Monthly Archives: November 2014

On the readings for Advent Sunday

The prophet Isaiah, featured – and quoted by Jesus – in today’s readings…

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Sunday November 30 marks the end of 2014’s Season of Pentecost and starts the new liturgical (“church”) calendar year.  That new church year starts with the First Sunday of Advent:

Advent Sunday is the first day of the liturgical year in the Western Christian churches. It also marks the start of the season of Advent [and] the first violet or blue Advent candle is lit…  [T]he symbolism of the day is that Christ enters the church.   Advent Sunday is the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. This is equivalent to the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day, 30 November, and the Sunday following the Feast of Christ the King.

Julius.jpgSee Advent Sunday – Wikipedia, emphasis added (with the image at right).  See also Advent – Wikipedia, which noted that Advent is “a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.”  The theme of Bible readings is to prepare for the Second Coming while “commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas.”

The article added that for a time – starting about 300 A.D. – Advent was “kept as a period of fasting as strict as in Lent.”  And just as Lent today is preceded by the celebration of Mardi Gras, so back in the olden days the penitential season of Advent was preceded by the “feast day of St. Martin of Tours,” in many places “a time of frolic and heavy eating, since the 40-day fast began the next day.”  On the other hand, in “Anglican and Lutheran churches this fasting rule was later relaxed,” and somewhere around 1917 the Roman Catholic Church “abolished the precept of fasting …  but kept Advent as a season of penitence.”

The readings for Advent Sunday – in my church – are Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1st Corinthians 1:3-9; and Mark 13:24-37.   For more on Psalm 80 see On the Psalms up to November 30.  (Which includes the image at left.)  The full readings are at First Sunday of Advent.  Here are some highlights.

As to Isaiah 64:1-9, verses 1 through 7 are generally summarized as “guilty in God’s presence,” while verses 8 and 9 begin a discussion of the “desolation of Jerusalem.”  The International Bible Commentary said of verses 1 through 6 that they anticipate the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, but warned that “neither the rebuilding itself nor the offering of many sacrifices” would in themselves please God.  “What God wishes to see is the man who is humble and obedient to His word,” while to Him insincere worship “is no better than blatant idolatry.”

Beginning with verse 7, the prophet returned to the theme of the future well-being of Jerusalem.  While God had “delivered us into the hand of our iniquity,” Isaiah called on Him to remember that “you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever.”

In 1st Corinthians 1:3-9, Paul began his letter to the members of the church in Corinth, a Greek seaport notorious for its depravity and licentiousness:

The name of Corinth had been a byword for the grossest profligacy, especially in connection with the worship of Aphrodite…  This monstrosity – sexual perversion in the name of religion – overshadowed the life of the city as a mushroom cloud of moral destruction.

(IBC, 1347)  Yet despite those surroundings – and the dissensions evident in the church – “Paul gives thanks!  Assailed by Satan as they are, their spiritual life is evident…  [I]n a missionary situation surrounded by pagan depravity, this is abundant cause for praise.”  (IBC, 1350; and that’s not to to mention thanksgiving…)  Paul noted, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Mark 13:24-37, followed after Jesus foretelling the Destruction of the Temple and the “Desolating Sacrilege” (Mark 13:1-23), and in this reading He foretold the trials and tribulations to come for His disciples.  In Mark 13:24-26, Jesus told those disciples:

“In the days after that time of trouble the sun will grow dark, the moon will no longer shine,the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers in space will be driven from their courses.  Then the Son of Man will appear, coming in the clouds with great power and glory.  He will send the angels out to the four corners of the earth to gather God’s chosen people from one end of the world to the other.”

In doing so He quoted the Book of Isaiah – twice – and the Book of Daniel.  See:  1)  Isaiah 13:10, “The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light.  The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”  2)   Isaiah 34:4, “All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.”  And 3)   Daniel 7:13, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.”

See also Jesus and messianic prophecy.  He followed with the lesson of the fig tree – not to be confused with Cursing the fig tree – Wikipedia – with the lesson, “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”  He concluded, “what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

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Peace, 1896 etching by William Strutt, based upon Isaiah 11:6,7…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Isaiah – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the full caption, “Isaiah, by Michelangelo, (c. 1508–1512, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Vatican City).”

The full “Mardi Gras” citation is Mardi Gras – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of Book of Isaiah – Wikipedia, which noted:  

The Book of Isaiah has been immensely influential in the formation of Christianity, from the devotion to the Virgin Mary to … modern Christian feminism and liberation theology.  The regard in which Isaiah was held was so high that the book was frequently called “the Fifth Gospel,” the prophet who spoke more clearly of Christ and the Church than any others. Its influence extends beyond the Church and 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.”

Isaiah 11:6-7, is part of the prophet’s well-known tribute to the Peaceful Kingdom to come:   “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”

On the Psalms up to November 30

“A woman playing a psalterion,” an instrument used to accompany psalms



This regular feature focuses on next Sunday’s psalm, and on highlights from the psalms in the Daily Office Readings (DORs) during the week leading up to that upcoming Sunday.

