Note that two weeks after that 2020 Ash Wednesday, the COVID pandemic hit:
…to me, “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – back on Thursday, March 12,” when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, along with other major sports. “So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st.”
But of course, Ash Wednesday comes right after “Fat Tuesday,” also called Mardi Gras, or “Pancake Day,” or Shrove Tuesday. (From the word shrive,* meaning “to administer the sacrament of confession to; to absolve.”) Which is a pretty good metaphor for the kind of absolutionsome people may feel we need – because of all the calamities that have befallen us since that long-ago Ash Wednesday, 2020. (That long-ago time of innocence, before “the stuff hit the fan.”)
On the other hand there’s Job 5:7, a reminder that “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” (And that before the COVID we had a pretty good run of “not so bad.”)
As Wikipedia said, “Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc.” But that debauchery is always – in the church calendar – followed by Lent. Lent in turn is a season devoted to “prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.
And by the way, you do get days off in Lent. There are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Sundays don’t count in the calculation. They’re essentially “days off,” when you can still enjoy whatever it is you’ve “given up.” But back on topic…
As noted in My Lenten meditation – from 2016 – most people have traditional Lenten Disciplines that involve giving up something. (Preferably something they really enjoy.) On the other hand, some choose to add a discipline, a discipline that will “add to my spiritual life.”
For example, I spent the 2016 Lenten period “contemplating on how and when Moses wrote those first five books;” that is, the first five books of the Bible, the Torah. But this Lent I’ll be going back and revising an eBook I published in 2018, “There’s No Such Thing as a Conservative Christian.” As you can tell by the title, it was way too militant. (As in having a “combative character; aggressive, especially in the service of a cause.)
I’ll be writing more about such Lenten practices in the near future. But for this Lenten 2022 discipline “adding to my spiritual life,” I’ll be revising and rewriting that 2018 book. It to be less militant, less confrontational, and “more Christian.” So wish me luck, but in the meantime:
Have a Happy Ash Wednesday!
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“Book of Common Prayer.” The passage is at page 339, Holy Eucharist Rite I post-communion prayer.
The upper image is courtesy of Mardi Gras – Wikipedia. Captioned: “Mardi Gras Day, New Orleans: Krewe of Kosmic Debris revelers on Frenchmen Street.”
We are still in theSeason of Epiphany, running from January 6 – the day of Epiphany – to Ash Wednesday. This year Ash Wednesday comes on March 2, and it marks the beginning of Lent. But as far as Feast Days go, the next relatively major one comes on Thursday, February 24. That’s the Feast of St. Matthias, the Apostle who took the place of Judas:
…according to the Acts of the Apostles, [he] was the apostle chosen by the remaining eleven apostles to replace Judas Iscariot following Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and suicide. His calling as an apostle is unique in that his appointment was not made personally by Jesus, who had already ascended to heaven, [and] before the descent of the Holy Spirit…
“Father Roberts” (1853-1949) was a missionary to Native American tribes including the Shoshone. But this John Roberts was different. Many Christian missionaries tried to change the culture and lifestyle of Native peoples. But Father Roberts believed it was important to preserve the language, customs, and culture of the people. Thus he tried to “honor and respect the ancient ways of the Native peoples while at the same time proclaiming the Gospel among them.” And that may be why he got his own feast day – in the Daily Office – on February 25.
There’s more on this fascinating missionary in the February 2015 post, but let’s get back to St. Matthias. His story is also fascinating. Like the fact he was also known as “Unremarkable Matthias” or the “Overlooked Apostle.” See The Overlooked Holy Apostle, Matthias. Also, Isaac Asimov gave a pithy description of how Matthias became an Apostle:
Peter arranged to have a new individual selected to take the place of Judas Iscariot in order to bring the number of the inner circle back to the mystical twelve that matched the twelve tribes of Israel. Two were nominated, Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. To choose between the two, lots were used: Acts 1:26 … and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. Neither Joseph Barsabbas nor Matthias are mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament.
So while we can be sure he was “numbered with the eleven,” some confusion remains about who he really was. For example, The Overlooked Holy Apostle said that “Matthias was originally Zacchaeus.” He was the tax collector Zacchaeus, who climbed a sycamore tree* because he couldn’t see Jesus, both as he was short and because of the crowd of people.
See the full story of Zacchaeus at Luke 19:1-10, and the Wikipedia article. The latter said Zacchaeus was an example “of Jesus‘s personal, earthly mission to bring salvation to the lost.” In this case, the “lost” included tax collectors, who were despised as traitors – “working for the Roman Empire, not for their Jewish community” – and for being corrupt. But Zacchaeus – after seeing Jesus – “repented of his former life after meeting the Lord.”
Getting back to St. Matthias: The article Overlooked Holy Apostle goes into great detail about his sufferings – and ultimate death. It said Matthias preached in Macedonia and Ethiopia, where “the heathen dragged him over the ground, beat him, hung him from a pillar and tore his stomach with an iron blade and burned him with fire.” Another town he preached in was a “city of the man-eaters,” cannibalism. When Matthias entered the town, “the men of that city took hold of him and thrust out his eyes and made him drink poison and sent him to the prison where he sat for thirty days waiting to be eaten and die.”
