Beyond by eposselt on DeviantArteposselt.deviantart.com.  See also Buzz Lightyear – Wikipedia, which noted:

Buzz’s classic line “To infinity… and beyond!” has seen usage not only on T-shirts, but among philosophers and mathematical theorists as well.…  The 2008 quadruple platinum song “Single Ladies” by Beyoncé includes the lyric “…and delivers me to a destiny, to infinity and beyond,” a reference which was pointed out by alt-country singer Jeff Tweedy of the band Wilco during a 2010 solo performance in Chicago.  Also in 2008, astronauts took an action figure of Buzz Lightyear into space on the Space Shuttle “Discovery” as part of an educational experience for students while stressing the catchphrase…

The image to the left of the paragraph “Each year, January 6” is courtesy of Wikipedia and is captioned:  “‘Adoration of the Magi‘ by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 17th century.”

Re:  The Book of Common Prayer references.  See The Catechism, at pages 861-862

Re:  “Year from hell.”  The website 2016 has been year from hell for many – but not for comics, noted another name:  “Annus horribilis.”  Wikipedia noted that the opposite term – annus mirabilis, meaning “wonderful year” – has a long history of usage, but “annus horribilis” was apparently first used in 1891.  At that time it was used to “describe 1870, the year in which the Roman Catholic church defined the dogma of papal infallibility.”  As to its application to 2016, Googling the phrase “2016 year from hell” got me some 173,000,000 – 173 million – results.

Re:  “Magi,” giving rise to the current word “magic.”  See Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at page 788.  See Asimov’s full “Curriculum vitae” in last October’s On St. Ignatius – and “Persecution Porn.”

The “Three Kings” image is courtesy of We Three Kings Wallpapers, Photos, Pictures and Backgroundswallpaperslot.com.

The lower image is courtesy of Epiphany (holiday) – Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “‘Adoration of the Magi‘ by El Greco, 1568, Museo Soumaya, Mexico City.”

“Same time, last year…”

A scene from the 1978 film “Same Time, Next Year,” which suggested the title of this blogpost

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SameTimeNextYearPoster.jpgI haven’t had much time to post anything lately, as explained below.

So today – Thursday, December 29 – I present “Same time, last year.”

That’s  an allusion to “Same Time, Next Year,” the 1978 American romantic comedy-drama film starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. (And featuring the theatrical release poster at left.)

 But getting back to:  “It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.”

In fact it’s been since December 6, when I posted On the REAL “Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick.”  But I have a good excuse:  I had to go to a funeral.

My aunt died on December 7.  She was a mere 80 years old, and so still fairly young by today’s standards.  (Especially as I myself get closer to that age.)  But she had a host of health problems, and so it wasn’t really surprising to get a text from my sister-in-law on December 3.  It said Joan was in the ICU, “critical but stable.”  But unfortunately she went downhill from there.  So I had to “attend another stinkin’ funeral!”  (As we say in our family, having gone through too many lately.)

Then – less than a week after returning home from the funeral – my “mission” was to turn around and head back north again, this time to Greater Cincinnati and Cleveland.  (A trip that was basically a reprise of the one taken in December 2014, detailed in “Another brick in the wall” and featuring an image of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as seen in the notes…)

Which is why the title of this post is “Same time last year…”

Last year at this time I posted Develop your talents with Bible study, which “continues the theme of Bible study to open your mind and develop your talents.”  (And which included the image at right, about certain “moral[s] of the story” in the manner of Aesop and his morality tales.)

It included a pretty good summary of the main theme of this blog:  To help you – and me – get a better feel for communicating with the Force that Created the Universe.

It also included a reference to Matthew 25:14-30, about the Parable of the talents.

That parable was about three servants, each of whom were given some “talents.”  Taken literally, a talent was worth 50 or 60 shekels, and “so was a good chunk of change.”  But viewed metaphorically, it can also refer to a “special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude.”  Which is something we all have, to one degree or another.

So anyway, one servant got ten talents, and basically doubled his master’s investment.  The same thing happened with the servant given five talents.  But the third servant did nothing:  “So what the master got back on his investment was nothing more than the original talent he’d given out.”  Which led to the moral of the story that Jesus seemed to make:  That you can’t be a “good and faithful servant” unless you give back more to God than what He originally gave to you.  And that you can’t do that by being too focused on “avoiding sin:”

[W]hile it certainly is important to not make really stupid mistakes – which tend to have really bad consequences – that’s not the main job of a Christian.  The main job of a Christian is to “develop his talents[,” which] means a real Christian is bound to make mistakes.