At this point there may be some who ask, “What, the psalms again?  Why do you pay so much attention to the Psalms?”    The simple answer is:  See the notes below.

For those who already appreciate the psalms – and rightfully so – my usual practice is to review the next Sunday’s readings on the Wednesday before, including the individual Sunday-psalm noted above, and also to review the psalms from the DORs for the week ending on the Tuesday just before that “prior Wednesday.”  For example, The Lectionary  psalm for Sunday, November 30, is Psalm 80, discussed further below.  The Daily Office psalms are from the readings for Wednesday November 18 up to Tuesday November 25.

Here are some highlights from last week’s “Daily Office” psalms.

From Saturday, November 22, Psalm 33:12, “Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord! Happy the people he has chosen to be His own!”  (Which pretty much speaks for itself.)

Also from Saturday, Psalm 108:13, “With God we will do valiant deeds, and He shall tread our enemies under foot.”  Note the emphasis there, “with God,” or in some translations, “through God…”  Or as one commentary put it, “God’s help shall inspire us to help ourselves.”  (See Psalm 108:13 Commentaries: Through God we will do valiantly.)

From Sunday, November 23, Psalm 118:22, “The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” That psalm-passage was quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21:42 (NIV), “Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes?'”  And by Peter in Acts 4:11 (when he and John were on trial before the Sanhedrin), “Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.'”

Also, Psalm 145:9 and 19: “The Lord is loving to everyone and His compassion is over all His works;” together with, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him faithfully.”  These passages contradict the idea that the Christian faith is “exclusive:”

Jesus accepts anyone who comes to Him [and] the Faith is not an exclusive club designed for members only(Another prevailing perception promoted by some….)

See On St. Mary, Mother, and also About this Blog: “those who choose to  read the Bible in a strict, narrow or ‘fundamental’ way are only cheating themselves.”

From Tuesday, November 25, Psalm 127:4-6, “Children are a heritage from the Lord… Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.”  That passage gave rise to today’s “Quiverfull Movement,” discussed in notes for On snake-handling, Fundamentalism and suicide – Part I.

Getting back to Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18, the one for Sunday, November 15, the International Bible Commentary (IBC) indicated that it addressed the so-called Ten Lost Tribes of Israel:

They were named Asher, Dan, Ephraim, Gad, Issachar, Manasseh, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, and Zebulun – all sons or grandsons of Jacob.  In 930 BC the 10 tribes formed the independent Kingdom of Israel in the north and the 2 other tribes, Judah and Benjamin, set up the Kingdom of Judah in the south.  Following the conquest of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 721 BC, the 10 tribes were gradually assimilated by other peoples and thus disappeared from history.

See Ten Lost Tribes of Israel — Encyclopedia Britannica.  That is, after the Assyrian Conquest starting around 740 B.C., 10 of the original 12 tribes of Israel were lost to history, and only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were left.  See also Assyrian captivity of Israel – Wikipedia.

It is to and about these lost brethren– the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” – that the writer of Psalm 80 pleads to God, beginning, “Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock … stir up your strength and come to help us.”  At verse 3 and again at verses 7 and 18 he prays, “Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.”

The psalm-writer’s theory is that since all things are under God’s control, the humiliation of His Chosen People had to be a response to their shortcomings and sins.   Accordingly – after asking “how long will you be angered despite the prayers of your people?” – the psalmist both pleads and promises, “give us life, that we may call upon your Name.”

Jesus would return to the theme in His Parable of the Lost Sheep – Wikipedia, as shown below:

The parable shares themes of loss, searching, and rejoicing with the Parable of the Lost Coin.  The lost sheep or coin represents a lost human being…   As in the analogy of the Good Shepherd, Jesus is the shepherd, thus identifying himself with the image of God as a shepherd searching for stray sheep in Ezekiel34:11–16…   The rejoicing of the shepherd with his friends represents God rejoicing with the angels.  The image of God rejoicing at the recovery of lost sinners contrasts with the criticism of the religious leaders which prompted the parable.

And finally, note Matthew 19:28 (in the NIV), where Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”  But what of the 10 Lost Tribes, and the fact that by that time there were – literally – only two tribes left?

For the answer, see the notes below…



The upper image is courtesy of Psaltery – Wikipedia, with the full caption:   “A woman playing a psalterion.  Ancient Greek red-figured pelike from Anzi, Apulia, circa 320–310 BCE.”

For more on the “Ten Lost Tribes” see sites including Ten Lost Tribes – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and/or NOVA Online | Lost Tribes of Israel | Where are the Ten Lost Tribes?

The lower image is courtesy of Parable of the Lost Sheep – Wikipedia, with the caption, “Etching by Jan Luyken showing the triumphant return of the shepherd, from the Bowyer Bible.”