But the Lord appeared to him and got his eyesight back for him, as well as other prisoners who’d suffered the same fate. The site also said Matthias was rescued by the Apostle Andrew; “as Andrew approached the gates of the prison, the doors opened of their own accord.”
But wait, there’s more!
Eventually Matthias returned to Galilee, where he was stoned to death. “The Jews, filled with malice and anger, seized Matthias and presented him to the High Priest, Annas.” The High Priest, who “hated all Christians and was responsible for the death of James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, ordered that Matthias be stoned.” One point of note: Overlooked Holy Apostle said that when Matthias was taken to be stoned, he cried out, “You hypocrites, rightly did the Prophet David speak to those like you: ‘they shall hunt down the soul of the righteous man, and the innocent blood shall they condemn,'” citing “Psalm 93:21.”
The problem is, Psalm 93 has six verses. The actual citation is apparently to Psalm 94:21. In the NIV, “The wicked band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.”
It pays to double-check!
After Matthias spoke these words, two witnesses who claimed he’d blasphemed picked up stones to be the first to stone him. But first, Matthias asked that these stones be buried with him as a testimony of his suffering for the Lord. So they stoned him to death, and as an added insult, also beheaded him to express that he was an enemy of Rome. So whether St. Matthias died by being first stoned and then beheaded, or had his eyes gouged out, then “sat for thirty days waiting to be eaten and die,” the lesson is: Being an apostle was no piece of cake!
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“Book of Common Prayer.” The passage is at page 339, Holy Eucharist Rite I post-communion prayer.
The upper image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on Zacchaeus. The caption: “‘Zacchaeus’ by Niels Larsen Stevns. Jesus calls Zacchaeus down from his height in the tree.”
Re: Isaac Asimov. The quote is from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One), Avenel Books (1981), page 998. 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, the Bible, 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.
Wednesday, February 2, 2022 was the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Presenting Jesus – as a baby, 40 days after Christmas – followed a 1,000-year-old custom that began with Moses. In Exodus 13:2, God said, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male:”
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.
That’s from my post back on February 3, 2017, On the FIRST “Presentation of the Lord.” One point of that long-ago post was that from the time Jesus was “first presented” – at just over a month old – His life became “one long journey to the Second Presentation.” That second “Presentation” happened on Good Friday, when Jesus was about to be crucified.
This year it takes 72 days to cover the journey Jesus took 33 years* to get through. That includes most of Epiphanytide; it started on January 6 and ends on Ash Wednesday. After the night-before Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday) comes Ash Wednesday. So March 2 this year starts the Season of Lent. And that ends with Easter Sunday, this year on April 17. (Thus the 72 days.)
That 2017 post also discussed the “once-prevalent custom” in America of churching new mothers, possibly as late as 1979. That too came 40 days after a child was born, and was also called “the churching of Women.” It started – as far as we can tell – back in the Middle Ages, and was still offered by the Catholic Church until the 1960s, then discontinued.
The Anglican Church – back in England – still offers the service, but it seems rarely used.
In America, the old 1928 Book of Common Prayer included the service, but the 1979 Revision of the Book of Common Prayer left it out. Page 305 of the 1928 BCP is titled “The Thanksgiving of Women after Child-birth, (‘Commonly called the Churching of Women’).” The directions call for the new mother to “come into the Church decently apparelled,” and to kneel “in some convenient place.” The Minister would then begin:
Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God, of his goodness, to give you safe deliverance, and to preserve you in the great danger of Child-birth [sic]; you shall therefore give hearty thanks unto God, and say…
The new mother would then recite “Dilexi, quoniam, Psalm cxvi,” which we now know as Psalm 116. Which all brings up two thoughts. One, about just how dangerous it was for women to have babies “back in the good old days,” and two, about just how old I am. I still have the 1928 Prayer Book that my grandmother gave me, for Confirmation, on December 22, 1963.
There’s more later, but first a word about one of the Daily Office Readings for this February 2 Feast. [Like] 1st Samuel 2:3, “For the LORD is a God of knowledge.” Which – taken together with Isaiah 27:11 – means that “therefore mercy is to be denied to him who has no knowledge.” And that’s a bit of Bible law that may well affect the many today who label anything they disagree with – or that contradicts some cherished beliefs – as “Fake News.”
In hindsight, it seems that I – like many other Christians – was a lot more confrontational back in 2019. But since then I’ve tried to amend my ways. (Can you say “He’s Still Working on Me?”)
Then I posted The “Presentation of our Lord” – 2020. And a note, that post came some 42 days “B.C.” As updated, that would be “42 days Before COVID.” As explained in the notes, I calculate the first full week of the COVID as beginning on Sunday, March 15, 2020. (A time of innocence and crowd-gathering that now seems so “long ago and far away…”)
But we digress…
Back to The Presentation … 2020. It talked a bit about Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, which comes this year on March 1. (The day before Ash Wednesday.) One point? That way too many see Mardi Gras as just another excuse to party, with no connection to religion or spirituality.
