Monthly Archives: February 2017

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.