As to the discrepancy between Jesus saying His disciples would judge the 12 tribes of Israel and there being literally only two of those tribes left by then, the best answer seems to come from the site Commentary on Matthew 19:28-29 –  Responding to the question as to what “Israel” Jesus was referring to, the writer answered, “I believe that when Christ says ‘Israel’ here he is referring the New Covenant church which includes both Jews and Gentiles.”  He cited examples from the New Testament Epistles (“Letters”), including Galatians 6:16 – “And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” – and James 1:1, “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.” (E.A.)

All of which would require an expansive or “liberal” interpretation of the Bible, rather than a strict, restricted or “fundamental” interpretation, but that’s pretty much the theme of this blog.   See also On arguing with God, which indicated the name “Israel” should be interpreted liberally to include anyone who either “struggles with God” or struggles with the idea of God.

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As to the reason we spend so much time on the Psalms:  The Church itself spends a lot of time on the psalms, and aside from that, they are arguably critical to spiritual growth. 

See for example Thomas Merton’s Praying the Psalms (Liturgical Press 1956), where he first noted the Catholic Church has “always considered the psalms her perfect book of prayer,” then added:

There is no aspect of the interior life, no kind of religious experience, no spiritual need of man that cannot be depicted and lived out in the Psalms.

See also Psalms – Wikipedia, which noted the following:  1)  the Psalms have been used throughout traditional Jewish worship, for millenia. (See also On “originalism”.)   2)  Many Jews complete the Book of Psalms on a weekly or monthly basis.  3)  The reading of psalms is viewed in Jewish tradition as a vehicle for gaining God’s favor.  4)  The Psalms have remained an important part of worship in most Christian Churches.  5)  In the early centuries of the Church, it was expected that any candidate for bishop would be able to recite the entire Psalter from memory (all 150 psalms).  6)  Several conservative Protestant denominations sing only the Psalms, and do not accept the use of any non-Biblical hymns.  7)  The Psalms have always been an important part of Catholic liturgy as well.

In the Anglican tradition, every Sunday Bible reading includes a psalm (or portion), along with readings from the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel.  In the Daily Office, each day’s readings usually includes three or more psalms.  For more on the Prayer Book’s take, see The Psalter.

See also The Significance of the Psalms |, which said Psalms is one of two Old Testament books most frequently quoted in the New Testament (along with Isaiah).   “In their preaching and writing, the apostles often quoted from the Psalms as biblical proof of the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament.  Peter quoted Psalm 16:8-11 as proof that Jesus must be raised from the dead (Acts 2:24-36)…   Any book so prominent in the minds of the New Testament writers should also be important to us.”


For more on Thomas Merton see On Thomas Merton.


On St. Andrew, the “First Apostle”

Caravaggio: The calling of Sts Peter and Andrew

The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew,” by Caravaggio

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Here’s a hint:  The church I attend has “St. Andrew” in its title, but that can present a problem.

For example, the Feast Day for St. Andrew is November 30, but this year November 30 is also the First Sunday of Advent.  (See St Andrew, Apostle and First Sunday of Advent .)   So there’s always a question of which readings to use, if for example you’re doing the bulletins for your church.  This year “the rules” say that we’ll be doing the readings for the First Sunday of Advent on November 30, and transfer the readings for St. Andrew’s Feast Day to December 7, thus superseding the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent.  (Hey, rules are rules…)

According to the National Catholic Register, “St. Andrew was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, but many people know little about him.”  He was St. Peter’s brother, and so would have been known as Andrew bar-Jonah (“son of Jonah”).   He’s regularly mentioned after Peter, which suggests Andrew was the younger brother.  Like Peter and their partners James and John, Andrew was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee.   The article noted the name Andrew is Greek, and that that reflected the “mixed Jewish-Gentile environment of Galilee” at the time of Jesus. (Jonah gave his older son Simon an Aramaic name, but his younger son Andrew a Greek name.) See and share.

The article continued that Andrew was “one of the four disciples closest to Jesus, but he seems to have been the least close of the four.” (E.A.)   That’s ironic because Andrew was one of the first followers of Jesus; “In fact, he discovered Jesus before his brother Peter did.”  (He was one of the two initial disciples of John the Baptist who encountered Jesus at the beginning of John’s Gospel.”)   And so – because he followed Jesus before St. Peter and the others – he is called the Protoklete or ‘First Called’ apostle.”  Then there’s the matter of how he died:

A later tradition … tells of Andrew’s death at Patras [in Greece], where he too suffered the torture of crucifixion.   At that supreme moment, however, like his brother Peter, he asked to be nailed to a cross different from the Cross of Jesus.   In his case it was a diagonal or X-shaped cross, which has thus come to be known as “St Andrew’s cross.”

The x-shaped cross – also known as a saltire – is a “heraldic symbol in the form of a diagonal cross, like the shape of the letter X in Roman type.   Saint Andrew is said to have been martyred on such a cross.”  See Saltire – Wikipedia, which added that the saltire is featured in the national flags of Scotland and other countries, as well as the Battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and today’s 10th Mountain Division in the U.S. Army.


(“The 10th Mountain Division[‘s] bayonets ‘in saltire’ [for] the Roman numeral X (10).”)

