On the Bible’s “erotic love poem…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Solomon sinned by acquiring many foreign wives…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moses at Rephidim: “What if?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It didn’t happen…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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J. R. Cash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the FIRST “Presentation of the Lord”

Ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri (1).jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And of course, to set a good example.

But we digress…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just sayin’…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Epiphany – “and BEYOND!”

Buzz Lightyear To Infinity And Beyond by eposselt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we seeing a pattern here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The “Adoration of the Magi,” by El Greco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Same time, last year…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boy, we sure developed our talents!!

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

Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the REAL “Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Andrew – “First Apostle” – and Advent

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

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Last Sunday – November 27, 2016 – was the First Sunday of Advent.  And this is the theme for that Season of Advent.  That is, that season of the church-year that ends on Christmas Eve:

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.”

And as even Scrooge recognized, “Christmas is a very busy time for us.”  (The “spirit of Scrooge” is illustrated at right…)

But 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.*”  His Feast Day is celebrated on November 30, today.

And 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.”

For more on this day see On St. Andrew, the “First Apostle.”  But getting back to the Season of Advent, see An early Advent medley, or On Advent – 2015.  (From last year.)

Or for that matter see On the readings for Advent Sunday, from 2014:

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…  [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.

See Advent Sunday – Wikipedia.  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.”  But around 1917 the Catholic Church “abolished the precept of fasting …  but kept Advent as a season of penitence.”

I’ll be writing more about Advent in the coming weeks, but one thing to remember is that for those four Sundays, the Old Testament readings will be from the prophet Isaiah, shown below:

Isaiah is the prophet who guides our journey through Advent as we prepare for Christmas. Advent is a season of joyful anticipation, and Isaiah invites us to look forward to the coming of the Messiah, to prepare the way of the Lord.

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The prophet Isaiah, featured in this season’s Advent O.T. readings…

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Notes:

The upper image is courtesy of ncregister.com/blog/st.-andrew-apostle-11-things-to-know and share, which included the full text of St. Andrew’s words before he died, 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.

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement with a reference detailed further in this, the “notes” section.  Thus, as to the “saltire” see St Andrew … 5 facts you might have known:

Legend has it that he [Andrew] asked to be tied to an X-shaped cross because he did not feel worthy of dying on the same shape of cross as Jesus.  The shape has been represented by the white cross on the Scottish flag, the Saltire, since at least 1385.

As to the Feast of St. Andrew beginning the new church year, see Anticipating Christmas, Beginning with Saint Andrew.  Or see St. Andrew, from the Satucket website:

Just as Andrew was the first of the Apostles, so his feast is taken in the West to be the beginning of the Church Year…  The First Sunday of Advent is defined to be the Sunday on or nearest his feast (although it could equivalently be defined as the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day).

That site includes the Daily Office readings for the day:  “AM: Psalm 34; Isaiah 49:1-6; 1 Corinthians 4:1-16,” and “PM: Psalm 96, 100; Isaiah 55:1-5; John 1:35-42.”  Or see St Andrew, Apostle.

Re:  “Isaiah [as] the prophet who guides our journey.”  See Isaiah: Old Testament prophet for the Advent season, which added:  “Isaiah urges us to straighten out our crooked ways, tear down our mountains of misdeeds, and fill in the valleys of our bad habits.”

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

On Thanksgiving – 2016

Thanksgiving Day in 1863 – as celebrated in the middle of that other American Civil War

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It’s hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is less than a week away.

Which means it’s about time to give thanks “for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them.”  And that’s especially true after the bitter election* we’ve just been through.  (And survived, thank you very much.)  

Which brings up that other American Civil War.  The thing is, Thanksgiving wasn’t celebrated on the same date – “throughout the United States*” – until 1863.  (In the middle of the war.)

Abraham Lincoln set that uniform date for Thanksgiving – making it the last Thursday in November – by presidential proclamation.  He did it to “foster a sense of American unity:” 

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity … peace has been preserved with all [other] nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict… Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste [in] the siege and the battle-field;  and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

See Thanksgiving (U.S.) – Wikipedia.  And speaking of Thanksgiving in the middle of a war – cultural or otherwise – the photo at left shows “Servicemen eating a Thanksgiving dinner after the end of World War I (1918).”

(And here’s hoping that image is somehow prescient…) 

I’ve written about Thanksgiving before in Thanksgiving 2015, The first Thanksgiving (Part I and Part II), and On the 12 Days of Christmas.