The bad news – to some – is that Mardi Gras is followed immediately by Lent, a “solemn religious observance,” 40 days of atonement, prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial. And incidentally, that’s not 40 days straight of “self-denial.” You get Sundays off to enjoy whatever it is you’ll be giving up for Lent.
As to that last assertion, see OMG! Is it time for Lent again? That is, there are actually 46 days of Lent: 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, not 40. That’s because Sundays in Lent are essentially “days off,” when you can still enjoy whatever it is you’ve “given up.”
Which leads to a final note of interest: That generally the February 2d “Presentation” comes roughly halfway into the Season of Epiphany. Which this year ends with Ash Wednesday, on March 2. Which leads – as noted – to both Lent and Easter. And that also leads to what could be called the “Second Presentation of Jesus.” That is, Ash Wednesday leads to Good Friday, with Jesus about to be crucified – for us and our shortcomings – as illustrated below…
Which is all part of the Christian pilgrimage, with cycles of both fasting and feasting. “In further words, by reading and studying the Bible on a regular basis, the good Christian can both relish the good things that come along in life, and get through the challenging parts as well.”
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The upper image is courtesy of Presentation of Jesus in the Temple – Image Results. It accompanies an articlefrom the Česká katolická misie v Kalifornii, translated as the “Czech Catholic Mission in California.” The article discussed “Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus, is a Christian holiday commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.” It did not identify the painting.
Another note: I ended the “72 days” at Good Friday, not Easter Sunday.
The standard 1928 Book Of Common Prayer, including my 1963 copy, measures a pocket-sized 4-by-6 inches. Despite the inherent small type, it’s still easy to read. (If you like Shakespearean English.)
Re: First full week of COVID. See On St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. There I explained that, to me, “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – back on Thursday, March 12,” when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, along with other major sports. “So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15,” 2020.
We are now in theSeason of Epiphany. That church season runs from January 6 – the day of Epiphany (holiday) – to Ash Wednesday. This year Ash Wednesday comes on March 2, and marks the beginning of Lent. (And just as an aside, the season of Epiphanytide can last anywhere from four to nine weeks; it all depends on when Easter falls in any given year.)
The one certainty is that Epiphanytideruns from January 6 to the Tuesday just before Ash Wednesday. (And that “Tuesday before” is called Mardi Gras, discussed below.) So with Ash Wednesday – illustrated at right – coming on March 2, that means Easter Sunday comes this year on April 17. Note also that Easter is not just one day; it’s also another season, the Season of Easter. That liturgical season lasts 50 days, this year from April 17 to June 5, 2022. (Easter Season ends on Pentecost Sunday, which comes from the Latin word for “50.”)
And speaking of Mardi Gras, that holiday – just before the start of Lent – is a prime example of the church calendar’s cycle of “feasting and fasting.” (See On Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent – 2020, “In other words, the Christian pilgrimage consists of both fasting and feasting.”) In further words, by reading and studying the Bible on a regular basis, the good Christian can both relish the good things that come along in life, and get through the challenging parts as well.
Then too, “Mardi Gras” – the day – is also known as Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday. (The term “Mardi Gras” comes from the French words for Fat Tuesday.*) And the terms “Mardi Gras,” Fat Tuesday and Shrove Tuesday all refer to the “practice of the last night of eating rich, fatty foods before the ritual Lenten sacrifices andfasting of the Lenten season.”
Or as it has come to mean in some circles today, Mardi Gras translates to a chance to engage in certain debauchery – like “showing skin for beads” – or in other words, “Let’s Party!!”
Which pretty much squares which my calculations, that we are now past the 96th full week of the pandemic, or 24 full months.* But that’s not the only thing we have to worry about, as noted in last year’s post on Epiphany.
I put some links in the notes; deep background on the various feast days. Like January 1 being known by various names including National Hangover Day and the day we celebrate the Circumcision of Christ. (But since we today are more squeamish, “modern calendars often list it as the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.”) Or more information on January 6 being known as “Three Kings Day,” when the three “Magi” came to visit the infant Jesus. (And a note that in its original sense, Magi referred to “followers of Zoroaster,” and comes from the root word for “magic.”)
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Meanwhile – and speaking of Will I REALLY live to 120 – I just published a book with that title back in 2021. It’s about a bet that I made with myself, about maybe living to 120, like Moses, with “eye undimmed and vigor unabated.” (Deuteronomy 34:7.) Some chapters deal with a really old ancestor of mine, William Bradford, who lived to the equivalent of 140.* He came over on the Mayflower and served as governor of Plymouth Colony for some 30 years. He also studied Hebrew in his old age, because he wanted to read the Old Testament in it original language.