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See also Andrew the Apostle – Wikipedia, which added this:

Andrew is said to have been martyred by crucifixion at the city of Patras (Patræ)…   [He was] bound, not nailed, to a Latin cross of the kind on which Jesus is said to have been crucified; yet a tradition developed that Andrew had been crucified on a cross of the form called Crux decussata (X-shaped cross, or “saltire”), now commonly known as a “Saint Andrew’s Cross” — supposedly at his own request, as he deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus had been.

(Emphasis added.)  St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, as well as several other countries and cities including BarbadosRomaniaRussiaScotland and the Ukraine, as well as cities like Patras in Greece.   He was also the patron saint of Prussia and of the Order of the Golden Fleece.   He is considered the founder and the first bishop of the Church of Byzantium and … patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.”

So there you have it.  St. Andrew was the first Apostle and yet now is one of the least-known of the Apostles.  (There’s probably some kind of lesson there.)   On that note see John 1:35-42:

The next day John [the Baptist] was … with two of his disciples, when he saw Jesus walking by.  “There is the Lamb of God!” he said.  The two disciples heard him say this and went with Jesus.  Jesus turned, saw them following him, and asked, “What are you looking for?”  They answered, “Where do you live, Rabbi?”  (This word means “Teacher.”)   “Come and see,” he answered.  (It was then about four o’clock in the afternoon.)  So they went with him and saw where he lived, and spent the rest of that day with him.  One of them was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  At once he found his brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah.”  (This word means “Christ.”)   Then he took Simon to Jesus.  [E.A.]

So you might say Andrew was the Catholic Church’s sine qua non;  “without which there is none.”

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 St. Andrew and his “x-shaped cross” or saltire

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The upper image is courtesy of Caravaggio: The calling of Sts Peter and Andrew – Art, which added:

A beardless Jesus gestures Peter (who was still called Simon at the time) and his brother Andrew to follow him:  “Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”  According to the gospel Peter and Andrew were out fishing on the lake when they were called.  Caravaggio gives his own interpretation. Because of his prominence, the man on the left is thought to be Peter.  It is only since 2006 that this painting is attributed to Caravaggio…    One of the details that shows this work must be the original is a carving in the ground layer under Peter’s ear.  Caravaggio often used such incissions, and they are very uncommon in copies.

See also, The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew – Wikipedia.

Re: “rules are rules.”  See rule – Macmillan English Dictionaries, noting the phrase “used for telling someone that they have to obey a rule, even if they do not want to.”

The lower image is courtesy of and share, which included the full text of St. Andrew’s words before he died, thus showing “a very profound Christian spirituality.  [He] does not view the Cross as an instrument of torture but rather as the incomparable means for perfect configuration to the Redeemer, to the grain of wheat that fell into the earth.   Here we have a very important lesson to learn: Our own crosses acquire value if we consider them and accept them as a part of the Cross of Christ…”   See also Andrew the Apostle – Wikipedia.

Re: “sine qua non.”   See Sine qua non – Wikipedia, explaining that the Latin phrase “refers to an indispensable and essential action, condition, or ingredient.  It was originally a Latin legal term for ‘[a condition] without which it could not be,’ or ‘but for..’ or ‘without which [there is] nothing.'”  See also sine qua non – The Free Dictionary, defining the term as an “essential element or condition: ‘The perfect cake is the sine qua non of the carefully planned modern wedding’ (J.M. Hilary).”

On returning from a pilgrimage – and the coming holidays

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November 22, 2014 – I last posted on November 1, with a nod to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  (See On the first Thanksgiving – Part I and Part II.)

Since then I – The Scribe – have been on a pilgrimage of my own.  My brother and I took eight days to canoe out to some offshore islands in the Gulf of Mexico.  Those islands – 10 or 12 miles offshore – included Half-moon Island, Cat Island and the Ship Islands.  (I.e., both East and West Ship Island.  “WSI” is in the foreground at right.)

I drove down to Biloxi on Sunday November 2, and we left Slidell LA – north of the I-10 bridge – on Lake Ponchartrain on Wednesday November 5.

It took us eight days – through the morning of Wednesday November 12 – to get through the Rigolets (“pronounced “RIG-uh-leez”) out to the Gulf islands noted above, and back to Biloxi.   (Formerly known as “Fort Maurepas.” See Rigolets and Fort Maurepas – Wikipedia.)

But it’s taken more than the eight days to get back home.  And to get back up to game speed.

And to get used to such luxuries as indoor plumbing and more than one-and-a-half granola bars for breakfast at 3:00 in the morning.  (That’s the best time to “hit the water,” before the wind and contrary tides pick up.)  I’ll be “waxing poetic” on that spiritual pilgrimage in later posts.

However, for now you may want to revisit “pilgrimages in general, and ‘St. James the Greater,’ the patron saint of pilgrims and pilgrimages.”   See also First Thanksgiving – Part II:

The post on St. James included this:  “In the spiritual literature of Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to the experience of life in the world (considered as a period of exile) or to the inner path of the spiritual aspirant from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude.”