The post Thanksgiving 2015 offered this reality check about the 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 – only four survived 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.

http://godw1nz.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/a-prosperous-wind1.jpgMeanwhile, The first Thanksgiving – Part I – from November 2104 – included the image at right, of the “Mayflower leaving English shores.”  It also included a footnote that Americans 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.”

We’ll see how that plays out over the next four years…

The first Thanksgiving – Part II included a lengthy quotation from William Bradford (Plymouth Colony governor) about the difficulties inherent in  “all great and honorable actions.”  (Like trying to maintain a true democracy after the kind of heated-rhetoric election we just went through.)  Which could be summed up this way:  “If it was easy, anybody could do it!”

And finally, The 12 Days of Christmas indicated that Thanksgiving Day marks the beginning of a long holiday season that doesn’t officially end until January 6, 2017 (with Plough Monday):

Christmas celebrations are closely linked to the observance of the December solstice… Although winter was regarded as the season of dormancy, darkness and cold, the coming of lighter days after the winter solstice brought on a more festive mood.  To many people, this return of the light was a reason to celebrate that nature’s cycle was continuing.

And speaking of “dormancy, darkness and cold,” see also Dark Ages – Wikipedia, referring to the “period of intellectual darkness” between the “light of Rome,” up to the rebirth or “Renaissance in the 14th century.”  (Not that there’s any connection to current events or anything…)  

Which serves as a reminder that whatever “Dark Age” you may be going through,

“This too shall pass…

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A 1640 painting – “ 12th Night” (The King Drinks) – ending the 12 Days of Christmas

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Notes:

 The upper image is courtesy of Thanksgiving (U.S. – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Sketch by Alfred Waud of Thanksgiving in camp (of General Louis Blenker) during the U.S. Civil War in 1861.”  That’s also where the “Hymn of Thanksgiving” image came from.  That caption:  “‘A Hymn of Thanksgiving’ sheet music cover – November 26, 1899.”

Re:  Thanksgiving Day:  The full Bible readings for that day are:  Deuteronomy 26:1-11Psalm 100Philippians 4:4-9; and John 6:25-35.

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this, the “notes” section.  Thus, as to “bitter elections,” see also This bitter battle won’t end on election day – BBC News, for a point of view from “across the pond.”  For an ironic twist, see After a bitter election, a new America: Our first female president and the most diverse coalition in history, written on the morning of the election.  (Before the results were in.)  A prediction:  That “first female president” will come true, but not just yet.  I’m thinking Elizabeth Warren – “Hillary without the baggage” – in 2020, or Hillary herself.  (With or without the “I told ya so” dance.  See Donald Trump and the Hell’s Angel, in my companion blog.)

Re:   “Throughout the United States” and the “sense of American unity.”  Referring to a sense of American unity “between the Northern and Southern states.”  See Thanksgiving – Wikipedia, which noted that because of the “ongoing Civil War and the Confederate States of America‘s refusal to recognize Lincoln’s authority, a nationwide Thanksgiving date was not realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s.”  (Which is another way of saying, “good things take time.” 

Re:  “This too shall pass.”  See That’s NOT in the Bible! “This too shall pass.”  That source indicates that the phrase may originally have come from – or passed through – King Solomon.  He supposedly had a ring reminding him that all his earthly glory – as king – would eventually go away; “the inscription inside the ring became the Hebrew phrase ‘Gam zeh ya’avor,’ ‘this too shall pass.’”  See also Patton (film) Clip “All Glory is Fleeting…” – YouTube.

The lower image is courtesy of The Twelve days of Christmas, with caption, “Twelfth Night (The King Drinks) by David Teniers c. 1634-1640.”

An update on “dissin’ the Prez”

Donald Trump Obama

Will the man on the left get the respect due him by Exodus 22:28?   (As the man on the right didn’t?)

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Saint James the Just.jpgThis morning’s Daily Office Readings include Joel 3:10, and a reading from James, the brother of Jesus.  (Shown at right.)  And James 2:6-7 said this:

Is it not the rich who are exploiting you?  Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

As to Joel 3:10, it says  “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.”

Both of which seem strangely appropriate after last Tuesday’s election.

Which brings up this subject:  Are good Christians – both liberal and conservative – duty-bound to honor and obey the newly-elected “leader of our country,” Donald Trump?

In May 2014, I posted On dissin’ the Prez.  Mainly it was about Exodus 22:28, and how – at that time – it seemed “more honored in the breach.”  That is, Exodus 22:28 clearly commands:  “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.”

And that’s where honored in the breach* comes in.  Since conservatives spent the last eight years “cursing and reviling” the ruler of our people, are liberals – not to mention the majority who voted for Hillary Clinton – now free to do the same with Donald Trump?