On that note – and following in Bradford‘s footsteps – I myself just started studying Hebrew. (At the age of 70.) Part of the studies include a 36-chapter set of “Wondrium” videos, Learn Biblical Hebrew. Another part is my recent purchase of the Learning Biblical Hebrew Workbook, shown below. And in the very beginning of that workbook there is this caveat: “Allow yourself space to fail … regardless of the number of errors you made in the process. If you are like our students, you may complete entire exercises without getting one problem fully correct.”
[T]he would-be meditator might want to give himself permission to make mistakes. “You will make them anyway and will be much more comfortable – and get along better with this exercise – if you give yourself permission in advance.” [T]he meditator [or Bible student] should treat himself as a “much-loved child … trying to keep walking on a narrow side-walk.”
Which is a far cry from the “get it right or go straight to hell” method of Bible study that some so-called Christians seem to promote. That’s also a far cry from how Jesus wanted us to read the Bible: With an open mind. (Luke 24:45: “Then He [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”) The result of such an approach? A good Christian reading the Bible with an open mind can both “transcend the painful, negative aspects of life,” and live with a serene inner peace. In other words, a life of joy and love, along with a “zest, a fervor and gusto in life.” All of which is a pretty tall order, so it’s time to get back to work.
The French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and Mardi Gras is now a generic term for “Let’s Party!!” Or 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.”
Re: Full weeks of COVID. See On St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. There I explained that to me, the pandemic hit full swing – the “stuff really hit the fan” – on Thursday, March 12. “That’s when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, and March Madness and college baseball were called off… So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st,” 2020.
Re: William Bradford living to the equivalent of 140. He died at 67, when the average life expectancy was almost half that, or 36 years. That works out to a 1.86 factor, so multiplying today’s average life expectancy – say 75 years – leads to 140 years being the equivalent of Bradford’s living to 67.
I’ll talk about the 12 Days of Christmas in a bit, but first a note about 1st Kings 17:21. There’s a story there about the prophet Elijah bringing back to life a boy who had died. The interestingpart is where he prays, “O LORD my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.”
That was the Old Testament reading for Thursday, December 30,* and when I read that it raised some questions. Like, “Where did the boy’s soul go? Where did it come back from? And does that passage have an effect on any of the pressing hot-button political issues of today?” Note too that many translations say “let this child’s life come back to him.” However, the King James Version – the one God uses – has the term “soul,” and that’s good enough for me.*
Another good passage I just ran across – in the readings for Christmas Day – was 1st John 4:8. The translation I like best is the Contemporary English Version, “God is love, and anyone who doesn’t love others has never known him.” Which can be a good response to those Facebook users who seem to revel in spreading hate. (“Are you acting out of love? Like Billy Graham?”)
But enough of that. Back to the 12 days of Christmas.
For starters, let’s go back before the Covid to The 12 days of Christmas, 2018-2019. That post noted that those 12 days of Christmas don’t end until “next year,” on January 6:
The Twelve Days of Christmas is the festive Christian season [including “Twelfth Night”] beginning on Christmas Day … that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God. This period is also known as Christmastide… The Feast of the Epiphany is on 6 January [and] celebrates the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus. In some traditions, the feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Day overlap.
The latter feast day was immortalized by artists including Jan Steen, whose painting “The King drinks” is shown below. In fact, the custom of eating and especially drinking too much became such a problem it was banned in some places: “Twelfth Night in the Netherlands became so secularised, rowdy and boisterous that public celebrations were banned from the church.”
Then there’s the tradition that the Three Wise Men got to the manger-scene just after Jesus was born, but the truth seems harder to pin down. Some say they arrived the same winter Jesus was born, while others say they came two winters after his birth. That would explain Herod’s order – see Matthew 2:16–18 – that his soldiers kill “all the male children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under.” (Known to history as the “Massacre of the Innocents,” noted every December 28.)
In that post – from last year near this time – I picked “three earlier posts to glean from,” along with a reflection on how “gleaning” came to have multiple meanings. Along with a reflection on a mid-winter trip I took the year before, three months before the Covid pandemic “hit the fan.” Referring back to a post from January 17, 2020, My recent Utah trip noted this:
[T]he end of an old year and beginning of a New Year is also a time to recall the events of that past year gone by, and 2019 was definitely a year of pilgrimage for me. Like my trip last May to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. (See “On to Jerusalem, On my first full day in Jerusalem, or type in “Jerusalem” in the search box above right.)
Which is another way of saying that 2019 was a “pilgrimage-filled year,” ending with a 15-day solo road trip “out to and back from my brother’s house in Utah.*” All of which brought back fond memories – of “before Covid” – with recalling that “This too shall pass.”
I ended that “Gleaning” … 2021 post with this thought: “Here’s hoping for a much better 2021.” So now I’ll close this post by saying, “Here’s hoping for a much better 2022.” And I’m going to keep saying it, updating it every year, until that much-better year finally happens…
In fact, Graham eventually grew in grace so much that he came to say that God loves allpeople – even Liberals. Which led some Fundamentalists to criticize him “for his ecumenism, even calling him ‘Antichrist.’”