Other sites include Life is a Pilgrimage –, A Different Kind of Pilgrimage [Can] Change Your Life – which included the image at left – and/or Our lives are a pilgrimage to the Kingdom of God.

The latter post is from The Catholic Herald.  It talks about such things as the upcoming Last Sunday After Pentecost – on November 23.  (2014.)  That’s also known as “Christ the King Sunday.”   That Sunday also focuses on the “kingdom of the heart, whose inner struggle ultimately determines the direction of our lives.”

(Put another way, the “direction our earthly pilgrimage will take…”)

See also Hebrews 13:16, which first noted the faith of our spiritual forebears, then said:

These all died in faith … having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.

(Emphasis added.)  See also 2d Corinthians 5.  In one version:  “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.”  And of course there’s the well-known John 14:2, where Jesus said:  “In my Father’s house are many mansions…   I go to prepare a place for you. the theme here – in case I’m being too subtle – is one of “coming home in general.”

For example, from an extended pilgrimage like I just went through.  (Or like the one on the Mayflower, as shown at right.)  And especially in the sense that such a “coming home” serves as a kind of dress rehearsal for our heavenly “coming home for good.”

That’s the end-of-earthly-pilgrimage “coming home for good” in which we depart this “vale of tears” earthly incarnation and get reunited with the loved ones who died before us.

(See also Psalm 119:19, “I am a stranger here on earth…”)

Now, getting back to that upcoming holiday season…

In its simplest form, Advent is a time of getting ready for Christmas.  This year the season of Advent starts on November 30, the First Sunday of Advent, and ends on Christmas itself:

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.  The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming…”  [The] Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ.  For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives.  The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

See Advent – Wikipedia.   And as if you didn’t know already, Christmas – a holiday “central to the Christian year” – comes on December 25.

Christmas ends the season of Advent and begins the 12 days of Christmas.  Those 12 Days end on 12th Night, which marks the start of The Epiphany.  “12th Night” in 2015 is the evening of January 5, also called the Eve of 12th Day.   It’s also called the Eve of Epiphany, and was formerly known as the last day of the Christmas season, “observed [also] as a time of merrymaking.”

Note also that in medieval times, 12th Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve – now called Halloween – back on October 31.   See the notes below on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a play that immortalized the occasion for revelry.  See also Christmas – Wikipedia, which added the following:

In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was overshadowed by Epiphany, which in western Christianity focused on the visit of the magi.  But [by] the 12th century, these traditions transferred again to the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25 – January 5); a time that appears in the liturgical calendars as Christmastide or Twelve Holy Days…   The prominence of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne was crowned Emperor on Christmas Day in 800.  King Edmund the Martyr was anointed on Christmas in 855 and King William I of England was crowned on Christmas Day 1066.

And finally, the Epiphany falls on January 6 and celebrates the revelation of God as a human being in Jesus Christ (Jesus’ physical manifestation to “us”).  See Epiphany (holiday) – Wikipedia, which also noted, “Western Christians commemorate principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles.”

So there you have it.  We’re now smack dab  in the middle of an old-time winter festival that started on Halloween and ends on January 6, also called Plough Monday.  See Plough Monday – Wikipedia, which noted January 6 is the “traditional start of the English agricultural year“:

The day traditionally saw the resumption of work after the Christmas period.  In some areas, particularly in northern England and East England, a plough was hauled from house to house in a procession, collecting money.  They were often accompanied by musicians, an old woman or a boy dressed as an old woman, called the “Bessy”, and a man in the role of the “fool.”  “Plough Pudding” is a boiled suet pudding, containing meat and onions.  It is from Norfolk and is eaten on Plough Monday.   [See below.]

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 “Plough Monday,” which ends the full Season of Christmas, on January 6…

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The original post had a upper image related to there being “no place like home.” With a link to No Place Like Home – Wikipedia, which noted that – aside from the famous line in the movie Wizard of Oz – the phrase may also refer to “the last line of the 1822 song ‘Home! Sweet Home!,’ words by John Howard Payne and music by Sir Henry Bishop; the source of inspiration for the other references here: ‘Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home,'” and/or “‘(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays,’ a 1954 Christmas song most famously sung by Perry Como.”  For a “live” version, see also There’s No Place Like Home – YouTube.

The canoe trip noted above sought to follow – for the most part and in segments- the water path established in 1699 by the French explorer “d’Iberville,” from Biloxi, through Lake Ponchartrain and various bayous to the Mississippi, then up the Red River to Natchitoches Louisiana.  See e.g. Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville – Wikipedia.

As to the idea of life as a spiritual pilgrimage, the  site said this:

Those who are students of religions and mysticism of the East as of the West, will be familiar with two similes used for the human soul: that of the traveller, and that of the pilgrim…  In more profound and truer mystical traditions man is compared to a pilgrim…    The human soul is on a journey; all human souls are seeing sights, learning lessons and gathering experience; all are moving from stage to stage of evolution.  But many souls do not recognize that they are bound for a particular destination, that there is a purpose to life, and that purpose is holy and sacred…

As to Christ the King Sunday, see All About Christ the King Sunday | Prayers, History, Customs:

Christ the King Sunday celebrates the all-embracing authority of Christ as King and Lord of the cosmos.  Officially called the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, it is celebrated on the final Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Sunday before Advent.  In 2014, the feast falls on November 23rd.