Then too, once you realize that all real Christians make mistakes – if they’re really developing their talents – you’ll be that much less likely to develop the “holier than thou” complex that afflicts so many who call themselves Christian.  (Which is the kind of thing that led Paul to sayThe name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”)

http://www.releasetheape.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/arrow-target1-890x556.pngOn that note see Sin and cybernetics:  “Maybe the concepts of sin, repentance and confession are simply tools to help us realize the purpose Jesus had for us, to wit:  to ‘live life in all its abundance.’”  (See John 10:10; the second part.)  Put another way, maybe “sin” is not so much to make people feel guilty – as some Christians say – but rather as a means of self-correction, so that we can better “hit the target…”

Which brings us back to the Parable of the talents, and what it means.  As  Wikipedia noted:

It is clear that the master sought some profit from the servants’ oversight.  A gain indicated faithfulness on the part of the servants.  The master rewards his servants according to how each has handled his stewardship.  He judges two servants as having been “faithful” and gives them a positive reward.  To the single unfaithful servant who “played it safe,” a negative compensation is given.

And speaking of the hazards of a Christian “playing it safe” – focusing too much on sin, and especially that of other people – that’s pretty much what I said in Singing a NEW song to  God: “How can we do greater works than Jesus if we interpret the Bible in a cramped, narrow, strict and/or limiting manner?”  (And for that matter, why does the Bible so often tell us to “sing to the Lord a new song?”   See Isaiah 42:10 and Psalms 96:1, 98:1, and 144:9.)

So here’s a New Year’s wish for 2017:  Let’s all work hard to avoid being boot-camp Christians.  Let’s all work hard, so that this “same time next year” – December 29, 2017 – we can say:

Boy, we sure developed our talents!!

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The upper image is courtesy of Same Time, Next Year (1978) – IMDb.  Photo  6 of 13, with the caption:  “Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year … by Archive Photos/Getty Images – © 2012.”

Picture

The post  Develop your talents with Bible study included the image at left, of Daniel in the lions’ den.  See also Daniel and the Lions Den – Hebrew Bible and ArtThe painting itself is by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), “the first African-American painter to gain international acclaim.  He moved to Paris in 1891 to study, and decided to stay there, being readily accepted in French artistic circles.   His painting entitled Daniel in the Lions’ Den was accepted into the 1896 Salon.”  The painting itself “uses light to symbolize God’s presence.  It is simple and there is not a lot of detail but it gets the point across.”  See also Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re: Morality plays – noted here as “morality tales.”  See Wikipedia, referring to the…

genre of Medieval and early Tudor theatrical entertainment.  In their own time, these plays were known as interludes, a broader term given to dramas with or without a moral.  Morality plays are a type of allegory in which the protagonist is met by personifications of various moral attributes who try to prompt him to choose a Godly life over one of evil.  The plays were most popular in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries.

See also Morality tale … by The Free Dictionary, and/or What is a moral tale? | Reference.com:  “a type of story, popular during the 15th and 16th centuries, that uses allegory to portray the struggle between good and evil, often culminating in a lesson.” 

Rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-sunset.jpgRe:  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “as seen in the notes.”  The “Hall” is shown at left, and in “Another brick in the wall.”

Re: “God’s name blasphemed…” See Romans 2:24.

The lower image is courtesy of  Parable of the talents – Wikipedia, with the caption:  “The parable of the talents, depicted in a 1712 woodcut.  The lazy servant searches for his buried talent, while the two other servants present their earnings to their master.”

On the REAL “Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick”

St. Nicholas … “transformed into a sympathetic old Santa Claus…”

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Icon of St. Nicholas, from St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Dallas, TexasTomorrow – Tuesday, December 6 – is the Feast Day for Nicholas of Myra.* (But only in the Daily Office Lectionary, not the Revised Common Lectionary used for Sundays.*)  And he – Nicholas of Myra – eventually became the guy we now know as Santa Claus.  (Also known as “Jolly Ol’ St. Nick.”)

Of course there are those who refuse to believe in him.  That is, there are some people out there who think that Santa Clause is a myth:

A myth is a sacred narrative because it holds religious or spiritual significance for those who tell it.  Myths also … express a culture’s systems of thought and values as the myth of gremlins invented by aircraft technicians during World War II to avoid apportioning blame.

See Myth – Wikipedia, which included the image at left, of such “gremlins” at work.  And just as a point of order:  These “gremlins” – especially during World War II – did not work for the enemy:

[E]nemy aircraft had similar and equally inexplicable mechanical problems.  As such, gremlins were portrayed as being equal opportunity tricksters, taking no sides in the conflict, and acting out their mischief from their own self-interest.