I recently started re-reading portions of the book, which convinced me that I should try to be more like Billy, in the purity and inclusiveness of his faith. (Instead of referring to Right-wing Wackos as – well, “Right-wing Wackos.”) On a related note, in 2018 I published an eBook, “There’s No Such Thing as a Conservative Christian”: and Other Such Musings on the Faith of the Bible. In light of my determination to be “more like Billy,”I’ll be revamping that book for a new version tentatively titled, “There ARE still some open-minded, tolerant and caring Christians… (‘You know, the REAL ones?’)” Or something less confrontational like that. And toning it down a bit.
A note: 2019 included, in September, a 160-mile hike on the Portuguese Way (of the Camino de Santiago), from Porto to Santiago. The mid-winter road trip to Utah included “getting snowed in at a Motel 6 in Grand Island, Nebraska, with a view of a near-frozen North Platte River,” but which also included “a great burger and two draft beers at the Thunder Road Grill at the truck stop next door.”
Like the headline says, “Welcome to Christmas, 2021.” Which means – among other things – that it’s time to look back on this past year. I suppose the biggest and most heartbreaking news is that – as of last December 5 – our version of the COVID and its variants has claimed the lives of some 803,045 Americans. Which leads us back to this time last year.
To help curb its spread, health departments [in 1918] ordered the closures of schools, theaters, bars, and churches. Christians were unable to celebrate Christmas by gathering to worship, to hear or participate in choir concerts, and other well-loved and important traditions used to mark the holiday by many.
But of course, we thought we’d be over all that by now…
That is, many Americans during Christmas back in 2020 no doubt figured that by now – a full year later – we would have the Covid problem largely fixed. Then too, I noted that the Spanish Flu pandemic started in February 1918, and lasted two years and two months, until April 1920. On that note, according to my calculations, we are now in the 93d full week of COVID, or 23 months and one week.* Which might have meant that the end of this plague was near, except for that new and more-transmissible “Covid in town,” the Omicron variant.
Getting back to “2020 Christmas,” that post noted that 1918 people had some advantages over us today. For one thing, Americans then were “much more familiar with epidemic disease:”
[E]pidemic disease was very familiar to the early 20th century public. Families, many of which had lost a child to diphtheria or watched a loved one suffer from polio, were generally willing to comply with some limitations on their activities. Most public health departments wore badges and had police powers, and this was generally uncontroversial. “They could forcibly quarantine you or put you on a quarantine station on an island.”
That willingness to comply with “limitations on their activities” is a lesson some Americans today seem unwilling to learn. Then too – aside from describing the progress of that plague (from “where it started”) – that 2020 post talked about the pandemic’s “waves.” For example, the number of cases went down in mid-1918, only to rise again when – in November – Americans gathered in large numbers to celebrate the end of “The Great War.”
There was also a note on “bad things happening to good people,” with one silver lining:
There is much we can do to alleviate each other’s suffering when adversity strikes. Our support and empathy toward our fellow human beings in their time of need helps them not only materially but demonstrates to them that they matter… When we act kindly, it also gives meaning to our own life, as we see that we matter to others.
Which I thought was pretty much what Christians are supposed to do anyway. (Show empathy, and try to alleviate the suffering of others.) And which was pretty much the point of my post, Another view of Jesus feeding the 5,000. That rather than waiting on God to perform miracles, we should get to work on the problems ourselves. Which brings up the “Christmas spirit.”
The code of generosity, kindness, and charity toward others is enforced by no one other than ourselves. There are places where this code is strong, and these places (or people) are said to have strong Christmas spirit… After all, we are the sum of the individuals around us who generate the collective force that governs and organizes our social structure… When we “act out” Christmas spirit, we’re making visible this collective force, and we give it power.
The upper image is courtesy of Christmas 2021 Images – Image Results. It came with an advertisement – touting the unique Christmas ornament – but when I clicked on the link I got this notice: “Sorry, this item and shop are currently unavailable.” Maybe they sold out?
As for 2021 being “not all that bad” for me, among other things – and for most of this past September – I got to travel to France and Spain, for another hike on the Camino de Santiago. See I just got back from “Camino 2021.”
Re: My “93d full week of COVID” calculations.See On St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. There I explained that, to me, “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – back on Thursday, March 12,” when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, along with other major sports. “So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st.”
The song, recorded by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, was made on 27 November (some sources give 28 November), 1949. The recording was released by Decca Records [and] first reached the Billboard record chart in the US on 13 January 1950, and lasted 19 weeks on the chart, peaking at number 10.
The tune’s lyrics comment on our tendency to be constantly busy, while always making travel plans for “some time in the future.” Then comes the kicker: “how far can you travel when you’re six feet underground. (Along with this thought: If your “ravishing brunette” leaves you for another man, don’t fret. “You’ll have more fun by reaching for a redhead or a blonde.”)
But we digress…
You can find similar views in the Bible. I especially like the New King James Version of Ecclesiastes 5:18, “It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good … all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage.” (Many versions focus on “the few days of life” or “the short life” God gives us. But at 70 years of age now I’m not too crazy about those “negative” translations. Though I do like the part about redheads and blondes.)