The thing is, the people who interpret the U.S. Constitution “strictly” or “literally” are – generally speaking – the same ones who say that the Bible must also be interpreted literally.  But if those Conservatives – Christian or otherwise – had truly followed the letter of the Bible, they wouldn’t have “cursed and reviled” President Obama over the last eight years:

To sum up: Conservative Christians can avoid getting into trouble for violating the letter of Exodus 22:28, but only by using a liberal interpretation.  They can criticize the President all they want, as long as they don’t criticize “the Sovereign People” who elected him.  (A subtle distinction to be sure.)   Put another way, conservative Christians only avoid the penalty for violating the strict letter of Exodus 22:28 by using a liberal interpretation [of the Bible].

http://kara.allthingsd.com/files/2011/03/irony3.jpegThat’s where the closing “Oh, the irony” in that post came in.

On dissin’ the Prez also went into great detail about the differences between strict construction, as opposed to the rules of liberally interpreting the Bible.  (And on such topics as Biblical inerrancy, or what I call being a boot-camp Christian.) 

But in one sense those pointy-headed liberals may not need to interpret Exodus 22:28 “in a fair and reasonable manner in accordance with the objects and purposes of the instrument.”  (The Bible.)  That’s because in America the “leader of the people” is The People.  As in the Sovereign People or the “We the People” that start the Constitution.

In other words, the President of the United States is not a “leader of the country” as that term was interpreted at the time the Bible was written.  (See also On “originalism.”)

Back then a leader was a king or other dictator, who served for life – or until a stronger king bumped him off.  But these days a president is more like a plumber.  He’s a hired hand who serves the people of the United States for no more than eight years.  (Or less if he ends up impeached and convicted.  See AU Professor Predicts Trump’s Impeachment.)

Therefore, since we Americans follow majority rule, and since Hillary Clinton won a majority of the popular vote, it would seem that Americans everywhere are free to “curse and revile” Donald Trump as much as they want – according to the Bible.

But as Paul noted in 1st Corinthians 10:23:  “Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.”

Ikone Athanasius von Alexandria.jpgThen too, that brings up what I wrote last January.  I posted On Hilary – 1″L,” and HE was a bishop.  Saint Hilary – shown at right, and who died in the year 367 – served as bishop in Poitiers, a city in France.

But he served at a time of a great early-church conflict, and perhaps not unlike the conflict we just went through.  (In St. Hilary’s case, the one pitting Athanasius against Arius, for whom Arianism was named.)

Basically it was a struggle for the “soul of the Church,” much like this last election was part of a “war for the soul of America.”  (And by the way, Googling “war for the soul”  got me 13,400,000 results.)

The thing is – during that earlier “war for the soul” – Saint Hilary had to serve a term in exile. (Too?)  In 356 he backed the wrong horse, and was sent into exile by Constantius II.  (Who  found the Arian position persuasive enough to banish Hilary to Phrygia.)  However:

Hilary put his four years in exile to good use.  He honed his arguments so well that they ultimately acquired the force of (church) law.  In essence he was a “Great Dissenter…”  Which is another way of saying “Athanasianism” ultimately won the day.

And who knows?  Maybe the same will happen with today’s Hillary…

And finally, it is within the realm of possibility that that consummate Showman – Donald Trump – actually “played those far-right conservatives like a piano.”  That is, it’s possible that Trump is the “New York Liberal” that Ted Cruz said he was.  (Or at least more of a moderate than he let on, either of which – liberal or moderate – would have doomed his Republican nomination.)

At the very least it’s looking like Donald – like life itself – is like a box of chocolates.  And as that great philosopher Forrest Gump observed, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

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“Are you telling me Donald Trump just got elected president?”

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Notes:

The upper image is courtesy of Trump and Obama meet at the White House to begin transition.  

The full Satucket Daily Office readings include:  “AM Psalm 87, 90; PM Psalm 136,” along with Joel 3:9-17; James 2:1-13; Luke 16:10-17(18).

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this, the “notes” section.  Thus, as to “more honored in the breach:”  The quote is from Hamlet Act 1, scene 4, 7–16.  And something I didn’t know:  As properly interpreted the saying means to ignore a bad custom or rule, rather than a “good custom … often breached:”

Hamlet means that it is more honorable to breach, or violate, the custom of carousing than to observe it.  So the phrase is properly applied to a bad custom or rule that should be ignored.  Instead, we and others frequently use it in almost the opposite sense…

See Mangled Shakespeare – The New York Times, and – for more on the context – More honored in the breach – eNotes Shakespeare Quotes.