The lower image is courtesy of Plough Monday – Hymns and Carols of Christmas.  See also Plough Monday – Wikipedia, which said in “the Church of England, the eve of Epiphany used to be celebrated as Twelfth Night.  The Monday after Epiphany is known as Plough Monday…  Plough Monday is the traditional start of the English agricultural year[, ] usually the first Monday after Twelfth Day (Epiphany), January 6.  References to Plough Monday date back to the late 15th century.”

One final note (courtesy of “Mi Dulce”), regarding the title of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night:

“Twelfth Night” is a reference to the twelfth night after Christmas Day, called the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany.  It was originally a Catholic holiday but, prior to Shakespeare’s play, had become a day of revelry.  Servants often dressed up as their masters, men as women and so forth.  This history of festive ritual and Carnivalesque reversal, based on the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia at the same time of year (characterized by drunken revelry and inversion of the social order; masters became slaves for a day, and vice versa), is the cultural origin of the play’s gender confusion-driven plot. [E.A.]

See Twelfth Night – Wikipedia, which added that the play “centers on the twins Viola and Sebastian,” separated in a shipwreck, followed by a Countess Olivia falling in love with Viola (disguised as a boy), and “Sebastian in turn falling in love with Olivia.”  In turn Olivia “falls in love with ‘Cesario’, as she does not realise ‘he’ is Viola in disguise.  In the meantime, Viola has fallen in love with the Duke,” Orsino.  Finally, Wikipedia noted that the play “expanded on the musical interludes and riotous disorder expected of the occasion,” that is, the occasion of the “drunken revelry” of 12th Night.

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On the first Thanksgiving – Part I

 The Mayflower Pilgrims, leaving behind their homeland for a “whole New Wo-o-o-orld…*”

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The Scribe is about to embark on a spiritual pilgrimage of his own, of a type noted in On “St. James the Greater”.  It could last two weeks or more and – to cut to the chase – that means he won’t be doing a new post until he gets back, some time before the Feast Day of Thanksgiving.  So this ode to the original Thanksgiving – and its full meaning – will be a two-parter.

For the full Thanksgiving-day Bible readings, see Thanksgiving Day, which includes this from the Collect:  “Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them.”   The first reading for the day continues that theme and is from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 8:7-18.  It begins like this:

Moses said to all Israel:  For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing

(Emphasis added.)   But of course we all know things are never that simple.

See for example the site, Freedom isn’t free – Wikipedia, about the “popular American idiom, used widely in the United States to express gratitude to the military for defending personal freedoms…   [T]he freedoms enjoyed by many citizens in many democracies are only possible through the risks taken and sacrifices made by those in the military.”  But see also Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty (Quotation), attributed to Thomas Jefferson.

These days that could also mean taking full heed of Proverbs 4:27   Do not turn to the right or the left.  See also The Ultimate Meaning of the Middle Way and Centrism – Wikipedia:

But we digress…

We were talking about the First-ever Thanksgiving.  It was celebrated by the Mayflower Pilgrims, who – after a rough trip across the North Atlantic – first set foot on land on November 11,1620.

Here’s the timeline.  Before it set sail for the New World (disambiguation), the Mayflower was docked at SouthamptonHampshire, waiting to hook up with a smaller ship, Speedwell.   Speedwell sailed over from Holland and met up with Mayflower, and both ships left for America on what we would call August 15, 1620.  (See “Old Style” on the differences in dating.)

Unfortunately Speedwell proved unseaworthy, so both ships had to put in at Dartmouth, Devon, meaning they got about 90 or 100 miles at sea – “as the crow flies” from Southhampton – before stopping for repairs.  (It’s 149 miles by road.)  At the harbor in Dartmouth, Speedwell was “inspected for leaks and sealed, but a second attempt to depart also failed, bringing them only so far as Plymouth, Devon.”  (Meaning on their second try they made about 31 miles by road, but a bit more than that around Start Point, Devon – Wikipedia and the South Devon coast.)

So at that point the group ended up selling the smaller ship and transferring as many of its passengers and goods as possible to Mayflower, which then had to go it alone.

Incidentally, Plymouth in England is the present-day site of the Mayflower Steps, “the spot close to the site … from which it is believed the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for North America in 1620.  The Mayflower Steps are flanked by the British and American flags and mark the final English departure point … from which the Pilgrim Fathers are believed to have finally left England aboard the Mayflower, before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to settle in North America on 6 September 1620.”  See Mayflower Steps – Historic Site in Plymouth and Mayflower Steps – Wikipedia.  It also provided the name of the spot where – according to tradition – the Pilgrims first landed in America.  See Plymouth Rock – Wikipedia.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  To get back on track, Mayflower left Plymouth – alone – on or about September 6, 1620.  The crew and passengers had before them some 65 days of sailing the North Atlantic, and at first there was nothing but smooth sailing…

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The upper image is courtesy of Pilgrim Fathers – Wikipedia, with the caption, The Embarkation of the Pilgrims (1857) by the American painter Robert Walter Weir at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City.”