And that’s not to mention the fact that – with good diet, supplements and healthy exercise – I hope to live another 50 years. To 120, like Moses, with “eye undimmed and vigor unabated.*”
Being alive always was and will always remain an emergency; it is truly an inescapable “underlying condition…” This is what Camus meant when he talked about the “absurdity” of life. Recognizing this absurdity should lead us not to despair but to a tragicomic redemption, a softening of the heart, a turning away from judgment and moralizing to joy and gratitude.
So I thought – back in 2020 – that the “current [COVID] pestilence might lead to a massive change in our present national life.” Like a general and sweeping “softening of the heart” in America. That hasn’t happened yet, but we started off this post talking about Advent, 2021.
Advent … calls us to look back to the past, forward to the future, upwards to heaven, and downwards to earth. It is a time of anticipation… The first Sunday of Advent is the start of a new liturgical year, and yet there is a continuity with the end of the liturgical year just finished… One does not have to be a prophet of doom to recognize that this year  has been filled with terrible events… We need God to come and fix a broken world. The season of Advent is about [the] “devout and expectant delight” that God will do that.
That post noted that even Ebenezer Scrooge recognized that “Christmas is a very busy time for us.” And that this time of year – in the church calendar – can also be very confusing. “That’s because both the Season of Advent and the church-year itself actually begin with St. Andrew, the ‘First Apostle.'” There’s more on St. Andrew in the notes, but the point is that it’s okay to feel “busy,” confused, and even overwhelmed at Christmas time, and especially at this Christmas time, of 2021. (When “we thought the Plague was finally over!”)
Re: “More on St. Andrew.” According to the National Catholic Register, “St. Andrew was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, but many people know little about him.” Which is another way of saying that he was pretty important, but that he often gets overlooked:
Andrew was “one of the four disciples closest to Jesus, but he seems to have been the least close of the four… That’s ironic because Andrew was one of the first followers[. In fact,] because he followed Jesus before St. Peter and the others – he is called the Protoklete or ‘First Called’ apostle.”
November 24, 2021 – In case you didn’t realize it, the next major feast day is Thanksgiving, on November 25. As noted in the Thanksgiving link, that national holiday dates back to 1621, when “Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag [Native Americans] shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies.”
The calendar of saints is the traditional Christian method of organizing a liturgical year by associating each day with one or more saints and referring to the day as the feast day or feast of said saint. The word “feast” in this context does not mean “a large meal, typically a celebratory one,” but instead “an annual religious celebration, a day dedicated to a particular saint.”
The last time I did a post on Thanksgiving was in 2019; Thanksgiving 2019. Which means for some reason I didn’t do such a post in 2020. For one thing there was a disputed election. (Which wasn’t settled until January 6, 2021, and in some minds remains unsettled “even to this day.”) Then there was COVID-19… And a reminder: That 2019 post came before the pandemic hit, so “let’s go back and see what life was like back then, in ‘B.C.'” (Before Covid.)
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For starters, here’s my original caption for the lead painting above: “The Mayflower Pilgrims, leaving behind their homeland – for a ‘whole New Wo-o-o-orld…‘” (The latter referred to the song from “Aladdin.”) And the title and artist of the painting, “‘The Embarkation of the Pilgrims[‘] (1857) by the American painter Robert Walter Weir.”
Back on Thanksgiving 2019 my main – mundane – concerns were 1) just getting back from a 19-day 160-mile hike on the Portuguese Camino, 2) being hired back as a supervisor at the local Keep America Beautiful, and 3) reurning home in the middle of the “High Holy Season.”(The season of college and pro football. See Moses at Rephidim: ‘What if?’)
Back in that time of relative innocence – considering the challenges about to rear their ugly heads – I waxed poetic about how we might “live in harmony with one another,” so that together we might “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We’re still waiting for that one to happen.
But as with any great pilgrimage like ours – on a national scale – there’s always a need for a reality check every so often. Like this one about that much-celebrated First Thanksgiving:
102 [Pilgrims] landed in November 1620 [at Plymouth Rock]. Less than half survived the next year. (To November 1621.) Of the handful of adult women – 18 in all – onlyfoursurvived that first winter in the hoped-for “New World…” The point is this[: T]he men and women who first settled America paid a high price, so that we could enjoy the privilege of stuffing ourselves into a state of stupor.
In other words freedom – like Enlightenment – “isn’t free.” Which should remind us that any true pilgrimage – or any spiritual journey worth its salt – involves a lot of disciplined, persevering work. And which – to me, in 2019 – served as a reminder that whatever “Dark Age”we may have to go through, both during and after “this fine but politically-hectic November of 2019:”
Re: Moses at Rephidim: ‘What if?’ That post referred to the disappointing Atlanta Falcons 2017 Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots, whose quarterback at the time was Tom Brady. Thus causing me to “hate” Brady even more than I did before. But then in the 2020 Super Bowl that same Tom Brady quarterbacked my beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their first Super Bowl since 2002. “He has redeemed himself!” And BTW: I lived in the Tampa Bay area for 50 years, so the Buccaneers are my favorite NFL team. But since I moved to the Atlanta area, the Falcons come in a close second.