But we digress…  The point is this:  There is a solid basis in historical fact for believing in both “jolly old St. Nick” and in the spirit of Christmas.

For starters, Nicholas of Myra was a real person who lived from the years 270 to 343 A.D.  And around the year 300 he was elected Bishop of Myra.  As a bishop his “legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus through Sinterklaas:”

The best-known story involves a man with three unmarried daughters, and not enough money to provide them with suitable dowries.  This meant that they could not marry, and were likely to end up as prostitutes.  Nicholas walked by the man’s house on three successive nights, and each time threw a bag of gold in through a window…  Thus, the daughters were saved from a life of shame, and all got married and lived happily ever after.

And here’s another side note:  “Myra” is now the city of Demre, in Turkey, where it doesn’t get that cold in the winter.  But then the story of this “St. Nicholas” started getting repeated in colder, northern climates.  (Where no one would keep their windows open in December.)

That’s when the story got tweaked, and St. Nick started delivering his gifts via the chimney.  (For more on that see The History of Santa Claus and Chimneys.  For one thing:  “In pre-Christian Norse tradition, Odin would often enter through chimneys and smoke holes or fire holes on the solstice, which marks the beginning of winter.”)

For more on the real St.  Nick, see On the original St. Nicholas, or On St. Nick and “Doubting Thomas.”  The first one noted how the story of St. Nicholas was basically a gift to America from the country of Holland:

Dutch colonists took this tradition [of St. Nicholas] with them to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in the American colonies in the 17th century.  Sinterklaas was adopted by the country’s English-speaking majority under the name Santa Claus, and his legend of a kindly old man was united with old Nordic folktales of a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good children with presents.

The second post noted how the original – the real St. Nicholas – saved three innocent men from death, as shown in the painting below.  It seems he was visiting a remote part of his diocese when he heard about three men, condemned to death back in Myra.  The “the ruler of the city, Eustathius, had condemned three innocent men to death.”

When he arrived back in Myra he went immediately to the site of the execution, took the sword from the executioner’s hand, and ordered that the innocent men be set free:

His authority was such that the executioner left his sword where it fell.  Later Eustathius confessed his sin and sought the saint’s forgiveness.  Nicholas absolved him, but only after the ruler had undergone a period of repentance.

So there you have it.  The real “Ol’ Saint Nick” was not only jolly, he was personally brave.

Virginia O'Hanlon (ca. 1895).jpgAnd so, back in 1897 – when Francis P. Church of The (New York) Sun responded to a letter to the editor – he was pretty much telling the truth when he wrote, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  (The letter he responded to was written by eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, seen at left.) 

Of course the whole idea of “Santa Claus” – and indeed Christmas itself – has gotten glossed over and commercialized over the years.  See for example How Christmas Became the Most Commercialized Holiday.  That article started off which started off with a quote from Lucy Brown – of Peanuts fame – when she told Charlie Brown:  “Let’s face it…  We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket.  It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.”

Simply put, Christmas became big business.  And as such it spawned a host of new cottage industries:  Books published, woodsmen “heading into the forests each December to cut evergreens to sell on street corners,” tinsel, toys, candle-holders, candles, candies, garlands, ornaments, and hand-colored Christmas cards, to name a few.

All of which is wonderful for the economy.  But each Christmas it’s also a good idea to go back to the original source.  To go back to the jolly – and brave – original St. Nick.  (Seen below, in action.)  And of course to remember Jesus, The Reason for the Season.

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Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” and this is him, saving three men from death…

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The upper image is courtesy of saint nicholas church st nicholas church is the most outstanding … tourmakerturkey.com, which added:  “The protective personality of St. Nicholas and desire of helping children in difficult situations have been transformed into a sympathetic old Santa Claus … appearing on Christmas Eve to make everybody happy.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement with a reference detailed further in this, the “notes” section.  Thus, as to St. Nicholas’ day, it’s only a Feast in the Daily Office Lectionary, not in the Revised Common Lectionary used for Sundays Bible readings.  Under the “RCL” – detailed at The Lectionary Page – there are no listed Feast Days until December 21, for St. Thomas, Apostle.

The Santa/chimney image is courtesy of Zat You Santa Claus? – Free Christmaslinks2love.com.  Also, re: St. Nick:  See also Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia and/or Nicholas of Myra – Livius

The lower image is courtesy of Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption:  “Saint Nicholas Saves Three Innocents from Death (oil painting by Ilya Repin, 1888, State Russian Museum).”   See also St. Nicholas Center … Saint Who Stopped an Execution.