The lower image is courtesy of Mayflower Collection – Mike Haywood’s Artwork – Mayflower HMS, with the caption, “A prosperous wind  The Mayflower leaving English shores.”   The home-page of the site notes “Mike Haywood has a growing International reputation as a marine and portrait painter.  He has a Doctorate in Oceanography and loves painting rough or lively seas.  He has a Doctorate in Oceanography and loves painting rough or lively seas.  Each painting is painstakingly researched to ensure accuracy.”   The site’s “Mayflower Collection” includes more images of the voyage.   (Note that the lower image shows Speedwell in the background, indicating that is shows either the first or the second attempt to reach the New World.)

The asterisk –  “*” –  signifies, “with a nod to the song by that name in the movie Aladdin.”  See Aladdin – A whole new world [Lyrics] – YouTube.  See also Aladdin – A Whole New World Lyrics, including:  “A whole new world, A new fantastic point of view, No one to tell us no, Or where to go…  Unbelievable sights, Indescribable feeling, Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling, Through an endless diamond sky…”  All of which could describe the feelings of any pilgrim setting out for any “new world,” before reality sets in and the real work begins…

See also Cut to the chase – Wikipedia, which explained that the phrase meaning “to get to the point without wasting time” originated from early silent films.

The article Centrism – Wikipedia indicated that Americans today are fed up with the political status quo and are looking for a “New Political Center,” intermixing liberal instincts and conservative values; “tolerant traditionalists” who believe in “conventional social morality that ensure family stability,” while being “tolerant within reason” of those who challenge such traditional morality, “and as pragmatically supportive of government intervention in spheres such as education, child care, health care as long as budgets are balanced.”  See also On Jesus: Liberal or Fundamentalist?

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On the first Thanksgiving – Part II

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In Part I we talked about “the feelings of any pilgrim setting out for any ‘new world,'” often a time of high hopes and nothing by smooth sailing, before reality sets in and the real work begins.

A part of that reality setting in involves one of the Mayflower passengers – John Howland – falling overboard during the voyage, at a time of particular weather distress; “winds so fierce and the seas so high,” as discussed further in the notes below.

But even before leaving for the New World on the Mayflower in 1620, the Pilgrim leaders had to consider what they might find when they got there (here), things like the “savage and brutish men” said to live in America, and their possible tortures.

Thus on the one hand the Pilgrims faced the prospect of going to America only to be flayed alive “with the shells of fishes,” after capture and torture by the natives.  On the other hand, they could stay in Holland, which at the time was threatened with invasion by Spain, then the most powerful empire in the world.  Thus to the Pilgrims, the “cruel Spaniards” were arguably as bad as the New World’s “savage and brutish men.”

A side note:  Before going to America, the Pilgrims spent some years in Holland, trying to escape persecution from “the Established Church” in England.  Yet even though the Netherlands offered tolerance and security, there were some troubling issues aside from the threat of invasion by Spain, which then owned Holland as a colony:

The Netherlands was … a land whose culture and language were strange and difficult for the English congregation to understand or learn.  They found the Dutch morals much too libertine.  Their children were becoming more and more Dutch as the years passed by.  The congregation came to believe that they faced eventual extinction if they remained there. (E.A.)

See Pilgrim Fathers – Wikipedia.  So one of the Pilgrim Fathers – William Bradford, who ultimately served 30 years as Governor of the Plymouth Colony – thought long and hard about the dilemma they faced.  He came up with the following advice, which could stand us in good stead “even to this day:”

All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages.   The dangers were great, but not desperate; the difficulties were many, but not invincible.   For though there were many of them likely, yet they were not certain; it might be sundry of the things feared might never befall; others with provident care and the use of good means might in a great measure be prevented; and all of them, through the help of God, by fortitude and patience, might either be borne or overcome.   Such attempts were not to be made or undertaken without good ground and reason; not rashly or lightly as many have done for curiosity or hope of gain.    But their condition was not ordinary; their ends were good and honorable, their calling lawful, and urgent; and therefore they might expect the blessing of God in their proceeding.

Thus Bradford’s answer: Do the best you can, and – after taking all due and sensible precautions – trust God to help you with the rest.  Some of those bad things might not happen, and some bad things might be prevented with foresight and preparation.  Then too, if you’re “on a mission from God,” you might reasonably expect His help.

Or it could be summed up this way, “If it was easy, anybody could do it!”  And here’s another BTW: had this to say: “Lacking the dogmatic temper and religious enthusiasm of the Puritans of the Great Migration, Bradford steered a middle course for Plymouth Colony…”

Which is another way of saying the Pilgrims who founded Plymouth Colony were way different from the Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  For more on the differences see Plymouth Colony and Massachusetts Bay Colony.