November 12, 2021 – It’s over two weeks before the next major Feast Day, Thanksgiving.
Which means I have time to re-visit a post I did in 2019, “If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem.*” In that post I previewed my three-week pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and in the process talked a lot about n Psalm 137. (And the creation of the Old Testament as we know it.) I was reminded of that post while finishing a book on turning 70 in 2021. (And hoping to live 50 more years, to 120, like Moses, with “eye undimmed and vigor unabated.” See Deuteronomy 34:7.)
I put the boring details about how all that came about in the notes. (How writing the last chapter of my book on Turning 70 in 2021 reminded me of that to 2019 pilgrimage to Israel.) But here’s the point: That in my own version of a “Babylonian exile,” something good eventually came out of what was originally – at the time – something really bad. (Kind of like how the Old Testament as we have it today only came about because of a national catastrophe.)
So here’s more about that April 2019 post. (Where something good happened from “something very bad.”) It referred to a series of video lectures, The World of Biblical Israel | The Great Courses Plus. (Before that site was changed to “Wondrium.”) Lecture 2 was “By the Rivers of Babylon – Exile.” In it Professor Cynthia Chapman focused on Psalm 137 as the story of how the final version of the Old Testament came about. Chapman said Psalm 137 is the mid-point of both years of Jewish history and the Bible itself. Chapman said Psalm 137 came just when the books of the Hebrew Bible – the Old Testament – were collected, edited and redacted.
In other words, the “Old Testament” as we know it didn’t exist before 586 “B.C.”
That’s when most Judeans were taken from their homeland. They went through a “death march,” 800 miles to Babylon, where many of the Remnant died. In further words, before the Exile (circa 600-515 BC) , the Judeans had a lot of uncollected books (or scrolls), but “here is where they were first collected into what we know as the Old Testament today.” In that captivity they compiled, edited and shaped their collected national stories into a “virtual library,” a library that connected them to their homeland. See also Psalm 137 – Wikipedia:
This period saw … the emergence of the central role of the Torah in Jewish life. According to many historical-critical scholars, the Torah was redacted during this time, and began to be regarded as the authoritative text for Jews. This period saw their transformation into an ethno-religious group who could survive without a central Temple.
But here’s the point, as it relates to my life: Without all that life-drama I went through ten years ago, I might still be living back in Largo. I might still living in highly congested mid-Pinellas County, Florida, with all its heat and sopping humidity, instead of up in “God’s Country.” (The ATL, or Atlanta Metropolitan Area.) Another happy result is that, for the first time in my life, I’m “comfortable,” spiritually, artistically and financially. But that’s a subject I’ll discuss more in my “2021” book. (And while it’s about turning 70, I’ll title it, “Will I really live to 120?)
Which brought up the topic of “dormancy, darkness and cold,” referring to the Dark Ages, that period of intellectual darkness between the “light of Rome,” up to the rebirth or “Renaissance in the 14th century.” (Not that there was any connection to current events or anything)… Which in turn serves as a reminder that whatever “Dark Age” you may be going through, during this fine but politically-hectic November of 2019: “This too shall pass.”
Another note: That 2019 post came shortly before the current COVID pandemic started, and at a time when Donald Trump seemed to be a shoe-in for re-election.
A note about the post, If I Forget Thee, Oh Jerusalem. The original version in the Bible reads, “O Jerusalem.” I put “Oh Jerusalem” in the 2019 post, but corrected it in the main text here.
Re: “Breaking Point – and broke.” The “breaking point” quote is from Garry Wills’ translation of the Lord’s Prayer. See Garry Wills’ book, What the Gospels Meant, Viking Press (2008), at page 87. The alternate translation is in Part II, “Matthew,” Chapter 5, “Sermon on the Mount:”
Our Father of the heavens, your title be honored … and bring us not to the Breaking Point, but wrest us from the Evil One.
The usual Lord’s Prayer translation: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” per Wikipedia. My life tells me “breaking point” is more accurate and appropriate.
Re: Being reminded of the “Jerusalem” post while finishing a book on turning 70 . in 2021. At the beginning of the last chapter, I made a reference to that long-ago post. That chapter (Chapter 9) is about Leaving a legacy, and it in turn is based on a 2015 post that I did in a companion blog. (That post, about leaving a legacy, reminded me of my 2019 trip to Israel.)I wrote – in that companion blog, about my legacy – that in a sense I started thinking about that back in 2009-2010. As explained in the book, that’s when I had to retire early “due to circumstances beyond my control.” In simple terms, I got led to the “Breaking Point – and broke.”
I didn’t enjoy life much back then [in 2009-2010], during the functional equivalent of a Babylonian exile. Among other things I felt abandoned by God. (“Why hast thou forsaken me?”) On the other hand, the results of my exile-and-feeling-abandoned have been good. (Much like the original Exile was “good…” Something very good – the final version of the Old Testament – was the result of something very bad happening to “God’s Chosen People.”)