But again we digress…  The point is that after a treacherous ocean crossing – with incidents like the one shown above involving John Howland – the Pilgrims finally arrived at the New-World Promised Land, as memorialized by soon-to-be Governor Bradford, who wrote this account of their landing a year before that first Thanksgiving,  in his classic Of Plymouth Plantation:

“Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth.” (E.A.)

Wikipedia added that the “passengers who had endured miserable conditions for about sixty-five days were led by William Brewster in Psalm 100 as a prayer of thanksgiving.”

But even then their ordeal was far from over. 102 people landed in November 1620 on the Mayflower, but in the year between that 1620 landing and the first Thanksgiving in November 1621, 49 of the original 102 died.  That is, only 53 of the original Mayflower passengers survived that first year, and of the 18 adult women who came over on the Mayflower, only four survived that first year in much-vaunted, much-anticipated “New World.”

As Wikipedia noted, “During the worst of the sickness, only six or seven of the group were able and willing to feed and care for the rest.”  Then too the colonists had to let the graves in the new cemetary “overgrow with grass for fear the Indians would discover how weakened the settlement had actually become.”

So freedom isn’t free, and it isn’t cheap either.  Sometimes the price is paid in human lives,  military and civilian.  See also Thanksgiving (United States) – Wikipedia, which detailed reality setting in and the real work beginning.   For one thing, “Squanto, a Patuxet Native American … taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn.”  (Mmmmm.  Squanto also served as an interpreter, having learned English during his travels in England.)  “Additionally the Wampanoag leader Massasoit had donated food stores to the fledgling colony during the first winter when supplies brought from England were insufficient.”

So somehow the fledgling band of colonists survived, and celebrated their first Thanks-giving:

The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days, providing enough food for 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.  The feast consisted of fish (cod, eels, and bass) and shellfish (clams, lobster, and mussels), wild fowl (ducks, geese, swans, and turkey), venison, berries and fruit, vegetables (peas, pumpkin, beetroot and possibly, wild or cultivated onion), harvest grains (barley and wheat), and the Three Sisters: beans, dried Indian maize or corn, and squash.

Which brings us back to pilgrimages in general, and to “St. James the Greater”, the patron saint of pilgrims and pilgrimages.  The post on St. James included this:  “In the spiritual literature of Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to the experience of life in the world (considered as a period of exile) or to the inner path of the spiritual aspirant from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude.”

So you could say that – in a sensewe’re all Pilgrims

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For more on John Howland see the web article, Biographies – Society of Mayflower Descendants. It noted that Howland arrived as a servant to John Carver, the first Governor of Plymouth Colony, yet went on to sign the Mayflower Compact (see below).  He went on to serve the colony as selectman, assistant and deputy governor, and surveyor of highways, and died “over 80” in 1672 (no one was quite sure when he was born).  But that long and productive life was almost cut short on the voyage over, in 1620, as described by Governor Bradford:

“In sundry of these storms the winds were so fierce and the seas so high, as they could not bear a knot of sail…   And in one of them … a lusty young man called John Howland, coming upon some occasion above the gratings was … thrown into the sea; but it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halyards which hung overboard…   Yet he held his hold [and] got into the ship again[,] his life saved.   And though he was something ill with it, yet he lived many years after and became a profitable member both in church and commonwealth.”

The lower image is courtesy of Thanksgiving – Wikipedia, with the caption, “Jennie Augusta BrownscombeThe First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts.”

Note that Psalm 100 is a short (five verse) psalm of ardent thanksgiving: “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.  Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing…    For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”  (That was from the King James Version, the one God uses, as did the original Pilgrims.) 

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Here’s how Governor Bradford described the first Thanksgiving, in Of Plymouth Plantation::

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty.  For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion.  All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees).  And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc.  Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion.  Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.

Note also that shortly after they made landfall in the New World, the colonists wrote the Mayflower Compact, “the first written framework of government established in what is now the United States.”  The compact (or agreement), “signed by 41 English colonists on the ship Mayflower on November 11, 1620 … was drafted to prevent dissent amongst Puritans and non-separatist Pilgrims who had landed at Plymouth a few days earlier.”  (The passengers on the ship included a number of adventurers who were not “Pilgrims.”)  See Mayflower Compact – Facts & Summary –, and also Mayflower Compact – Wikipedia.

The notes in the post on St. James included a reference to the book Passages of the Soul[:] Ritual Today, by James Roose-Evans (Element Books Ltd. 1994), which noted that a pilgrimage “may be described as a ritual on the move,”  and that in doing so – that is through “the raw experience of hunger, cold, lack of sleep” – we can quite often find a sense of our fragility as mere human beings, especially when compared with the majesty and permanence of God and His creation.   The book said such a pilgrimage can be  “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” of personal experiences,” and closed with a picture of Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, asking:

“So, punk, do you feel like getting chastened and liberated?”

 (Image courtesy of Dirty Harry – Wikipedia.)

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