I originally had all that in the main text, but it was way too confusing, interrupted the flow of the narrative, and distracted from its main point.
Re: St. George’s College, Jerusalem. A continuing education center of the Anglican Communion, its programs “focus on pilgrimage, community, study, and reconciliation. Programs typically last 8, 10 or 14 days, and are open to clergy and laity of all denominations and any faith.” See Wikipedia.
Re: “Next year in Jerusalem.” The link is to a “Desiring God” article, which read in part: “It seems to me that ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’ is what we Christians ought to wish each other as we mark the closing of another year. It voices far more clearly the sort of happiness we long for than the generic and rather hollow ‘Happy New Year.'” And BTW: Googling the phrase got some 11,800,000 results.Which included Why are you supposed to say “next year in Jerusalem”? – Vox.
The very last words of the traditional seder are “next year in Jerusalem.” As the final moment in the Seder, it’s emotionally significant, and it finishes the Seder’s journey from a reminder of the suffering of the past (and present) to hopes for wholeness and freedom for all in the future.
I have to say it: I hate Halloween. I’m always glad when it’s over, and we can get to the “fall festival” atmosphere leading up to Thanksgiving. But the Halloween triduum – a religious observance lasting three days – is important in the life of the Church, so I need to talk about it.
Which means we survived one national nightmare, but since then a number of other nightmares have taken shape, and continue “even to this day.” Or as Job 5:7 says, “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” (On the other hand, by following the Faith of the Bible, you too can develop “the peace of God which passes all understanding.” Philippians 4:7.)
The word “halig” became “hallow,” and November 1 is what we now call All Saints Day. But November 1 was originally called “All Hallow’s Day,” and the evening before that day was “All Hallows Evening.” That was then shortened to “All Hallow’s E’en.” Eventually the “All” was dropped and we were left with “Hallow’s E’en,” then shortened to Halloween.
But as noted, this religious observance lasted three days, and – as Wikipedia said – this three-day period is a “time to remember the dead.” That includes “martyrs, saints, and all faithful departed Christians.” And the main day of the three was and is November 1. It’s now “All Saints Day,” and was once called All Hallow’s Day, and also referred to as Hallowmas.
The thing is, back in the real old days, people thought the barrier between the living and the dead was most open – most permeable – the night of October 31. So they wore masks and costumes to fool the evil spirits. And there was a warning about safe travel.
If you were out traveling from 11:00 p.m. to midnight on All Hallow’s E’en, your had to be very careful. (This was back in the day when candles were pretty much the only light available for travelers.) That is, if your candle kept burning, that was a good omen.(The person holding the candle would be safe in the upcoming winter “season of darkness.”) But if the candle went out, that was “bad indeed.” (The thought was the candle was blown out by witches…)
Another thing they did was build bonfires. Literally bonefires, “fires in which bones were burned.” (Shown in the photo below.) The original idea was that evil spirits could be driven away with noise and fire. But that evolved into an additional thought: The “fires were thought to bring comfort to the souls in purgatory and people prayed for them as they held burning straw up high.” Which led to the second of the three days.
November 1, All Saints Day, honors “all the saints and martyrs, both known and unknown” who have gone on before us. That referred to “special people in the Church” but the third day of the three honors “the restof us poor schmucks.” (Those who died but weren’t remembered, except by their friends and family.) So November 2 – All Souls’ Day – honors “all faithful Christians … unknown in the wider fellowship of the church, especially family members and friends.*’” That is, on the third day of the Triduum – November 2, or All Souls’ Day – observing Christians typically remember deceased relatives. And in many churches, the following Sunday service includes a memorial for all who died in the past year.
There’s more detail in the three posts from 2018 to 2020, including the story behind those carved pumpkins – also called a jack-o’-lantern or Will-o’-the-wisp – which tied in with the strange ghostly light known as ignis fatuus. (From the Medieval Latin for “foolish fire.”) That was the “atmospheric ghost light seen by travelers at night, especially over bogs, swamps or marshes.” The light, like a flickering lamp, was said to recede if approached:
Tradition had it that this ghostly light – seen by travelers at night and “especially over bogs, swamps or marshes – resembled a flickering lamp. The flickering lamp then receded if you approached it, and so it “drew travelers from their safe paths,” to their doom…
But don’t worry: We faithful have that “peace of God which passes all understanding.”
Have a Happy Halloween Triduum!
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The upper image is courtesy ofHalloween 2020 – Image Results. The image accompanies an article, posted on October 24, “Man thinks of ‘the scariest thing’ for his Halloween 2020 decor.”Which led to an article about the “blue moon,” the one that could be seen at this time last year:
Get ready, witches and warlocks. This October 31, there’s a full moon occurring in Taurus, and it’s extra special. This lunar event is called a “blue moon” because it’s the second full moon we’ll experience in the month of October. Not, it won’t actually appear blue, but it’s rare — hence the phrase “once in a blue moon” — and astrologically, very powerful.